Songwriting 101: Why you should record during the writing process
Growing up I had this very strict idea of what songwriting looked like. It required a pen, paper and some type of instrument. It was very traditional and I honestly didn't get far with that restricted mindset. Instead, I started to study a few of my favorite singer/songwriters and I noticed that they all had something in common.
Ditch the pen and paper and just press record.
Meaning, open up your music software, lay down a piano track or take a beat you found and "freestyle" over it until you have at least a verse and chorus to work with.
It's risky and at first it can seem a little frustrating if "freestyling" isn't something you're used to. But, I've found that I've written my best songs in the most unconventional ways and it all started with this technique!
Here are some of the benefits I've seen from doing this, along with a few of my favorite artist examples!
1. It gets you "out of your head"
If you're new to songwriting, I'm sure you've heard that you should be writing a song everyday. Practice does make perfect so this IS solid advice, but, guess what happens when the song you wrote doesn't turn into what you think is Grammy material?
You get frustrated! And when you're creating you should try to steer away from frustration. This only clouds your creative process!
Recording yourself from the start forces you keep moving and not focus on each and every line. Instead, you have to think of the overall theme and message you are trying to convey in the song and not on if every line is a groundbreaking statement.
Marvin Gaye is THE perfect example of using this technique. It was well documented that he would literally go in the studio and lay down whatever vocals he felt like. These "demos" would continue to be reworked until he had a complete song:
2. Encourages spontaneous lyrics
Now that you're not thinking too hard on what you're writing, (because you technically aren't "writing") this opens the door for you to say anything you want!
You know that line Jhene Aiko wrote about the booty and groceries? That came from her watching several videos of Kevin Gates talk about "it" on social media. Jhene decided to include it in her verse and that line alone made it legendary!
I recently ran into this video of artist and songwriter, Ingrid, talking about how she wrote Love Drought for Beyoncé. She wrote it pretty quickly by drawing on what was happening at the moment and kind of used this "freestyle" way of writing:
3. Helps you create effortless melodies
Just like recording first forces you to move quickly from line to line, it also forces you to move quickly from note to note. This can help create fluid melody lines in seconds since you're freely going off the music you're creating to!
Solange is the QUEEN of melodies and of this technique! I honestly think that her melodies are so intricate because she writes most of her songs this way and she did so especially for her last album, A Seat At The Table:
4. Prepares you for future collaborations
Remember what I said earlier about the whole practice makes perfect thing? Well that still applies here. The more you do this way writing, the better you'll get at thinking on your feet. It also teaches you to trust your instincts and it helps you to become more confident in your writing.
Everyone knows that the biggest thing with getting into the industry is being the right person in the right place at the right time. You never know when you'll have an opportunity to join a session and being able to prove yourself in that moment can really make or break your career.
The perfect example of this is Sevyn Streeter and how she got connected with Chris Brown:
5. Most likely you'll finish the song quicker
Within the first three takes you've gotten a couple of things out the way. You probably will already have a melody, the hook, a rough subject and even a few lines here and there. That alone cuts out at least an hour of you trying to figure out what comes next.
At this point, you can jump right in and fill in the blanks. Before you know it, you'll have a whole song!
If you're writing R&B music like I am, trying this technique makes a lot of sense. Today most rappers are singing and most singers are rapping so it's only right that songwriters borrow a few techniques here and there from Hip Hop! If you aren't already doing this, I hope you try it out! Happy writing!