Here’s the golden rule of writing a great song…
Yep, you guessed it, there aren’t any, just a lot of great writers to show us the way.
Some put it down to a great being, a force, God - to put it another way, inspiration. Some put it down to hours of grafting and sheer hard work - to put that another way, perspiration. I think it’s a combination of both, but if you don’t know were to start then here are five ways, with some examples.
1. Start With A Lyric
‘The long and winding road’ is a great example of an outstanding lyric combined with a great melody. It is a classic song, although one can’t help think that once the first lyric has done its work, then the second verse never quite cuts to mustard. You can read the story here
The trick with lyrics is to make them work hard. In other words if it’s a lyric about a place then describe it and colour in the lines, take a line about a bar. What did it look like? What did it smell like? Where was it? What were you drinking?
2. Start With A Melody
If you want a few melody tips then look no further than a song like ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ by George Gershwin’. Sung by everyone from Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Rod Stewart and more recently Amy Winehouse. More here
Riffs and loops can be cool, but people whilstle melodies and hooks, they remain with us, in fact sometimes we can’t shake them and they drive us crazy.
3. Start With A Riff
Want a few ideas for riffs, then how about ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zep, ‘The Way It Is’ by Bruce Hornsby, ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police or for drums ‘We Will Rock You By Queen’. Pop is full of riffs, they are often the heatbeat of great pop songs.
Riffs are often the thing that grab people’s attention and let them know, hey this song is playing ‘Back In Black’ has the awesome riff at the start that reminds us it couldn’t be any other song that’s about to play.
4. Start With A Loop
‘Umbrella’ has at the heart of it a drum loop from Garageband. Loops are core to a lot of modern tracks, helping to find a groove for a song. More here
In fact using a loop instead of the basic metronome is a great way to find a groove when trying out new ideas. In Pro Tools there are several ways to do this out of the box, use Boom, there’s a whole loop section in Xpand and you can load loops into Structure Free. Of course there is also workspace which can sync to the time of the track and enable you to build up a complex beat.
5. Just Busk It
Sometimes it’s just a case of getting out the acoustic guitar or sitting at the piano, or in a band rehearsal and knocking around an idea - plenty of great tracks were born that way.
I hope this helps those of you thinking about writing a new song. Over the years my songs have come from all of the above places, the only rule I would give is never give up!