Hobbies: How I got into songwriting

How I wrote and released a song on Apple Music and Spotify

Illustration: Sabrina Kedzior / The Peak

By: Marco Ovies, Editor-in-Chief

Ever since my parents forced me to take piano lessons when I was seven, music has always been such a big part of my life, . 10 years later, I ended up hating piano lessons, but gained a new appreciation for music. Being able to focus all my attention on learning a new song was a much needed emotional break from not only the ongoing pandemic, but also just problems that rise in everyday life. Eventually, I fell in love with the process of learning instruments. Naturally, I started to learn bits and pieces of instruments. Guitar, drums, bass, melodica, and even a bit of mandolin to name a few. I realized that I had become my own one man band, and with the marvels of modern day technology, I was able to record each instrument and create a song that I am almost proud of. 

Sitting down, taking out my computer, and focusing all of my energy into a song has been a good emotional outlet. It has almost become a diary of sorts, and I am able to capture my emotions better through sound rather than words (which is ironic since I’m paid to be good with words). Of course, I would never release one of these super personal songs, but I was still able to write probably the most basic song in the history of basic songs. So if you’re wondering how I did it, buckle up because I’m about to walk you through how to write a song. Keep in mind that while these are the steps I took, they aren’t necessarily the order you have to keep to. Listen to your creative process!

 

 

  • Choosing your recording software

 

I’m going to be honest, I’m a bit biased towards Apple products. GarageBand is a great place to start, and it’s also free. If you’re unsure how deep you want to get into songwriting, you should start there. Another free program that is also available for Windows is Audacity.

I quickly outgrew GarageBand, though, and ended up downloading Apple’s other music software, Logic Pro X. It is a bit on the pricey side coming in at $199, but it is a thousand times more powerful than GarageBand. It has tons of features like thousands (and I quite literally mean thousands) of different sounds to play around with, stronger editing features, and ultimately allows you more creative freedom than GarageBand. 

Of course there are plenty of music production software available, so be sure to do your research to find the one that will work best for you and the type of music you are trying to make. 

 

 

  • Make a groovy beat

 

I find creating a beat is a good start to any song. You can create your own beat by recording yourself playing the drums, you can use one of the hundreds of drum samples available on Logic, or you can use one of Logic’s AI drummers to help establish a groovy beat. 

Quite often I would start with one of these AI drummers, Gavin being my favourite (yes, they all have names) and then I’d end up changing the beat as the song evolved after adding in more instruments. You can get really creative with beats too. I once sampled the sound of a woodpecker banging on a metal pole, and it created a really cool sound. Anything can be a beat, so go crazy with it. 

 

 

  • Drop the bass

 

Now this is the part where you have to start making some real musical selections. Typically I would start by figuring out what chords I would want to use. My favourite chord progression is G, D, and C, which is probably one of the most common chord progressions out there. Another really common chord progression is C, G, Am, and F. If you only learn these four chords, you can play hundreds of some of the most popular songs out there.

Unless I had something super interesting already planned out in my head for how the bass would sound, I typically would just play the bottom note of each chord on every beat. But like almost everything I’m going to mention in this piece, the bass would quite often change after a burst of inspiration and turn into something super cool. While setting up the song, though, I like to keep things basic and go back to record more complex parts later. 

Don’t actually own a bass guitar? All music software comes with plenty of different bass samples that sound very accurate, and you can play with them directly from your computer keyboard. 

 

 

  • Guitars and more guitars (and then maybe some more guitar)

 

This one is pretty self explanatory, you play the same chords that you played for your bass. I liked to break it up by alternating between one long, drawn out chord or going crazy and playing eight strums for each chord (down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up). 

Most music softwares do come with guitar samples as well, but I personally have never heard one that has sounded as accurate as the real thing. If you need one instrument for songwriting, it would probably be the guitar. That being said, not all music needs a guitar, and it really just depends on the style of music you want to make. 

 

 

  • Time to siiiiiiiiiiiing 

 

The bread and butter of any song is the lyrics. Write about the person who broke your heart, the love of your life, a game of poker you lost, your cat, or literally anything. 

I have seen countless interviews with people who tend to romanticize the artistic process if the work is based on traumatic or hard experiences. Honestly, the subject matter of the song doesn’t matter as long as you’re having fun. I wrote a song about dabbing once, so I think that speaks for how silly you can get with it. 

Most songs have two verses, three chorus, and a bridge. Again, you don’t have to follow this formula exactly, but if you’re just getting started writing music, this is the most basic one out there. 

 

 

  • Get funky with it

 

Now that you have established some sort of melody, it’s time to play around with the song as a whole. Get some guitar solos in there, even if it’s just a reflection of the same notes that you sang in the chorus. Maybe even a cool synth line would add some depth to the song. My biggest misconception when I started writing music was that I needed to be singing the entire time. That’s not the case at all — get comfortable with letting your other instruments shine and showing off your real compositional talent. 

 

 

  • Master mastering your track

 

This is the more technical part of the song, and people spend years studying it. Meanwhile, I’ve watched a five minute YouTube tutorial so I might not be the best point of reference on this. I can, however, suggest some basics.

Check to make sure your volume levels are right because you don’t want to drown out your vocals with your sick guitar (unless you’re doing it intentionally, it’s your song). Try panning your instruments to different sides of your headphones as well.

 You might not think this makes a difference but it creates the feeling of a live band in the room with you. If you’re new to mastering, I recommend checking out the automatic mastering website LANDR. While it won’t sound as good as mastering the track yourself, if you have no idea what you are doing, it will definitely elevate the sound of your song. 

 

 

  • Now that you have given birth to your music child, get it out there

 

This part is surprisingly easy — anyone can get a song out on Apple Music and Spotify these days. Personally, I use the distribution service CD Baby to send out my song to all the major streaming services, and they do it all for around $10. 

Sounds too good to be true? Yeah, don’t expect to be making millions off of your latest single. For every one stream a song gets, I get around $0.005. Yes, that’s right, that is half of a cent for every play. That means if you want to make your $10 back you need to have your song played at least 2,000 times. Or, if you want to make your $200 back from buying Logic Pro X, you’ll have to get 40,000 streams. Honestly, that is the reality of making money from your music, but at least you’re getting paid! 

So here you have it, eight easy steps to write a song and you’re done. The most fun you’ll have with making music is the creation process, so take your time to enjoy it. It’s so easy to want to have a finished product as quickly as possible, but I have had way more fun writing and recording music than I ever did publishing it. You don’t have to write the next number one hit single, use it as a creative outlet and just have fun. And remember, if you become famous after taking my advice . . . please remember me.

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