How To Write A Rap Song | PART 1: GETTING STARTED



This is the first video of a new series that I’m doing that’s going to guide you through the process of writing a rap song from start to finish.

My name is Cole Mize and I’ve been helping rappers perfect their rap skills on this channel for the past 10 years.

For this series, I’m going to be using a Migos inspired beat that I produced called “Takeoff. I will be sharing ideas that work specifically well for this beat so if you wish to follow along you can purchase a license to this beat on my beat store.

The Songwriting Process Begins

The first thing you need to understand about songwriting is that it’s not always done in a linear fashion. Meaning we don’t always create a song in a particular order and we don’t always write from beginning to end. 

You can approach songwriting in different ways each time because as long as you understand the process and techniques of writing a song you can always get the song to the finish line regardless of how you started it.

I like to think of songwriting as if it were a fire. Every roaring fire was built with tiny sparks. In the beginning of writing a song you’re simply capturing these sparks. These sparks are your ideas and they will eventually shape into something much bigger than you anticipated. 

As you get more experience you will begin to trust the creative process. When you show up to create something you typically don’t know the correct route to the finish line. The creative process is iterative meaning it’s not built all at once but piece by piece over time. For every 5 ideas you have, you may only decide to use 1. But for every idea you eliminate you make room for better ideas to come through.

The songwriting process begins with capturing ideas. This could be a concept, a premise, a scenario, a memory, an object, a punchline, a rhyme scheme, a cadence or a melody. You never know when or why you will get inspired with these sparks of inspiration so always be ready to jot your ideas down and record them so you don’t forget them!

With all that being said, here’s my favorite approach to beginning the songwriting process.

[1] Find An Instrumental That Moves You

You don’t always have to write to an instrumental, but I prefer doing so because it prevents me from having to go back and tweak the lyrics later to make it flow over an instrumental smoothly.

Also, instrumentals can help give you ideas of what to write about.

I like to find an instrumental that moves me in some type of emotional way. If you’re not really feeling the instrumental that you’re trying to write to then you’re fighting an uphill battle. It’s our job as entertainers to make people feel our music, so if we don’t feel what we’re doing then why should anyone else?

If the instrumental moves you in an emotional way, it’s going to be much easier to come up with ideas.

So Step 1 is to find an instrumental that moves you.

[2] Try On The Beat

Once I find an instrumental that moves me the next thing I like to do immediately is something I call “trying on the beat”. Shopping for beats is kind of like shopping for clothes. Just because something looks dope on the rack doesn’t mean it’s going to look dope on you.

So I like to try on the beat by scatting to it. While I’m scatting I’m getting a feel of the tempo, and groove of the instrumental while auditioning different cadences and I’m also playing around with the tone of my voice to see what fits the instrumental best. The instrumental will already be putting off a certain vibe and emotion and I play around with matching that energy with my voice.

And don’t forget, if you get some cool ideas while trying on the beat, go ahead and record those ideas so you don’t forget them.

If everything is feeling good to me then I will commit to using the beat to write my song.

[3] Creating Our Songwriting Session

The next thing I do is import my instrumental into my DAW aka Digital Audio Workstation. A DAW is simply software that allows us to work on music. I like using a DAW for songwriting because It allows me to loop specific sections of the songs I’m working on and I can easily record all of my ideas as I get them. So I’m typically writing and recording my ideas at the same time.

If you don’t already have a DAW My current favorite one for computers is Reaper and if all you have is a phone or tablet I recommend Bandlab.

KEY AND TEMPO

If you’re not using Bandlab then before importing the instrumental into your DAW you need to figure out the key and tempo of the instrumental. One of my favorite free tools for doing this is Tunebat.com’s analyzer

And you need these two pieces of information for the following reasons.

TEMPO

Your DAW, needs to know the tempo of the instrumental you’re working with so that it can be in sync with it. For example, if I put the wrong tempo into my DAW I would never be able to loop a section of the instrumental perfectly because it would always be out of time.

Once you know the tempo and key of the instrumental, update the tempo of your DAW accordingly and drag in the instrumental. “Take Off” is 70 bpm so I will update the tempo in Reaper accordingly.

And I’ll add the key of the instrumental to the instrumentals track name which is Gb Minor.

Now we need to ensure the instrumental is aligned to the DAWS grid properly.

Often there’s empty space at the beginning of the instrumental which throws it off the grid in your DAW and here’s how to fix it.

Find where the snares come in within the instrumental. Snares typically land on the 2nd and 4th beat. So they should be landing on the 2nd and 4th beat of the grid within the DAW.

You can often times visually see the snares in the waveform because they create these large spikes called transients.

Once you find the snares, zoom in really close to the area so that you can see if the snares are aligned to beats 2 and 4 correctly.

In my case the snare is landing after the beats so I’m going to drag the instrumental over to the next bar

If you have to make a timing adjustment to the instrumental be sure to disengage the snap function so that you can move freely across the grid of the DAW and be sure to re-enable the snap function once you’re done.

To ensure you’ve done everything correctly, Engage the metronome which will make a sound on ever beat. Loop a bar or two and if you’ve done everything correctly it should sound like a seamless loop and you should hear the snares aligning with beats 2 and 4 of the metronome.

KEY

And you need to know the key of the song if you wish to do anything melodic over the instrumental. Every instrumental will be in a specific key. A key is a group of specific melodic notes that will sound good together.

When I’m coming up with melodies I prefer using AutoTune because it allows me to lock my voice into the key I’m working on so I can focus on developing the melody and I don’t have to worry about singing any wrong notes. 

For AutoTune I prefer using Waves Tune Real-Time because it sounds great and is affordable.

If you want to learn how to use Autotune be sure to check out my video on Autotune

SONG STRUCTURE

The next thing I like to do is determine the song structure of the instrumental. This way I know where the hooks and verses go and how many of them I have so that I have a clear snapshot view of what space I’m working with.

If you don’t know how to determine the song structure of an instrumental check out my video called “the quickest method to determining where your rap verse should go”.

The song structure for takeoff is as follows

4 Bar Intro

12 Bar Verse 

8 Bar Hook

12 Bar Verse

8 Bar Hook

12 Bar Verse

8 Bar Hook

8 Bar Outro

Another benefit to having your instrumental aligned to the grid of your DAW is you can easily edit the song structure of the instrumental. For example, if I only wanted 2 verses and 2 hooks I could easily cut out the 3rd verse and hook and drag over the outro to come behind my 2nd hook.

READY TO GO

This may seem tedious at first but once you get the hang of this you can complete all of these steps in 2-3 minutes.

Now that all of the setup is out of the way you’re ready to start writing your song!

In the next video, I’m going to be showing you how to get those creative sparks flying as you begin to lay down the foundation of your new creation.

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