Creative Process for Writing Music

How do you write a song?

Perhaps everyone has a different method or perhaps there’s a rulebook somewhere that states the order in which a song or piece must be written.

I can only speak for myself.

I know I take a different approach for writing songs as opposed to say writing a film score.

Most of my songs all came about by accident, I was just noodling on the guitar and a few chords got stuck together and I liked how they sounded and I started fumbling around with them until I had a riff and a pattern.

Some songs might take months or years to complete, I leave them there to ‘marinate’. In the past I would remember the chord structure, might even record it with a 4-track machine (when I borrowed one) or just play it into my tape deck (remember those days?). But other times I would just play those chords over and over so much till I remembered them. All in my head.

Of course, fast forward to the digital era and everyone and their grandmother has a laptop with some sort of recording capability. So nowadays I just have everything readily hooked up to go if inspiration strikes and I need to press record.

But it always starts with chords for me, then I hum a melody line and finally I write lyrics to fit the rhythm. That’s my way of doing things for a song.

When I write a piece for film however, I start by humming a motif in my head. I’ll try to get a few variations and once that is fairly secure, I will record parts for the various voices (bass, alto, treble) using a number of instruments. It’s like making a cake really, you must a solid foundation before you can add the icing and the candles.

Of course that’s just one movement, sometimes a film score will have between five to ten movements and within each movement there will be variations and sections. I don’t map out these sections in any physical hard copy but what I will do is bring back an earlier section in later movement (e.g. I’ll bring back the A minor section of Part 1 in Part 3 this time, but instead it will be in C# minor). I try to change the order of sections around and I try to start and end with really strong music.

People always remember the starting and ending, not so much the middle.