Like painting a work of art, writing a book, or constructing a house, there is a process in creating a song. Everyone does it a little bit different, but this is how I do it.
First, an idea will hit me. It may be a word, a sentence, or an idea that needs to articulated into a rhyme later. I have about a million of them written down in a spiral notebook and a small pad I keep in my purse for just that reason. Some get written into songs, others will remain in that notebook for all time. I've found the ones that become the best songs in the end, are the ones that seem to overflow onto paper without me even thinking about it. Or when I can’t move my pen fast enough to get the words down. All of my songs are personal for some reason. Not that I’ve personally experienced what I describe in all of my songs, but they’re personally inspired in some way, shape, or form.
I try to put music with the lyrics as I write. I find that if I do lyrics and music separate, the lyrics almost always have to be adjusted to fit the music later. I write with either a piano or guitar. Sometimes both. Because I know the piano better, I find I can be more creative and risky than with guitar.
Usually I end up with a verse, chorus, verse, bridge song, but sometimes it doesn’t turn out that nice and neat and there is no chorus, just my thoughts set to music. Once I sent a no-chorus song into an evaluator and they wrote back the criticism, “This song is just a poem set to music.” I thought, Thank you, even though they meant it in a bad way. But I know my style is not everyone’s favorite. I’ve written some sad and emotional songs. I believe songs are thoughts, set to music. You can’t edit your thoughts, so why should I edit my songs to make other people feel better about them? After all, they’re my thoughts and my songs. Even the Psalmist wrote verses of pain and sorrow (Ps 22: 1-2 “…I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.”).
Of course, a song for me is not complete until I have musically arranged it and recorded it on some format. I can’t bear to leave a song with only a skeleton outline of melody and chords. Whether I simply record in Garage Band with a bass, drums, piano, and voice, or go all out in Pro Tools with sound effects and background vocals, I feel I must get something down so that others can hear it the way I hear it in my head. No song I’ve ever written or recorded has ever been “finished.” I am constantly tweaking, adjusting, re-wording, and re-recording. It can be a bit of a frustration because I hate moving onto something new without finishing the old.
So I guess for me the creation of a song is an on-going process. The day I ever say, “This song is complete, it’s perfect” is the day you better listen to that song, because it would be a good one. Until then, I’ll just continue with the process. The frustration of never feeling finished is nothing compared to hearing the handiwork of my little “works in progress.”