How to Make a Song

Approaches to Song Creation

There are as many ways to go about creating a song as there are ways to skin a cat (but who wants to do that anyways?). Some people buy beats, others play their own instruments and still others sample old songs to create new ones. Somebody relatively new to the creation of music may have some questions about how to make a song. For instance:

  • Should you start with the lyrics first or the melody?
  • Do you use virtual instruments and synths or hire local session musicians?
  • When should you buy beats and instrumentals?

There is no ultimate right answer because music is a creative process and every decision truly belongs to the artist. Despite this, some genres tend to lend themselves to a particular approach.


The Singer-Songwriter Approach

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A truly minimalistic creative process, this approach usually requires only two instruments: a vocal and either a guitar or piano. Maestros in this style often ply their trade in genres such as folk music (Bob Dylan) or pop music (e.g. Elton John, Alicia Keys) and tend to write their own songs. The vocals and guitar or piano are most often recorded together as a single take leaving little room for virtual instruments, etc.


The Full Band

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The typical rock, jazz, country, reggae and blues band all fall here and share a lot in common. The band consists of a vocalist, a percussionist (usually a drummer), a bass player and any combination of other rhythm and melodic instruments (e.g. keyboard, guitar, brass) which may vary according to the genre. Traditionally these were recorded with everyone playing together but overdubbing (laying parts down separately on top of each other) has now become commonplace. Layering virtual instruments with real instruments can provide more tone and depth, and sampling technology has reached the point where virtual instruments can fool the human ear.

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The Premade Beat

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Some genres lend themselves best to instrumental tracks over which the vocalist (singer, rapper or deejay) performs. Often multiple artistes will record songs on a single track. The most notable genres in this category include hip-hop, dancehall, and soca.

Some kinds of music, such as movie or video game soundtracks, or some Classical music, don’t require vocals at all. Other genres, electronic dance music (EDM) most notably, may have vocals that aren’t as prominent as in other genres.

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