Over the years I’ve written rap songs every way imaginable. And in my personal experience, I’ve learned some approaches simply work better than others. While I don’t teach that there are rules to rapping or songwriting I do believe there are best practices which I will be sharing with you below. So without further ado… LET’S GET IT!
Pick Out The Instrumental
Before you begin writing a rap song I recommend that you pick an instrumental first. A rap song isn’t just about lyrics it’s also about rhythm and emotion. If you don’t begin writing your rap song to an instrumental you will have to modify your lyrics later so that it fits properly. Here are several more benefits to using this approach.
- Writing to an instrumental can also inspire you on what to write about because music triggers emotional responses within you that will get those creative juices flowing.
- Before you even begin writing you can start scatting to the instrumental to come up with really interesting cadences. See more on creating cadences
- While scatting you can also play around with your vocal delivery to get a feel for what vocal tones sounds ideal for the song.
In addition picking out an instrumental at the start can help give you focus and inspiration on what type of song to write. If the instrumental doesn’t move you emotionally and make you excited to write to it then keep searching for one that does. More for info check out Picking Out Rap Beats and my Top 10 Tips For Buying Rap Beats Online
Once you have picked an instrumental it’s time to start laying down some ground work to make the songwriting process as easy and productive as possible by doing the following.
Detect The Tempo
Detect the instrumentals tempo and align it to the grid of your D.A.W. (Digital Audio Workstation), accordingly. This allows you to loop specific sections of the song that you’re working on and eliminates distractions and interruptions such as the instrumental starting over. To learn more see my lesson on Detecting Tempo and if you don’t already have a D.A.W. and would like to use a free one check out Audio Sauna.
Identify The Song Structure
Since you’re going to be writing a song to an instrumental it’s important to know the instrumentals song structure so you can write accordingly. For example, you want the length of your verses to match the verse sections of the instrumental. The 1st verse section of the instrumental maybe 16 bars while verse two maybe 24 bars.
Since we’ve already aligned the instrumental to the grid of our D.A.W. we can also easily jump around to different sections of the song as needed. Being able to see the waveform of the instrumental can also help give visual cues. For example, if the drums drop off one bar before the hook comes in you will be able to see this visually by looking at the instrumentals wave form.
To learn more see my lesson on Song Structure.
Identify The Key Of The Song
If you’re going to be incorporating any type of melodic elements in your song such as singing, humming or Auto-Tune based FX it’s vital to know what the key of the song is so that… you’re in key! lol! Here’s a really good video that explains how to do so by ear.
Brainstorming And Planning
Now that you have all the information you need it’s time to start jotting down all of your creative ideas and map out a game plan. For example, if the instrumental makes you feel sad then you may decide to write about a bad breakup. But how will you tell that story and paint a picture in a way that keeps the listener interested?
I start with brainstorming before I begin writing lyrics because it allows me to dump out all of my creative ideas freely. I typically just jot down whatever ideas come to mind and they don’t even have to be related. If the instrumental is sad I will start writing down the first things that come to mind and then I’ll cherry pick from these to form the concept of my song.
Once I’ve settled on a concept for the song I then use what’s known as a “Storyboard” technique to map out my execution for the song. I’ll ask myself questions such as…
- Will this song be from only my perspective or will I use others as well? More on perspective
- Will I begin the song talking about the bad break up or start by telling how we first met and then explain how things went bad as the song progresses?
At this point and time, you are devising a masterful plan from start to finish to make the songwriting process as easy as possible. When you are starting something, it’s important to know where you’re trying to go! For more info on storyboards and brainstorming check out my article on How To Write A Rap Song.
Executing The Plan
Now that you know where you’re trying to go it’s time to get there with your songwriting.
Writing The Hook
I like to begin my songwriting with the hook first for the following reasons…
- If you don’t have a good hook you won’t have a good song so this is top priority!
- Typically a hook is 8 bars and is repeated three times throughout the song. So by knocking out the hook first, you will have completed 24 bars of the song from the start! This gives you a sense of momentum to knock out the rest of the song.
- Completing your hook first allows you to write your verses around the hooks so that they connect well to each other.
Here are some additional tips for writing hooks.
- Your hook should be simple and easy to remember
- Hooks sections of songs are typically 8 bars. Try writing a 4 bar hook that repeats over again for the remaining 4 bars (this makes it easier for the listener to remember quickly)
- Your hook should sound different than your verses
- Incorporating a melody into your hook will help make it more catchy and memorable
- The less specific you are with the hook the more people will be able to relate to it and the less predictable your song will be to the listener. This also gives you more flexibility and freedom on how you can flip the meaning of your hook with your verses.
- Study some of your favorite songs hooks and see if you can figure out what makes them so great and apply those techniques to your own hooks.
Writing The Verses
It’s all downhill from here! Now you just need to make sure that your verses carry the song and keep the listener interested in between the hooks. Here are a few tips that will help you accomplish this.
- Switch up your cadences as often as possible to keep your flow ever evolving. I typically do this every 2-4 bars to keep the listener guessing.
- When you change your cadences also change your rhyme schemes. Check out Rhyming Words Like A Boss!
- Make good use of literary devices such as punchlines, double entendre’s, Imagery etc.. to keep the listener entertained. Check out Creating Punchlines That Hit HARD!
- Revert back to your Storyboard and Brainstorming notes to ensure you are sticking to the plan.
- As you are writing, scat to the instrumental and start filling in the notes with words. Check out my lesson on Translating Cadences To Lyrics
- Also while your scatting continue to play around with your vocals delivery (emotion, tone & energy)
- Make sure you give your cadences, lyrics and rhyme schemes equal attention so that neither of them suffers.
- Pay attention to how all of your bars connect together. For example, if you’re working on the 5th bar of your verse also pay attention to how it’s connecting in time with the 4th bar.
Finalizing The Song
You may be wondering how to determine if your song is complete. You could go back and forth tweaking things until the end of time in your efforts to write the “perfect song” but there is no such thing! And what you may think is perfect today could very well change tomorrow. Here are a few tips on finalizing your song.
- Does the song cover everything you wanted it to?
- Does it take you on a journey from beginning to end?
- Does it seem shorter in time than it actually is?
- Is the hook catchy?
- Is everything on beat?
- Does the song move you emotionally?
If you answered yes to all of these then congratulations! You are done! If not go back and make the necessary adjustments.
A Final Word
When you approach writing your song go wherever the inspiration takes you. Don’t use this blueprint as a set of rules you must follow but rather as a guideline to help you get from start to finish as efficiently as possible. Remember in rapping there’s no rules only techniques!
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