Soaking It All In
Over the past 16 years, I have been able to produce music for major and independent artists, and it has been amazing making a living doing so. Working with many A-List major recording artists has given me the opportunity to work side-by-side with some of the industry’s leading songwriters. I have been able to soak in all the tips and tricks I have learned from some of these songwriters and developed a couple of my own methods of creating vocal melodies for my productions.
Don’t Second Guess It
It used to be so weird putting down my own vocal melody ideas. I used excuses like, “I hate the way I sound” or “ehhh… I don’t really think it’s good enough”. If that’s how you feel, then let me help you by first saying…GET OVER IT! Not to be harsh, but seriously, get over it and get in the habit of putting down the first couple of ideas that come straight into your head when working on music- regardless of how you sound.
- Have a decent handheld microphone handy or your voice recorder app on your mobile device, or laptop. Without second guessing it, you will be surprised to know that your first melodic responses are usually the best ones to start working with. It is when you begin to overthink your melodies and try to fit the square peg in a circle shaped hole that gets you stuck, leaving you frustrated.
- The idea is to not lose that initial spark of inspiration and capture those ideas right away.
Train Those Ears
Everyone can easily become very biased to their own melodic ideas. For some, melodies are almost like precious children, which make it hard to hear any type of criticism. You will definitely need some accountability- ears other than your own that you can trust to help you find the right melody. Although at times your circle of friends will say, “Awesome melody!” you will need to train your ears to know how to gage what melodies will work best for your tracks.
- The best thing to help your ear training with writing melodies is to hear lots of good ones…so analyze some of your favorite songs and play the melodies on piano or any instrument and follow those patterns. Commit them to memory and you will begin to train your thinking to know which melodies should be kept or tossed aside.
- I typically get in the habit of writing down the first thing that comes to mind. Then after some time of ideas, I’ll take a minute and listen to other music with some melodies I really admire, and then go back to see how my melodies feel after training my ears to hearing melodies from others.
The Peaks And Valleys
Just like any great story, great melodies have peaks and valleys. They take the listener on a journey that catches their attention. Verses need to move us to the pre-chorus/bridge, and then have it set up the climactic chorus. And so on.
- Keep contrast at each section. While many pop, songs include choruses that “lift” urban and urban-influenced pop songs, which often differentiate their choruses from their verses with a distinctly different rhythm—as opposed to soaring high notes. To keep your listeners interested, be sure to vary the range and/or rhythms from one section to the next.
- Try and not worry about lyrical content just yet and focus on catchy rhythms you can perform with the vocal as if you were putting down another instrument to the track.
- Try to vary the rhythms in the vocal melodies from one section to the next. For example, if a pre-chorus is choppy and rhythmic as a result of including a barrage of short notes, such as eighth notes, then the subsequent chorus might benefit from longer notes (i.e. whole notes). Conversely, a verse that relies heavily on long held-out notes might be best followed by a chorus that incorporates shorter notes for a more “rhythmic” feel.
When All Is Said And Done
If songwriting is new to you or if out of necessity you are starting to put down your own vocal ideas, be sure to give yourself lots of grace and practice over and over until it becomes a natural habit. Like I mentioned before, the most important part of any piece of music is the melody.
One way to test and see if your melody is working well is to strip away elements of your track until it’s just the drums, bass or chords, and see if the melody can carry its weight throughout the track. Think of it like this- if you can perform this song live (an acoustic set) and if the vibe is still there, then you know the track is supporting the melody rather than the other way around.