With the global pandemic currently sweeping the world, a lot of us are probably stuck at home. This can be a great time to finally get some work done on those songs that you’ve been waiting to finish.
Working on your own songs at home can be really rewarding, but it can also be a really frustrating experience. Here are some suggestions to make the process more productive, and more importantly, more fun.
Start with a simple outline
Use your main instrument (acoustic guitar, piano, etc.) to develop a simple outline of the song. Write out a chart of the song. A song chart is simply a roadmap of what happens in what part of the song. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a great resource to get you started.
If you only sing, there are great programs out there that can generate chord progressions for you to work with (like this one) Even something as simple as Garage Band (which includes a ton of great loops and sounds) can be really helpful in coming up with something.
Get the structure right
Once you’ve made a simple outline of your song, play through it a few times and make sure it feels right. Once you’ve done that, record a rough draft and listen through it a few times to make sure the arrangement feels right. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, even something as simple as a voice note on your phone will suffice.
Resist the urge to start putting parts in place just yet. If you have a great ideas that you don’t want to forget, definitely take the time to sketch the idea out, but don’t spend too much time trying to perfect the part just yet. You could have the greatest part in the world, but if the arrangement sucks great parts don’t matter.
At this point, you’re creating the foundation for your song. Just like with building a house, getting a good solid foundation is crucial to having a great house. You never see people build a house by starting with the roof or hanging pictures on the wall. The same is true with building a song.
Make sure to avoid odd time signatures unless it’s crucial to your genre or it makes sense in the song. Adding an extra beat to a measure to fit in an extra syllable to two because you don’t want to change the lyrics generally isn’t a good idea. Unless it serves some larger artistic purpose take the time to make it fit within the normal confines, otherwise it’s unnecessarily jarring for your listeners.
Shitty First Drafts
Starting from scratch on a new song can be really overwhelming. A blank canvas is terrifying.
One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamotte, has a great suggestion for overcoming this. She calls it Shitty First Drafts.
One of the biggest reasons it’s so difficult to start from scratch is because we’re afraid whatever we’re going to come up with is going to suck and people will think we suck as a result.
By giving yourself permission to make shitty first drafts, you give yourself permission to just try some things, even if they’re not great. You can always iterate and improve, or just throw it away altogether and no one ever has to know about that hideous thing that you made.
Give yourself permission to suck, and just start.
Get Some Feedback
Find some people whose musical opinions you trust, and ask them if they’d be willing to give you some feedback. Also be ready for them to give you some feedback. Sometimes it can sting a little for someone to give you some honest feedback, but if you approach this humbly and with a little humility, their feedback can often get you back on track.
Give it some time.
Oftentimes when we’re in the heat of the moment of creating we think it’s the greatest thing ever. Then after a few days we go back, and maybe it’s not as great as we thought.
The converse is also true. Sometimes if we’re having a rough day and we record something that we think is terrible, after letting it sit for a few days it’s not as bad as we thought. It also takes time for ideas to develop in our heads.
Oftentimes in my writing sessions I feel like I’m getting absolutely nothing done. I’ll work for several hours on something and get nowhere.
But then as I’m driving home or working on something completely different, ideas start flowing.
I like to think of the initial time of working on something that seems to go nowhere as priming my creative pump. It doesn’t initially get anything done, but it gets the ideas starting to work in our subconscious, which is what we really want!
Music that is really impactful and meaningful needs to come from the sub-conscious parts of our brains, because music is all about emotions, and emotions aren’t logical.
Once you get past the initial structure building part, a lot of times the ideas start flowing. A big temptation in today’s world of limitless tracks, the tendency is to just keep adding parts on top of parts.
This can be a lot of fun to come up with different parts, but for your listener it can often be overwhelming. Got 4 different guitar parts? You probably only need one. As William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Try not to become so attached to any idea that you can’t get rid of it if it’s not serving the song.
Have a target
I know, I know…as creative individuals we want to be originals. But oftentimes if we’re too original and eschew too many conventions, the end result can be confusing or uninteresting for our listeners.
Find some tracks that you would like your song to be similar to. Pay attention to their production decisions, their lyrical decisions, their musical decisions. You don’t have to copy everything they do, but well done commercial products can be a great source of inspiration and education.
let us help
Making music on your own can be overwhelming and frustrating. Did you know we offer remote production coaching? You can schedule a free 30 minute consultation video chat. We can take a listen to your song and help you get unstuck.