Writing Tracks First

by John Braheny

In hip-hop and contemporary dance styles it’s common for the writers to have started the process by creating “tracks” (basic

recordings of primary rhythm instruments, usually on a digital sequencer) because in those musical styles, grooves are an extremely important factor in their appeal. Note that grooves are “trendy” and sounds are very important so if you want to write with a track writer, or Beat Maker find one who’s totally involved in current styles and has the tools to create new sounds. Track writers are usually DJ’s engineers and mixers. It’s all part of the art form.

Beat Makers vs Producers

Note, however that there’s a difference between “Beat Makers” and “Producers”.  Beat Makers aren’t necessarily producers but may be on the front end of the process and be employed by producers or sell their tracks to producers. Producers play a much bigger role. They’re responsible for the whole project and should have a vision of the final recording.

Several options are available:

1. The creator of the tracks or Beat Maker will look for a singer/songwriter in their specific genre to create the lyric, melody and performance.
2. They, or someone else will write the lyric and melody.
3. They’ll find a lyricist, then give the lyric to a singer to create a melody.

4. They’ll create a track and offer to sell it to a producer or be a co-writer with the producer.

As in any other approach to writing, there are pros and cons. Let’s start with the pros:

— The writer of the melody and lyric has a structural “roadmap” and tempo already laid out for them. If a bass part is included in the track there is also tonal structure to assist in creating a melody. (The key can easily be changed in the digital realm.)

— It can make it much easier for a lyricist to create lyric phrases that become part of the rhythm of the song. You can think of it as a more elaborate version of the process of writing to a drum machine.

— Frequently, the tracks are created by a producer, or someone who works with the producer which, from a business viewpoint, means that as a lyric and/or melody writer, you’re already involved in the final recording project.

— If you’re a writer with a great groove sense, an ear for street trends and you’re an adventurous creator of new sounds you should be creating tracks yourself.

Now for the cons:

– There is a common tendency for track producers or Beat Makers to ignore the structural and dynamic options that make a song more commercially viable and rely on a singer to create a vocal performance and melody/lyric powerful enough to make up for it. A track that doesn’t change much throughout the song can get predictable and monotonous. It may work fine in a club environment but will be less successful on mainstream radio. Note that the most successful hip-hop and rap records are those with memorable, contrasting choruses, even if they’ve sampled them from other songs (Eminem’s “Stan”). This puts a big responsibility on the writer/lyricist to create those dynamic contrasts. (See Song Form http://johnbraheny.com/songwriting-101-song-form-part-1/


and Dynamics) http://johnbraheny.com/songwriting-101-dynamics/

– The Business: This isn’t really a negative if you take care of business up front. But this area is frequently contentious so I’ll lay out a couple basics. Whether you’re a track writer or you’re working with one, make sure your co-writer understands the royalty splits. A track writer should get at least a third but could justify half depending on contributions beyond very basic tracks. Also, if a track writer asks a singer/melody writer/lyricist to co-write and the co-writer says yes without agreeing beforehand to any other split, it will be, by law, 50/50. Work it out, write it down and copy it for both parties. For a good guide, go to:
http://johnbraheny.com/business-101-collaborations-and-co-writes/ Don’t confuse track writers with demo arranger/producers who charge for their services. They are NOT entitled to any royalties for arranging (creating tracks for) your existing song.

Here’s another scenario. You might want to agree on paper, up front, that if what you create is acquired by a producer and that producer wants participation in the writers royalties as part of the deal,  your contributions will be diminished equally to accommodate the producers’ share. Or you might agree not to share writers’ credits but agree whether or not offer the publishing the producer.

Bottom line is working it out in front so nobody feels burned.


John Braheny is a consultant and coach for songwriters and writer/artists and the author of the best-selling book, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. Visit his site at www.johnbraheny.com or e-mail him at john@johnbraheny.com.