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Image courtesy of Soundtrap on Unsplash.

RPM Challenge: A Songwriter’s Primer

Written by
Spencer Wells
and
February 5, 2021

Last week, just before the month of January ended, I introduced the 2021 RPM Challenge and the series of articles that would follow along my progress as I work on my music project. Additionally, these articles serve as (hopefully) helpful guides for your DIY music production journeys. This week, I’m covering the basis of songwriting - your first and perhaps most important  steps. Don't worry, though, it's not as daunting as it may seem! 

The beautiful idea around making a song is that there is no definitive right or wrong way to do it – this is especially true for the RPM Challenge. Creativity can come from a variety of different sources, but it can also be difficult to effectively articulate/materialize your ideas into music. Finding that perfect “sound” is both an arduous and exciting prospect, which is precisely why it is a good idea to have a step-by-step framework on how to get started on writing your project.

RPM Challenge: A Songwriter’s Primer
Image courtesy of Soundtrap on Unsplash.
  1. If you haven’t already started this, create a playlist of songs that you feel influenced by both musically and lyrically. The challenge itself does not require you to produce vocals for your songs but having a few songs on the list can help you to understand the structure of the music; how the vocals sound compared to the instruments, singing styles, and so on. Think of the voice(s) as another instrument, listen closely to what stands out to you.

For this step, I added a variety of different House/Techno playlists to my regular listens. As of late, I have grown accustomed to electronic music and decided to base my album predominantly on “futuristic” retro sounds. Additionally, I am not a very good singer, but I have pledged to find a way to incorporate my rather baritone-ish voice into my creations. This may be my defining obstacle, but in the spirit of the challenge, I won’t know unless I try. 

  1. Jot down/record everything you think of that could be included in a song, even if it’s just a temporary idea. Using a phone/laptop/notepad to write down lyric ideas, even if it’s just a few words/lines, is key in developing a steady foundation.

I stand by the assertion that you can easily surprise yourself when you write down whatever comes to mind, even if it seems out of place or the words don’t connect to a broader idea. If you are a regular diary writer, you’re already at an advantage. I would seriously recommend to those who find it difficult to express their ideas in writing to start small but START as soon as possible. 

Additionally, I should mention that I don’t know much about sheet music. The most experience I got was playing electric bass in my high school senior band – an instrument I learned primarily by ear. I couldn’t read the music we had to play for the life of me, so I envy those who do. If you’re lucky enough to be able to understand ANY degree of musical theory, this should be a “relative” piece of cake. For the rest of us, I found that a weird but effective way to “record” your ideas, especially instruments, is to hum it. I’m not joking. If you’re unsure what that note or chord you heard from that one song is, just keep humming it until you can get your hands on some sort of instrument (whether it be physical or digital) and keep playing around with it until you find your match. Wash, rinse and repeat as often as you can; satisfaction probably guaranteed. 

  1. Practice, practice, PRACTICE! If this challenge is inspiring you to pick up a new instrument or musical genre, or anything else, I cannot stress this enough; once you start, summon up all your discipline and practice! Don’t be afraid to type up YouTube tutorials on how to improve your playing, don’t get discouraged when you don’t sound quite as good as you thought you would when you started, and for the love of whatever you believe in, DON’T BE AFRAID TO SING YOUR HEART OUT IN THE SHOWER!

Admittedly, I am still far from being courageous enough to really use my world tour voice in the shower, but the idea of it is to channel your creative energy from the deepest recesses of your mind and spirit. Not to sound all guru-ish, but there’s a certain sense of appreciation that comes when you are able to truly express what you believe should be shared with the world. If you don’t find the momentum that carries with the start, take a short break – maybe a few jumping jacks, a coffee, or a good playlist – it is a unique journey for everyone to find their groove. 

  1. Above all else, do it your way. This is a challenge of creativity, not a competition of quality and popularity. You are the maestro, and the world is your symphony. Don’t get pent up if your product doesn’t sound like a professionally mixed and mastered hit single/album. The end goal is a sense of accomplishment, not a multi-million-dollar record deal. Though, if you try really hard, you may have a chance.

In all seriousness, the idea is to find your confidence between the pages and notes of your songs. Whether you work bit-by-bit on intricate segments or hammer out a full ballad by memory in one try, it all starts when you get up and say with courage “I’m gonna write this song!” Though, perhaps be mindful of your volume if your roommates are asleep.

Stay tuned to Trent Radio, on 92.7FM for more episodes of Revvin’ Up, every Friday at 6:30 pm for the month of February, as well as other programs/workshops throughout the month, including a drop-in Q&A on Monday, February 8th at 4:00pm. Also be sure to check for updates on Trent Radio’s Instagram and RPM Facebook page.

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