I recently came across this article on ServetheSong.com called “The Anatomy of a Songwriting Session” by Mary Shaw. I decided to write about my own songwriting process. It’s not that I think Shaw is wrong at all. In fact I actually like her approach. However, my process is a little different so I figured I’d talk about it a little.
Begin With An Emotion
I usually start with an emotional idea as well. Most of the time, it comes from watching movies or listening to other songs. Sometimes I listen to a song and I feel like something is missing from the lyrics, I’ll start writing my own lyrics just to fill what I consider to be an artistic void.
With movies, I’m usually a little bit more focused on the acting, the lighting, the set design and even the foley effects. For really great filmmakers, sometimes it’s everything that isn’t being said that’s more important. Afterall, social psychologists say that as much as 90% of everything we’re saying isn’t actually coming from the words we speak.
Building The Perfect Beast
I’m one of those “always have a plan no matter how ridiculous it is” kind of people. Once I grab on to an idea, I usually like to plan out what dimensions I plan to highlight in the song. I decide whether or not I agree with the theme of the subject and what direction I want take the theme that I am working on. Usually, that tends to lend itself to figuring out a rough song sketch, but it doesn’t always have to.
Find A Singable Chorus Melody
This isn’t always the next step for me. Sometimes I actually start with a verse or a bridge. However, it’s usually a good idea to work on a chorus early on because it helps join whatever subthemes I decided to tinker with in the verses. A good chorus sometimes makes the rest of the song write itself
This is probably my favorite part of the songwriting process. Shaping lyrical into ideas into a whole song is process that I don’t take lightly. This may be partly due to the fact that I draw inspiration from other peoples songs. In many cases, I think a great song lyrics speak to the soul the in ways that the listener (and the artist) may have never imagined before. A line of lyric written for the right style and delivery can either make or break a song.
Lay Down The Lead Sheet
This is usually the part I find least amusing. It’s probably because I started out writing hip-hop lyrics. Hip-hop is usually a competitive genre more often than not, it’s just you and the beat (the more correct term would be instrumental but don’t mind me and my pendantry). Since the beats are usually done separately and have probably been mixed before the recording process begins, then it’s typically pointless to have a lead sheet if there is only one performer. In any case, If you’re in a band, or you plan to publish your music for licensing, then a lead sheet is probably in your best interest.
The other reason I tend wait until the end to work on the lead sheets is purely for a sense of catharsis. In my mind, lead sheets represent the final culmination of everything that you have been working on. Once it’s documented on the lead sheet, it’s finished product. When you’re publishing or licensing your music, the lead sheet will serve as the master control for how the song is to be performed. Broadcast stations also use lead sheets to determine which sections of songs they are going to play. Hence, there is no point in making a lead sheet if you haven’t finished the song.
There you have it. The anatomy of a songwriting session. There is no right or wrong way to go through the songwriting process. Frankly, your audience probably won’t care about what your process was, because their usually more concerned about how the song makes them feel. So experiment a little. Try my process, try Ms. Shaw’s process or create your own altogether.