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Which comes first - lyrics, music or production?

You have to start your song somewhere. But where is the best place to start?

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It is interesting to read or watch interviews with people who have been massively successful in music. Take some seriously big hitters from an earlier age of music...

Paul McCartney for example, whose song Yesterday apparently started as a melody accompanying the words 'scrambled eggs'. Take Andrew Lloyd Webber (who is actually higher in the Sunday Times Rich List than Sir Paul) who is on record as composing the music first, then having a lyricist fit words to it.

So the music is the best place to start then?

Well not for everyone. A television documentary on Elton John showed him rummaging through pages and pages of lyrics by his co-writer Bernie Taupin, before finding one that he liked, to set to music.

So you can also start with the lyrics. Gold records and multi-million dollar success seem to confirm that.

But what about starting with the production?

Well once again, the musical masters of the past have lessons for us.

U2 for instance are known to start from the germ of a musical idea, go away separately to add to that idea, start the recording process, and only then does Bono begin to put lyrics together. This is indeed starting with production, where the process of musical creation starts with sounds and textures rather than entire melodies.

And then there are the Rolling Stones. It has been documented many times that they used to go into the studio devoid of ideas, start the tape machines rolling, then jam. Eventually ideas would be pulled together into a song. Once again, this is starting with production.

So the moral here is that you can start anywhere in the song creation process. Pick the method that suits you best. Or try them all.

P.S. There's a rumor that the Stones used to start a song by jamming over Beatles tracks. Surely that can't be true!

By David Mellor Thursday November 3, 2011
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