My day job is literally singing and writing to beats. It's a beautiful thing, to be honest. Don't get me wrong, I love the vibes of live music, but beats these days have such a polished digital and melodic mix that's a perfect sweet spot for creativity. Sometimes I write song lyrics and melodies and then create a beat around it, but most of the time, I write my lyrics to a beat that is given to me or created by me.
A lot of artists and musicians outside of the r&b, pop, and hip hop world don't really get to experience this type of songwriting. It's a unique and new process when it comes to the complete history of music. Think about it, instrumental beats weren't even a thing until the computer age. The lyrics and melodies you write and record in combination with instrumental beats are recent technological masterpieces.
Okay, maybe I'm hyping the process up a bit too much, but I love it, okay?! I usually go through a five-step process when it comes to writing lyrics to beats that I want to share with you. This isn't the only way to go about it, but it works for me and several other rappers, singers, and songwriter's that I've worked with. If the method isn't broken, don't fix it!
The first thing you want to get in your head is the topic of the song. Based on the beat you'll be using, figure out the general idea that your lyrical content will be about. When you can correctly match the beat's mood to a song topic, you will then be able to write melodies and lyrics that will sound like a perfect fit. You want your lyrics, melodic flow, emotional energy, and instrumental beat to be on the same page.
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The next thing to do is figure out how long the verses are, the hooks are, and any other sections that might be in the beat. Most beats have obvious changes when the beat switches from the intro, to verse, to hook, to bridge, to the outro. Some beats don't. If your beat is very minimal with multiple sections having the same instrumentation, it will then be up to you to decide how to structure your song.
When I say structure your song, I'm particularly talking about counting how many bars each section will have. For example, the beat may have room for a 16-bar verse, followed by an 8-bar hook, followed by another 16-bar verse, and then an outro. If you're using a DAW like Garageband or LogicrPro to write and record, it will be beneficial to use arrangement tracks to section out your song visually.
The next thing I do is record melodic ideas throughout all the song sections to see what fits. I sing, hum, and freestyle lyrics that I may or may not keep to see what compliments each section best. Sometimes I get a good melody from one of the first few takes, but other times I have to keep trying several different melodic ideas until I discover one that fits.
With beats that have a lot going on melodically, it's best to create a simple vocal melody. With beats that are more hollow and basic, you have the freedom to do a lot melodically with your vocal lines.
If you're rapping and not creating a sung melody, it's still a good idea to figure out the vocal delivery and energy for each section. A lot of rap lines include some melodic flows (sing-rap), but even the non-singing rappers still play with their spoken range in certain parts of the songs depending on what fits. Very seldom do rappers just spit lyrics in mono-tone.
Based on how your melodic ideas flow, you can start jotting down the real lyrics you want to match with them. As I mentioned, sometimes the freestyle lyrics I come up with when playing with melodies stick, especially since I already established my song topic. You'll usually have a few phrases that have popped in your head that you can start to expand on to create your verses, hook, and any other section that fits the beat.
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From your melodic ideas, you should already have a loose feel for the rhyming scheme you want to use. Most songs do ABAB or AABB, but it's really up to you. You don't even have to rhyme if you don't want to.
Put in a good amount of time into the lyrical wordplay and don't just rush through the process. A lot of pop songs use very basic wording for lyrics, which sometimes works well, but depending on your style and genre, you may want to go deep with metaphors and lyrical ornaments.
Finally, you may want to fill the song out with some complimentary phrases in the form of adlibs, fills, or backing harmonies. Adlibing, which is often freestyled, is a great way to add more lyrical ideas to strengthen the message of your song. Backing vocals can really add to the emotional resonance of the lyrics, so don't overlook this section if you're really looking to get a strong message across.
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Some songs work really well without backing vocals if the beauty comes from their simplicity, but most of the time, when we're talking about instrumental beats, we aren't going for simplicity. We're looking to make bangers that hit you with a lot of variety!
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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