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How to Write an Original Song With Your DAW

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"Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)" software is pretty-much universally available these days.  Plenty of open-source tools, lots of powerful programs being included as part of Windows.  Apple has both GarageBand and its big brother, Logic Pro.  You can get very-good instrument sounds and plenty more.  But ... what is a repeatable process for "writing an original song" with these tools?  Here's what I do.

(1) Capture "that song in your head" any way you can:  Got a phone in your pocket?  Even a "flip" phone will have a basic voice-recorder.  Find the app, start it, and hum.  Whistle.  Anything.  Capture it.

(2) In your DAW, create a one-note "Guide Track":  A simple USB keyboard is great for this, although most DAWs will even let you use the QWERTY keyboard.  Pick a simple piano patch.  Turn on the metronome ("click track"), and just start playing.  If you "clam" a note badly, just pause and keep playing.  (Or, keep playing 'cuz you can fix it later.)  Play a simple, single-note melody.  If you've got different ideas, play them all.  Keep it simple – just use the white keys.  (The DAW can transpose it to any key you wish.)

(3) Now, make a "Guide Chords Track":  While listening to the guide track, just play simple three-note "triads" in so-called "root position."  The first, third, and fifth notes.  White keys.  If your DAW supports "multiple takes," you can divide the guide-track into sections and play multiple versions of your guide chords for each one.

(4) Copy-and-paste from the guide tracks into new tracks in the possible general order of your new song.  Mute the guide tracks.  This is where you select the stuff you do want to use.  We'll call these "song-guide tracks," and eventually they, too, will be muted.

(5) If your DAW supports "drummers," add a simple drummer doing simple things.

(6) Add instruments.  Instruments will be doing chords or melody.  Copy and paste from the song-guide tracks.  Experiment with "inversions" of the chords (putting the three notes in different order), and maybe adding 7th or 9th notes to the three (1st, 3rd, 5th) that you have now.  Experiment with letting the various notes "arrive" at different times.

(7) Throughout all this, "don't destructively edit."  It's okay to try different things.  (That's why they call it "a computer.")  It's okay to be surprised.  If you made multiple "takes" of a part, it's okay to keep all of them.  Don't fixate on the latest thing you've done.  Don't get stuck trying to make that one thing "perfect"  before you move to something else.  If you decide not to use an instrument or a part, mute it, don't throw it.  Duplicate the track, mute the first one, and try something else.


At some point, as if by magic, "it will 'become' a new song."  You'll play your project and ... suddenly ... you're hearing a new thing.  You'll recognize it, of course, and yet, some part of you won't.  Part of you will be listening to it.  And, one day, you'll find yourself absent-mindedly humming a tune, before it suddenly strikes you that it's your tune.

A DAW is "a word-processor for music."  It removes many of the "chores" from creating music and makes it very easy to experiment while making music.  Thus, it's a terrific creative tool.  Enjoy!


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