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So, I usually journal about my music almost every day. Usually I keep that to myself, just for thinking with. But tonight I need a break from music production (been at it for most of the day), so I’ll share what’s on my mind from a day of working in the studio.
Tonight I’m working on lyrics to “Song No.1” (catchy, I know… but without finished lyrics, I want to keep my options on the title open for a bit longer).
This is the first song (and the first full day) in my personal 10-song producing marathon that’s designed to get me over my Finisher’s Block, create a catalog of new songs, and take my songwriting skills to the next level.
For details, please go read that post. But, the basic rules of my marathon are:
- Only one song at a time, from start to finish.
- Only 7 days to finish each song.
- No other musical projects or practice allowed, until all 10 songs are done.
- Song structure is ABABCB (‘verse-chorus-bridge’) with length of 3-4 minutes.
- Instrumentation is mostly pre-set (piano, drums, voice, bass synth).
- The song must be completed and mixed-down, no matter how bad I think it sounds.
- None of these songs need to be shared unless I want to.
What Progress Did I Make Today?
With so little songwriting experience, one of my major questions was “how long should I expect to spend writing a single song?”
I simply don’t have enough experience to be sure, so I decided that a week (7 days) would be the absolute maximum to write, record, and produce each song.
And, what did I find myself able to accomplish on the first day of serious work?
Well, I’m pleased to report that in just one day I’ve gotten a complete Verse-Chorus-Bridge song structure (with a simple Intro-Outro) worked up.
I’ve arranged those sections just as planned: (Intro) - (Verse 1) - (Chorus 1) - (Verse 2) - (Chorus 2) - (Bridge) - (Chorus 3) - (Outro). And, the whole piece works in a relatively satisfying way together.
The lyrics are my big problem right now (as I’ll explain below). But, the music has mostly gelled together.
I haven’t done any sound design, mixing, or effects. Just essential chords, rhythms, melodies and textures.
Where Is My Songwriting Currently Stuck?
Right now I’m feeling STUCK on the lyrics. I even have a vocal melody I want to use, but I’m finding it harder than expected to come up with full verses worth of lyrics.
I still need lyrics and finalized vocal melodies for:
- Verse 1 and Verse 2
- 2nd half of chorus
The Verse lyrics are really tough for me. I think I might have an easier time writing Choruses, personally. It seems kind of strange to me - since the Chorus is supposed to be the part we all remember and sing along to, but the Chorus and Verse are supposed to contrast (and besides, I can hardly remember all the Verse lyrics to most songs)… does that mean that Verse lyrics are not supposed to be memorable?
I know that sounds weird, but do you get what I’m trying to say? If the Chorus is memorable, and the Verse and Chorus should contrast, doesn’t it kind of seem like Verses should NOT be quite so memorable?
So, I’m probably viewing it the wrong way - but in the back of my head, I’m not sure how to ‘balance’ my existing Chorus with my unwritten Verses.
Plus, there’s just so much to write for 2 full-length verses. Maybe I’m doing it wrong?
Perhaps I should take a focused look at some great Verses and analyze what’s going on there - see if there are any lessons I can apply to my problem. Given how surprisingly ‘easy’ a lot of the other Songwriting steps have turned out to be, maybe I’m just looking at this Verse-Lyrics part the wrong way.
What I Learned About Bridges and Song Structure Today:
Here’s something I learned about Song Structure today from an awesome music teacher on YouTube. I was able to apply it immediately:
“The Bridge is meant to give our ears a break from what we’ve been hearing in the Verse and Chorus.”
This is some of the clearest, best advice I’ve ever gotten on the function and design of a bridge.
Knowing this, I was able to analyze some of what my Verse and Chorus were doing (for example the rhythmic pulse, going to major from minor, the chords I used), and then change a lot of those things up for the Bridge.
In fact, I think I could do WAY crazier Bridge sections in the future… this first song’s bridge is really “tame,” but I’m just really glad I got the hang of what Bridge sections are and how to use them.
It sounds good, too! Simple, but good. I see now: it’s the contrast to the rest of the song that makes the Bridge work. It really does “give your ears a break.”
No matter how good your Chorus hook is, it will always sound even cooler as it “hits” right after the Bridge section has given you something new. The purpose of the Bridge is to make us crave the (predictable) return of the Big Chorus.
Now I know that the best part of the Bridge is really the big return of the final Chorus at the end. That explains why almost anything can go in the 8 or 16 bar Bridge section and still “work” perfectly with the song.
Turning My Arrangement Draft into a Finished Mix
One major hallmark for today was moving from Ableton’s jam-oriented Session View into the finalized, linear Arrangement view. I honestly expected this to be much harder. But, at least for today, it was pretty easy.
Part of the simplicity was because I structured my instrumental parts so clearly: ‘Verse’ and ‘Chorus’ and ‘Bridge’ and ‘Intro/Outro’ were all completely separate from the start, even in the Session jams that created the overall ‘sound’ of each section.
(Side note, I will say it was hard to tell at first if my initial musical idea was a ‘Verse’ or a ‘Chorus’, but eventually I realized that it was the Chorus because of its higher energy level… or maybe it became the Chorus as I worked on it… I’m not really sure, but I know ‘working on it’ made the ideas come together bit by bit. When you’re getting the song started from scratch, just don’t give up… expect some frustration, and don’t let it discourage you. Just be patient.)
When it comes to the final recordings and the end mix of ‘Song No.1’, I guess I will re-use (as in, copy-paste from the Draft to the Final) the best parts from my current Ableton project, and re-record any weaker parts from scratch (after practicing them first, of course).
I’m not sure it will be completely necessary to do this - it depends on how the draft recordings turn out. But, I do like thinking of this folder as the ‘song draft.’ Then I can then spend an extra day practicing the hard parts and recording everything into a fresh Ableton project for the final mix.
So, the path forward is pretty clear.
- Finish the lyrics and Vocal scratch tracks.
- Finalize the Bass and Piano sounds.
- Polish the Bass and Piano tracks.
- Finalize the Drum sounds.
- Finalize the Drum track, including fills and transitions.
- Polish the vocals.
- Polish the transitions between sections, especially the energy shifts from down to up, and back again.
- Last stuff - mixing and mastering, including any necessary automation in Ableton.
- Mixdown and share online (maybe).
Still not sure how long this should take me, but there’s no doubt that I’ve made respectable progress on Songwriting today.
(Oh, by the way - did I mention that I ran 3.5 miles today in-between production time? Just sayin’!)
Have Any Thoughts to Share?
Did any of this songwriting stuff strike a chord (heh) with you? If so, leave me a ‘note’ (heh-heh) in the comments.
Or, if you have any tips on lyrics and verses, I’d be delighted to hear them.
Thanks for reading and talk again soon - RG
Read More: Click here for Day 2 and some thoughts on writing lyrics…
Listen to the finished song: Click here to skip ahead two weeks and hear the finished song “Lost in the Wind.” Please leave a comment on the track to let me know how you feel about it!