Writing songs is such a personal process it’s almost impossible to identify actual ways in which songs are written, and it’s certainly as individual as each composer themselves! The usual question all traditional song writers get asked is “do you write the music or the lyrics first?” Well, that’s certainly a pragmatic enough query, but it makes very little sense in terms of how the real process should work. I find that the yes, even though I can force myself to sit down and write lyrics and / or music, the far more “organic” approach works for me. By this I mean that number one, the spark for the song must first “come” from somewhere. Then, once something of a foundational start is established the song can take shape.
I am very much known for my instrumental songs, either original or interpretations of other’s tunes, but when I write literally any song, it always seems to happily live as an instrumental for me for a long time before it even becomes a song with lyrics. Many times it ends up just staying that way, or as I did in the case of a song on my upcoming album, I tried in vain for so long to write lyrics that I still ended up treating it as an “instrumental” version of a song that never actually had lyrics at all! (Or at least it had a few lyric ideas, which I was able to use as a basis for at least a kind of “concept” of what the song was to be about!) So as you can see, in this case I used even the “hint” of a lyrical idea to help spring forth an instrumental “version” of a song that never really had lyrics to begin with! The real idea behind this to me is the fact that notes can say far more than a word can in a song. If you sing a word, well, that’s pretty much it…..what you hear is what you get…but when you play a note, it is speaking purely from the heart, and is saying something that literally cannot be expressed as a word or lyric.
Still, the process is very much “up for grabs”, and you should always be on the lookout for any inspiration that hits you….it may start as an instrumental idea, or lyrics. The best for songs that have lyrics for me is when the music and words seem to fall together right about the same time. This means that as the tune progresses, the music and lyrics seem to “feed each other.” One sort of helps push the other along, and before you know it, you have a really nice blend of sounds and ideas that you know really “gelled” together nicely, and that represent a “time and space” in which you were working, and in which you were feeling the inspiration!
So however the muse may ever hit you, remember to stay tuned to it, and listen to your heart and what it is trying to say through a song. And remember, like I said earlier, often, a note can say even more than a lyric ever could!