Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Hello budding musicians! One of the hardest things to tackle when creating a project, band, or living room hobby is figuring out the secret sauce to making your ideas come alive. Way back in the olden days (when your parents were like... 30 right?) they wrote their songs by carving two rocks together with lyrics and hoping the village elders would remember how they smashed them together. ... Alright, while that might not be entirely accurate, the main rules since the dawn of time have stayed the same: the more you try, the better you'll get; second-guessing yourself on what's "correct" or not will drown you in the weeds; and just putting something on the page (even if you want to come back to it) will place you far ahead in the imaginary race everyone thinks they're in. If you're a real beginner, you might get caught up in "the rules" of songwriting. I'm here to tell you that writing anything isn't about following what everyone else does: your success or not should be based off of your own goals. For most people, the goal is satisfaction - a satisfying beat, a satisfying melody, or rhyme. Aim for what feels good, try and use your ears more than your brain. The hardest part people have is holding themselves to old institutions. They listen to the way their favorite artist did things and while that can be a useful tool for insight, writing off a template isn't really you, is it? So you might tell me that it's not as easy as I make it sound. You're right, and that's because practice makes perfect. As a firm believer in sound, if you're writing on an instrument - use that instrument, play it, perfect it, learn about it, until you have access to all the options and choices that instrument brings. It's like being an artist, how could you paint if you couldn't access all the colors? You can't have your Picasso blue period before you have the joy of painting little Bob Ross trees with all the colors. If you're a lyricist first and foremost, never discount the music behind it as you're focusing on making rhymes and meters happen. Music is what sets the tone and has to match what you're trying to say or convey. You don't play Yankee Doodle behind some Amy Lee lyrics.
Advice about writing anything has been said over and over again, especially by prognosticator Shia Lebouf: "Just DO IT". You'll have time to over-analyze it later, just get the words or the chords down somewhere you can remember them so you can focus on the
vision of the song, and the structure. When I was writing the song "Legacy" for my project The Crown Remnant, I was leaving voice messages to myself to remind me of the melody I came up with, or a cool guitar riff I was working on. It started with me messing around on my guitar, and from that initial satisfactory riff, I was able to develop a theme and build around it.
That leads me to the biggest, most important step for me. Vision. You gotta have a vision for your song, otherwise it's just a meandering patchwork of potential ideas and it'll hook no one except for you and your girlfriend that you made listen to it 100 times. For me, it's all about themes. In music, these can be called motifs, but what they really are is the recognizable thread that pulls the song along, and cohesively glues everything together. In my song "The Wicked King", notice how the intro sets the tone for the whole song, later coming back for the 1st solo section; listen how the chorus chords and melody is familiarly reflected in the ending distortion solo, but not quite the same. The most satisfactory thing to new listeners is familiarity - if they hear something in the song they recognize as a call back, they can follow along and understand WAY clearer.
I build a ton of my songs off of themes, and it works like this: you come up with a melody, could be as simple as just a few notes! When you introduce it in the song, don't just throw it in there for no purpose, plan on bringing it back, or utilizing it in a creative way. You could use this melody with simple instrumentation as an introduction to the song, and then use a harmonized or re-configured version of it for the chorus vocal melody! Or, re-compose it to retain most of the notes, but have a more interesting ending/different tone that can help lead the song along during a "re-intro", or bridge section. You could reverse it and play with the underlying sub-harmony to create something new, but deeply familiar. The possibilities are literally endless and this is one of the parts I have the most fun with. It's almost a game to see how I can sneak in motifs without you noticing it right away, or how I can utilize the ingredients I have to make a song move forward and not be repetitive. At the end of the day, it'll lead to a more comfortable, recognizable, and catchy song. You can focus on creating a hook, you can be a great poet, or you can be a guitar player fiddling away with your strings, it's all a valid place to start. The most important thing is that you actually, you know, start. Happy writing!
The Crown Remnant