Composing music

I go through several different phases when I’m writing music before an idea for a song might end up as a recorded and maybe even released song. Here I’ve written about how I work when I’m composing music. Later on I’ll write about my workflow when I’m arranging music and preparing the song for recording.

The first idea for a song

I get almost all my ideas for my songs when I sit and jam by myself in a time gap between more important stuff – suddenly there’s a small phrase that catches my attention or maybe an interesting chord progression that inspires me for a theme or other chord progressions.

If I think the idea may have just a minor chance of becoming a song, I’ll record it. Often this is done using my phone, since I might be far away from my studio. Some days later I’ll listen to the idea again, and if I still like it, I either transfer the memofile to the computer in my studio or record the idea again in my studio to a metronome.

I normally record my ideas for a song on my phone when I'm composing music
I normally record my ideas for a song on my phone when I’m composing music.
BTW: This is a screendump from my phone, so you’re not supposed to be able to play anything from here.

Demos … scratch drums and bass parts

Sometimes the idea is trashed when I return to it after a few days… It was perhaps a little too predictable or boring. But, if I think the idea has potential I begin programming a simple drum groove. I might also record a very simple bass line, maybe even a rhodes (electric piano) or something of the sort. At this phase, I’ll usually re-record my guitar idea again, at least if I didn’t do it earlier. It makes sense, since I now have some basic tracks to play along to. Sometimes I’m forced to record the guitar again, if I want to change the tempo, key or the basic feel of the song – like changing a straight feel to shuffle or the other way around. If I re-record the basic guitar part I’ll do it very fast, with no intention of achieving perfection. It’s the same when I’m programming drums or trying to create bass-lines. I try to give as little attention as possible to the programming and recording. If I focus too much on getting flawless parts, I shift my focus from being creative – and I don’t want that to happen. I just want to create and let my ideas come without any filter or judgement. I can easily imagine how the guitar or other parts should develop and sound later on. And I know I’ll dig into optimizing the parts at another time. When I’m in the composing phase, I’m more concerned about staying open minded, and inspired, than getting a perfect part recorded.

The missing parts

After this phase, where I’ve been making scratch parts for the main instruments, I start focusing on missing pieces and other parts of the song. Maybe I need to find the right C-section (no pun intended) or bridge. Maybe I have to change some chords to get from one part to another. Of course, I still aim for having my creative flow lead me through this phase, but I also welcome my musical craftsmanship if it comes into gear. If the right chords, for getting me from a certain part to another don’t come naturally, I start using all the musical knowledge I’ve picked up through the years – a combination of craftsmanship and creativity. Luckily the song often leads me from one piece to the next without major problems, but of course, sometimes I have return to the song several times before I’m content. If the track continues to tease me and I have to return to it too many times, it’s probably because there is something fundamentally wrong with the track. If it’s like that … I’ll probably trash the entire number.

All the very best

Soren Reiff

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