Author Topic: [Muso] How you write your songs  (Read 592 times)

[Muso] How you write your songs
« on: July 23, 2004, 10:39:50 AM »
I've had a bit of a creative block recently and have been unable write anything worthwhile, so I'm looking at maybe changing my creative process.  What are my fellow whores' creative processes?

I think there are a hugely diverse types of musicians here and so it would be interesting to see the different approaches they have to writing a song.  What happens when you decide to sit down and write a song?  Do you sit infront of a sequencer and record everything as you go along?  Or do you write everything away from the computer/ 4 track etc. and only record it when it's done?

For me, I seem to be going through an indie-hip hop stage (Buck 65, Anticon etc.) so I start out maybe chopping a break I've found and then adding a bass line, either using a synth or a sample.  Then I add anything extra on top of that for example, atmospheric pads, other percussion etc.  Unfortunately being middle class and white I've yet to add any vocals to the tracks, I think I might have to collab with someone at some point.

Trouble is, I rarely finish a song (or get past the beginning) because I am never happy with the way it sounds.  I feel very down about it because it never sounds anything like the sounds I'm aiming for (and how could it?  The songs I use as a yardstick have been mastered and produced proffesionally (albiet roughly)).  I could never do what the people in Delete Your Tunes do because the songs that I do are never up to, what I think is, public consumption (if you see what I mean).  How do you decide when the song is done?  Or how many songs do you start to write and how many of those actually get released to the public/ are finished?

Not sure if I'm making myself clear with that last bit, but the original question of each of your creative processes would make an interesting read I think...

[Muso] How you write your songs
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2004, 11:06:13 AM »
At the minute, I make a drum loop in fruity loops, put it into cool edit pro, play three of four loads of guitar over it, sing random gibberish over the top, improvising words and a tune and then see what happens. I mean they're usually shit but I just love fannying about without any effort. I've done some decent songs in the past when I've sat down and worked on it but this is much more fun and just as satisfying when you suprise yourself.
My songs aren't fit for public consumption, just because you put it in the thread, that doesn't mean anyone will download it, just put them in there, 3 people will hear it at the most. I know a song is finished when I fancy doing something else. Don't worry about anything, just have fun.

[Muso] How you write your songs
« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2004, 11:26:22 AM »
I always try to avoid recording before I've got a song completely written, or at least 99% finished, unless I'm just getting something down to make sure I don't forget it. Whenever I've started recording something that I only have a little bit of, it nearly always ends up staying unfinished, because the whole process feels directionless, and I end up just pissing about without really achieving anything worthwhile. That's just a personal preference though, there are plenty of people who find that their best way of working. I just find it much easier once the song is finished, because I can play it through a few times, start to flesh it out in my head, and by the time I sit down and start recording I've (hopefully) got a pretty clear idea of what to put where. Certainly, the songs I'm happiest with have always been done that way.

On the other hand, you always need a certain amount of flexibility and I certainly wouldn't be deterred by the problem of  "it doesn't sound like what I wanted". I think that's a pretty much universal problem for every musician, no matter how much talent/equipment you have at your disposal. I remember reading that Lennon wanted his vocal on Tomorrow Never Knows to sound like "1000 monks chanting on a mountainside".  Whatever you think of the finished track, I don't think you could really say that it sounds like that. It's a question of aiming for what you hear in your head, but being prepared to reach some kind of halfway point between that and what you're getting in reality. For me at least.

I also find that a lot of what makes a recording sound "professional" doesn't come until right at the very end of the process (compression especially can play a big part), so it helps to bear that in mind if what you have after 20 minutes work sounds terribly dispiriting - it's amazing what a couple of subtle effects can add.

[Muso] How you write your songs
« Reply #3 on: July 23, 2004, 11:47:17 AM »
Yes, fun...That's the thing. Even when it feels like it's been a complete pain in the arse to come up with something, I always look at the time spent on it fondly.

I write in all sortds of ways...Fiddling about with sequencers or synths...Playing on a good old fashioned piano...Jotting down ideas which pop into my head...Doing research on certain styles or types of music..Inspiration from real life...Feeling a certain mood etc...etc...

With technology today anyone can make technically fantastic sounding music...Some people forget about the actual music though, so my first advice to anyone is to learn a little about the rudiments and theory of music...Even knowing a few chords helps loads.

[Muso] How you write your songs
« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2004, 12:44:05 PM »
Thanks, I find it very interesting to hear how different people do it.  A few years ago I did an HND at a place called ACM in music production and that seemed to suck any inspiration I had to make music out of me.

I am always amazed by professional composers for things like tv shows where they have to write music of all different styles very quickly.  I am very jealous of their ability to do that.  Lucky I don't write professionally!


  • "like Louise Mensch but with a sexy beard"
[Muso] How you write your songs
« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2004, 04:46:55 PM »
Recently I started playing along to songs as I was listening to them. An interesting thing to do is to come up with a melody over the top of a song as it plays. Then take that melody and go off and change the chords or melodies beneath it, or add other lines of melody or whatever.

[Muso] How you write your songs
« Reply #6 on: July 23, 2004, 04:57:08 PM »
Using  a basic tape recorder, I record any song ideas  I have - usually spoken word, where I outline different drum parts, different chords, different basslines, etc. Then I outline the lyrics.

Then I write the lyrics, except use the Burroughs scalpel/glue method (cut and paste).

[Muso] How you write your songs
« Reply #7 on: July 23, 2004, 06:30:25 PM »
Quote from: "mrpants"
Thanks, I find it very interesting to hear how different people do it.  A few years ago I did an HND at a place called ACM in music production and that seemed to suck any inspiration I had to make music out of me.

I was on the Guitar course there from 2001 to February 2003, when I left because they were repeating all the lessons from the first year in the second year and basically wasting my time. I actually think they sapped away a lot of the individuality of my playing to the point where I'd say I'm a better drummer than guitarist now.

Very depressing place in a lot of ways. It was clear that all they were interested in doing was churning out session musicians that they could use on their shitty pop records.

Apparently there was a mass exodus of all the good teachers to the school that recently opened in Brighton - but I hear that's not much better. Good to see someone else from there though.

[Muso] How you write your songs
« Reply #8 on: July 23, 2004, 06:51:01 PM »
Quote from: "Rats"
. I know a song is finished when I fancy doing something else. Don't worry about anything, just have fun.

I very much agree with that.

Also, it depends what kind of song you want to write. if you want to write a song that is really popular, all you need is a memorable phrase, and then just build up the music around it. Look at all the songs which have been massively popular in the past 50 years, they've all had memorable phrases. For example, 'Creep' by Radiohead wouldn't have been a hit if the lyrics had been, say "But I'm around/all these places"

For me, a song will usually come from just messing around with my guitar and getting a nice chord sequence or riff. I then build it from there. The melody is the most important part though, and you need to have a good understanding of what notes follow what notes to get the highs and lows and emotional impact that songs need. I often hear songs which I like and think "that would have been so much better if they'd have gone into that chord at that point, or the vocal had hit that note". Not that my own musical ear is any better than theirs, I just have my own ideas of what makes a good tune, and I tend to stick with that.

One of the hardest things is breaking free of the 'verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle 8, instrumental, chorus to fade' structure that is used 99% of the time in pop music. I always remember being fascinated when I first heard 'Panic' by The Smiths and they had the a couple of verses and an instrumental, then ended the song with the chorus repeated over and over. Also, it seems to be accepted that the chorus has to be louder or more layered than the verse, why not reverse that? Have loud verses then go really quiet for the chorus.

[Muso] How you write your songs
« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2004, 07:33:54 PM »
Most of my music I've written has been with fairly "traditional" computerised methods - sequencers/synths/samplers.  Start up the music program, choose a few sounds, play around making a few-bar groove with them, then pick out more sounds and add them to the work in progress, growing a song around the initial core.  I just let it evolve, gradually working at higher levels like arranging grooves into sequences of grooves or layering them on top of each other rather than arranging individual sounds into grooves, constantly playing it back and feeling out what sound might fit in next, letting myself get lost in the sound.

Recently I've taken a new tack - having spent 10 years doing the above, I felt like a change.  Now I'm building various computerised performance instruments, and learning how to perform with them - live music rather than sequenced music.  The evolution/feeling my way kind of thing still comes into it, as I build my instruments from scratch I try different things out, see what works and what doesn't work.  Then I practice playing the instruments, seeing what sounds I can get out of them, getting ideas in my head as to how I can structure a song with these new tools, how I could change the tools to make song-writing easier.

Definitely the main thing is to have fun - when it starts to become a chore I stop and do something else.  I don't think I could write music under pressure, for me it's an escape from the linearity and cbligation of the day-to-day.