How To Start Songwriting
by Dan Vasc
In the article that I wrote about residual income and how to increase it as a musician, one of the fundamental steps I mention is to start writing songs. There I state briefly that the best way to learn how to do it is, plain and simple, start doing it. However, I know by personal experience that the journey to develop and understand your own creative process can be a tough one. It takes a lot practice, patience and research. In fact, many people came to me after reading that article asking for help, cause they don't even know where to start.
There are many paths and different guidelines that will get you that perfect song, but there's only one rule that every songwriter must keep always in mind: There are no rules. How great is the number of composers throughout history that became successful by doing something completely outside the patterns of their time? Be authentic, enjoy the process and you will do just fine. If something that was never seen before comes out, that's okay. And if it's something that is not exactly new, that's okay too. The important thing is: It's yours.
Although, to save you a lot of trial and error, here are 6 tips to help you pump some creativity into your writing sessions. I must stress that this is not a tutorial or a set of rules that everybody must follow in order to write a song. As I said, there are no rules. These are some general guidelines that helped me when I was starting out and might as well be able to help you.
1- Listen to music a lot.
Back when I was first writing for the album Chronicles Of Ancient Wisdom I used to listen to music for about one hour daily. There's no way for you to create something that sounds good if you don't know what sounds good to you in the first place. Listen to your favourite bands and composers everyday for half an hour minimum. And when I say “listen” I DON'T mean: Listen while you're driving, listen while you work out, listen while you clean the house, etc. Of course you can put some music on the background while doing those things. I do it all the time. But by “listen” I mean STOP AND LISTEN, for at least half an hour. Pay attention, study what you're hearing. What do you feel during your favourite section of this song you like? Why do you feel it? Do you think it's the chord progression? A certain type of melody inside this progression? A particular combination of instruments? The groove used on the drums? Maybe some of those elements combined or all of them?
Learn how to play/sing that song so you can get a better feel of these aspects. Try to improvise over them, making little variations and combining them in different ways. Does it feel the same as the song? If yes, what did you left there that still makes you feel that way? If no, what did you take away from it that you shouldn't? Or maybe you like the new emotion that you created even better. Do what you have to do, but make sure that you pay attention to what makes a song sound good for you and why.
Go out for a walk. Take a shower. Meditate. Do what you need to get yourself in a relaxed state of mind. This will help you to focus and accelerate the birth of ideas. It will be hard for you to create if your brain is busy being worried or anxious. Also, when you give your mind no job to do, it gets “bored” and starts to create to entertain itself. The objective here is to simulate this “mind boredom”. No wonder why some of my best ideas came in situations where I was unbelievably bored, like in classrooms, bank lines, supermarkets… Which brings us to the next tip.
3- Be prepared for when the idea comes.
Even though we all have a schedule to follow and we try to stimulate our creative flow according to it, the creativity mosquito is out there and it can bite you at literally any time. Be prepared for when that happens. Always have something to write with and a notepad with you, or just download a recorder app for your smart phone. When the idea comes, don't just think “Oh, nice!” and let it get away. REGISTER it immediately. Specially when you're beginning, you don't have a great abundance of ideas to have the luxury of letting one get away. Don't worry if it's good enough, if it fits, if it's crazy… You can get back at it later at home. For now just take hold of it.
4- Be organized and disciplined.
Arrange your writing sessions in a specific time on your schedule and stick to it. Two hours was a good start for me. Go to your studio, your office, or your room, close the door and stay there. Try to choose a place and time where you won't get noise or distractions and tell your family to not knock on that door unless the house is on fire. Set specific goals and try your best to achieve them. Register what you've done in a way that you will understand it and get back to it easily.
5- State definitely what you want to express.
You can't hit a target on the wall if you don't paint the target on the wall. What is it that you want to express with this particular song? What is the feeling? Sadness? Happiness? Anger? Triumph? What is it that you want to tell the world, what is your message? Find the name of it. “Oh, but I have no idea what I want to say!” Having no idea what to say is also a feeling. You feel confused, you feel lost. Even that is something you can use. Getting a specific name or term for what you want from your creation will set you on a straight path to achieve it faster, keeping you from going all around and actually getting nowhere.
6- Have no fear of failure.
You don't need to release every single thing you write. Don't think that this song has to be your ultimate masterpiece or that this is your only chance to get it right. It's not. Thinking like this will only get you frustrated. Be willing to fail. Write some draft songs for practice purposes only. If something great comes out, you can always use it later, but don't focus on that at first. Also, what you think it's a masterpiece today may not be what you will think it's a masterpiece tomorrow, believe me. There are probably dozens of songs I wrote that I made sure no one will ever hear. Because, frankly, they suck! But I learned a lot while writing them. So don't be afraid to fail.
I hope those tips can help you find your way to the composer inside you. Remember that no one is born a songwriter. It's a skill to be learned and developed with effort. Above all, make sure you are writing with your heart. The first person that your song needs to touch is YOU.