songwriters - how do 'you' write songs?

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axisusaxisus Frets: 21864
I was wondering what approaches people here take to writing songs? It's something I have always struggled with, so I'm looking for some different perspectives.
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  • bigjonbigjon Frets: 677
    Take a song I like covering with my band but want to record my own version of. Change the chords slightly (sometimes I don't bother). Change the vocal melody. Write new words.
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  • vizviz Frets: 8502
    edited April 2014
    Experience an emotion. Think of a tune that embodies it. Think of some words that fit the tune (optional).
    Anything that isn’t pentatonic is pretentious wank -  LastMantra
    more on the strength of my ability to own a PA than to play a guitar” - ICBM
    Be yourself. Everyone else is taken. Better to sound like an individual than a clone” - Merlin
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  • BenSirAmosBenSirAmos Frets: 308
    I different way every time. As soon as I think I have a 'formula', it doesn't work any more.

    One time it will happen while I am sat on the stairs painting the bannister, the next in a noisy kitchen, then in the quiet of the countryside, when I'm busy, when I've got lots of free time.

    Best to always have something to record with available all the time. I get really annoyed about the number ones that get away.

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  • Danny1969Danny1969 Frets: 7260
    Most of the stuff I've done has come from a chord sequence or some riffs I've come up with, and recorded with drums and bass etc. Normally at this point I've no words written down or even  any idea of what the songs about. Then I normally arm a vocal track and just improvise some words, then stop listen back, see if there's any phrases that are any good I  build a verse or a chorus line by line almost.
     What is interesting is sometimes I'll try and steer the words to relate to a specific subject like infidelity for example but the words will morph into a different subject like addiction or whatever. So to a certain extent the song steers it's self . 

    Here's some other procedures I've read about when artist have been stumped for words or wanted something different. 

    Pour some sugar on me  : Def Leopard ..... Mutt Langue and Joe Elliot spoke phrase's into handheld Dictaphones and then transcribed what they though each other said .... first line Mutt thought he heard was "Love is like a Bomb"

    Bowie : is alleged to have written words down on paper and then cut them up and arranged them in random order to see if anything interesting came out of it. 

    Radiohead : simply gave up the idea that anything had to make sense but now just use cryptic abstract phrases to give a flavour or a mood. I really like that
    www.2020studios.co.uk 
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  • digitalscreamdigitalscream Frets: 20926
    It all starts with a riff for me - well, almost always. There have been a couple of occasions where I've thought, "I want to say this" where it's started with more of a general feeling...from there I built the initial riff and everything carried on as normal.

    Then again...I don't generally write lyrics or the vocal line. I prefer to work as a band, and for me that only works if at least one or two other people in the band are also contributing to it.
    <space for hire>
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  • randomhandclapsrandomhandclaps Frets: 20515
    edited April 2014

    I hear whole pieces (even down to the minutiae) in my head so can't really offer any decent advice as to where I start.  Sometimes it may have been triggered by a thought, sound or riff I heard or played days earlier.  Once it is down the I try and shut off to it and approach it from different angles to see where I can add variances to the main theme.

    That said I do wholeheartedly believe the more you do it the easier it is. 

    Write a crap song - Decide what you don't like about it, what sounds clichéd and work out what bits would stop you playing it to someone else.  Now write a less crap song using what you have learned and do the same.  Then write a less crap song still, and so on.

    When we are commissioned to write a specific piece I try and absorb the pace and emotion of the description or accompanying tracks and spend a lot of time just calmly and quietly thinking.  Sometimes the thing that comes is just right from the get go, other times I bin them but they have got my brain working in the right direction so act as a good base for inspiration.

    My muse is not a horse and art is not a race.
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  • JohnPerryJohnPerry Frets: 1522
    Danny1969 said:

    Radiohead : simply gave up the idea that anything had to make sense but now just use cryptic abstract phrases to give a flavour or a mood. I really like that
    their weak link IMHO. Love their music, can't bear that barrage of empty cliches

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  • thomasross20thomasross20 Frets: 4024
    One thing I try not to do is stick to scales as I find it limiting. I play any sequence of notes and if it sounds good/different then great... I'll work on it and THEN apply some sort of structure/scale set to it later. 
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  • BenSirAmosBenSirAmos Frets: 308
    One thing I try not to do is stick to scales as I find it limiting. I play any sequence of notes and if it sounds good/different then great... I'll work on it and THEN apply some sort of structure/scale set to it later. 
    That would only work once for me. Then it would become the norm - too structured - and I'd have to change it. The Trotsky method - permanent revolution.

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  • EricTheWearyEricTheWeary Frets: 13073
    @Danny1969 the Leppard process is gone through on their Classic Album program. Quite a lot of those programs talk about the songwriting process for the different bands. Very few would start with a lyric ( Taupin/ Elton John being the honorable exception).

    I read a thing with Al DiMeola ( okay, not noted for his sing along ditties) where he said that songwriting always started with a chord progression- that you can make melodies over interesting chords but it's much harder to put interesting chords under a melody.
    I’ll handle this Violet, you take your three hour break. 
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  • BenSirAmosBenSirAmos Frets: 308
    edited April 2014
    EricTheWeary said: @Danny1969 the Leppard process is gone through on their Classic Album program. Quite a lot of those programs talk about the songwriting process for the different bands. Very few would start with a lyric ( Taupin/ Elton John being the honorable exception).

    I read a thing with Al DiMeola ( okay, not noted for his sing along ditties) where he said that songwriting always started with a chord progression- that you can make melodies over interesting chords but it's much harder to put interesting chords under a melody.

    (Weird editing thing here )
    I'd turn this on it's head. The lyric can give the rhythm and the cadence which challenges the songwriter to avoid cliche in supporting it with harmonies. But it is hard to put an interesting melody over an 'interesting' chord progression. Of course, as this is a largely a guitar-focused site, people will prioritise guitar parts - but if we are on about
    song writing rather than guitar widdling, then we might ask (as we always should before writing) "Who is the audience?"



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  • thecolourboxthecolourbox Frets: 7110
    Yeah id argue its no harder to write chords to an existing tune than the other way round, its horses for courses and individual preferences. Worth trying both ways around.
    My music theory knowledge background is classical, and that's exactly what you're encouraged to do for theory exam composition
    www.pianomatt.co.uk - Wedding and Event Pianist in the West Midlands
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  • benmurray85benmurray85 Frets: 1302
    This is something i'm really getting into at the mo. Ive always written stuff but i've really been looking into other peoples methods and different thoughts on songwriting. I find it intriguing. I recently started recording "solo" (i hate that term cringe) at home with a small setup and found it a real struggle not having people to bounce ideas off. Any-how i generally always get an idea for a first line or a chorus whilst I'm sitting messing with my acoustic. I can be sat there for an hour and get nothing but when it comes time to do something else or go to work thats when i get something in that last couple of minutes. I bang it on the phone recorder thing and if i listen back to it over the next couple of days i know its something worth working on. I usually start by building a structure of the tune and then trying to fill in the lyrical gaps adding or deleting musical interludes as i go. My biggest issue at the mo is song structure. I cant seem to get out of the standard verse chorus verse chorus middle formula and its pissing me off. Anyways this is just my method. FWIW my biggest tip would be to bounce ideas of other people or a band if you can get one together.
    How very rock and roll
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  • KerpunkKerpunk Frets: 75
    I just play what comes out of my head until I hear something I like then base a song on that.
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  • koneguitaristkoneguitarist Frets: 3700
    edited April 2014
    I think it varies for everyone, I hear a sentence that can sometimes make me think of lines, other times, it's hearing a song and almost trying to write a reply to it. 
    For instance I wrote a song called "Don't call me fool" after listening to an Elvis song she's not you. 
    Tried to write it from another viewpoint. 
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  • benmurray85benmurray85 Frets: 1302
    koneguitarist;217332" said:
    I think it varies for everyone, I hear a sentence that can sometimes make me think of lines, other times, it's hearing a song and almost trying to write a reply to it. For instance I wrote a song called "Don't call me fool" after listening to an Elvis song she's not you. Tried to write it from another viewpoint. 
    I LOVE this idea. Gonna try writing "replies" to some well known songs! Thanks
    How very rock and roll
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  • thecolourboxthecolourbox Frets: 7110
    I'm thinking Eamonn and Frankee from a few years hence...pure shame upon any of you that know what I'm on about....
    www.pianomatt.co.uk - Wedding and Event Pianist in the West Midlands
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  • KerpunkKerpunk Frets: 75
    I'm thinking Eamonn and Frankee from a few years hence...pure shame upon any of you that know what I'm on about....
    :( I do. In my defence those songs came out when I was at school and they were pretty big at the time.
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  • martmart Frets: 4753
    ...
    I read a thing with Al DiMeola ( okay, not noted for his sing along ditties) where he said that songwriting always started with a chord progression- that you can make melodies over interesting chords but it's much harder to put interesting chords under a melody.
    There's probably a connection between his songs not being very singable, and his melodies being chosen to fit round interesting chords. I can't remember where it was, but some book I read about songwriting said that the best melodies are the ones that come first, and are then harmonised, rather than just following a chord sequence. 
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  • vizviz Frets: 8502
    Exactly, i think that's more like al di meola. But his songs are extremely singable once you know them inside out, like anything i guess.
    Anything that isn’t pentatonic is pretentious wank -  LastMantra
    more on the strength of my ability to own a PA than to play a guitar” - ICBM
    Be yourself. Everyone else is taken. Better to sound like an individual than a clone” - Merlin
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