Music Industry

How Long Does it Take to Write a Song?

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Are you considering creating unique music to record and perform? If so, you may be wondering what kind of time frame you’ll be looking at to do it. Or perhaps you’ve already started and you feel like it’s taking much longer than you’d hoped.

Having your own original tracks will help you succeed as an artist. But how long does it take to write and song and what can you expect along the way? The process is twofold – music and lyrics – and the duration will vary from one artist to another. 

In this article, we’ll answer all your questions so you can plan and schedule your time with increased knowledge. We’ll also reveal how long the stars take to pen their own tunes. 

How long does it take to write a song?

As with so many aspects of artistic endeavour, there isn’t a straight or fixed answer to this. It can take years, or it can take minutes. It really depends on what’s involved, how long the piece is and whether you’ve already had some inspiration. However, there are some tricks to speed up the process. These include:

  • Finding writing partners and collaborators. Look for people who have different skills and talents to yours, this way you’ll complement each other.
  • Using pre-existing material. This might be writing lyrics to someone’s tune, or writing a topline over beats you’ve purchased online.
  • Understanding your niche, genre and what it is you have to say as an artist (this applies to both melody and lyrics). 
  • Recognising your own musical strengths and weaknesses and playing to them.
  • Being willing to fail, not waiting till you have a perfectly formed idea before you try it out. 
  • Learning about song structure. This will inform your writing and enable you to put together something that makes sense, sonically. Understanding the rules also helps you break them more effectively. 

Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter John Legend is someone who really understands how making music works. He told American Songwriter:

“I just try to go with what feels right musically and melodically. I’ll sometimes establish the musical format of the song and the melody of the song within the first ten minutes of the original idea coming to me…I think music should dictate the lyrics always.”

On average how long does it take to write a song?

Realistically, the shortest time it could take to write a brief melody would be a few minutes. You’ll need to either write down the notes or record it to be eligible for copyright and consider it a written song. You might just write the topline and then pass it on to a collaborator to add in the rest. You may just have the words and need a tune. Or you may be able to cover it all by yourself. 

These days artists are under more pressure to come up with the goods faster. And collabs definitely speed up the process. Finneas O’Connell told Variety Magazine: 

“Probably 75-80% of the songs are written with us sitting next to each other at a piano or with a guitar, singing a melody together. It’s like a relay race — we really feel like we both have to kill our portion of it to get to the finish line.”

His sister Billie Elish also has some useful insight at the pace of writing:

“I was just sitting there with nothing and felt like a big loser. But then we took a five-minute break and Finneas started playing this beat, and suddenly I just came up with this melody and all these lyrics, and then I wrote this whole song and we recorded it — it had never happened that fast for me.”

At first, the famous brother and sister writing duo were teamed up with older execs when working gon their album. However, it soon became apparent that this wasn’t as effective as letting them do their own thing. And fortunately, their label was accommodating of this. Another factor that can influence the time it takes to write a song, is how long you’re given. If you’re signed, you may be contractually obliged to have the goods ready within a set period.

How to write a song

Don’t expect every minute to be golden when writing. Much of your time spent on it might turn out to be ‘dead’ time. Where possible, find somewhere you can think, where you won’t be distracted and where you feel very comfortable. Celebrities on high incomes do have more of a time luxury in this respect. But you have to write a great song to elevate you to this point in the first place. 

When interviewed at the Melbourne Music Festival in the late 1990s, Billy Joel said: 

“I find I write best when I sit myself down, have a coffee, go into wherever my space is, and I have to have something that I like to look at because there’s a lot of dead time in the writing process … I like to have a view of the ocean.”

Don’t use the need for perfect conditions as an excuse to procrastinate either. In fact, sometimes your best work happens in times of adversity. Leonard Cohen (who famously took three years to write the much-covered hit Hallelujah) said: 

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

How long does it take a songwriter to write a song? 

Getting to the point where you can start writing may take years of understanding music – in theory, and practice. And you’ll likely need to be able to play an instrument (usually a guitar or piano) to at least a basic level in order to get the notes down. 

Many songwriters do this as a job in itself, as opposed to the famous performer who pens their own hits. These people won’t be making the big bucks in quite the same way as say, Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga – although they might be writing songs for stars of the same calibre. So they must get enough tunes out there to earn their living. And that means not taking endless amounts of time to create their next melody. Under these conditions, the average time to finish a song will be a day. However, this can extend or decrease rapidly, once the big names do get involved.  

How long does it take to write song lyrics?

How Long Does it Take to Write Lyrics

Many writers like to write their tunes and lyrics simultaneously, particularly if making something autobiographical and heartfelt. Amy Winehouse wrote Rehab in just three hours. But there would have been a large amount of arrangement and mastering that took place after the initial music and words were established. 

In the same way that writing a tune can take an unspecified amount of time, lyrics can come quickly or slowly. But if you already have the melody down and know the theme/style, it may be a swifter process. Always have a notepad to hand. You never know when a great line will come to you and however much you think you’ll remember it later, you probably won’t. It’s also useful to do freewriting exercise severy day. This is where you just sit down and write anything and everything for a set period of time – maybe two to five minutes. This forces you away from being overly cerebral and onto a more instinctive, subconscious level (which is where the magic happens and it flows). 

How long does it take to write a rap song?

Nowadays it’s not quite as linear as just producing music and lyrics. Beats play a large part in the creative process and many artists work full time just making these alone. Similarly, rappers focus almost exclusively on the words and rhymes and may use pre-recorded beats as a starting point, or add them in afterwards. There may be a melodic chorus thrown in too, in the manner we see from the likes of Eminem. 

Generally, rap maybe a little faster to write. The heavy focus on rhymes limit the options and this actually makes it easier. But o the other hand, there are many more words jammed into a rap song that a pop song, so there’s also more ground to cover. However, an average of anywhere between 15 minutes and a few days can be expected, once you have the topic and theme. In some cases, rhymes can be instantly improvised, as seen in freestyle rap. Even if this isn’t your niche, learning to improvise can be a great way to get into your flow as a rapper or lyric writer. 

How long does it take to write an album?

An entire album becomes tricker and a lengthier. The song collection has to have a sense of cohesion, so there are more pieces of the jigsaw to fit together. Most major artists will be looking at between three and 30 months to write all their tracks and usually with a great deal of help. Some of this writing may be done in the studio as part of the recording process though too. 

Many artists focus on touring, playing a smaller range of hits. This makes writing and recording time harder to find. Taylor Swift lives up to her name in terms of her fate of album output. Yet she only averages one every two years. George Ezra took a year off and went travelling so he could come up with enough material for an entire album. 

How long does it take to record a song?

This will depend entirely on what’s involved. Basic vocals can be covered in a matter of hours. But if you have a layered track with backing singers, instrumentalists and complex effects it could be days or even weeks. Save yourself expensive time in the studio, by arriving full prepped. That means having practised extensively with everyone involved. This way you reduce mistakes and the need for pickups and get it done faster. Spend time to save time.

People are different. What works for one won’t work for another. So just because John Legend and Amy Winehouse could create lightning-fast hits, you might be more of a Leonard Cohen or Gweroge Ezra and need some time to ruminate. Remember, it’s not a race. It’s more about quality than speed. And writing is just a part of the process. Once you have something you’re happy with, you’ll need to invest in studio time (or build your own at home), and learn how to market your tracks to a wider audience. There’s much to do and to learn, but with the right raw materials, you can go all the way to the top. 

Related Questions 

What does it take to write a good song?

It’s a mixture of innate talent, experience and skill. Often artists will collaborate to pool abilities and resources and because musicians often bounce off one another. Many focus on either lyrics or music or use pre-recorded beats as a base to write from. 

How long does it take Elton John to write a song?

Elton and his lyric partner Bernie Taupin were a swift duo, often turning out their biggest hits in as little as under 30 minutes (Your Song was said to have taken just 20 minutes). However, there’s a difference between inspiration striking and sitting down to intentionally create something new. 

How long does it take to make a song?

Writing the tune and lyrics of a song is just the start. After this, it must be practised, recorded, edited, mixed and mastered. Once all these stages are complete, the song is ‘made’ and can be released for download or streaming. The more you add – like backing and effects, the longer it may take. 

How long does it take you to write a song? If you’ve created something you’re proud of let us know and share your links in the comments below.