You know that saying, “What came first: the chicken or the egg?” Well, this post is my attempt at discerning the answer to one of the most frequent questions I get asked as a songwriter: “What comes first: the music or the lyrics?”
It’s a question that many songwriters — whether they’re accomplished award-winners or new to the craft — get asked by journalists, family, friends, fellow musicians, and the like.
The answer, as to be expected, is different for everyone.
The only answer to this question I can think of off the top of my head is the response I’ve offered for years: “It depends.” I suppose that’s true to a degree, but then I stopped to think about it.
“By looking back at my track record and past processes,” I thought, “Maybe I really can find what’s worked and what hasn’t.”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized…
I tend to start with an idea I’m passionate about and want to tell in song. Then I try to write lyrics to match whatever melody I’ve got running in my head in that moment. This goes on all while I start pairing words together and turning them into phrases.
Those phrases and that preliminary melody then act as guinea pigs over a series of chord progressions and tempos.
Eventually, if I’m lucky, some semblance of a song comes to fruition.
And what if I’m not so lucky? I’ve at least got extra puzzle pieces that may just prove to find a perfect fit with a different song later on. It’s like cherry picking from best leftovers. Every once in awhile it works … and that’s just plain fun.