It Has Been 2 Years
Time flies when things are going great it seems. It's already two years since Tunedly made a turn for the better when Mathew Knowles and Harvey Mason Jr. came on as advisors.
Our company has literally been transformed since then, adding new features and tools to make life easier for music creators. In light of the impact Mathew Knowles, in particular, has had on Tunedly, we have decided to celebrate his being a part of the Tunedly Team by quoting his two famous daughters, Beyoncé and Solange, in today’s post. Specifically, we'll be giving our two cents (and theirs) on the songwriting process.
We were drawn to this topic, not just because Mathew and Harvey came on board, but also because a Tunedly follower posed a thought-provoking question a few weeks ago: is it best to write lyrics or come up with a melody first when constructing a song? Now, most of you will agree that the job of being a songwriter is an interesting one. Having a job that allows you to interact with songwriters? Well, that might be equally interesting, you’ll see why shortly.
So, what comes first, lyrics or melody? A quick search on the topic unearths the realization that a lot of songwriters are often faced with this question, whether they are new to the business and just exploring their talents, or well accomplished.
For superstar and multi-Grammy award winner, Beyonce Knowles, her process has changed over time. In a 2013 interview with GQ, she noted that “I used to start with lyrics and then I'd find tracks, often it was something I had in my head, and it just so happened to go with the melody.”
Later on she states, “Now I write with other writers. It starts with the title or the concept of what I'm trying to say, and then I'll go into the booth and sing my idea. Then we work together to layer on.”
Solange, on the other hand, is a little more detailed in expressing her process. During a 2016 interview with FADER, after the release of her third album, she had this to say, “In my process, I typically start with a melody. I freestyle a melody, and I build harmonies on melodies, which is kind of ass-backwards.” “…Because then I have to do them over again when I fill them with words. The actual lyric writing of the album is tricky when you’re so sold to a melody. The little nuances and syllables and things that you’re saying might sound one way, and when you fill in the lyrics, it changes the essence of it. [But] I allowed myself to have that space, because I didn’t want to force myself to write anything that didn’t truly come from the soul.”
As you can see, two contrasting responses. Anyway, we decided to pose the question to members of the Tunedly Team to see what others do. The findings varied from weird to interesting. For starters, there isn’t a hard or fast rule governing whether to create melody before writing lyrics or vice versa. Most of the responses boiled down to “it depends on the songwriter”
or “it depends on the mood”
and other similar variations. With that said, here are the main points extracted from the in-house responses:
Your strong point determines what comes naturally
If you’re a lyricist, meaning that you are good with putting words together like a poet, probably it’s easier for you to start out with lyrics. On the other hand, if you play an instrument or find it easy to hum a tune in your head, then, of course, it’s only natural that the melody is usually where you will begin first.
Either one can come at any time – be prepared
Many a hit song is said to have come from a sudden burst of inspiration. It could happen while in the bathroom, as confessed to by Mariah Carey, who said she was in the loo when the inspiration came to write “Hero.” Or it could be late at night when you’re trying to sleep, which is the story behind “Satisfaction,” whose writer, Keith Richards, is said to have woken up in the middle of the night with the riff in his head, before forcing himself out of bed to record the first 60 seconds using his guitar.
As a songwriter, who’s constantly looking for song creation opportunities, once you’re in-tune with your talents, the lyrics or melody for a new song can come to you at any time. You have to recognize these moments for what they are and be prepared to grab pen and paper, a musical instrument, or a recording instrument (or all of the above) and get down that lyric or melody, whatever the case might be.
Trying one or the other might help with songwriters’ block
Dealing with creative blocks sometimes requires a different approach to break through it. A few of the songwriters who gave feedback said that switching things up – that is, trying to come up with a melody when lyrics are hard to come by, or vice versa – sometimes bears fruit. If you’re predominantly a lyricist and find you’re having difficulty getting your words down on paper on a particular day, trying a few experimental chords on a guitar or piano, or even humming something to see if it sparks a melody, could do the trick. Likewise, if you’re not coming up with a usable melody, you could try writing some lyrics down and see where it leads to.
To sum up all the responses (and experiences of the Knowles sisters), all songwriters create differently, so you should practice what comes naturally to you. But at the same time, be open to experimenting with different songwriting techniques, and mixing it up sometimes so that your work does not get monotonous or one-dimensional.
As we look forward to the next two years with Mathew Knowles on board as an advisor, we will be aiming to make life easier for even more songwriters and sharing more valuable songwriting tips you will appreciate.