Making a song sound good, alive, and interesting should be the aim of every engineer and producer. Before you can even worry about this, however, there needs to be a song to bring to life. Collaboration is the key to success in this entire pursuit, but whether or not you’re involved in writing a song, it’s important to know the basics of songwriting.
A simple way of looking at a song is to imagine a house. Every house is different, but they each have three key aspects: a foundation, a structure, and an interior. Like a house, a song also has these three features. If you want to write a song and can’t find a good place to start, this analogy just might help. Any of these three features are great places to begin.
1. Writing a song: the foundation
If we use the house analogy for songwriting we can compare the foundation of the house to the bassline or main chords of the song. These basic notes or chords are at the root of the song, just as the foundation is the root of the house. Starting with the bass section of the song is a great way to get a feel for the song without getting too in the weeds. If the rhythm is strong, there’s a good chance the rest of the song will be able to stand.
Think of your favorite song and pay attention to its bassline. Chances are the bass and rhythm are key to your enjoyment of that song. Just about everything stems from the song’s foundation. And while it’s not necessary to start here, it’s never a bad idea.
2. The structure
A house isn’t a house without its structure. The same goes for a song. Now, this doesn’t mean the structure needs to be rigid or simple, though it can be. Some houses are like perfectly condensed symmetrical cubes while others are sprawling, asymmetric, and even flashy. The structure needs to do the song justice. Ask yourself what kind of song you’re writing.
Most songs you hear on pop radio have a very basic structure. There’s a verse, then a chorus, then a verse, then another chorus. Somewhere in there is a bridge to introduce some intrigue before the final chorus. This is known as an ABAB structure, with the verses being “A” and the choruses being “B.” The bridge can be called “C” for this example. This formula is tried and true, hence its prevalence. Having a structure in mind, no matter how simple or complex, is another great place to start when writing a song.
3. The interior, or melody (and lyrics)
A house can stand firm and look great from the outside, but what’s on the inside? There needs to be something worthwhile in there. What makes a song memorable and catchy is its melody. This is that tune you’re humming or whistling on a given day. Additionally, good lyrics make a melody even more memorable. Meaningful words are really the soul of any song that’s not merely instrumental.
If you have an idea for a melody, you’re already on your way to writing a great song. Or, if you have some lyric ideas, a melody can be built around the rhythm and patterns of these words. Once you have the notes and words in place, you can further build around this interior with fitting chords, a bassline, and a structure that suits it all.
Writing a song isn’t always an easy process. By remembering these three key aspects of songs you can at least find a good place to start. Tell us your methods for songwriting in the comments!