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How to Write a Song

Song Recording Tips for Musicians


How To Write A Song | How To Record A Song

Page updated 3/1/2016


Songwriting For Musicians - Learn how to write and record your next big song with your band or other musicians. Many musicians and songwriters struggle with the very idea of writing a song.  The whole process seems so daunting especially at the beginning due to the fact that there are typically many instruments and vocals involved.  The process I describe below is more of a personal description of a typical songwriting process.  Please remember this process can be subjective and that there are many ways to write and record songs, music, and lyrics.  Every musician may have a unique and different writing style and process.  

Typically music is written by more experienced musicians or vocalists but that can be subjective as well.   While some try to learn music by emulating or playing others music to learn, others may just fiddle around and come up with their own musical ideas from the start.   Also, it is not imperative that you know how to read and write music to make a song or work of art.  Many musicians put there music down on digital recording equipment or computer recording programs for home computers. 

Feel free to visit our songwriter home recording page for more tips on music recording.  The songwriting process can also be collaborative with a band or done solo.  Many people refer to solo artists as singer songwriters.   The article below assumes that you have some musical ideas and need to figure out how to bring them together.  We also assume typical rock band format including vocals, drums, guitar, and bass guitar.  Whether you write songs by yourself (solo) or with a band, the songwriting tips below should help you to get started on your songwriting journey. 

How to Start the Songwriting Process - Song Structure

Assuming you have some songwriting ideas, topics, or themes, you will want to think about not only lyric writing but the music accompaniment as well.  The tough part of writing this article is that I do not know what instruments that you may currently play for your writing process.  At any rate, let's assume that you play guitar for the sake of starting this songwriting article.  You will want to think about how a song typically sounds as well.  For example, your song may have a format including an introduction, first verse (body), chorus, second verse (body), chorus, bridge, chorus, ending. Of course this is subjective and changes depending on the song vibe or song mood you are trying to create. The verse is the main lyric writing portion of the song and the chorus typically repeats your main idea or topic of the song.  The chorus typically will be a catchy phrase so that people will remember it or sing along at a gig or show.

Recording your musical ideas with your musical instruments can be challenging and a time intensive process.  It's important to be open minded and creative during this process.  As you or your band start to record your initial music ideas with your instruments, the idea may not sound exactly right as you initially thought or anticipated.  Try to make subtle changes until the recording gets to a place where you want it to go.   Song timing is an important first step to recording.   Experiment with different timings on your metronome, drum loops, or clap tracks (typically drum loop timing is easily adjustable on Multitrack Recorders or Computer Recording Software).  Note: there are different metronomes for different instruments.  A piano or drum may have a different metronome than a guitar.  Use slower time adjustments for mellow or acoustic type songs, while faster timing may be needed for some rock, metal, rap, or alternative tunes.  Again, use your best judgment as this is subjective as well.  Some rock songs are slower sounding and some country songs have faster timing.  There's no right or wrong answer here.  I won't get into the different time signatures here, as I'm assuming that you will adjust timing to how you want the song to sound.  Please use a Guitar Tuner to adjust your guitar or bass tuning.  Check your tuning often as you record your ideas.  People may notice if a song goes out of tune at some point in the song recording.  Also, please make sure your drums are in reasonable tune as well.  You may have to consult a drum technician to adjust drum tuning. 


Song Recording Tips - Tips for Recording a Song      

  • Figure out the timing of the song (Play your song idea with a metronome, drum machine or clap track and adjust timing to an appropriate level). Many multitrack recorders have drum loops and clap tracks built into the systems. 
  • Have some sort of recording devices available to start the process
  • Make sure instruments are tuned perfectly (Ex: E tuning, Drop D, or whatever song tuning that you need to get your point across)
  • Keep practicing different ideas until you can bridge the ideas together to form a common theme known as a song
  • Song titles are typically not copyrighted which is why there are so many songs with similar titles. 
  • Be aware of copyright laws for lyrics and music.

How To Record A Song - Tracking Instruments and Vocals

Song Recording - Now that we have briefly discussed song structure, it is now time to think about recording your ideas for future playback.  Listed below are some tips to remember when recording your song ideas:

  • Play your instruments on time with the drum track, drum loop, metronome, or clap track
  • Repeat performing your instrument tracks until your idea sounds professionally recorded
  • Mark function - use this often to mark specific areas of the song that you will need to return too
  • Headphones and Monitors - Use a good headphone or monitor to make sure the sound is professional
  • Distortion levels - Adjust recording levels so that no distortion (red) shows on the recorder
  • Microphones - Use a good microphone as cheap mics can give a plastic or distorted sound
  • Tune instruments - Tune instruments frequently to avoid out of tune sounds
  • Doubling - Double vocal, instrument tracks, and solos for a more full recorded sound
  • Panning - Panning vocal tracks or instrument tracks can give you a stereo effect.
  • Pre effects - Effects added during the recording process can help, but can't be changed unless re-recorded. 
  • Post effects - Adding reverb or chorus effects after your have recorded can help in some cases
  • Locate a digital multitrack recorder with enough space (gigs) to record multiple songs
  • Many multitrack recorders include CD burners to burn your songs when finalized
  • Make sure any recording software you purchase will be compatible with your current computer
  • Computer recording software typically needs an audio interface to connect your instruments to the computer

How to Write Lyric and Vocal Ideas

I typically come up with a theme or idea for a song initially to start the writing process.  It's a good idea to write the music to the lyrical theme so that the music matches the vibe of the lyrics.  I don't typically finish lyrics until after the music (guitar, bass, drums, solos) are tracked on a multitrack recorder.  Once the music is tracked I have a better feel for the song mood and the lyrics seem to flow better to the music.   So keep the theme or topic of the song in mind and start writing lyrics while singing to the tracked music.  It is a great idea to learn the mark function on many digital multitrack recorders.  Many multi track recorders have a mark function that allows you to mark a place in the recording so that you can hit a button and go right back to that marked area of the song.  It's a great time saver when recording rather than having to rewind every time you want to record.   Also, you will use the undo function alot.  The benefit is that if you record something less than perfect, you hit the undo function and it is gone.  The undo function will also save memory if you use a digital recorder or computer recording software.  As you start to scat around with verse and chorus ideas, write them down and then record them. 

Eventually, you will work your way through a verse and you can start to think about if the lyrics need to be re-written.  As you write lyrics, sometimes the verse or chorus might not turn into exactly what you thought the song was going to sound like within your mind. This is a bit hard to describe unless you have started this process in the past.  At any rate, try going with the new idea and see where it takes the song.  You can always go back and undo the line later or record another track to compare.  At any rate continue along writing verses, choruses, and bridges until the song lyrics are complete.  We'll explain later how to make the music and lyrics sound fuller and more professional below.  It is important to realize in the writing process that there are no bad ideas.  Once you listen to the idea on a recording you should realize if a lyric sounds less than professional.  Also, as a songwriter you have alot invested in a song and may need someone to review the idea to make sure the point is getting across to the intended audience.   Ask a non biased person to listen to the song and give you a review.  It can be friend, family, or acutance.  Tell the reviewer to give you an honest opinion.  You many not like the opinions of the reviewer at first, but take the criticism and go back an listen to the song objectively.  Ultimately, you or your band are the ones who should decide whether or not to make a change in the song.


Doubling Instruments and Vocals - Harmony Recording Techniques

What is doubling, How do you double instrument tracks, and How do you double vocal tracks?  Many recorders today have a doubling effect that electronically doubles a track for you through an effect process.   Basically, it takes the track and makes it sound like two tracks are recorded together making a thicker and fuller sounding track.  Unless you have a really professional recording system, many times the electronic doubling effect is just not that great.  I personally still double my instrument tracks and vocal tracks manually.  Of course, this is dependent on how many tracks that your multitrack recorder utilizes.  My suggestion is getting a recorder with at least 12 tracks available if you plan on doubling tracks.   Many recorders today have what are called virtual tracks, where you can try different ideas on them as well.  Manual doubling is a little tedious but typically works great if performed correctly.   Once you have a great first track down, basically record the exact same line on another track while playing along with the first track.   This may take a little practice in adjusting levels, but once you master the process it starts to happen pretty quickly if you have properly practiced your song.   This process is very similar to recording a harmony line.  Instead of matching the chords, notes, or vocal line you are playing or singing the harmony notes.   You can then start to adjust panning for each track to get a stereo effect or pan the harmony to one side and the main line to another and see how it sounds.  It is all about experimenting to find what may sound best for the song you are trying to record. 

Pre-effects Vs. Post-effects

  • Pre-effects - Adding effects to the instrument or vocals while recording
  • Post-effects - Adding effects to the total song or certain tracks for the finalizing process

There are benefits to each of these processes.  As a band or singer songwriter you will most likely want to utilize both of these processes while recording.   Adding an effect to a guitar or bass while recording may give you that extra delay, reverb, or chorus that you are looking for in the song.  Post effects are nice to use as a subtle topping to the song to give the drums or total song that extra reverb or professional sound.  Some songs may not need alot of effects as well.  Experiment with the pre and post effects that fit the song best and give your song a professional finalized sound. 

Finalizing, Mixing, and Burning a CD with Your New Song

Many multitrack recorders these days include a CD burner.  Check to make sure the unit that you are thinking about purchasing includes a cd burner and enough gigs for recording many songs.  If you are serious about recording buy a home recorder with at least 30 gigabytes (GBs).   If you are a beginner, 5 gigs or so should be fine.  Many home recorders and computer recording software offer you the ability to final mix your music.  This process can be frustrating as it is really about getting the proper levels to make the recording sound professional and have the proper volume.   How many times have you played a friends band's cd or recording and have to crank the level to get it to sound decent.  Well proper mixing should alleviate that problem.  Many recorders offer a final mixing process, but be aware that they are not all that great.  You may still have to utilize a recording studio to get the proper levels that your band may need for a professional packaged CD or pro sounding recording.   Mixing takes time and patience and you basically have to adjust tracks along the way of the recording by hand to adjust for subtle volume imperfections in the recording process.   It's a tedious process, but if done right mixing can make all the difference in a having a professional sounding song recording for your band.