How to write a song – My workflow

Writing in candle ligjt

Super-actual representation of how I write all my lyrics.

I like reading about other peoples workflow. Partly because it gives one the insight in someone else views and tools which is fascinating, partly because I might discover a technique or just a new way to approach things, that could assist in my own way of creating. After talking with SaSa about approaches when writing music the other day, I got the idea to base a post around our talk, and do a little series where both she and I share our different approaches to creating songs. Today I’ll share my view, and later on SaSa will publish her methods over at her blog, so make sure to check that out as well!
So today I will share how things happen when I write a song. This be a fairly straight forward text, as I aim to just share this as raw, yet understandable, that I could manage to do.

I start with the music. There seems to be two approaches “music first, lyrics later” or “lyrics first, music later”. For me, the first one suits me the best, probably because I’m more of a instrumentalist than I am a lyricist. I do however use the same technique on both parts, you’ll soon understand what I mean by that.
The process of any song I’ve written follows the pattern that when creating I have ONE piece of instrumental to begin with that I dig – it could be a nice lead melody,  a chord progression like made for a chorus, or just a short lick. I spend about 70-90% of the time of when playing guitar on my own to just improvise my way forward, playing whatever might come to my mind that is new or trying a new technique, which gives me a couple of individual pieces of music each time. If I think a piece might come in handy, I’ll record it to my phone using the simple Dictaphone. Over time, I collect more and more of these individual parts, and soon enough there’s the foundation to the song. By having these individual pieces, I have the first outlines, now I start adding more. Let’s say I have an interesting intro and and idea for the chorus – now I need a verse, a bridge and maybe a solo. I start working with variations of the pieces I got, and soon a verse, bridge or solo takes shape. When all the parts are somewhat in place, it’s time to polish it up and add some soul – playing variants of the same parts is one great way to add flair if a part feels to dry, or change how you phrase the tones. One thing that is important to remember when trying to really bring a song to life, is to consider the attack and volume of the different parts. Like playing the parts a bit more mellow during the verses, to then kick it up during the chorus. Not thinking about this is something that I’ve been guilty off before.. why I think it’s even more important to remind you off it.

Once the instrumental is finished, I’ll record a demo. Most of the time I just use the recording capabilities of my iPhone for this, as it’s easy and straight forward – however I’ve begun to record more and more of my demos in Cubase Logic Pro X, as it allows me to create a richer demo.

AREKU photoshoot 2017-06-18With that done, it’s time for the lyrics. I use the same approach to writing lyrics as I do to writing music – I collect different pieces over time, which I then use to build something bigger. Lyrics can come anytime, so make sure to always have something to record your thought on. A small book that fits in your trousers or jacket, a stack of post-its on the desk and by your bed, and then there’s always the capabilities of a modern phone, with both recording audio and taking notes. This way whenever I come up with a line, there won’t be to long before I can put it in print. Reoccurring times when I tend to have good lines coming to me are: when riding the bus/car/train at evenings/nights (especially after a rehearsal), when just about to fall asleep, out running or otherwise exercising, or when listening to other peoples work. One of the keys to writing better songs and better lyrics, is to listen to a lot of music.

Anyhow, when it’s then time to write, I begun by by listening to my demo and thinking about what feelings I felt when writing the piece. Most often this gives me an indication on which direction this song will be going in terms of lyrics, and get’s me started with some lines. Over time i’ve realized that I tend to write my best when I’m in a certain mood for that particular song, meaning that if I need to remake it later, I also need to find that mood again. It’s something I’m trying to just work myself away from to develop further.

I then look through my notes, dig my way through a sea of post it’s and strange texts I’ve sent myself in the middle of the night. It’s like solving a puzzle where you get the pieces in different packages.. When the structure is finished with what the song wants to tell, it’s time to use the same approach as in the final steps of the demo-recordings earlier; the good ol’ polishing. A line might seem right, but phrased in a way that doesn’t really marries with the rest of the text. Flow is king, as we all know, and we want to erase anything that breaks the flow. Here is when SaSa reminded me about the good friend of any writer: synonyms.  Perfect for when you know what you wish to say, but wish to say it in another way. It’s also a great way to spice up the language of your lyrics.

About here is when I think I’ll wrap up this text. Note that this method probably won’t work for everybody, and is just my own perspective and way of doing, but I hope that this maybe gave you a new insight in how to improve or change your own workflow, if so – let me know!

One Response to “How to write a song – My workflow

  • To study other people’s workflows is very rewarding. There’s always something you could learn. Real joy to read this since I never write any music. I do get what you mean about the similarity in technique. And I too write notes and scribbles everywhere that I later have to puzzle together. I kind of doodle sentences at the most random of times. Smartphones are very handy for this, many note entries later. And that is all fine and dandy, but when writing something with a lot of emotions nothing beats old fashioned pen and paper in my view. To physically write the sentence makes it more vivid to me. And I do write by candlelight and not unusually with a fountain pen. I don’t know why really, it just feels right. Somehow that act gets it all out of me. That picture representation looks very cosy and creative to me, wish I had time to write like that always. But alas! Every now and then I do bring out the old to create something new.

    The mood thing. It is kind of essential when writing; at least it is for me. There’s not really to my knowledge a good work around for this. I tend to recreate the mood using music, or a specific playlist, but it doesn’t always work. Which is frustrating to say the least, but I guess there’s a price for creativity.

    Synonyms! Dear life companion. A good reminder from SaSa. The time I spend looking up words and their synonyms and antonyms are frightening. The more you write the worse it gets. It’s really important if you want to progress though. And not just because they might have different sounds or slightly different connotations, also you could make use of the mythological aspect of a word and that is why dictionaries are a great tool. Some words carry a lot of history and context. That is something you realise when trying to write academically, how easy something can be misinterpreted because of the word you choose. It is daunting at times as any challenge but also rewarding. I will offer a piece of advice or caution on the writing bit, be careful when using metaphors. Don’t just casually throw them in for many of them are stale and overused, they tend to destroy more than they bring. This can of course be worked around by careful judgement and adding twists and reshaping to make them more appetizing.

    YES, yes, yes! A beautifully flowing text is everything. This part probably needs the most time and is the good work that makes the end result spectacular. It might look simple, but are in fact extremely complex and often time consuming. But so worth all that effort! Here is where the love shines.

    Humbleness do suit you, but the growth in your work is noticeable and you should feel very proud about that.

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