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10 Tips for Computer-Based Songwriting

Speed thrills—especially when you need to be creative

 

by Craig Anderton

 

 

A lot of songwriters will tell you that you can’t write songs with a computer—given how much time it takes to get a program open and recording, it’s better just to pick up a guitar and record into a smart phone or whatever to catch the inspiration before it goes away. But there are ways to make a computer a partner in the songwriting process, not an adversary—like the following.

 

  • Use a solid-state boot drive so your DAW can open as quickly as possible.
  • Choose an audio interface with enough inputs so you don’t have to re-patch. I’m close to filling up 20 audio inputs, but almost any instrument or mic I need is always available.
  • Open your browser to an online rhyming dictionary. I use Rhymezone.com, and it has been invaluable in helping to write lyrics faster. What's more, many DAWs have a notepad function where you can jot down ideas.
  • Don’t waste time trying to find the right tempo. Learn how to access a DAW’s Tap Tempo function, and use that to set the song tempo.
  • With Windows, use the Task Manager to disable any unneeded startup programs.
  • Take advantage of interface applets. Your interface will probably have an application to store routings, so create one that’s optimized for songwriting within your DAW.
  • Create a meaningful startup project. It’s surprising how many people use the default template that ships with a program. I have a “songwriting” template project with virtual drums, an electric guitar input channel with clean/crunchy/lead amps (I bypass all but the one I’m using), acoustic guitar input channel, several mics, bass input channel, metronome with count-in enabled, and a few keyboards. All the guitar channels have tuner plug-ins. The object here is to have a “support system” for your songwriting activities.
  • Color-code and use pictures as much as possible. Track icons are great, because it’s easier to parse an image of a bass headstock than read 24 channels of text to find the bass. Color is also useful in zeroing in on particular tracks.
  • Take advantage of a DAW’s random access, non-linear nature. Songwriting is not always a linear process; you may come up with some great chorus, outro, or lead line first. Go ahead and record it - it doesn’t matter where on the timeline you record. You may even find that by fleshing out a chorus fairly completely, it’s easier to come up with a verse.
  • Change strings at the end of a session. It’s a buzzkill to pick up a guitar and want to record, only to find out the strings sound kind of dull and won’t stay in tune.

 

Finally, remember that songwriting is different than tracking/mixing. The object is to move as fast as possible before the inspiration goes away—not edit and tweak. Consider all parts as placeholders that will eventually be replaced, and that way you won't feel the need to agonize over them.

 

______________________________________________ 

 

 Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.

 

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