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Song writing tools?


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Hi all,


I'm wondering how you folks out there go about writing new songs. I'm more interested in the gear you use to help you, rather than the thought process you go through.


I've narrowed it down to 3 possible ways someone can go about writing a song in today's world:

1) Using a keyboard (hardware) DAW

2) Using a software DAW

3) Not using any electronics but merely playing an acoustic instrument and writing thoughts on paper.


Which do you use? Note that I'm not talking about making a quality recording but rather making a rough sketch recording in order to write your song. Does anyone else here record while writing? Or do you get all the parts in your head first?


I'm asking this because I'm using a keyboard controller, a motif es rack and a software sequencer and often times I find I lose my creative potential while trying to work the software.


I looked at a few motif board (ES, MO, wtvr..) videos and they seemed like very good creative tools. You were able to record sections of a song (ie chorus, verse, bridge) and then play them back in the order you want. Now I know many people say the motif interface is hard to use, but I'd rather have a small display with lots of hardware buttons than a 17" monitor full of little things to tweak that eventually get your mind off of the music.


Maybe I need to spend the extra time learning the keyboard shortcuts or maybe I should stick to writing on ye 'ole acoustic piano with a pen and paper at hand..


So ask I you this: If you were to pick a single tool that you would want to have next to you when inspiration strikes in the middle of the night, what would it be? Or more simply: What is the ultimate song writing tool*?


*By "tool" I literally mean anything from a hardware keyboard workstation to a hammer.

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Everybody does it differently, but the two things that have helped me the most in getting back into songwriting are Digital Performer and Masterwriter.

When inspiration strikes, I can get my thoughts down quickly with DP, and from there it is easy to work out music and melodies. I use Masterwriter when writing lyrics because it is convenient to have all of those tools (rhyming dictionary, thesaurus, etc.) in front of you, and I like having all of my songs lyrics in one place.

That said, many of my best songs just showed up while I was sitting at my piano.

Best of luck to you,

Steve Nathan

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Call me old fashioned, but I sit at the piano with a pen and papers, make a lot of scribbles, a lot of cross outs and keep banging away. When I come up with some progressions and/or melodies I like, I will just lay down some simple tracks on Cakewalk to memorialize the groove, so I can pick up where I left off. Sometimes I have a groove in my head and when I wake up the next morning it may be lost for something else - sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. By recording it, I have something to compare to. But, otherwise, the pen and paper are my mightiest tools.
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Like just about everyone in Nashville, I write a little country and a little pop. I used to write a lot years ago when I was in Muscle Shoals, but when I got to Nashville (15 years ago) my session career really took off and I let writing go. I got back into it about a year ago when the session scene began to slow down a little. I'm finding it to be quite exciting creatively (much as sessions were when I started 25-30 years ago).

Again, best of luck with your writing pursuits,

Steve Nathan

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I do it the old fashioned way: just me at my piano with a pad of staff paper.


Later on down the line I when I have something finalized I may put it into Sibelius, but most of the time I don't. I usually only do that for larger works that require lots of parts and transpositions, like a big band score for instance.

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I started writing my own music back in the early 1980's at the same time the Tascam PortaStudio first came out. I learned that piece of equipment inside and out and any time I had an idea, I turned it on and laid it down.


that was then ... this is now. I have Cubase and enough VST's to choke a horse. I get very inspired when I crank up Cubase, but it ends up going in a "sound design" direction moreso than a "focus on a song". Henceforth, I end up with hundreds of little 8 and 16 bar "snippets" of grooves and little motifs. Like you mentioned, sometimes by the time I get Cubase booted up and ready, I've lost whatever idea it was that I had in my head to begin with. I hate it when that happens!


I've though about grabbing a little Tascam Digital 8-Track (DP-01 series - which has been heralded as the "PortaStudio Reborn") for less than 5 bills and use that to get back to the basics of songwriting again. Make it just about the song again - you know - Intro / Verse 1 / Chorus / Bridge / Verse 2 - etc. (another solution could be a small digital handheld micro recorder I suppose). I think later you could transfer the tracks you record from either to a DAW for serious editing/embelishment and so on.


As far as writing stuff down goes ... I don't read music... so therefore I can't write music ... and somewhere, somehow, someday I know I need to fix that! In the meantime, I play by ear, so that also limits my options. My two shiny pennies!

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I had the same problems midinut had.

It's alyays handy to always have something in hand that can record. I use a monolith 2 mp3 player/recorder. A very nice looking one ... http://www.bitz.nl/product_info.php?cPath=38&products_id=297


One of my criterea was, that it had to record instantly, not first go to page this and that. It has a nice microphone build in and a very high resolution.


Also work a lot on the piano. But now I find that if I really want as much creative tools as possible. So I'm looking for a mr-61 of ensoniq right now. (build in drumcomputer and very handy sequencer)

And if I cant find one, I'll be sure to buy a simple drumcomputer. Even when you allready made the song, a drumbeat can give a whole new perspective on things.


Good luck

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I do it like the constipated mathematician. I work it out with a pencil. heheh


I often have written lyrics first or a rough draft and then work the melody and chord changes out. If I leave a song unfinished I do have trouble finding the feel later, but that means I wasn't happy with what I had to begin with.



Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others. Groucho




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IMO a quality song could and should be able to be played with just an accoustic instrument and still have a good feel and strong hook.. the rest of the song is dress ups....


so I write songs on a piano or guitar depending on what I have in or near my hands ....I'm not a guitar player but can dabble enough to play chords and sometimes it is actually liberating to not use your main instrument... it is easy to get caught up in the "I'm a pianist.. a plain C chord triad in root position?? you gotta be joking.. let me at least add the 9th.. or maybe if I augment the Bb chord in it's place, I'll still hit the E lead note" syndrome..... where as when I play the guitar, I don't think that way and focus way more on melody .... once I get the melody right and have some basic chords, I dress it up later in logic....


but unless the song is strong enough as far as melody go, no groove or soundscape will save it....


Think of all the major hit songs.. I can't think of any that can't be played on an accustic instrument + sung and you could still tell that is a strong song....

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I sit in front of my keyboard (the one with blacks and whites..), trying harmonies, melodies, jammjing. when I come up with idea, first I quickly record it into onboard sequencer, cuz I forget ideas very quickly. I work on the idea a bit, and write it down in Cakewalk (sowtware sequencer) - either with midied keyboard or just writing staff with mouse, lay some basic bass and drums, and continue to next part. after the song gets shape, I rewind and work on parts deeper.

Stage: MOX6, V-machine, and Roland AX7

Rolls PM351 for IEMs.

Home/recording: Roland FP4, a few guitars


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I don't necessarily agree with Hawkan2580 that the "reset is dress up" but I do concede that his is the majority opinion and that those who think otherwise--thos who think that the parts and arrangements are the meat of the song--tend to congregate in the little corner of the musical world we call "prog"


Most tunes I write on a single instrument (keys or guitar) others, ones that are more "compositional," I sketch out in Sonar with synths and samples. Less of that lately, as my focus has shifted from recording to performance.


For me the most essential tool would have be an acoustic guitar.

Check out the Sweet Clementines CD at bandcamp
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