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Songwriting- Any advice??


I have tried, from time to time, to come up with something original, but have never succeeded. I think part of it is that I just don’t know what to write about, or if I should just try and come up with instrumental originals, try to write lyrics, or....? What inspires you?

On a technical note, how do you record what you’ve written?


The originality part is difficult. I don't try to worry about it too much.

My Bass player last week..."Doesn't so and so have a song by that title?" Well he/she might but it isn't the same song or sound the same or even share the same lyrics. So when I write I get my ideas and inspiration form different places.

I only write about what I know and since a couple of my songs were written when I was angry, they sound angry. The songs about my wife and family are usually up-beat and peppy.

For ideas, they come to me at different times and I sometimes hum a tune into the recorder on my phone or pick up a guitar and play my thought's into it. I come up with ideas at the most peculiar times i.e.working in the yard or driving down the highway on semi long trips.

I try to incorporate a "hook" into the song. That's usually a vocal hook but it could be a lick or something of the like. This part is very important IMO.

I wrote a song recently that was pretty simple vocally and the older I get, the less words I want to put into my songs. It's just too darned much to remember. I usually have a music stand with lyrics but this past weekend, I threw poster board down on stage with hand written lyrics. That helped a lot and I didn't look as un-rehearsed.

After the song is complete, you can record it on any media that you have handy until you're ready to go to a pro and have it done right.

recent song lyrics.

"I wanna get a reaction. Wanna feel how you feel. wanna understand why.

I wanna take a vacation. Wanna sit by the ocean. Wanna learn how to fly.

chorus...I believe in a world with an open view. I believe in love, I believe in you.

... rinse repeat. so in other words, second verse, same as first.

I hope that was helpful. By the way, I'm no pro and I have never sold a song or had a radio hit so take it for what you will.


I sit with my guitar and look for a chord progression that sounds unique to me. When I come up with something I like, I record it, and then play it back on a loop. I then sing notes (no words) to it just looking for a solid melody which I record. After I'ver got something that sounds solid, I listen to it until some lyrics pop into my head, and then start recording lyrics in place of the notes I sang. The tone of the music with the melodies recorded generally inspires me to write.


I used to get stuck on what a song should be about. Should it be true to life? Should I write what I know? Should I have some theme? Honestly, all the worrying and pondering and guessing led to a rut that lasted a long, long time. Not only that, I would get so hung up about the concept (for lack of a better word) of a song that it would lay dormant for a year, or more. The biggest hurdle I jumped was this: A song can be about anything - true to life, or made-up and false. So, I started inventing stories, and just going from there. I write songs about Old West outlaws on the run (I know nothing about this), a small, nondescript New England town and a fictional, multi-generational family (of which I know nothing), Midwestern small town life (which I do know about), etc. I look at myself as a (very) short story author, and I want to give you a beginning, middle and end, in four or less minutes.

Musically...if I'm at home, there is never a guitar farther than arms reach. I will sit on my couch, strumming contently, for hours if my chores/projects are done. If something catches my ear, I grab my phone and record it. Really, any place I find myself, if something pops in my head (music or a lyric) I record it on my phone. That becomes my bank of ideas, noodles, licks, anything. Caveat: I'm a multi-instrumentalist, so sometimes, I might look like a bozo walking on the sidewalk "drumming" into my phone, or humming a bassline, etc. But, you just never know when an idea will hit you.

From a technical standpoint, I've used everything from mic'd cabs in an isolation box, and the "whole shebang" of home studio set-up (and expense) to my current set-up which is...I don't even own an amp anymore. Sold my last one a month ago. I use Amplitube 4 95% of the time for guitar and bass, Superior Drummer 3 or SSD5 for drums (triggered via my Roland kit), and I have an older Roland midi controller/keyboard for my keys. Again, all digital these days.

I route my guitar (and bass) through a fairly-okay-quality tube-pre, into my interface, and then into Logic Pro X. I've got a ton of models and plugins I've accumulated over the years, but honestly, Amplitube by itself is a great starting point. If you have an amp you wanna record with, a Shure SM57 through some sort of mic pre and into one of the many interfaces out there will get you going. There's no need to drop a ton of money.

If you want to get an idea of the sound quality of the above set-up, check out Tortoise & Tweed on SoundCloud, or look in the thread here concerning our originals and creations. I posted a couple links not long ago:

Best of luck!


Well lyrically, songs don't have to mean anything. I'm reminded of a recent Red Hot Chili's song where Anthony goes "A da ding dong ding a ding dong dang ." or something like that. If it fits into the song then go with it.


Songwriting is weird. Not quite sure why or how a song lyric happens. Usually just blobs out after a melody is hummed for a while. Motivation can be a great tone, a new guitar, a new mic, or just something to do when you have down time. I've always recorded with either cassette or reel to reel, so nowadays I feel more at home with a standalone digital recorder as apposed to a screen and computer. Just do it for yourself and if anyone hears it or likes, that's cool.


Keep in mind: Your first 100 songs are your worst.


I have constantly played (and I mean all my life) with melody and harmony in my head.

If I seem distracted, don't bug me. The music in my head is more interesting than the conversation we're having.

Having been that way all my life, I still find it tough to get something you can really call original.

Lyrics can be a real pita. Sometimes the tune waits at the station...for years before the right lyrics come along. Sometimes just all comes together. Mmm...the sweetest moment.


If you write punk songs you can just yell about what pisses you off. RAGE!

It’s easy.


It can be inspiring to hear seasoned songwriters talk about their writing process. Especially if they can articulate the nuances we can identify with.

Of course an evergreen question is; which comes first, the music or the lyrics?

In my experience, one invokes the other.
If it's a lyric or lines of poetry, I play with the rhythm and cadence of the speech. If the lyric suggests an emotion, it informs the sentiment of the playing and melody.

If it starts with a chord progression or riff, something musical, then it can be much like Daniel described. Play it over and over while trying out vocalized counterparts for fit. They don't even have to be meaningful words, just something to find your melody and cadence to complement the music.

With the basic feel of the song defined, it makes an inviting canvas for any poetry it inspires.

There is also the old maxim of songwriting; 'don't bore us, get to the chorus.'
If you aspire to the more classic forms of songwriting, that mantra can be helpful in ensuring brevity, as well as a search for a good 'hook'.

I was hoping to get in on the 2020 RPM challenge, but I don't think I'll be set up in time to record.

Have fun, Mark!


I've been actively doing some songwriting (strictly as a carthartic hobby) for the past 10 years, and one thing that helped kickstart it for me was to join a local songwriting group. If you have something like that in your area, it really is fun and inspiring. Seeing and hearing others play their originals (especially solo acoustic) is wonderful and you can often get inspiration for your own songs that way.

Try to have a notebook nearby for lyrics. Sometimes I get some lyrics in my head and I'll write them down so I can come back later and flesh out the song.

And as Billy Zoom said, have a catchy hook or melody line that can be your starting point. Often I get these in my head while driving or sitting quietly. You can use your phone to record singing these lines then later come back and create the tune on guitar or piano.

Finally, I also use my notebook to map out the song once it starts coming together. For example, Intro - Verse 1 - Verse 2 - Bridge - Chorus - Solo - Verse 3 - Bridge - Chorus - Outro. I often won't have any lyrics for Verse 3 or the Bridge and just write down some junk to be modified later. Once you have it all together, then you can start to formally record it. Even then you may decide to cut out or change a lyric, solo part etc.

Like any art form, songwriting is a creative and satisfying activity, and for me is a way for me to express myself musically. If others happen to like what I write, great, but I don't do it for that reason.


I have a theory that little bites of stuff show up in musicians’ heads all day, they’re just so used to focusing on what they’re involved in at the moment that they evaporate. After a while, you can develop the ability to look at them closely enough as they go by that they get a bit easier to retain more often. Then you mess with them when you get time. (That’s what happens for me, anyway. I assume I’m not THAT abnormal.)

When I go to putting down ideas, I either use an old ZoomH2 as a scratchpad or, if I‘m nearby at the time, either an iPad loaded with Aurea Pro or a laptop loaded with Reaper.


My brother, David, and I are working on a YouTube channel idea, for just this thing. It will be all about how to write a song, with a different song for each episode. We'll cover both methods of song writing, an individual song writers approach, and a collaborative effort. I'll post a link after we upload our first installment.

My particular approach has always been to begin with the music. I'm a musician first, and a lyrical poet second. I try to incorporate something that Suprdave mentioned, into every song. That is a "hook", something memorable and catchy. It can be something that is repeated several times, like a riff, or a very memorable solo. I try to play composed melodic solos, since they are much more memorable than a jam sort of thing.

I actually do much better in collaboration, the songs I write with another person or people, just seem turn out better. My brother, David, is my current collaborator, he's an amazing song writer and can whip out a song in just a few minutes. I have decades old songs that I've brought to his attention, and he never fails to flesh them out better. David is a "hook" man, and has published several hundred hook ideas.

Good luck, Mark. Relax into it and enjoy the process. Lots of good advice given so far.


There is no rhyme or reason to the songwriting process but you have to find the rhymes and the reasons to create a song.

One thing guitar players sometimes fail to realize is that a catchy riff shouldn't be judged by how difficult it is to play but instead how catchy it sounds. My brother tends to dismiss his ideas because they are too simple according to him.

The main melody should be the focus and should be supported by the music underneath and not the other way around. Even if the vocalist is a rapper there should be something melodic going on with the music to catch your attention. If the song starts with a catchy melody the chords underneath can be simple cowboy chords if that is all the song requires. Once the melody and chords come together a way to make it unique and original is to focus on the rhythm. My ears catch interesting rhythms and bass lines before they will focus on a chord progression.

Song lyrics are poetry in motion. There are things I avoid more than include in a lyric I'm writing. For example I purposefully don't use the word "baby" if I'm writing a song about my wife. There are so many songs that use baby already that I feel it's too much of a cliche. However, that doesn't mean you have to do that but you may want to create your own boundaries. It helps develop your own style and will keep you from second guessing if something is good or not. All topics are fair game. I have a song called "Cupcake" on the album linked here. My daughter helped me write this when she was 4. She's 10 now. Since I took her idea and wrote the lyrics the whole song is one big double entendre. I'm waiting for the day she finally realizes it!

Light Your Way - Spotify

Light Your Way - Amazon


Lots of great advice guys.....thanks! I’m going to take some time and digest all of it, but you’ve definitely given me some good places to start.


Like with any kind of writing---write about what you know.


I want to try the 10 songs in a month challenge. I recorded this today. It started with me walking around whistling the chorus melody.

Today’s song


Write ten a day, and throw nine away...

Bob Dylan.


I want to try the 10 songs in a month challenge. I recorded this today. It started with me walking around whistling the chorus melody.

Today’s song

– Threadkiller

I dig it!


Nice song, Threadkiller.

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