How I Go About Writing Songs

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Poetry  |  House: Booksie Classic


Someone recently asked my process of writing music so I took the time to write a small essay on it. Let me know what you think!!!

Submitted: June 05, 2018

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Submitted: June 05, 2018

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Hannah Saige’s process for writing a song

When starting out, I usually sit down, alone, with my instrument. I often like having other instruments around for reference, so I’m often next to my keyboard with my ukulele, but guitar in hand. Guitar is my go-to for writing. As a writer, I always have a notebook near me (ask Larry, he’ll tell you the room is covered in them) However, as of late, when I feel inspiration coming I’ll just turn my phone on record. This allows me to keep track of what licks and melodies or lyric ideas as they come into me.  I used to have a notepad and pen right there and go back and forth between writing what came to me and playing but that was too many things in my hands so I changed it up and took advantage of having a phone… after years of having a phone. Call me old fashioned.

During this time, I usually pray to that whatever I need to say to the world comes through in whatever I’m about to write. Trust me, I can tell you which songs I prayed before writing and which ones I was “ehh” about bringing God into the picture. This is why I always give God glory when people compliment my songs because I know that each one is rooted in His blessing.  Then I can feel what I want to write about. I usually have a topic in mind before I sit down. My songs are problem-solving mechanisms very often. Once I get a neat-o sounding lick, chord progression, or interesting lyric/cadence (Thanks Larry for teaching me that word), I’ll play it over and over and mess with words as I try to convey what needs to be said in the correct timing. I tend to find my rhythms without thinking about it.  There’s music in my DNA.

I will repeat things until they are familiar and I get the main idea across. Then I’ll refine the timing and wording. After a bit, it will actually sound less like snippets of ideas and more like a coherent piece. This is when I get that melody gold. I really think about what I’m trying to convey or relate to the listener and I think about whom my audience is, I’m usually writing a song TO someone. (Take “To Be Seen” that song is an obvious addressing to someone in my past… however “Waiting” is about Larry, who’s right beside me) What do I want to say to them and how do I want to say it?! "To Be Seen" is very bitter and sarcastic.  However, “Waiting” was gentle and thankful and I had a desire to express love again through music.

The first thing I write usually ends up being the chorus, probably because it’s what I spend the most time with. I’ve learned to decipher what is a chorus or a verse by what it says and how easily it’s repeated. Think about it--- choruses are repeated a lot—best not to have anything complicated, awkward, or sub-par. I always save the bridge for last; coincidentally, the bridge is usually my least favorite part of the song unless I feel as though I still have something to say that wasn’t conveyed in a verse or chorus, I will make a point to convey another point in the bridge.  See? Songwriting is all about story- telling for me.  Then, I will play each piece and work on the transitions between choruses and verses. I try to have it sound less like four separate pieces and more like one solid flowing piece. That’s the keyword. If one section doesn’t or can’t flow into the next one with ease, the song probably needs more refining in chord choices, cadences, or word choices (stupid syllables!)

Then comes the part I always thought my mom hated: Play the song repeatedly and get to know it. Each song is like a child, as corny as that sounds, so I get to know it intimately so that muscle memory brings my hands to the right chords and the chords strike my memory as to what the lyrics were. I do this until I can play it as confidently as I need to.

Around this time I would show it to someone for advice and feedback—thanks Mama—and thanks Larry! Until I get that feedback from another human being who knows Hannah Saige really well, I won’t record it (for real, record it) and put it on social media. People’s reactions and conversations are a huge part of the process for me and I want to see someone’s reaction not read it online. Again—human connection—wanting to be heard—having a story to tell—these are the driving forces behind my writing.

Lastly, I record the bare bones of what I have (even though in my head, there’s keyboard pieces missing or a specific drum line I want in there- but hey!- I’m by myself usually). I’ll post it on my Soundcloud and my Facebook. I do eagerly await feedback. I’m always interested to see who responds to what. It shows what spoke to which of my friends. I was surprised to see an old high school friend comment on my song Conversation with a Predator and having it speak to him was incredible and unexpected. Other times, Aunties/siblings comment on my love songs and say “Good job, Hannah” or “Sounds beautiful, Banana!” (I have an extremely musical and extremely supportive family)  The joys of being raised in the current version of The Partridge Family are very interesting.  

Of course, each time is different; because each song is different (hopefully) I had to conquer the “I’m writing the same chord progression/melody!!” fiasco in my early years of writing. I would play a set of my music by myself, recording them one after another, and try to listen to them, making sure I didn’t just recreate a previous melody over and over again. That would mean I’m a stagnant writer—something I avoid. Flowing water- streams of living music- that’s what I strive for. I don’t know how others write. It wasn’t until just this past year where I started actually researching song writing…. After writing songs for 19 years--- WOAH! Okay…. I don’t feel like a 2 decade seasoned writer but I guess that’s where I stand.

I guess what other writers could take away is that people don’t hear inspiration, they feel it and usually it’s that feeling that drives them to find new music. Never be so concerned with writing that you lose your passion in the piece. We’re all here to help one another—I certainly hope I help others, with my essays, songs, and even Facebook statuses. Love, connection, growth: That’s what it’s all about for me.


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