There's something magical about songwriting. No matter how many songs that have been written or how much you know about songwriting, you will still be amazed and a little awestruck that it happens at all. How does a song get started? How do you know where to go next? How do you know if your song is any good?
A song that expresses what you feel is a good song, even if no one else thinks so. A song that expresses your thoughts and feelings in a way that reaches other people, helps them feel something deeper or understand something better - that's a really good song!
This can be one of the most difficult tasks in songwriting - getting started! And it's also one of the most important because if you start well, you'll have a lot less trouble down the line. Once you get past this point, a song tends to dictate where it wants to go - your job is to keep it on course. Like the captain of an ocean liner you probably won't have to make many sudden turns, just watch out for icebergs. Still, getting started is a tough business because - just like an ocean liner - you've got to overcome a lot of inertia. You know you want to write something but you may only have a vague idea or a feeling about what it is you want to express.
So what DOES come first - lyrics, melody, or chords? The answer is... none of the above!
Start your song with a title that appeals to you. Make sure it's a phrase that rings true in your ears. Something that makes you say, "I've got to know more about that!" Because if YOU want to know, others will want to know. The title is going to be the line that everyone remembers. Most important: It's going to define the message of the song. It will be your guiding principle, your beacon, your pole star.
So start looking around for good titles that have emotional energy for you. Action words, images, or short phrases make good titles. Attention-grabbing newspaper headlines are full of good titles. Here are a few from this morning's paper: "A Dream On The Edge," "The Great Divide," "The Same-Old Same-Old," "Easy Does It." Or try listening to yourself. Write stream-of-consciousness style: write or type as fast as you can, trying not to think or make judgments, then go back and look for good phrases. When you listen to other people, to the television, or read a magazine, always keep a little corner of your mind alert for phrases that capture your attention. Start making a list. You'll end up throwing out most of these or using some for lyric lines, but others will become the titles that drive your songs.
And with this you are on your way to creating a song that not only appeals to you but hopefully appeals to the emotions and experiences of the people that you are trying to reach with your music.