I love writing songs! And the funny thing is that I did not write my first song until I was 31 years old - never too old to pursue a passion! It is an amazing process to see an idea develop into a song. I grew up playing piano, singing in the church choir and playing keyboard in a jazz "ensemble" - but I did not continue any of these into my middle school and high school years.
I have always had a passion for music and when listening to songs, quickly find myself focused on the chord changes, key progressions and "ear-candy!"
So, at age 31, I had an "itch" to get back into music, decided to start taking voice lessons and my voice coach, Heidi Higgins of Jan Smith Studios here in Atlanta, Georgia, immediately suggested that I start writing songs. I had never written a song before - never read a book on how to write songs or had anyone tell me how to do it. I decided that if I was going to write songs, I would do it my way - why not?!
I am typically asked how I come up with ideas, how I write the music and the lyrics, etc. so I thought I would share in this blog post.
Step 1. I start with a stack of blank white printer paper and begin writing down concepts - things I enjoy doing, things that impact my life, experiences, relationships, etc - and any specific details that describe that concept. For example, I wrote a song that will be on my new album called The Ocean. I love the beach so this was an easy concept to develop. Under the ocean concept, I wrote down specific adjectives, words and phrases that describe my "visuals" of the ocean, crystal sand beaches, blues and greens of the ocean, blue sky, seashells, sound of waves, etc. and use as much detail as possible.
Step 2. Integrate any key phrases that serve as a lyric hook - or point of interest in the song. Many times, I will get an idea for a song based solely on an interesting phrase. One example is the first single off my upcoming album - Let Go and Let God. Over the last year, I had heard this phrase many times and even seen it printed on different mediums. I love the phrase and thought it would be catchy to include in a song. It's also a key message from a Christian perspective and one that connects with people regardless of their faith loyalty.
Step 3. Rhyme works so I take words and phrases and make them into rhyming lines that but are not necessarily in the order that they will be in the song. One example is in Let Go and Let God, "Running 90 miles an hour living life out loud each day, Twists and turns in life make me wonder what to do and say."
I also identify the key message lines that will be used in the chorus. For example, in Saturday in the South, this line worked and rhymed in the chorus: "It's gameday, pigskin, alma-mater, big band."
Step 4. Each songwriter has their own style of writing - I like to structure songs with a first Verse-Chorus then second Verse-Chorus jump to a music and lyric bridge and finish with a reinforcement of the Chorus. You will find this structure on most of the songs on my upcoming album. It works for me.
Step 5. All steps up until this point have described the lyrics and at this point, I start thinking about music. For most people, this can be the most challenging step (especially if you do not play a musical instrument). My suggestion is to listen to many, many different songs from different genres and identify musical elements of those songs that you like. You can then work with a producer / band to "use" them but obviously change them enough to make them your own in a new song. Many times, I develop the idea for the music aspect of a song, record it acapella and then sit down with a guitarist to ensure the music / lyric combo work.
The real test is when the concept is given life by a band! I found that my most recent songs are more powerful, less "wordy," and more impactful than the songs I wrote when I first starting writing. Over time, like anything, practice and persistence pay off!