5 quick ways to turn ideas into songs

How do you turn ideas into songs? Make more than just loops and lyrics with our guide to turning a musical idea into a full track.

Are you one of those producers who has lots of little ideas for tracks floating around on your hard drive, gathering digital dust? Catchy beats, or perfect chorus lyrics, that you excitedly dreamt up then abandoned; loops that sound amazing by themselves but haven’t been developed any further?

You’re not alone. Here are five tips to help turn your ideas into songs.


Keep one element of the idea and build upon it

What is it about your loop that you like? Start from a blank project and drop in just one element, and build from there – or take something out and see how it changes the feel. Have a go at changing up your chord progression, swapping to a minor key, changing the rhythm of the chords. No pressure – just play around until the ideas naturally flow from one to the other.


Stuck with lyrics? It’s story time

Every song, even the most commercial of pop songs, is telling a story. You might have come up with one great line, a killer intro, or a single verse with awesome rhyme and rhythm, and then lost the thread. Build upon that one lyrical theme by writing a story around it.

The song doesn’t need to start at the beginning of that story and finish at the end, but you might find it helpful to write down the journey of the song, even if it’s “boy meets girl, girl leaves him.” Basic choices, such as deciding on a happy or sad story, change which sounds you work with.

If “writing what you know” is making you draw a blank, imagine a new character or place instead of drawing from your own life. Quite often themes from your own emotions will feed into the song regardless.

The idea for “Caroline” by Arlo Parks came from the singer people-watching in London

Sort out the song structure

Before getting bogged down in details, have a think about the form you want your song to take. To kick-start an idea, choose a song to use as a reference track for the skeleton of your track’s structure. You’re not copying the song here, just using it at the start as a framework to get those creative juices flowing. It’ll help you come up with the different sections, from intro to outro, and you can switch things around later.

Check out our tips on song structure here.


Research

Still don’t know where to go next? Listen to a few songs in different genres. Try to remove yourself from the boxed-in idea of how you think your track should sound, and get inspired.

Put the idea away and return to it the next day, look at it with fresh eyes and ears and see if your perspective has changed. It’s also a good idea to step away from the mix, close your DAW and go for a walk around the block, to mull things over with a change of scene.

Talk to other producers for advice and inspiration – you might find that you end up joining forces and collaborating. Two heads are better than one – no more stubbornly struggling on alone and never finishing a track as a result.


Try a different approach

You might find yourself attached to the thought of using a sound or beat in a specific way, and feel like you can’t break out of that one mindset. Try introducing a completely different effect, or switching up the tempo; adding just one new instrument to your hook, or changing the piano sound to a synth. Sometimes that’s all it takes to spark something off. The pathway that emerges might well be completely different to the beat you started off with.


Some producers try and keep from getting into the situation in the first place by forcing themselves to keep going when they feel like they’re losing momentum. Sometimes you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike – there’s nothing for it but to start throwing things into the mix to see what sticks.


Finally broken free from the loop curse and written an amazing full track? Why not release it. RouteNote can help with that. We can distribute your song to streaming services and stores for the world to discover. You can start to make money from music, and the best part is, it won’t cost you a penny. Find out more and sign up here.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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