As the saying goes, ‘starting is the hardest part, the rest will follow’. We can often spend a lot of time and energy worrying about how to start a project. And it’s not any different with songwriting. Starting a song is often the hardest part of the entire creative process. We all know the pain of staring at an empty DAW or blank piece of paper just waiting for that hit song idea to materialise…
If you don’t know where to start, or you’re experiencing writer’s block, then maybe change up the way you start a song. It could just be the antidote you’ve been looking for. It’s fun to take a different approach and experiment with your writing process now and again. You might even be surprised by what you create.
We’ve put together some great (and a few whacky) techniques and song starters to get you well on your way.
1. [INSERT SONG TITLE HERE]
Of course, your song’s title is bound to develop over time, but it’s useful to have one as a prompt to direct your focus and drive the entire song.
Come up with a title by getting down words or phrases that capture your attention, and even look to seek inspiration from people’s conversations, books, films or existing song titles you like. Choose a title that you find interesting and could develop further. Let this title grow into a few lyrics and build the rest of the song from there.
2. Commence with a chord progression
A simple chord progression is a great song starter. It will be the foundation for your song and the overall feel will depend on which chords and keys you decide to weave together.
Chords are great. You can pepper them with melodies and buff them up with beats. The opportunities are endless. So play around with them; change their rhythm, the order you play them in, invert them (add a smooth m7). You may find that your idea goes in a completely different direction to what you imagined. Experimenting will give you some flexible foundations for the following sections of your song and many, many more song ideas.
3. Begin with a beat
Your beat is the backbone to your track. A good beat can spark a world of ideas.
Because it’s percussive, you’ve got more flexibility to try different chords and keys over the top. Try laying down a drumbeat in your DAW or loop pedal and build from there, adding chords, melody, vocals etc.
4. Set-off with a sample
So many of our favourite hits have used samples without us even realising, from Beyonce to Kanye West. Samples are a great source of inspiration. Have a look at some royalty-free sample libraries and build a collection of samples you like. Manipulate them, experiment with them and see what you create. Just keep in mind, if you’re not using royalty-free samples, it’s illegal to distribute a rework of someone else’s music without the right clearance on samples. You can read more about what licenses you need to release samples over on our help centre if you’re unsure.
5. Use apps as your starting point
With an eclectic variety of sounds, loops and beats, apps are a great way to experiment and generate ideas easily within the palm of your hands.
Come up with your initial ideas on the app – even when you’re out and about, then take it into your DAW later on. Check out our blog post on the best apps for songwriters that help with finding lyrics, chord progressions and more.
6. Set some rules for your song
When synth-pop band Chvrches went to write their song ‘Clearest Blue’, they set the intention to write a “laid back song with two chords”. It didn’t quite end up going the way they planned… but the idea is to have a jumping-off point for your song, which gets rid of that ‘blank page syndrome’. “It may not end up the way you planned, but it could take you to a different idea”, the band said on an interview at SXSW. So, decide a few rules for your song, and if you start to go off on a complete tangent, that’s part of the creative process!
7. Start with a story
We’re not saying go and write a novel, but this simple lyric exercise can be great at generating some ideas. Grab yourself a notepad and jot down a few words such as a person’s name or a city. Then find a way of linking them together in order to come up some sort of plotline. Use this as your lyrical starting point.
8. Reverse an existing song
This one sounds a bit ridiculous but trust us – you’re sure to create something unique and different. Find a song that you like, or maybe even one of your own. Reverse it and then take the parts that you like and build a new song around them. You can do this with as many songs as you like until you find something that feels right.
9. Respond to another artist’s song
This technique was used by some artists who wrote successful songs. One example is Katy Perry’s ‘California Girls’, which was written in response to Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ because she felt that there needed to be a song about California, not just about New York.
Find a song that you connect with or one that you feel like you could have an answer to, (it could even be one of your past songs) and take a different angle on it adding new context and dimension to the original.
10. Try the famous cut-up technique
This technique made popular by writer William S. Burroughs’ was used by the likes of David Bowie and Kurt Cobain. It’s the process of cutting up pre-existing texts to create new meanings from their rearranged pieces. “You write down a paragraph or two describing different subjects, creating a kind of ‘story ingredients’ list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four or five-word sections, mix ‘em up and reconnect them.” Bowie has said. In doing this, you can get some unexpected and interesting idea combinations of words, phrases and sentences to inspire a song.
Do you have any ways you like to start your songs? Please share them with us and login to get started on your own.