Just in case you’re wondering this is how I (mainly) put a song together. Every songwriter has their own way of doing things but this is what works for me, most of the time.
Invariably I’ll start with some idea of the basic chord pattern I’m going to use. At the same time I have some idea of the pace, or beat, of the song. I’ll often play the chords over and over again until I feel comfortable with the song.
In the past I would have to jot down the chords and maybe have some idea of the lyrics. I would have to play these over and over again until they had sunk into my head enough that I would remember them the next day and thereafter. The reason was simple, I didn’t have any way of recording my ideas. In fact it wasn’t until phones were able to record that I started to record my basic ideas. I’d save these ideas on my phone with snappy titles like E-A-D which were the chords I was using for that particular song, so that I didn’t have to spend time trying to work out which chords I was using when I played it back.
Once I’ve got the chords mapped out I usually need a trigger to get me going on the lyrics. More often than not it’s as simple as the title, or just a line or two that springs to mind when I’m messing about with the chords.
In the past I would then take these two parts and join them together by developing a whole song and getting it down on paper. Sometimes lyrics will just pour out almost like a stream of consciousness thing, but more often than not I’ll have to work on them over and over until I’m happy with the final outcome.
These days though I tend to work slightly differently. I’ll usually start with the chords and the beat. I’ll then map those out into my computer. My music software is Cubase, which delights and infuriates me in almost equal measure. So Cubase will have the chords, the beat and I’ll usually hum or free form some lyric ideas.
Then I get to work mapping out the song, how many verses, choruses, middle eight, how it starts and ends. That’s my foundation on which I’ll build the rest of the song.
There’s a lot of repetition involved, listening to the song over and over again, trying different instruments and sounds, adding and subtracting. There’s many times when I listen back to a song and I think I’ve lost it and the song isn’t working out, but I’ve learnt to be patient with the song and keep working on it. The key is to have some confidence that the song is worth it, that it’s viable and keeping working on it until it comes right.
It’s rare, very rare, that I’ll start work on a song and then ditch it completely. If I start work on a song it’s usually because I’m confident that there’s something worthwhile there. In fact more often than not I’ll hear the song in my head in a much more completed form than is actually down on the recording.
The drawback is that I’m doing this all on my own, which I love, but it’s a slow process. I reckon I could produce one song a month like this, but it’s turning out to be ten songs a year. In a studio with a band, engineers and a producer I could work faster and create more songs but that’s not why I make music and it’s not what I want to do.
I’ve found a system that overall works for me. Modern, computer based recording has changed music production for ever and I’m very glad about that.
Here’s how I put my new single The Light Of My Life together starting with the very basic chord riff and some very ropey guitar playing:
Then, a lot of work later it sounded like this:
Then the draft vocals got added to a slightly speeded up version and the song is really getting there:
And in the end after all the work and final production the song sounds like this:
In my opinion it’s worth all the effort, but in the end it’s you, the listener, who will decide.