You’ve got your DAW loaded up on your laptop, your USB controller is plugged in, a world of samples and sounds is at your fingertips!

Uhh… where do we go from here?

The whole creative process starts with a workflow. You don’t set out on a quest without consulting a map, so let’s not make the mistake of beginning a track without considering what our workflow will be. In this blog, I’ll give you a few ideas that will help guide you through the earliest stages of producing a piece of music.

The Old-Fashioned Way

Starting production of a track on your main instrument is a tried and true songwriting strategy. If you’re a guitarist or pianist this workflow might be a bit more accessible because of those instruments’ ability to function as both an accompaniment as well as a solo instrument. However, if you’re a trumpeter or flutist don’t let that stop you from using your instrument as your chief songwriting tool.

Write out some chords, construct a melody and jot down some lyrics and you’ll be way ahead of the curve when it comes time to begin adding to the composition in your DAW of choice. This strategy definitely beats starting from zero and staring at a blank canvas for five minutes at a time between checking Reddit!

Drums Up

Beginning your track with a rhythmic foundation is a great way to produce. The feel of a piece of music is rooted in the drums, so it’s a logical place to begin. Think of this workflow like building a pyramid: we construct a wide base upon which we gradually narrow and hone each additional element (bass, chords and then melodic elements) until we’ve finished building the structure.

Beginning with rhythm ensures that our process is directed from start to finish and that our piece is thematically consistent and dynamically focused.

Melody Down

This flow is the inverse of “Drums Up”. This strategy is much more ephemeral and rooted more in emotional rather than rhythmic feel. Starting with a melody offers unique opportunities to recontextualize previous layers as you add elements to the composition. For instance, a melody, by nature of being made of single notes, can be made to sound “happy” or “sad” based on the composer’s decision to frame it in either a major or minor key. Similarly, by adding percussion to the track last, we can dramatically shift the feel of a piece in a way that the stages of the previously discussed workflow do not permit.
This workflow is less conventional and thus more challenging than the other two mentioned, but it can yield solutions you might not otherwise consider. At the very least, it’s a great experiment to teach you something about your creative process!

I hope these strategies help set you on the right path with your next composition!

Damien Verrett

Damien Verrett in an instructor and curriculum developer for Digital Media Academy Music Production courses. He is also an incredible musician under the name So Much Light.