What’s the most helpful thing a new songwriter can find out about songwriting? Probably not that a great song took five minutes to write.
Many tunes and ideas can be really quick to write, and a lot of songwriters have written thousands of these “tunes”, many of which never see the light of day, and just stay as a few scribbled notes, or a bit of music recorded and left to one side, never really finished, sometimes just acting as a mental springboard for the next idea.
So how long does it take to finish a good song? What, after all, makes up a song? A good tune, some words, a chorus, maybe a bridge before that. Or if you go for electro or dubstep you may turn that on it’s head a bit. Chances are you’ll have a tune buzzing quite quick, and if you can record it quick, or get it down somehow, the idea’s set - in your head. But that’s really only the start. Then you have to listen to what you wrote, and, if you’re lucky, get other opinions.(which are like gold dust when they’re genuine).
Sometimes I’ve written melody, harmonies and the whole shebang, sung it a few times, and then come back the next day. Then I might change the verse, remove a few chords I think are a bit hackneyed. I could then put in some instrumentation I keep hearing, often it’s a bass line which gives it all a flow and a move. The drums may be put in.
I can then sometimes come back and re-write all the lyrics, or rip out the bridge, or shorten it. Or change the end of a line melody into something a bit more memorable.
What you should keep in mind is that you may write something really great really quick. But if you don’t like it, don’t be scared to cut it up, change it around and do what you want with it, because it’s yours. Often the most magical parts of exciting songs with diverse parts is the lift when you transfer between sections that weren’t originally meant to go together. So there isn’t anything magical about the first five minutes.
Don’t think that because what you thought was really great at first now sounds (to you) a bit lame or tired, this means you can’t write. It just means you’re being selective, and hearing something else that will take your idea that bit further.
Not all songs take five minutes, and in today’s production-focused market, some can take months.But you can learn to be satisfied with the process of writing as well as the quick achievement of “a song”. The journey, after all, is just as important.
Songwriting Course by Jane Lane
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