Nov 11, 2013, 05:37 recently published an article that discusses the chicken-or-egg question as to what a composer should create first – the lyrics or the music? I love posing this question to music-lovers at parties. My friend Stacey swears 80% of the listening population hears lyrics first whereas I couldn’t tell you the words to songs I have passionately loved for 30 years if you held a gun to my head.

Billy Joel reportedly always wrote his music first, then labored through what he called the “Chinese puzzle” of fitting words into his melodies. My friend Barry* spent years in a band who’s lead singer notoriously waited until the night before the recording sessions to finalize lyrics to songs…songs the band had been rehearsing for months.

Personally, I’ve found the most success with being a “lyrics first” guy. That’s because when the words are poetic enough, they’ll tell you what the rhythm of the song should be. I learned this after trying a technique taught by Julie Cameron, author of  The Artist’s Way. Cameron’s technique has enabled me to write lyrics under ad agency deadlines, in time for band rehearsal and even for a couple of girlfriends (not at the same time). And I honestly think of myself as a “chord changes” guy; not a lyrics guy. Here’s how it works:

They’re called “morning pages”. They are based on the idea that a “golden vein” of creativity exists inside you that is constantly being blocked by a gaggle of ghosts in your head saying you suck.

The key to silencing those ghosts is following three very hard, but simply rules. They are:

1) Fill three pages of single space notebook paper in pencil with words. Any words. No one will read it. It will suck. That’s ok. Let it flow.

2) Do not stop the pencil. Do not stop the pencil. Do. Not. Stop. The. Pencil. By not stopping the pencil you effectively neuter the voices in your head that want to correct grammar, complain about the topic, fix typos, and say how much better Stephen King would have done it.

3) When you’re through, go back with a highlighter and mark any “nuggets” that jump out at you – either because they seem to have their own inherent rhythm or they’re particularly profound. 

Here’s an excerpt from my own morning pages from a few years ago. It’s totally stream of consciousness and I honestly no clue who the hell I was talking to. But the sentences at the end not only rhyme with each other, but the random Willy Wonka reference at the end could be super-catchy in a song verse.

 “…What you do for them is for me what you sing to them is from my child and I’ve told you once before and smiled while you walked the other way I’m like Willy Wonka standing in your way…”


The first part of all that is nonsensical. But when I tap out a steady beat on the table and mutter that Willy Wonka lyric out loud to the feels like a song is being born.

It’s hard for me to tell you with certainty how many times you’ll do morning pages before these kinds of kernels emerge. But I can promise you that aiming for the three page mark without stopping the pencil (did I mention how important that is?) will definitely produce results that make you say, “Where did that come from?”.  And possibly schedule time with a therapist.

There’s a lot going on side of you, dear songwriter. It’s your job to scrape it out, present it to the world and pray it resonates with people somehow. That’s what artists do.

*Some names have been changed to protect privacy. 


Mike Bielenberg is a professional musician and co-founder of, a production music marketplace with over 25,000 tracks online where media producers, video producers, filmmakers, game developers, businesses and other music buyers can license high-quality, affordable royalty-free music from an online community of musicians

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