This past week has been crazy. Since last Wednesday, I moved to college, started classes (I’m doing fifteen credit hours and I have ALL my classes on Tuesdays, ugh), probably finally finalized the dates for the Chapter One Young Writers Conference 2014, registered a custom domain for this blog (which I’ll talk about more in a future blog post–stay tuned, but just know for now that nothing’s changing for you, so there’s no need to worry), and… well… Hannah and I also finally started vlogging. (I say “finally” because we’ve been talking about starting a vlog for the better part of a year now. So the fact that we actually did it is kind of unbelievable.)
Our first video talks about how failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Check it out?
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a Writing Process post about how I write my songs. Thanks go to the fabulous Rachel for this topic suggestion!
Before we begin, here are some examples of my songwriting, in no particular order (AKA I’m just posting these as I remember them):
I’m not really a musician–I’ve known how to read music since elementary school and I have experience playing most percussion instruments, along with singing, but it’s difficult for me to hear harmonies or keep a rhythm, so music’s never been a career option. However, I do really enjoy songwriting–mainly for the lyrics–and I probably have a couple hundred songs written out in notebooks and Word documents.
The process for writing a song is always unique, but I’ve found that I do follow a very loose set of guidelines while doing it, at this point. Here we go.
The first step in writing a song is finding the inspiration for one. Every once in a while I’ll try to sit down with no ideas in mind and try to come up with something, but that hardly ever works–more commonly, I’ll be in the middle of eating dinner or watching a movie or taking notes in class and BOOM: a line or feeling or melody will pop into my head, and I won’t be able to get it to stop playing on repeat for the rest of the day.
Write It Down
The first chance I get, once I’ve gotten that first initial flash of inspiration, I grab paper or my laptop and write down what I’ve got. Then I pull out my guitar and get to work extending the line/melody/feeling into something longer. Sometimes this becomes the chorus, but it’s usually the first verse. I’ve found that when I get the idea for the chorus before anything else, it’s a lot harder for me to finish the song than when I get a verse first (I have a LOT of really catchy choruses sitting all alone in abandoned documents without any verses or bridges to support them).
I pick out what chords I’ll be using for the verses first, then the chorus, then the bridge; I try to have all the chords worked out before I go really heavy-duty into figuring out the words. Sometimes I’ll change the chords a few times while I’m working, but I like to have a template to go off of when I start.
Write with a Template
I write my songs using the basic pop/country song template, because I’ve found it works pretty well. It’s long enough to let you say everything you want to, without being so long that the song loses its focus. It goes as follows:
- [OPTIONAL INTRODUCTION]
- VERSE 1
- [OPTIONAL] TRANSITION TO CHORUS 1
- VERSE 2
- [OPTIONAL] TRANSITION TO CHORUS 2
- CHORUS (There’s a little wiggle room here for changing the words or melody of the chorus, etc)
I’m not a big fan of lyrical introductions in songs. They’re a bit like prologues in books–rarely actually necessary. Most of the time I’ll just strum the chords from the verse in the introduction. If I do feel like I need to have words in the introduction, I’ll use either one two-line or four-line stanza, then move into the first verse.
Generally, my verses are either two four-line stanzas or four two-line stanzas long. Or sometimes I’ll do two three-line stanzas. The verses are the meat of the song–where the real conflict and emotion come out.
Transitions between the verses and chorus are another optional thing. I generally only use them if there’s a big change in the chords/melody between the verses and chorus, in order to ease into it more. These will either be just a chord change or either one or two two-line stanzas. Transitions are meant to be short and do just that–transition.
The chorus is the exciting part of the song. It’s the part that needs to be really catchy, and it’s not as specific as the verses. Whereas they are there to tell the story, the chorus is the more general overall look at what the song’s about. My choruses generally fall into being two four-line stanzas with a repeated melody followed by a three-line stanza with a new one, but that isn’t always the case or how you need to do it. It’s just what I’m most comfortable doing.
The bridge is the point in the song when everything’s supposed to change. This is the surprise twist–the climax. I don’t write this until I’ve gotten everything else done, save for the ending. The length varies A TON per song, but I try to shoot for two four-line stanzas and go from there.
After the bridge, I always return to the chorus–however, the chorus isn’t always the same, here, as the one I’ve been using up until this point. Most of the time I’ll play the first half of the chorus twice, or mess with the melody a bit, or change some of the words. Since the point of the bridge is the change the course of the song, it makes sense to change the chorus–which has already been repeated twice and therefore is engrained into your memory a bit at this point–too. It shows how the bridge has really made a difference in whatever the conflict is that the song covers.
After that, we’re just down to the ending. Sometimes I’ll just end with the chorus, other times I’ll repeat the beginning of the first verse (sometimes with some words changed), or other times I’ll write a whole new bit at the end. When I do that, I try to copy the flow of the verses.
Play With It
Once I’ve got an entire song done, I play it a few times to make sure everything’s doing what it’s supposed to (and also to make sure that I won’t forget the melodies). While I’m doing this, I fix up the lyrics to make sure everything flows and makes sense, and sometimes change around some of the chords.
Then I let the song sit for a while, usually a few days, after which I come back and play the song a few more times, perfecting it more. Once I’ve gotten to the point that I’m no longer making changes every time I play it, I call it done-enough, and voila: I’ve got a song.
So yeah, that’s my songwriting process. It works pretty well for me and it keeps songwriting fun. I try to set aside a couple hours every few days to work on songs, but usually I just work as close as possible to when that first bit of inspiration strikes.
If there’s anything else writing-related you’d like me to talk about in a future Wordy Wednesday blog post, leave your suggestion(s) in the comments (or email me or whatever) and vote for the Writing Process option in this week’s poll, below. Thanks! (Also, don’t forget to watch and subscribe Hannah and my new vlogging channel on Youtube, Hannah and Julia’s Vlog! We’d really, really appreciate it.)