Site Structure

I have been thinking quite a bit about how best to structure this site. I thought I’d post a quick update with where I’m at (also as an excuse to clarify my thoughts).

As with anything, a good starting point is to clarify the objective. With Songwriting Steps this is very simple; to create an online space that breaks songwriting down into manageable steps.

Next, where have we got to so far? We have a collection of songwriting exercises where you get one instruction (step) which is posted as a topic. Users then post their attempts at this exercise below, and are encouraged to reply to posts with feedback. There have been a few examples of then replying to these replies with an amended attempt, effectively adding another step and forming a thread that systematically works on a piece of writing.

As I have mentioned a couple of times, the puzzle is how to go from these little exercises toward building full songs. I know @4StarViewMusic has achieved this by posting a series of exercises that successively build upon each other, resulting in a finished song. This is a seriously cool step in the right direction, but something about the organisation across topics bothered me.

Firstly, I have realised there is no real conceptual difference between working on a songwriting exercise and working on a “real” song, it is just a matter of scale. An exercise is really just a songwriting step. Writing a song could be seen as just a series of successive exercises.

My idea is to develop this concept of forming threads. Successive steps should not be structured as new topics, but as replies to the previous step of work. If we had a multi-step exercise, the topic would list all the steps, but the user would just reply initially with their first step, and then when they are ready, reply to that reply with their second etc.

Writing a full song just extends this idea to a larger scale. For example a topic could be “writing a song about a painful experience”. Rather than be expected to reply with a finished song, users can just reply with a first step, perhaps brainstorming a potential plot. If they then choose to develop this idea further, they can come back and start threading the next steps. The topic becomes more of a “starting point” to launch off from, not divided into “days” as they are now, but into chains of work, at whatever scale.

The scalability of the threading functionality means that a topic can have an unlimited number of songs simultaneously being grown. You could even have one user branching off into two separate songs. The best bit is that other users can provide their feedback and weave themselves into the threads, resulting in a platform that allows you to leverage the power of other brains through your songwriting process, or potentially work in direct collaboration with another user.

Anyway, this may seem like an overly drawn-out justification of threading, but from a design point of view, it feels like an important conceptual wrinkle to iron out, giving me a clear view of how to develop the site from here. More to follow!


A few things to consider:
Your example could be a good exercise for writing from an emotional experience prompt. Writing from prompts is a great exercise. That is kind of what we did with many of the book exercises. Except it would be a larger scale (write a song) than the exercises (write a few lines or a paragaph, etc…).

My only concern with with doing everything under one particular post (if I am reading you correctly) instead of different ones is that depending on when people post, it could get jumbled and confusing if someone is posting a full recording and others are just getting to brainstorming, especially from a feedback POV. I kind of like the small chunks being different posts. To me, it is easier to say, everything I see in this post is at an initial stage, this other post is that one progressing, and so on. But, that is kind of the way I organize stuff in my life. I think either way is workable.


Here’s a couple thoughts.

  1. when working on “group tracks” you need to consider intellectual property rights. Maybe having something in place should someone want to publish something, that has 5 writers on it.
    Just something to consider.
  2. One disconnect I experience with songwriting prompts, is, for me, it ends up being more like a poetry writing exercise, which is still very helpful, but my process is both music, and lyric. I have a hard time separating them. Even in my natural songwriting flow, I write some lyrics, then grab an instrument and work out those ideas, then go back to writing and so forth.
    I think having some prompts that include music would be good. For instance, today your writing prompt is fall, and here is your 16 bar loop in the key of C, with a progression of 1-4-5, 90 bpm. We’ll do a verse today, a chorus tomorrow, and then a bridge the following day. (for example)
    For me, with those parameters, my writing changes significantly, because the flow of the melody now dictates what words I use.

Those are just a few of my thoughts. I’ve said it before, but I really appreciate this site, and want to continue to use it to work on my craft and build relationships with other songwriters. I keep telling other students about it, hoping they’ll join.


Exactly! I think should be as simple as offering a prompt and letting the member spring off it however they wish. There is no set way to write a song and so I don’t think we should be too prescriptive about steps. Whatever your process is, you could still use this as a platform to break it down sequentially and lay out your workings as it were.

One thing I have realised which might counter this idea is the fact that we are sometimes pretty self-conscious about our workings, and so we might be reluctant toward the idea of posting them in a public place.

Yes this is a good point. It all comes down to how scalable the threading is, how natural it is to use the jumping up and down buttons to surf through the threads. I think this is one of those things that will clarify itself through practice rather than theory.

This is a very good point you make. I don’t think collaborative work is an immediate priority here, I just raised it to demonstrate the flexibility and scalability of the platform. I think the priority is helping members with their own songs, using the platform as a place to draw inspiration, perhaps source material, and of course feedback.

But we still have a potential issue to be addressed. If someone gives you feedback and you used it in a commercial song, do they have any ownership rights? If someone comes up with a brilliant metaphor in an exercise which you import do they have any claim?

I am not too well versed with the legal aspects of it, perhaps made even more complicated by the fact we are all in different countries. Could be good to get a lawyer’s opinion (@4StarViewMusic). For me, common sense says that if you are offering someone feedback you are being helpful and operating on a goodwill basis that they might return the favour. The metaphor example is tricky as it can be quite annoying when someone pinches your brilliant moment of insight. On the other hand, this is how language works. We form associations when people talk to us and then use them ourselves. Imagine if every phrase had an owner. Again I don’t know what the answers are here, but I guess these are the same problems every creative industry have always been dealing with.

I found it interesting to learn that J.K Rowling was not allowed to read fan letters because if they contained potential plot ideas she could potentially be sued if she used a similar idea.

I strongly agree with this. When writing a full song we are trying to bring all the pieces together, and they can’t be cleanly separated. Melody is really just a part of the lyric and vice versa, so we can’t just build one then the other.

I think the key is to keep prompts as open as possible, again going back to them being a starting point without setting too many constraints. In your example I think there is too much, either write a song with this bpm, or about fall, but perhaps not prescribing both. Or maybe writing a song about a story, or inspired by a movie. There are lots of interesting ways we could build starting points, but I think the key is to leave the process completely in member hands, as everyone writes songs differently.

That’s really kind of you to say! Slowly but surely we are building a really lovely community which provides the inspiration to keep on developing it and see where it may lead.