Discover Your Best Songwriting Process
In part three of this four-part songwriting series, we share six key principles along with a bonus pdf download to help you discover your most successful songwriting process.
Pro-level songwriters may not always be able to break it down for you, but they certainly have a songwriting process that works well for them. Over time, many of the steps they use to find ideas, write compelling lyrics, and create memorable melodies may have become somewhat unconscious to them. Like driving a car or riding a bike, songwriting has become second nature. They don’t have to think about separate “steps” to get fantastic results repeatedly.
But if you’re young in your songwriting journey or wanting to improve your results, it could be helpful to discuss an actual “process” to follow. After a lot of practice, the process might become second nature to you too.
Six Steps to Successful Song Building
Here are six “steps” to the songwriting process that have served me well over my 30+ year history of songwriting and working with songwriters.
- Pick a musical genre. Even worship music has many genres within it, so be sure to pinpoint the style and genre you wish to write in. A folksy/rock/contemporary song from All Sons & Daughters, for instance, is quite different from a modern hymn by the Gettys. Choosing a specific genre will help target chord progressions, melodies, and even precise word choices within your lyrics.
- Land on a great title or hook. “There’s the only room in a song for one big idea,” Bill Gaither used to tell me. Starting with a strong title (or hook) is a great way to anchor the song. A “North Star” hook can guide you throughout the process and keep you focused through the verses, chorus, and bridge. While it’s possible to discover a great title while you’re composing music, I’ve found it helpful to start with one to save time, effort, and possibly stalling out.
- Gather resources. Doing a little homework on the genre and gathering musical and lyrical resources could be a great way to kickstart your songwriting process. Are you writing a Southern Gospel ballad? Why not study The Martins or The Crabb Family to get some inspiration? Or maybe you’re writing for your church? Taking even a few moments to think about the most meaningful songs used in your congregation can point you towards a new home church favorite. Don’t be afraid to fill your mind and heart with current styles and trends in the genre you’re targeting with your songwriting.
- Create a song blueprint before you start writing. It may sound counterintuitive to think about what you want to write before you write it. But having a blueprint of the “song house” you hope to build can be a vital step. In my downloadable pdf called The Song Builders Blueprint, I give you a line-by-line description of the function of each line and section to keep you on task, just like building a real house. It’s okay to use some logic and skill instead of relying on inspiration and intuition alone to write your songs. A creative blend of both brings about some phenomenal results.
- Write, rewrite, refine. “Writing is rewriting,” as they say. But I add the third step of refining the song, even once everything feels finished. It’s amazing what you become blind to, right? Things like using the same word too many times in your lyrics or forgetting a climactic melodic payoff in the chorus. Setting your song aside for a day means you can come back to it with fresh ears before moving on to recording and releasing it. Often, it’s the little things that add up to a big impact.
- Record and release. This phase can vary depending on your home recording abilities or budget to hire the production out. Either way, once you feel 100% confident your song is ready, it’s time to record and release. Releasing may be on social media, in your church, or both. It may mean doing some pre-release marketing and building some expectations before debuting your new single. Keep in mind that you’re competing with over 40,000 tracks and 2,000 hours of music being released on Spotify every day.
Discovering YOUR Best Songwriting Process
Use whichever of these releases your heart and mind to write instead of using them rigidly. Sometimes just a little bit of forethought about your process when writing can bring powerful results.
About John Chisum
John Chisum is a veteran songwriter, publisher, and worship leader. He was VP of Publishing for Star Song Media and Director of Song Development & Copyright for Integrity Music. He is currently President of Nashville Christian Songwriters. He has been married to Donna for 40 years, and they have one daughter, Aly. This article is based on John’s new course, Your Best Songs Now.