I’ve used both methods to write songs but the second method I’ve only used very rarely, probably because as a listener I have much more interest in the “song” rather than the lyrical aspect. What I mean is that I value the the song and the melodies much more than the lyrical content. Also, writing melodies and vocal phrasing, prior to writing lyrics, tends to allow you more flexibility to create catchy, interesting vocal lines. Lyrics are are much more rigid usually. For instance, if you have a lyric line with 12 syllables, you’re stuck with those 12 syllables and you have to fit them into your song in a manner that doesn’t make the words sound odd. Not sure if I can really explain it without giving an example… Hmm, let me think.
Ok, this might not be a good example BUT, imagine this, or try this with a few songs that you are very familiar with and you know the lyrics to. Pick a song and change the rhythm/ groove of that song. I do this sometimes with straight ahead 4/4 signature songs…Take a 4/4 signature song and change it to a 3/4 …Now sing the vocal, lyric, melody to the 3/4 version of the song. Your vocal phrasing will be altered and some multi-syllable words will have weird accents and the phrasing will feel quite different. Sometimes words with the accent on the first syllable will land on the second syllable…There would have to be some reworking, regrooving of the lyrics to make them sound good, with some songs.
When I first began writing song I was using electric guitar and acoustic guitar, but for the vast majority of the time I was using an upright piano. I was writing hard rock, heavy metal, cock rock, classic rock-styled songs on piano. There wasn’t much in terms of guitar riffs, even though guitar was/ is my main instrument. I liked writing on piano because I could get a lot of volume and a somewhat percussive groove happening on the piano and I could sing really loud…(I’m sure my neighbours heard my noise often). I later recorded many of those songs using electric guitar, bass and drums. So the basic pounding piano playing that birthed the song was replaced with new guitar riffs. In the last many years I’ve used a few different instruments and methods for songwriting. Those instruments would be acoustic, bass, vocals, drums and simply creating the idea in my mind before even touching an instrument. Very recently I’ve written quite a few songs that were birthed in the bathtub. I just start making riffs, lick or vocal melodies…or sometimes drum grooves in my head…If I like the idea that I’ve got I repeat it over and over in my head so that I don’t forget it…When I get out of the tub, I race down to my laptop and open up Audacity to record it, either by humming it or by transposing it to the acoustic guitar to then be recorded. Sometimes I’ll be laying in the bathtub and I get what I think is a good musical idea…Let’s say a guitar riff first, then I think of how that riff will interact with the drum groove, and maybe a bass groove. Then I might get a melody with some stupid lyric or occasionally a catchy lyric…Then I might get another section of the song…and sometimes a 3rd or 4rth part…At this point I’m pretty excited about getting out of the damn tub so that I can get to my laptop before I lose any of the ideas in my mind. I wrote a song in this manner on Feb. 18th of this year…I titled it “Feb. 18, 2021” at first,…but now that I have the lyrics for the chorus I’ve since changed the name. I have a ton of Reaper projects that have dates for names. Gets kind of confusing trying to locate Dec. 13, 2018, from all the other December dates from other years, sometimes! But, yeah, you have to have a recording device nearby when you’re writing, especially if you choose to write just in your own head, without instruments. I’d suggest trying this method of writing. It’s a fun experiment. Just this year I’ve written at least 4 songs this way and I find them to be very quirky, catchy and interesting (not sure if others will agree with my opinion though).
Another method I’ve used for writing is the …“unconscious method”…or maybe a better term would be the “subconscious method”. It’s not intentional on my part, but it happens in 2 ways. First I should say that ideas tend to come to me MUCH more at night or in the evening. My mind becomes much more focused and also excited at night, so I tend to be revving in high gear even after I turn out the light and lay my head on the pillow. I have had quite a few occasions where I get what I think is a good song idea before crashing out for the night. Most of the time , even if I’m really tired, I’ll jump out of bed and open up my laptop and Audacity to record my idea. I’ll either hum the idea and also smack out a percussive beat to show the kind of rhythmic background I want the song to have or/ and I’ll transpose the song idea from my head to the acoustic guitar and record that in Audacity…I’ll always state the date, the exact time and most of the time I’ll give a verbal explanation of the way I want to approach the song.
The most recent way I wrote a song happened yesterday morning. I dreamt it. I woke up after 4 hours of sleep from a dream in which I was playing acoustic guitar, while sitting in my car…ah never mind, it’s a long, weird dream, like most dreams are. I’ll spare you the insignificant details. Haha. Anyway, when I awoke, I really didn’t want to get up , go downstairs and record what I had dreamt…but I wanted to see what kind of shit my subconscious/ unconscious mind writes, so I got up and recorded it. This dream composing has happened a few times but it’s not a regular thing with me. There have been times where this has happened and I figured I would be able to remember the song later without recording it, so I’ve gone back to sleep, only to wake up later and realized I can’t remember it correctly…and many times I’ve forgotten the tune altogether.