There are probably as many different ways to create music as there are people who create music. I’m just one creator, and this is just my process. Some, all, or none may be helpful to others.
For me, beginning to write has two parts: inspiration and tasks. A task is straightforward: sometimes, music needs to be made. Up until this point, I have mostly been a songwriter, so I often set out to write songs in popular music song form about topics, people, or events. As a professional composer, I will also have to make music for cues, videos, game sequences, etc.
Inspiration is less concrete but more abundant. Inspiration can come from anywhere: the sounds on the street, the news, or a book. I believe music creators should be obsessed with the world so that inspiration doesn’t pass them by. I have an app on my phone where I collect ideas. The ideas I collect are things like a sentence that I read or heard somewhere, an idea (for example, the other day, I wrote down “a boy without a father who learned to tie a tie by watching a video”), a short melody with no words to it, or a hook.
Then, when I set out to complete a task, I pluck out an item from the pile of inspiration and get to work.
I often stir up my creativity by listening to other music. I look for specific elements that I love, such as an exciting synth sound, the movement of a bass line, or a lyrical theme. I can then take my ideas and mix them up with some additional ideas to carve out the song.
As soon as I have a pile of ideas, I focus on completing something as quickly as possible. I have learned that it is best to refrain from attempting to create and edit simultaneously. It’s easier to combine all of the melodies, harmonies, exciting sounds, and thematic concepts into the right length and order of a song and then refine, remove, and add later.
Most of the time, I do this by focusing on a melody I can sing and a harmony I can play on the piano. If my completed composition is easy, I only need some notes to make a rough recording using a voice memo. If what I’m creating is more complicated, I record directly into a DAW – usually just GarageBand on my iPad – so I don’t have to do just one take. Sometimes I play melodies on the piano as well. Above all, I focus on finishing. Once I have something – anything – that is the required length and format of the task, I pull it into Logic and start polishing.
I think about this next step as carving a great song out of the mess that I made. I could tweak, improve, and add to a song or composition forever. So, I try to start with being done. After I’m done, I can take every minute until the deadline to try to make the song worth listening to.
Sometimes I do all that, and the song turns out not to be something I can edit to a place where I’m happy. I have become comfortable with giving up on bad songs. Toss it in the trash! Starting over is liberating. I return to my ideas and begin the task again.
One last note: through finding my writing workflow, I have discovered that discipline is my key to success. The most important thing is to keep showing up. I’ve been working as a product manager in tech for eight years. I used to keep a to-do list that I meticulously organized every morning. Over time, I realized that product management isn’t organizing my to-do’s; it’s being out actually telling people what to do. I began to live by this motto: “Do the work in front of you.” If I am thinking about work, I am communicating with someone else because that’s the job, not planning to communicate, which is not the job. Showing up means maintaining momentum from one day to the other. So if I’m thinking about a song, I’m not thinking about how I should be writing, what’s the best song to work on next, or whether what I did yesterday was enough. I’m working on whatever is in front of me, reworking lyrics in an app on my phone, putting new sounds into my DAW, or testing new melodies on the piano. Discipline keeps new material flowing and writing ongoing.