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Mark Lykkos

The Ways Songs Are Put Together

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We all have our different ways of putting together our songs that we write. There's that old lyrics first vs. melody first vs. both at the same time debate, and sometimes it just switches depending on the very first idea for it that came up and where it decided to go.

 

I myself usually tend to start with the lyrics, then the melody + chords, and then everything else comes in random orders. What's everyone else's process? Do you write chord progressions and fit melody and words to that? Or do you also write the lyrics first with a working melody in mind? Or do you build off a riff or little melodic theme?

 

When building your song and producing it, do you have a pattern of starting with the drums and bass first before anything else, or do you flesh out chording and instruments? There are so many possibilities and sometimes I tend to get lost in all the different ways to do things and put them together. My mind works way too fast and pulls me into so many directions. Does anyone else experience this?

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We all have our different ways of putting together our songs that we write. There's that old lyrics first vs. melody first vs. both at the same time debate, and sometimes it just switches depending on the very first idea for it that came up and where it decided to go.

 

I myself usually tend to start with the lyrics, then the melody + chords, and then everything else comes in random orders. What's everyone else's process? Do you write chord progressions and fit melody and words to that? Or do you also write the lyrics first with a working melody in mind? Or do you build off a riff or little melodic theme?

 

When building your song and producing it, do you have a pattern of starting with the drums and bass first before anything else, or do you flesh out chording and instruments? There are so many possibilities and sometimes I tend to get lost in all the different ways to do things and put them together. My mind works way too fast and pulls me into so many directions. Does anyone else experience this?

 

I think there is no right or wrong on that. I really try do to mix it up to hit the target from different angles. So sometimes i come up with lyrics and the melody is created subconsciously in my mind. On the next day i try to come up with some different chords and then write lyrics to the feeling of the rhythm.

 

So i think variation is the key here

Edited by Matthias Hornstein
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There are times when the lyric writing aspect of the muse is visiting but the melody aspect isn't, and vice versa. Like any art form, inspiration needs nurturing. The visual arts person will search for light, color, form and function on his palette no differently than the songwriter will look into his poetry to describe what his mind's eye is tempting him to reveal in words, and his ear to render onto a melody.

 

I go both ways. I'll cooperate with which ever way is visiting inspiration upon me at the moment.

 

 

 

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I've approached it from just about every angle. I find that they all work to some degree. When I first started, it was rhythm and chord harmony first: I'd select a key, a tempo, throw on a drumbeat, then build a rhythm track with the chords. Then I'd write lyrics and melodies to go over it. Now, I kind of do it all at the same time.

 

I saw a really cool video recently about things to do when you're stuck. One was to roll a few 6 sided dice and use the results for your chord progression, then develop a melody on top of it.

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I've done it all sorts of ways. But most of my songs start with a title, then I take it from there.

 

When someone once asked hack songwriter Sammy Cahn "Which comes first the music of the words?" His reply was, "The check..."

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Re-reading the OP's post, I understand the last part can be splintering. It's a good question. My oldest son writes orchestral pieces with Sibelius software and manages to put together these pretty complex pieces one instrument at a time. From what I've watched of their construction he starts with violin, which is his primary instrument, and then he builds above and below that with the various orchestra instruments. He plays back as he composes and when he reaches the end of it he's done. There's nothing to edit or tweak. He hasn't written one I dislike but they are rather demanding pieces to compose. Like anyone else, he waits for the muse to visit and then wastes no time taking advantage of it. He's not a song writer, though.

 

Lyrically speaking, the audience, as with any kind of writing, is the focus of the effort. Know them, write for them and try to remain persuasive. What is it you need to say to them? The melody must be engaging and the lyrics interesting, poetic and novel in their verbiage. I think songs are much more demanding than orchestral pieces by their need to be lyrically convincing as well as melodically alluring.

 

Melodically speaking, melody is my favorite part to engage in. I can mentally drift off into a semi-conscious state just letting my fingers find melodies on the classical guitar. It's there where I revel and become my best for the music. I can't describe that much better. I can stay there for hours and it's from there that melodies work their way into songs.

 

Technically speaking, I'm a single voice, single instrument so there's little complexity to negotiate. That said, what I write can easily be developed beyond that to the band level. But, I prefer to play solo so I develop simplicity into what I do that engages my instrument playing and singing capacities in a best-use-of manner. While I try to keep the instrument a lyrically complementary aspect of songwriting (non-compete) I find myself wanting to do just the opposite because I prefer playing to singing. I have been told that the my playing impinges a bit much the song so now I'm careful not to overwork the canvass, so to speak.

 

Edited by Idunno

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I love writing to titles. I like to flip through the pages of books randomly, collecting phrases that can later potentially form the basis of a song. I probably will never use all of them, but it's handy to have if I quickly need an idea. I just pick one and start writing.

 

I usually begin with lyrics first, BUT (and that's a big but), it isn't like the lyrics will be set in stone, once I begin working on the music. I'd say they are usually about 90 percent done, but there is typicaly some overlap. Sometimes the words won't scan right with the melody, and I'll wind up changing a word here, a syllable there, adding subtracting, and altering. Some instances will require me to do it more than others, but I'd say lyrics (and melody) are never truly finished until the song is finished.

 

You do hear songwriters get asked the "lyrics-first vs. music-first" question a lot, and although it there may be some songwriters who are very strict about separating it into two different processes, I think most likely, the more accurate answer is that there's a lot of switching back and forth.

 

For producing, I don't know how common my method is anymore. A lot of people like to make a fully produced track, and then lay the vocals on top. I usually like to start with just a piano track and lead vocal. I'll lay down the simplest of drum beats just to keep time. Then once I've got the core of the song down, I'll slowly start building the rest of the track from there. And even at this stage, I will be rewriting bits of melody and lyrics as I go. So again, music, lyrics, production...it all overlaps.

Edited by kurdy

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