New songwriters always ask the same question: Lyrics or music first?
The reality is that there is no correct answer. Any method is fine if it works for you. Even so, there are times when you might take a more specific approach. There can also be advantages to choosing one over the other.
With this in mind, let’s compare the pros and cons of choosing to focus on either lyrics or music first.
When you take this approach, it’s crucial to use your instincts and keep the vibe in your mind. The important thing is not to become disillusioned if you can’t create a song in one sitting.
It may take dozens of pages for you to develop enough parts that work together in a synchronized manner. This is all part of the experience and one of the most beautiful aspects of writing music.
In fact, you could end up finding inspiration for more songs along the way. There’s a good chance that you may use some sections at a later stage.
When you write the music first, it tends to result in a more structured approach. The hook will probably resonate with the listener, but the lyrics may be less memorable. Of course, this won’t always be the case, but the chances are higher.
The lyrics will complement the melodies and tempo of the song.
Maybe the first line of a song or a chorus has entered your brain and you must finish it.
The important thing to remember is that music must still play its part. Lyric-focused songwriting can be more of a chaotic process than when you emphasize the music. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
This is essentially like writing poetry, except that it’s only half of the journey.
Sometimes you must know when you need to let go of a word or a line because it won’t fit with the rest of the song. Freestyling your lyrics can even help you when it comes to writing music because you know the general melody you want to achieve.
When you write lyrics and sing, concentrate on capturing emotions. A good song will provoke and play with the emotions of listeners in one way or another.
Mix and Match
If you’re an indie songwriter, there’s no reason why you need to pick one method over the other.
Mix and match between both music and lyrics for a more balanced approach to songwriting. You may find yourself humming some random notes and putting words to them.
Or maybe you come up with a catchy phrase and realize that it could actually work as a real song. Then you start trying to put a beat and a bassline to it. In many cases, this is one of the most exciting stages in songwriting.
So don’t be afraid to experiment with your songwriting. If you get bogged down on one side, you can always focus on the other. This can help you progress with the song as an entity.
As you write different songs, you may find your approach become increasingly fluid. Everybody has their own unique style.
Ways to Enhance Songwriting
Let’s look at some easy ways to get the most out of writing lyrics and music.
When you come up with a great melody, remember to record it. It could be on a simple voice memo app on your phone or a DAW.
The important thing is that you don’t want to forget it before you sit down and play. Then practice. Hit some different notes on your instrument and see what works and flows.
Maybe you want to add a beat. This can help you with the overall structure of the song. It really depends on the style of music, so don’t be afraid of doing something wrong.
It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with music theory. You will save time as you try to write more songs because it will give you more of an idea of what works and what doesn’t.
A great tip is to keep a notepad beside your bed.
Everybody gets creative thoughts in their mind before they sleep. But they’re too cozy and tired to get up and jot them down in a journal. Then, they forget all about it the following morning.
A lot of people focus on the chorus first because this is essentially the heart of the song. Another point to remember is that you don’t need to commit to every line or word. ‘Dummy lyrics’ can be useful when you’re trying to get things right.
Strip back the fat from your song because less is more. Most people find it easier to overwrite than to say too little.
Have patience, too, because it’s very rare that you’ll successfully write an entire song by yourself in one go. If you do, that’s an amazing achievement.
The process of creating a new song should be a journey of joyful self-expression.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what approach you take as long as the result is something that you are proud of. Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell famously focused on music first. Meanwhile, Elton John concentrated on the lyrics in the early days of his career.
If you have any doubts about which method you should take, the best thing to do is to experiment. Maybe you prefer a more structured approach, so focusing on the lyrics is more natural for you.
But maybe the skeleton of the song is in your mind. So don’t be afraid to chase those lyrics. You can even change your approach as the song goes on. Stay patient, as it can be frustrating when one line or note just doesn’t fit.
Avoid throwing away the pages or deleting files if you get stuck. Just put them away or save them and come back later. You may find that suddenly it all makes sense.
Whatever you do, keep writing and creating beautiful music!