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-   -   Do you have the Song first or does your instrument dictate the Song/Tune? (https://www.gearslutz.com/board/songwriting/1272552-do-you-have-song-first-does-your-instrument-dictate-song-tune.html)

stixstudios 17th July 2019 01:04 PM

Do you have the Song first or does your instrument dictate the Song/Tune?
 
What I'm asking, is that do you have a song/tune in mind first (regardless of the lyrics), then look for the instruments to create it? (ie. your vision).

OR


You have the instruments first, then play some random tunes and sounds, then create a song out of it?

For me at the moment, I play random things, and depending on the "sound" I get, then I'll go in a direction which becomes a song. That is, the sound absolutely influences the song. Then the lyrics will come later.

To qualify what I mean: Tune means a series notes becoming a song. Sound means what I hear off the instrument: a guitar or synth etc - regardless of ITB or OTB.

Please discuss.

bitman 17th July 2019 01:28 PM

Always the riff comes first. If it's cool the a song has to be made around it so it can be heard.
Only once did I have a song and first lyrics come to see out of the blue.

stixstudios 17th July 2019 02:05 PM

Keystone, CO.

Columbia?

Ed Driscoll 18th July 2019 06:11 AM

It all depends. I've written songs starting top down, chorus first, when the catch phrase or title pops into my head. I then record a (very) rough vocal of that phrase, and structure the chords and timing underneath to fit. I've also written loads of songs from the middle out, starting with a guitar or keyboard part, and build everything up from there. I've occasionally written from the bottom up, when I've stumbled over a great drum loop or drum sound and build everything up from there.

In all cases, the most important thing is to simply get that initial spark of inspiration, get started exploring the options, and then the craftsmanship kicks in to finish the rest of it.

johnny nowhere 8th August 2019 08:09 PM

I've awakened hearing stuff that I had no idea what instrument to use in order to get the sound. The problem was getting as close as I could without 'chasing away' the sound in my head with the sound that I was making in the attempt to get the sound that was in my head. A terribly stressful process.

theblue1 11th August 2019 08:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by stixstudios (Post 14100166)
What I'm asking, is that do you have a song/tune in mind first (regardless of the lyrics), then look for the instruments to create it? (ie. your vision).

OR


You have the instruments first, then play some random tunes and sounds, then create a song out of it?

For me at the moment, I play random things, and depending on the "sound" I get, then I'll go in a direction which becomes a song. That is, the sound absolutely influences the song. Then the lyrics will come later.

To qualify what I mean: Tune means a series notes becoming a song. Sound means what I hear off the instrument: a guitar or synth etc - regardless of ITB or OTB.

Please discuss.

I go both ways.

But when I started out, I mostly learned by exploration and experimentation and that laid a foundation for the way I have often written. I'd come up with a vibe, a phrase, and then pick up a guitar to 'find' a good way to make that half-notion come into focus.

That said, when I moved for some years to often writing from my keyboards in a DAW environment, I really did work more from the foundation up... laying down a rhythmic foundation first, coming up with the harmonic framework by filling in bass and accompaniment, and finally adding in lyrics/singing (where applicable) and filigree work with keys or guitars or both. Other times, though, I'd write on a guitar and then just move over to the DAW and come up with keyboard parts mirroring the changes.

newguy1 12th August 2019 03:07 PM

I've gotten to the point where I usually have the whole song in my head before touching a DAW or any kind of recording other than voicenotes with my mouth to help remember ideas. Not all the words, but the hook idea at the very least word-wise, and most everything else. I'm pretty dialed in sound-wise and don't mentally go in directions I don't go so I'm not finding myself in any "what now?" corners that can come from working this way. Really enjoying it, my favorite way of working so far, everything is purposeful.

pkuchar 12th August 2019 03:35 PM

I used to riff first then lyrics but lately I'm liking lyric first then a riff that matches the amount of syllables. That makes it easy to play guitar a sing at the same time.

Tnevz 13th August 2019 06:33 AM

It’s nice to be able to do both.
I’m going to be a bit opinionated here and say that, the goal for any musician, producer, or songwriter should be to reach an ability where they can translate what they hear in their head to an instrument or a daw (which is basically used as instrument these days).
You don’t have to be there yet, but it’s a good thing to strive for.
For me it’s more rewarding than fishing or trying to randomly come up with melodies/riffs drawing in modi notes.
If you play a genuine physical instrument and can experiment that way, it’s more ideal to try random things that way.
If you know your instrument fairly well and have a good memory log of lots of your favorite songs/progressions, you can hear where the melody or riff could/should go from your random riff you made up.

stixstudios 13th August 2019 11:12 AM

Hey, thanks for the replies people.

I find it fascinating how others go about things to meet the same end.

Thanks, I've learned something valuable. kfhkh :cowbell:

Cheers.

[ADDITIONAL INFO]

The way I'm going about it is using the tools (instruments) that I have, to create "ideas". Not full songs/compositions, but to say, "here's the idea".

The issue for me is what next to do with these ideas.

I believe I've got good ideas and good enough gear to produce a great song.

Combining this together is my problem. Well, at least one of my problems freshflowe

Tnevz 13th August 2019 12:27 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by stixstudios (Post 14146701)
Hey, thanks for the replies people.

I find it fascinating how others go about things to meet the same end.

Thanks, I've learned something valuable. kfhkh :cowbell:

Cheers.

[ADDITIONAL INFO]

The way I'm going about it is using the tools (instruments) that I have, to create "ideas". Not full songs/compositions, but to say, "here's the idea".

The issue for me is what next to do with these ideas.

I believe I've got good ideas and good enough gear to produce a great song.

Combining this together is my problem. Well, at least one of my problems freshflowe

I find that’s one of the advantages to hearing things in my head first, or playing an instrument. I can quickly dictate where it can or should go.
I’ll often lose ideas super quick when other music is playing, if I’m out and about, or even picking up a guitar. So I’ll play really really lightly to try and find the notes and rhythm I’m looking for.
Trying not to interrupt a melody I hear in my head and end up forgetting it.
Also, a lot of times if I have an idea and I’m stuck, it’s better to step away and either repeat it in my memory until I come up with different ways I could go with it, or sometimes I’ll try to forget about it being that the idea is already recorded, and I’ll listen to something totally different just a mental break.
Maybe come back and pick up a guitar, a bass, or tap out a or beat box a rhythm of the first 3 things that come to mind when I come back to it, if I don’t have any ideas.

I think the longer you do it you find what works for you and doesn’t break your creativity and productivity the best. Because regardless of how you do it, it’s not going to work out great every time. In a lot of ways, I think people just find out how to carve out all the excess, the things that don’t work for us, or don’t work at all.
And that’s basically how we find our most comfortable and confident path.
Doesn’t mean you can’t use and learn other ways.
I would definitely still encourage anybody to keep learning.
It’s just good to figure out what really works best for you so you can have a good starting point and something to fall back on, gives you more confidence in your abilities and what you contribute, etc.

theblue1 13th August 2019 07:16 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by stixstudios (Post 14146701)
Hey, thanks for the replies people.

I find it fascinating how others go about things to meet the same end.

Thanks, I've learned something valuable. kfhkh :cowbell:

Cheers.

[ADDITIONAL INFO]

The way I'm going about it is using the tools (instruments) that I have, to create "ideas". Not full songs/compositions, but to say, "here's the idea".

The issue for me is what next to do with these ideas.

I believe I've got good ideas and good enough gear to produce a great song.

Combining this together is my problem. Well, at least one of my problems freshflowe

In that regard, don't be afraid to exploit modern editing/music construction approaches in learning how to assemble your bits and pieces into coherent wholes. Being able to move things around (and even pitch-shift/transpose) and combine or recombine, repeat, etc, may feel a little 'frankensteiny' at first and may take a while to get used to and produce rough hewn results as you learn your way -- but it can be a great tool for playing with the IDEAS behind the music you're making.

Ed Driscoll 13th August 2019 08:51 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by theblue1 (Post 14147374)
In that regard, don't be afraid to exploit modern editing/music construction approaches in learning how to assemble your bits and pieces into coherent wholes. Being able to move things around (and even pitch-shift/transpose) and combine or recombine, repeat, etc, may feel a little 'frankensteiny' at first and may take a while to get used to and produce rough hewn results as you learn your way -- but it can be a great tool for playing with the IDEAS behind the music you're making.

I think the ability to experiment with a song's structure is one of the best benefits of using a DAW. I often start with just a drum loop, then a rhythm guitar part, and a scratch vocal, and then cut and paste and move around verses and choruses until I have a structure that works. It's very easy to do when you've just a few parts to move around, and then you can start layering up the parts from there, once you've settled on a structure.

stixstudios 13th August 2019 09:16 PM

Thanks for that.

I'm going through a period of wondering why and/or what the f*ck am I doing?

As I mentioned before, I have good enough gear, so I have no excuse. I have some tunes together. This is one of them:

https://soundcloud.com/user-56643446...ght-hard-limit

I'm not sure how to put words to it. Or, perhaps there are no words?

The song pretty much sums up where I'm at. abduction

Carnalia Barcus 14th August 2019 08:15 PM

As always, "it depends." I don't do the same thing all the time.

If I'm writing on piano, or just using a simple piano sound on a synth/sampler, for example, then that won't dictate anything about instrumentation (aside from the fact that it would have to be arranged for instruments that can cover all of the pitches and the range that needs to be covered).

But I might write something by goofing around with synth patches, or with particular guitar effects, etc.--in that case, aspects of a specific sound might be very important for what I wrote. So that will dictate some of the instrumental choices re the arrangement.

theblue1 15th August 2019 03:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ed Driscoll (Post 14147494)
I think the ability to experiment with a song's structure is one of the best benefits of using a DAW. I often start with just a drum loop, then a rhythm guitar part, and a scratch vocal, and then cut and paste and move around verses and choruses until I have a structure that works. It's very easy to do when you've just a few parts to move around, and then you can start layering up the parts from there, once you've settled on a structure.

Precisely my thinking.

Maybe Mozart could do it all in his head -- me, I'm very glad to have a DAW environment to work in for song crafting, demo, and production. ;)

Deep Water Music 17th August 2019 12:39 AM

I write differently with a guitar than I do sitting at a piano. Sometimes I will pick the instrument because of the vibe I am looking for.

That said, I have also written a song as a melody and lyrics only, and later added the chords to fit the melody.

Each song has been a new adventure for me.

Scott

Uncovered Pitch 17th August 2019 02:02 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by stixstudios (Post 14147542)
Thanks for that.

I'm going through a period of wondering why and/or what the f*ck am I doing?

As I mentioned before, I have good enough gear, so I have no excuse. I have some tunes together. This is one of them:

https://soundcloud.com/user-56643446...ght-hard-limit

I'm not sure how to put words to it. Or, perhaps there are no words?

The song pretty much sums up where I'm at. abduction

I don't think this track is suitable for forming the basis of a song. It's too disjointed and the chords are a bit "unfriendly". I actually like it as a piece of music, but it sounds more like an improvisation to me.

Songwriting requires a lot of discipline—if that isn't your thing then maybe music-for-picture would be better as you can get away with being a lot more abstract.

If you do want to pursue songwriting then I'd recommended starting with a lyric or even whole chunks of songs sung into your phone. Then build an arrangement around it like some of the posters here suggested.

You haven't stated what kind of songs you want to write but if it's anything to do with pop then there are certain rules and principles that make it POPular. You can learn those in a course or by absorption meaning being glued to the radio/Spotify/Youtube. Fastest way is to do both!

Ed Driscoll 17th August 2019 04:47 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by stixstudios (Post 14147542)
Thanks for that.

I'm going through a period of wondering why and/or what the f*ck am I doing?

As I mentioned before, I have good enough gear, so I have no excuse. I have some tunes together. This is one of them:

https://soundcloud.com/user-56643446...ght-hard-limit

I'm not sure how to put words to it. Or, perhaps there are no words?

The song pretty much sums up where I'm at. abduction

I love the piano tone and the reverb is very professional and "expensive" sounding. But it's difficult to picture it as a backing track for a vocalist. Why not either try the suggestion from "Uncovered Pitch" and begin with a top-down melody, or mix some chords with a guide melody and then record a scratch vocal on top of it to get started?

stixstudios 19th August 2019 04:46 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Uncovered Pitch (Post 14153544)
I don't think this track is suitable for forming the basis of a song. It's too disjointed and the chords are a bit "unfriendly". I actually like it as a piece of music, but it sounds more like an improvisation to me.

Thanks Pitch. The "unfriendly" tone is on purpose. It is meant to be sad, very sad, but with positivity in the end.

I agree, in that the piece of music is an improvisation. It absolutely was. And it would take me a great deal of effort to say what chords were played, because I don't know, nor do I really care.

The music is probably more suited to a soundtrack of a movie, which is but one of my grandiose visions :)... than a song for someone to sing.

I appreciate what you have pointed out. Your view has clarified an important issue that I must take note of.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ed Driscoll (Post 14153673)
I love the piano tone and the reverb is very professional and "expensive" sounding. But it's difficult to picture it as a backing track for a vocalist. Why not either try the suggestion from "Uncovered Pitch" and begin with a top-down melody, or mix some chords with a guide melody and then record a scratch vocal on top of it to get started?

Thanks Ed.

Glad you like the "tone" and "sound". Like I pointed out above, I agree that it is not a tune/song that would be easy to sing to. That's not to say it couldn't be done.

----

Nevertheless, and sticking to the question I originally posed "Do you have the song first, or does your instrument dictate the Song/Tune?"...

Well I say the instrument (including applied effects), absolutely does have an overall bearing on what you come up with.

There is no way that I would ever have come up with the "tune" posted, if it was not for the "sound" I heard. The sound I heard from the keyboard dictated the tune to me. When you hear a "nice sound", then you try to play something, and you go along with it.

Thought I should point out, whether for good or bad, I actually played what I played. No Midi. The "sound" made me "feel" something, so I played it. The instrument told me what to play, but it's still a work in progress.

Uncovered Pitch 19th August 2019 09:06 PM

Yes I'm all in favour of using inspiring sounds to start off a new song. What myself and others suggested was an "antidote" to what led you to post here: not knowing where to go with your music despite having professional equipment. Great sounds can be seductive and misleading as well as inspirational. So by starting from a "pure" song you'd be turning your usual workflow on its head. Then, having experimented with coming from the other side, you can make a decision on which procedure gets the best results.

At least this "antidote' principle works for me when I'm addressing issues: for example if my singing is too loud and full-on, I will practice nothing but delicate Sam Smith or Jamie Woon songs for a few weeks and then go back to rock songs and see whether there are now new intricacies I can bring to them.

Noodling around on an instrument is great but at some point it's no longer enough and you need to establish a set of parameters and limitations(also called "begin with the end in mind") to make the next step up. It sounded like making that step was your goal.

If I'm not starting from a title or vocal melody, then my workflow would be:

1. Decide on the genre(often determined by the artist/co-writer I work with)
2. Put together a playlist on Spotify with the best music in that genre
3. Call up the sounds and plugins I'll need for this type of music
4. THEN start noodling around and let the sounds take me places

Works for me...

stixstudios 22nd August 2019 03:41 PM

Good point Undercover Pitch.

"Normally" I play guitar and bass, and I'm usually able to come up with tunes that are the basis for a "Song". I'm not that bad, and most likely the one (in a Band) that drives the ideas behind the tunes.

Now having a decent Synth and reasonable hardware "effects" probably ends up in, well let's just say that the collective noun for GAS should be: having a "stupidity" of unnecessary equipment.!!

But nevertheless, it sure does sound nice to me. :) I've got some other examples if you would like to hear them. What I mean is if anyone thinks that "vocals" and lyrics can be put to the tunes I have. I think some, Yes doable, others No Way. The tune I posted was not the best example to put vocals to.

newguy1 22nd August 2019 04:00 PM

"Good for a film soundtrack" = no one's gonna listen, honestly. I used to love that feedback but after 15 years not one song that's gotten that feedback has ever gone anywhere, I've decided that's a nice way for people to say "I don't really care to listen to this but it doesn't suck."

You want "good for the car" or "good for the club" or "good for headphones" or "good to relax to at the end of the day" or something like that, that doesn't put the music in a secondary support role. Songs that have gotten this type of reaction actually end up in films.

stixstudios 22nd August 2019 04:13 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by newguy1 (Post 14162687)
... Songs that have gotten this type of reaction actually end up in films.

Thankyou. I'll take that as a positive even if it wasn't meant that way ;)

newguy1 22nd August 2019 04:20 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by stixstudios (Post 14162712)
Thankyou. I'll take that as a positive even if it wasn't meant that way ;)

Just a suggestion for moving forward. Its a common trap, writing stuff that's "good for a soundtrack."

It depends on if you like to write with intent though, vs feeling out what comes and then seeing where it may fit.

I dunno, maybe an irrelevant comment for this thread. I just noted you saying that, and personalized it a bit, and thus got that grumpy feeling because whenever I hear that towards my work it means no one likes the song much :( :lol:

stixstudios 22nd August 2019 04:45 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by newguy1 (Post 14162723)
... and thus got that grumpy feeling because whenever I hear that towards my work it means no one likes the song much :( :lol:

No no no... It goes far more deeper than that :) gooof

Progger 22nd August 2019 04:55 PM

I like this thread! It's cool to hear about different writers' and composers' processes, and it's further proof that there's no single correct way to do it. Whatever works for us works for us, and we have to spend the time developing our own way to write. I've written a lot of music, and I don't have a single method that works every time! For example...

This tune came to be while I was living in Brooklyn, supremely low on gigs, and messing around with keyboard patterns in odd time signatures... while also trying to learn to program good electronic drum grooves in five and nine.

On the other hand, the idea for this tune happened while I was driving through west Texas, somewhere on 287 between Albuquerque and Denton, heading back to college from a visit to the hometown. Stuff popped in my head and I actually had to pull over to a rest area and write it down before I forgot! Glad I did that.

I've also gotten some of my favorite ideas while in the shower, taking a walk, or some similar situation in which I couldn't record or write it down right away. Sometimes I managed to get the ideas down before they evaporated, sometimes they're lost forever! Ouch. Hopefully there will be more!

Uncovered Pitch 22nd August 2019 07:47 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by stixstudios (Post 14162658)
The tune I posted was not the best example to put vocals to.

So you were just testing us then...;)

I sometimes play a game with my songwriting students where someone plays a progression on the piano or guitar and everyone else has to guess whether these chords would be suitable for a verse, chorus, pre-chorus etc.

It's surprising how many times people guess right. It seems like chords have an underlying emotion built into them that either helps or hinders the song—before you even start writing over them.

Note that the question is not whether they're suitable for a song at all; that's probably been taken care of by the choice of instrument. When you dial up an all-singing, all-dancing preset from Omnisphere etc. , it's easy to get seduced by the musical "hit" you're already getting from the sound.

Meaning that everything that you play with that sound will trigger the old reward centres like crazy—even if the musical notes make songwriting harder from that point onwards.

Similar to writing with a great singer—whatever comes out of their mouth already sounds like a million dollars so it's easy to get complacent with the melody and lyrics.

And yes it would be cool to hear one of the tracks that you yourself think could be turned into a pop song with vocals.

Uncovered Pitch 22nd August 2019 08:05 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Progger (Post 14162777)
Hopefully there will be more!

Listening to your music it doesn't sound like a shortage of ideas will ever be a problem for you! :)

From what I checked out there were only instrumentals and it would be very difficult(but not impossible) to write songs over them. To me one of the bands that could pull it off is Everything Everything.

They've had some reasonable commercial success so as long as you're not aiming to be the next Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift, this band are proof that even ambitious, full-on music by proper "musos" can be viable in these stripped-down, muted, minimalist times.

Progger 22nd August 2019 08:52 PM

Hah, thank you! I have indeed written a lot of music over the years and still do. One of those tracks I posted is on an album by the band Snarky Puppy who have three Grammys and quite a bit of success, so... even though they're mostly instrumental, things are going well. My own band isn't nearly as famous but we're still doing pretty well in the scene, give it a spin if you like instrumental music.

99% of the music I've written is instrumental, even though I live in the United States, where instrumental music is much less commercially viable than it is in many other parts of the world. I daresay I might get most of my Spotify spins from Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Australia. I must have been born with un-American ears.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Uncovered Pitch (Post 14163097)
Listening to your music it doesn't sound like a shortage of ideas will ever be a problem for you! :)

From what I checked out there were only instrumentals and it would be very difficult(but not impossible) to write songs over them. To me one of the bands that could pull it off is Everything Everything.

They've had some reasonable commercial success so as long as you're not aiming to be the next Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift, this band are proof that even ambitious, full-on music by proper "musos" can be viable in these stripped-down, muted, minimalist times.