If you’re new to writing music, it can be tricky knowing how to get started. Sometimes an artist’s talent and passion are in the right place, but they’re not sure what they need to begin. Every songwriter’s process for creating music is different, but you’ll be on the right track if you have these five things before you start writing and recording music:
A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
A DAW is a computer software program that allows you to record and edit music. Today more and more artists are producing their music as they create it, and DAWs are essential tools for creating and producing songs. We’re making music in an especially exciting time in history. Until recently, artists used to have to pay considerable amounts of money to record their music in professional studios. Paired with some basic recording equipment, a DAW essentially allows you to create a recording studio within your home. If you’re serious about recording and producing music, you’re going to need one of these. DAWs typically include instrument libraries and tools that will shape the sounds featured in your songs.
Theoretically, you can write music without an instrument, but your life as a songwriter is going to be a lot harder than it has to be if you go this route. You don’t need to master an instrument in order to write music, but you have to at least know how to play chords and transition from chord to chord (chord progressions are the foundations of songs). Nothing substitutes the immediacy of experimenting with a piano or guitar when it comes to music creation. You can even compose with a MIDI keyboard, which will allow you to experiment with different instruments if it’s plugged into a DAW.
A handheld recording device
DAWs are able to record music obviously, but for recording impromptu and unexpected musical ideas, you should have a handheld recording device out and ready when you write music. When you’re fully engaged with your writing process, ideas will pop up and disappear quickly. Don’t trust your memory when these ideas emerge, but instead record them so you can circle back later and hear them exactly how they sounded when you first developed them. Sometimes the energy and emotion captured in a moment is just as important as the idea itself, so keep your recording device out and ready to roll. If you have an audio recorder app on your smartphone, this should be easy.
Pencil and paper
Having a songwriting notebook and pencil with an eraser handy is a good idea for songwriters. You’ll need this not only for jotting down lyrics, but also for writing down song structures, chord progressions, and any other music-related information you need to remember. The non-musical world doesn’t understand just how much information goes into a single song: lyrics, chord progressions, melodies, instrumentation, tempos, etc. Don’t rely on your memory alone to help you remember what you create and develop it later. You’ll inevitably miss things. Notebooks are also great tools for writing about your personal life and transforming your observations into musical inspiration. If you never know what to write music about, try keeping a journal for a month and see how it impacts your process.
A space you’re comfortable creating in
To make music seriously, you need a place you’re comfortable creating in. Specifically, you need somewhere you’re not self-conscious playing music loudly and singing in. Life as a songwriter is going to be much harder than it has to be if you have to sing or play quietly while you create music. Finding a reliable space to create in will be hard for some songwriters, especially if you’re young and don’t have a lot of space to work with. But prioritizing your music is super important for things like this, and you’ll work something out if you’re driven enough. Serious songwriters need dedicated and reliable spaces of their own to create in.
If you’re new to songwriting, you might not be able to get all of these things right away, and that’s totally fine. But eventually, you’ll need each of these things to write music seriously over the long-term.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.