When I tell someone that I’m a songwriter, one of the first things they ask me about is my songwriting process. This is something I’m also curious about when it comes to my favorite songwriters that I look up to because there isn’t only one way to write a song. Everyone’s process is different, and it can change depending on the song. Even though I don’t write songs the exact same way each time, there are still some steps in my songwriting process that stay consistent for the most part. Let’s get into it!
Every song I write starts with an inspiration. Sometimes, I get an idea for a song from a specific experience. Other times, songs come to me when I’m most aware of my emotions and why I’m feeling a certain way. No matter what, I always write a song for a reason. From my own experiences, I’ve noticed that the best songs are the ones that come naturally. When a song doesn’t seem to come together, I realize that it’s because I’m trying to force it into something instead of letting it have a life of its own. I get inspired at the most unexpected times, so I wait for these moments to happen because I know I’ll be able to write something meaningful and authentic from them.
So, you might be thinking, what if inspiration doesn’t strike out of nowhere? Just because a whole song doesn’t form in my mind at rapid-fire speed doesn’t mean I can’t find ways to get the inspiration flowing. My favorite way to do this is through sensory freewriting. If I have a song concept, title, or story in mind, I write from that idea and let the words flow. In this technique, the point is to get down thoughts, feelings, imagery, metaphors, and anything else that bubbles to the surface. Every time I read back through my freewrites, I find lyrics waiting for me. So, if a song doesn’t appear on its own, sensory freewriting allows me to get inspired.
The Chorus Comes First
Writing the chorus first isn’t universal. Sometimes, I don’t start with the chorus myself. The only times I don’t, though, are when I have a crystal clear vision for the song. When I’m still trying to figure out what I want to say, I start with the chorus. I think of the chorus as the heart of the song because it captures the message. It’s usually what someone holds on to after listening. I’ve found that once I focus on the chorus and know exactly what I want to say, the rest just falls into place. I usually write the pre-chorus as soon as I write the chorus because it is the buildup to the chorus, and I like to have this part of the song solid before moving on to the verses.
I put a ton of thought into my choruses. I want the messages of my songs to be meaningful and clear. I like to get to the point in my choruses and say exactly what needs to be said. To make sure the chorus is strong, I ask myself why I’m writing the song. I mentioned above that I write my songs for a reason. The chorus is where I make that reason known. No matter how deep I get into the storytelling in the rest of the song, what it all boils down to is the heart of the message.
Reverse to the First Verse
Once I have the chorus and pre-chorus written, I go back to the first verse. Where the chorus is the heart of the song, the first verse is most important to make a first impression. I spend a lot of time on the first line of a song because it’ should grab the listener’s attention. Also, it should have a strong link to the chorus, which is why it’s extremely important to clearly understand the message of the song. Additionally, this verse is the first piece of the story, and it needs to make a strong enough impact to keep someone listening right from the start.
I love writing first verses because they’re the home to sensory imagery. Of course, imagery can be used in other parts of the song, but the first verse is about painting a picture for my listeners. Especially in country music, it’s so important to create a sensory experience through storytelling. Because I love imagery and metaphors so much, I use them in my pop music as well. Writing the first verse is one of the most natural parts of my songwriting process. In all my songs, I hope to draw listeners in from the very beginning and tell a story as vivid as glittering stars in a clear, night sky.
Skip Ahead to the Second Verse
I’m going to be completely honest. The second verse is always hardest for me to write. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on the second verse because it needs to capture a different part of the story and take the song to a deeper level. On top of this, it should tie back to the message of the song. Sometimes, I even wait to write the second verse until I have the melody and chord structure figured out. I like to give myself time to develop the song more, so I can figure out what it’s missing.
Even though writing the second verse isn’t my favorite, I realize it’s an essential step in the songwriting process. There are a few techniques I resort to when I get stuck on a second verse. First, I do more freewriting. This technique almost always leads me down the right path. If I’m still stumped, I can change the perspective. If my first verse is about the past, the second verse can talk about the present. Flipping this perspective allows me to talk about the story in a fresh way. Additionally, another way I tackle second verses is by making them expand on the chorus. I mentioned earlier that I’m a huge fan of imagery. Since choruses typically don’t have a ton of imagery, the second verse is the place where I can get deeper into the song’s message with some sensory imagery. These are just a few techniques I use. In the end, I always find a way to write a second verse I’m proud of.
Bridge, Bridge, Bridge!
If you know me, you know I have a major obsession with bridges. I love them. Writing the bridge is my favorite part of my songwriting process. I could go on for hours about bridges, but I’ll keep it short and sweet. Every single one of my songs has a bridge. There are songs out there that don’t have a bridge, and that’s totally fine. There’s no rule in songwriting that says every song needs a bridge. It’s a rule for me, though.
So, you’re probably wondering why I’m such a fan of bridges. I personally feel that bridges can offer so much to a song. Depending on the song’s message, the bridge can go so many different directions. It gives me the opportunity to share one more piece of the story, add a fresh layer of meaning, look ahead to the future, and so much more. My bridges are my favorite parts of all my songs. I put so much thought into them, and they allow my songs to shine even brighter. Sometimes, the bridge is the climax of my songs. I love building up to a powerful moment that gives my listeners something meaningful to think about. To be honest, I feel like the bridge is the cherry on the top of the cake.
Melody Before Chords, Always
I write the melody before the chord structure for every one of my songs. Sometimes, I naturally write a melody as I’m writing the lyrics, but even when I wait to figure out the melody until I finish the lyrics, I don’t even let myself think about a chord structure until the melody is written. Personally, I feel like coming up with chords first can restrict the song. When I listen to music, I immediately focus on the melody. I think this is because my main instrument is piano, and I love playing pieces with beautiful and unique melodies. So, when I’m writing my songs, I create a melody that captures the vibe of the song and fits the lyrics. Then, I sit down at my piano or grab my guitar and create a chord structure that best supports the melody.
Writing the melody is one of my favorite parts of my songwriting process. I love setting my phone to record while I sing a bunch of melody ideas. It’s so important for the melody to compliment the lyrics, and vice versa, so it’s a lot of fun exploring different ones. Also, the melody is key to create contrast between song sections. I enjoy trying out different rhythms and pitches, until I settle on a melody that feels right. Especially with my pop music, I want listeners to sing along, so a ton of time goes into crafting a catchy melody. When my own melody gets stuck in my head, I know I nailed it.
Build Up the Song with the Chord Structure
Determining the chords for a song is the last big step of my songwriting process. After deciding on a key that feels right, I get down to figuring out what chords I want to use. Both pop and country music have some common chord progressions, and I use these, as well as some more unique chords. Like the melody, changing the chord progression from section to section can create contrast. One of my favorite things to do is add a minor two chord in the pre-chorus. At the end of the day, though, the chords should support the rest of the song. Thanks to all my knowledge of music theory, writing the chords is very easy for me. It’s also all about what sounds right. Through trying out different chords under a melody, I’m able to settle on the chord progression that works best for each section of the song.
Polish the Song
After I have a finished song, it’s time to polish it up. I go through the lyrics, melody, and chord structure to make sure everything is how I want it. I often make tweaks here and there. It’s easy to spot changes that need to be made once I have a completed song. By going piece by piece, I’m able to make sure the song is as strong as it can be. Sometimes, changing a single lyric or melodic phrase can make all the difference in the world.
So, there you have it. This is my songwriting process that turns an inspiration into a finished song that’s ready to be performed and brought to life in the studio. Of course, some songs take longer than others and there are smaller steps in between the big ones that change depending on each song, but for the most part, this process has always worked for me. One of my favorite things about songwriting is not knowing what song I’ll write next. I’m always looking forward to the next moment I’m inspired.
Are you looking for more songwriting inspiration? Check out my five songwriting resolutions for 2021 here.