As a musician that writes the music and the lyrics a question that often arises is what happens first?
Sorry to disappoint, but there isn’t a specific answer to that question. The truth is both occurs, and on a regular basis. Often times I write a poem or some couplet of words that I think would make a good song, and then strive to find a melody to match. The whole process is so dependent on the mood I’m in that it’s hard to be consistent, but my advice on the matter stays the same.
First come up with some concept that is close to your heart. Music is all about heart, the same goes for poetry or writing of any kind. (All in all writing music is very similar to writing other forms.) If you aren’t emotionally connected, how can you expect the listener or reader to be? Being emotionally connected doesn’t mean your lyrics have to be sad or depressing. It can be a fun up beat emotion or some happy memory. Just make it something that means something to you!
Next jot down everything that comes to mind. You never know what you’ll want to use. This comes in handy no matter what you’re writing. If you think you will remember it, don’t kid yourself. Trust me I know from personal experience. It will tingle at the back of your mind, rest on the tip of your tongue, but you will most likely never recall that fleeting idea. SO, WRITE IT DOWN!
Now that you’ve written everything down, take the time to rearrange the lines and words until the appropriate flow appears. This is also a good time to start working on simple chords that could be attributed to the lines. Once you have the general rhythm it will help structure your lyrics too.
Also play an instrument that you are the most comfortable with. My personal preference, the guitar, makes it easy to try out notes and sing while you play. If you don’t have experience with an instrument you are going to be focusing more on how you play rather than what you’re playing. Start simply, once you have the general rhythm add a bridge or a solo, you can even over lay your recording with some fancy finger picking or a harmony.
Additional Tip: If you have a computer with a video or a recording device on your phone, record yourself messing around. This way you can play back any genius chord sequences or lyrical riffs that you may have forgotten along the way.
Finally, play everything over and over again. Tweak it until you love it. Play until you are comfortable with how it sounds, then set it aside. Wait a day or two and play it back again, if it is still as wonderful as you previously thought, you’ve got yourself a song.
Now all you need is a back up band, a recording studio, or an audition for American Idol and you’ll have it made!