How to Write A Song - What Most Musicians Won't Tell You

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Lets get one thing straight, right here, right now. Writing a song is not easy, at least, writing a good song is not easy. Sure there are cliches that you could use; "verse, chorus, verse, chorus...",  use catchy melodies, write about love. But these methods don't tell you anything new, and from them you won't create something unique. Constant blog posts and "e-how" just continues to state the obvious. I am not going to explain how to play an instrument, what structure you should use, or how to record the song, I am just going to try and give you the tools to figure out the method that best suites you. There are a lot of theoretical ideas present in writing music that I will attempt to explain, but remember, music is an art, and everyones creative process can vary. For this to work, you have to leave all of your preconceived notions at the door, forget that you can't write, forget that you can't play a guitar or a piano, and forget that you can't read music. None of that matters here, because with practice you can get those down. With the following tools, you can use those skills you will soon acquire to create something great.

Step one - Get inspired. This is without a doubt the most important part of the process for many reasons. No artist or musician in the history of the world can create something entirely new. It is impossible to do. A really great way to understand this is by watching the film "Inception" by Christopher Nolan. The film states that true inspiration is impossible because regardless of what idea you came up with, the brain can always trace back the the genesis of the idea. Even when you can't, and you really think that you have created something unique, there is always that family member or friend that takes one glimpse at your idea, and reassures your fears that you in fact forgot where you got the inspiration from. Regardless, getting inspired is important because it gives you direction, direction in a sense of what you envision for yourself. So go listen to some of your favorite artists and leave your mind open for new ideas.

It's extremely important to let your mind wander. Tell yourself that every idea is a good idea, execution determines whether the outcome of that idea is successful or not. Don't be afraid to pursue ideas and notions, even if you don't think they align with your vision of yourself. Most likely you are lying to yourself. These ideas you come up with are you.  Do not deny them into existence because you are ashamed of yourself or because you want to be someone else. 

"Do not wish to be anything, but what you are, and try to be that perfectly." -St. Francis De Sales

Step Two - Steal. Yes. Steal. There is a method to my madness here, so before you go and rip off the top song on the Billboard Charts, finish reading this section. Pablo Picasso once said "Good artists copy, great artists steal". A lot of people are mislead by this quote, what I believe he meant is that we are so often influenced by our outside world in the works that we create, we have to be wary that the ideas we put forth aren't already in existence. People also are confused between the difference of copy vs steal. To copy ones work is simply to take what they have done, and use it yourself, with little change. Anyone can do this, and it is done, over and over again. To steal however is a little more complicated, and to understand it, you must remove the negative connotations that it often conveys. Creativity is but a collage of stolen ideas. Take something that you love, something you admire, and change it, make it your own. Mix it with something else you respect, let the combination amalgamate into something entirely unique. Hidden must be your sources, so that even a trained eye must dissect your work to find the inspiration. Take some of your favorite songs and artists and incorporate what they do into your work to make it your own. Most artists feel ashamed when they steal, but in reality, this is the way creation works. True inspiration is impossible. We live via connections. Creativity lives only because humans can create connections within our brains, that lead to new ideas and inventions. Just be sure to take these ideas and make them truly yours, nobody likes a copy cat.

Step Three - Do something meaningful to you. All too often music exists to make money. I believe one can tell when a song has been taken from the heart, or created out of the greed of money. Both exist and both can be successful. However, both will not last. One will die, fade away out of existence because the content is not truthful to itself. The one that is still standing after years have past, is what we define as art. To make music from the soul or the heart, what does that mean? It means to write something that means something to you. The best music, the best songs, and the best books mean something to us, they transcend the emotional barriers we construct between ourselves. They move and stir things inside of us that we might not have been able to articulate otherwise. Think of the last time you listened to a song and it gave you goosebumps because it so clearly expressed what you were going through in that very moment in your life. We are all more alike then we think, and making the assumption that no one understands us would be a great roadblock to writing something meaningful to others. Assume that people don't understand what you're going through because you haven't found the perfect combination of words to express yourself, then can you create something that people will get onboard with.

Side note regarding “Being Catchy”:  You may have come here looking for a method to create a catchy melody or catchy lyrics, this is important, yet comes second to the above set of principles. From the steps above catchy lyrics or melodies are birthed, if your goal is to be catchy, then thats all it will be. Just a catchy tune someone sings and is most likely frustrated because it won't leave their head. You want them to want it in their head, not reject it. This goes back to 'writing something meaningful'. However, there may be ways, most likely heavily mathematical, and over my head, to create a surefire catchy melody but there is an easier tool. Hum the melody you created yourself. Does it get stuck in your head? Hum the melody or sing the lyrics in front of your family and friends, do they end up singing it as well, or do they appeal for your silence? If you find that they do start singing it, it’s catchy. Depending on how long its stuck in their head might determine how catchy it is. Not quite mathematical but try it with couple of your songs or melodies to gauge the their success.

The better you get at these three steps, or principles, the better music and songs you will create. These steps are truly the only correlation I can find between great songs and the artists that write them. Yet no one wants to admit to them. Embrace it, yet never reveal your tricks or sources. Your song is like a magic trick, people will ask you and pester you how you came up with what you created, once you tell them your source, your song is worthless to them. Use these principles to create something that people will try and dissect for years to come.

Don't be shy, I'd love to know your opinion on this post or maybe if you have a different process. Write it in the comments below!

Matthias

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