by Marty Dodson
Nov 16, 2020
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked “How in the world do you come up with a song-a-day – every day?”
Learning how to write a new song every day can seem like a daunting task. Here’s how I pull that off…
Coming In With Ideas
I have a database that includes over 800 titles. Therefore, I can always find something interesting there to write. I want to insure that my co-writers and I NEVER sit around trying to find something to write about. Having lots of ideas or titles stored up saves time, which is crucial for writing a song-a-day. So, I rarely sit around for an extended time trying to figure out what to write. I come in prepared and that makes getting started easier. Plus, man want to write with me because I have a reputation for coming in prepared.
Blueprinting Is Vital For Writing A Song-A-Day
As soon as we choose an idea to pursue, we create a blueprint of where we want to go with the idea. We try to come up with every angle we can think of and then choose the best, more interesting one to chase. Then, we map out what we are going to say in each separate part of the song. Coming up with a one sentence summary of each verse, the chorus and the bridge (if needed) makes writing the song easy. It lets you know what you plan to communicate in each section of your song. Plus, it gets everyone in the room on the same page.
If we can all agree what we want to say in each section of the song, we are all writing the same song. I can’t count the number of times I have been writing with someone for 4 hours when we realize that we have had completely different ideas about what our song was about. That’s a HUGE waste of time and it’s silly to let that happen.
Blueprinting is so important when co-writing to get clarity on what you are trying to say and to get everyone writing the same song. This is sometimes the most time-consuming part of the process. The blueprint serves as our outline as we write and keeps us focused. If you are new to blueprinting check out Song Building.
Filling in the blanks
After we have our blueprint, we take that outline and just begin to flesh it out with the actual lines of the song. Our goal is to say exactly what we said we would say in our outline. Nothing more, nothing less. As we write, we mentally check what we are saying against what we intended to say in our outline. Unless we decide the new direction is better than the outline, we stick closely to the outline. One technique I use often is to start with a line that directly communicates my blueprint idea for each section as the first line of that section.
Then, I flesh out that idea in the rest of the section. In my #1 song “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right”, our blueprint idea for verse one was “Women are hard for men to understand”. Our opening line of the song was “A woman is a mystery a man just can’t understand”. We went on to flesh that idea out by saying “Sometimes all it takes to please her is the touch of your hand. Other times, you gotta take it slow, hold her all night long. Heaven knows, there’s so many ways a man can go wrong.”
We stated our big idea and then we explained it. This technique is very effective. It makes sure that you communicate your big idea first and foremost. Then, you can give supporting examples or information. I tend to do this in most of my songs.
Another effective technique is to state your big idea at the end of each section and build up to that idea in each line before it. Experiment with those two techniques with any idea you are writing and see which one serves your idea best.
Melody and feel
As we go, we create a melody and feel that compliments what we want to say. If we can find a melody and groove that marries well with our lyrical concept, it makes writing the song easier. Once you find that perfect marriage, it’s much easier to write your song. Time spent exploring for the right feel and melody is never wasted.
You never have to feel pressure to finish a song in one session. Many of the best songs are ones that are re-written. That is, the writers create a first draft in one session and then they continue working on the song until it is right. After my co-writers finish writing, we generally step away from the song for a week or two. Then we revisit it to re-write and make sure everything is the best it can be. I check to make sure that we stayed true to the “blueprint” and that we said what we needed to say in a fresh, interesting way. In the re-writing process, we take off our creator hats and put on our editor hats. We take a hard look at everything our “creator” selves came up with and make sure it actually works the way we intended.
In the re-write process, we look for common errors – things like confusing pronouns where we talk TO someone in the verses and ABOUT them in the chorus. We check to make sure that the story is clear and understandable. We pretend that we don’t know the back-story and make sure that a listener can follow along.
I have heard it said that good songs are written and great songs are re-written. I’m a firm believer in that principle. One of the keys to writing a song every day is to give yourself the freedom to let the song remain unfinished at the end of the day.
After I let my song simmer for a week or two, I come back to it to evaluate if it is worth working on more or if I need to let it go. In reality, most of our songs are not great. The great ones deserve as much time as it takes to make them awesome. The not-so-great ones need to be let go of. It can be extremely painful to admit that one of our “children” isn’t beautiful, but we have to learn to let go or we waste too much precious time trying to “shine a turd” as they say. Learning which songs to dig in on and which songs to let go of is essential to writing progress.
I have seen people laboring over and over to “fix” a song that has a fatal flaw and is never going to be great. If you can train yourself to just let go of songs and ideas that just aren’t paying off, you will be able to focus more of your time and effort on the songs that really have a chance.
I hope that was helpful. If you can develop your own process for weeding out the good and focusing on the great, you will have a good head-start on writing a song each day and spending your time on the ones that matter.
All the best,
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