Step 1: Have a Song in Your Head.
I just want to make clear that I am not writing about how to come up with a song. I’m sure there are some great techniques for this, but I am assuming you already have the song and you want to help get it rough drafted. Don’t try this process if you don’t already have a song in your head. If you try to force this process without already having a song in your head you are guaranteed to encounter writer’s block. If you were wondering it is usually better to come up with the vocal melody before the instrumental backing for 2 reasons:
1) Melody has an implied emotion. If you have a lyrical message there is a natural implied emotion to that message, but if you make the music first and force the emotion into the vocals it sounds fake. Therefore the lyrics should come first to guide the tone of the song, unless the song is simply an instrumental.
2) By creating the vocal melody first you are allowing for more mathematical possible combinations of melodic expression than if you create the instrumental melody first and add the vocals later, as explained by the following video:
Step 2: Record it.
This is a rough draft not a production-quality composition. Use your phone or webcam and that will be good enough. Listen to yourself and work on getting the speed where you want it, the melody where you want it and any transitions or effect vocals the way you want them, but don’t be a perfectionist. You will revise to perfect later on just like you would with any good essay.
Step 3: Find the Tempo and Melody.
For the expert musician this step is easy. For most of us this step is a nightmare. Enter the latest technology. Chordify.net is a great website and one of the main reasons for this article. The application there on the website will take your audio file and generate chord labels. It will overlay the labels visually to the audio so you can see when the transition occurs! Also it shows how to play each chord on guitar when you click the chord name. It even works with non-vocal audio! If you are playing an interesting guitar chord, for example, and can’t figure what it is this software can! For finding tempo here is a site where you can tap your keyboard to the beat and find the bpm. Here is a site where you can enter a song name and find the bpm.
Step 4: Digitally Compose
LMMS is a free alternative to the big name software like fruity loops and such. Using that software you can make a full on song using VSTs and VSTis. VSTs are digital effects. VSTis are virtual instruments. You can do everything but the vocals at a studio quality level by utilizing digital composition technology, and best of all you can do it free!
Step 5: Add Vocals and Take It Live
Pure digital music without vocals such as some kinds of techno or electronica may have been your end goal. If so you are already done by now. Most people will still want vocals though. For these people now is the time. You can record vocals on top of the digital track. For full bands you can now learn the digital track you have created at the live-play level. Usually a full band would want to re-record once again after this step. You are now done! You have a recorded song and if you desire you can play it live as well! You can really begin to take your stuff to the next level now by getting better equipment, especially a good mic, and mixing capabilities. However that is not necessary for simple rough drafting.