For most songwriters, the songwriting process largely involves sitting down and actually playing their chosen instrument, usually a guitar, keyboard, or piano.
Although there is something to be said about the physicality involved in writing songs in such a “traditional” manner, many producers, like those getting into electronic music, don’t have that luxury.
So in this article, we will cover a few songwriting ideas for beginners from the approach of a music producer.
Let’s begin 🙂
Table of Contents
- Using a DAW for Inspiration
- Song Generation Ideas
- Finding Ideas in Structures
- Finding Inspiration and Staying Motivated
- Final Thoughts
Using a DAW for Inspiration
So if you’re a producer (or want to be one), yet you can’t play an instrument to the level required to be a traditional “songwriter,” what do you do?
Start with a DAW.
There are numerous benefits to using a DAW to spur on the creative process, and even for generating song ideas from scratch.
And these days, you can get started with one for free, whether it is Studio One Prime (great for beginners), Pro Tools First (also beginner friendly), or Cockos Reaper trial version (more advanced).
If you want to see more choices, like Ableton or Logic, read about them here.
So what is a DAW?
In many ways, a DAW (or digital audio workstation) can be thought of as a more flexible and more versatile tape recorder that enables you to capture ideas for later analysis and refining.
Unlike a standard tape recorder however, DAWs make it easy to extend and repeat musical phrases by cutting and pasting musical events along a timeline.
This capability also makes it easier for you to restructure songs at will (more on that later). For DAW-capable songwriters, the ability to arrange songs so easily–and then revert back to the original idea just as easily–are among the perks of working within a DAW environment.
DAWs also make it easy for you to orchestrate and render your song using software instruments and musical tools that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Not all songwriters are fortunate enough to have a roomful of musicians at their beck and call. For most of us, having access to the virtual tools and instruments of a fully-featured DAW is the next best thing.
Now that we’ve gotten the right tools, what do you do?
Song Generation Ideas
There are undoubtedly many ways by which you, the songwriter, can start generating new ideas for those lyrics or melodies you have worming around in your head, note book, or recording app.
Oftentimes however, a solid foundation of strong musical and lyrical ideas will result in a subjectively more compelling and more memorable song.
The Instrumentalist Approach
If you can play an instrument, you may be familiar with the fact that one of the most effective ways to generate songwriting ideas for beginners or pros is by actually playing an instrument. You don’t have to be a virtuoso or even be especially adept at any particular instrument in order to come up with good song ideas. Oftentimes, even the simple act of strumming a guitar or playing a keyboard can trigger a stream of potentially useful ideas.
Working with Loops for inspiration
However, if you don’t know how to play an instrument, you can use drum loops, bass, chord progression samples found all over the internet as the basis for you achieving your songwriter goals.
Jamming to a drum beat or a drum loop could help you develop riffs, chord progressions (if you’re recording an instrument or using a MIDI controller), and even melodic ideas (for singers).
Again, you don’t have to be particularly good at the drums–or even know how to play drums for that matter–in order to make use of the rhythmic foundation and momentum that a good percussion track provides. There are literally hundreds of ready-made drum loops in audio and MIDI format that you can download off the internet and import into your DAW, and they can help provide a strong foundation upon which to build a cohesive musical composition.
Working with Your Favorite Song
When stuck for ideas, you can also use an existing piece of music to kick-start the creative process.
Another artist’s songs–or even one of your own–can serve as the catalyst that will inspire you to come up with a fresh, new piece of music.
In doubt as to how this approach can be feasible?
Practically all the EDM producers you’ve probably heard of have been remix artists on some level. One of my all time favorite tracks is by Flume, Tennis Court, which is remix of Lorde’s original.
For this to work, you’d need to have some amount of musical knowledge to know how to break down a track into its components (drum, bass, chords, etc.). But once you’ve got that out of the way, it’s simply a matter of letting your creativity direct your path.
Something that was well known can very easily become something brand new.
Finally, consider the benefit of collaborating with another songwriter or musician. This often helps accelerate the song generation process, and breaks through creative blocks faster than you can say “where’s the bridge?”
Some of the most memorable songs ever written were the product of collaboration between two or more artists, each of whom brought something unique to the table. Incorporating someone else’s ideas will also help keep things fresh, and prevent the monotony and sameness that sometimes characterizes the work of solo songwriters.
Finding Ideas in Structures
Structuring and arrangement is often just as important as the initial act of coming up with song ideas.
But for some people, the very idea of creating a song structure causes ideas to be generated. It’s like creating the blueprint for a house. Once you have the bare-bones, your imagination wanders as you fill that house with furniture, decorations, people, paintings, and so on.
All you need are the basic components of a song structure. Focusing on just creating a basic version, for example, go for a break, then come back and figure out a chorus.
When you’re ready to bring everything together, all that you need to do now is arrange your components in a logical order. With a little more work, you’re on your way to a masterpiece
So for the uninitiated, what goes into a good song structure?
A well-structured song will keep the listener engaged and hanging on every movement from start to finish. Conversely, a poorly-structured song might result in the listener becoming bored or restless.
So what does a “song structure” look like, Mr. Architect?
Let’s take a closer look…
First, the components.
This Sets the tone of the song and moves the narrative along. The chorus normally changes with each iteration.
One of the catchiest and musically strongest parts, the chorus typically sums up the message of the song. You probably create one chorus as you will keep returning to this section.
A short segment that sets up or leads into the chorus.
A musical and lyrical deviation from the rest of the song. Sometimes referred to as the “middle eight”, it is often used to introduce tension that is resolved with the chorus.
It also helps keep things from sounding too repetitive.
A short lyrical line or phrase that is typically repeated at the start or end of the verses.
A catchy and memorable part of the song. This may be a lyric, a vocal or instrumental motif, or even the chorus or refrain.
One of the most commonly employed song structures is:
Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus
In this structure, the first verse sets the theme or tone of the song, with the first chorus summarizing the theme that was initially established. The second verse then builds on the idea or introduces new concepts, with the succeeding chorus again providing a summary. At this point, a bridge is introduced in order to provide contrast or tension, which is then resolved with the final chorus, which something repeated over and over until the song fades away.
Keep in mind that song structures aren’t written in stone, and artists usually have a great deal of freedom with regard to structuring their work. You may choose to have two verses before introducing the chorus for instance, or you may insert a pre-chorus that sets up the chorus. You may also opt to start the song on a high note by starting out with the chorus before going into the verse, or even do away with the chorus entirely.
In general, you will want to structure your songs in a way that maintains the listener’s interest and provides episodes of tension followed by release. This will help bring about the sense of satisfaction that comes from following the emotional peaks and ebbs of a well-written song.
Finding inspiration and staying motivated
Even with all the tools and knowledge at your disposal, your songwriting efforts may grind to a halt if you lack sufficient motivation and inspiration. Unfortunately, these have a way of disappearing at the most inopportune times, and they can be extremely difficult to muster up when you need them the most.
That being said, there are ways by which you can cultivate an atmosphere that is more to generating inspiration and motivation.
Breaking the “Songwriter’s Block”
One of the ways by which creative writers handle the dreaded “writer’s block” is by making a commitment to writing every day, whether or not they feel like it. You might try setting aside a specific time and place where you can work on your craft undisturbed. Over time, you are bound to come up with something that will open up the flood gates of creativity.
Which leads me to a next point…
Save all your drafts! You never know when you may come across some buried treasure in a remote folder in your hard drive.
Many times a new idea for a song will come out something you wanted to discard weeks or months ago.
The Power of Deadlines
Another thing that helps you to burst through the demotivation lull is to give yourself strict deadlines.
Some songwriters work more effectively when faced with a deadline. You could try committing yourself to coming up with something by a specific date. This doesn’t necessarily mean coming up with a fully-fleshed out song. Any little bit of progress is still progress, whether it is a verse and a chorus, or even just a catchy hook.
Take a Break
Finally, consider setting aside music and songwriting periodically in order to regroup and replenish your creative energies. Remember that songs are often born out of real-world experiences, so it could be beneficial for you to step out of the studio–or your musical headspace–and spend time in the real-world on occasion.
For most people, the path toward becoming an effective songwriter is long and arduous, with many seemingly insurmountable challenges along the way. However, knowledge of the most effective methods and practices–combined with persistence, motivation, and inspiration–will inevitably get you results.