Written by J. Simpson
We are living in a Golden Age of technological tools to unleash creativity. A $200 laptop with free software is more powerful, and often better sounding, say than a $10,000 studio 20 years ago.
An off-brand smartphone is 1000x times more powerful than the studios The Beatles were using to record their classic albums.
The downside of this, of course, is wading through all of that technology to find the worthwhile best songwriting tools. There’s just so much available to writers and producers!
And of course, anytime there's money to be made, you're going to have your share of snake oil salesmen and charlatans looking to make a quick buck. There's just no barrier to the marketplace, so people can rush any old product to the shelves, regardless of quality.
We're going to solve that dilemma in regards to songwriting software.
There's quite a few digital songwriting tools out there. We're going to go over some of the most common to help you know what's worth your time and money and what isn't!
Before we begin reviewing songwriting software in earnest, let's look at some of the reasons you should be using digital songwriting tools if you're not already.
The Benefits Of Songwriting Software:
There is no reason whatsoever to have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to write a song or improve your creativity.
Here are some reasons you should be using songwriting software and apps.
Helps You Stay Organized. Have you ever written down some lyrics or chord changes in some random notebook only to quickly where you left them? That's the best case scenario, as well. They could just as easily be scrawled on some loose napkin or old receipt, only to vanish into the void forever.
Songwriting software helps you stay organized.
Many songwriting apps and programs offer search functions so you can look up your own lyrics. They also store all of your ideas forever, barring some form of disastrous hardware malfunction.
Learn From The Masters. Many technological songwriting tools offer the ability to deconstruct your favorite songs and albums.
Have you ever wondered why George Harrison's guitar licks are so tasty?
A songwriting tool might help you learn what chord voicing he's using, as The Fab Four rarely did anything conventionally.
Other songwriting software offers templates from expert songwriters. They'll give you a skeleton of song structures and harmonic ideas to build your own creativity around.
You'll quickly break out of the I - IV - V box and start creating new and novel melodies and arrangements!
Solo Practice. Back in the day, you were limited to practicing a lot of different musical techniques with other human beings.
Things like improvising, soloing, even just playing rhythm required either a teacher, a very patient backing band, or playing along with stale, kind of corny instructional materials (not talking about you, Jamey Aebersold, you're the man!).
Almost every modern songwriting software tool has some sort of accompaniment mode.
Many offer a wide array of different backing tracks, everything from chordal comping to full-on backing bands.
Many also offer multitrack recording or even live looping, where you can practice soloing over yourself!
At least this way, you can stop making your bandmates play blues rock for hours at a stretch!
Those are just a few of the nearly endless benefits of using songwriting software.
Let's dive into some of the programs out there, in depth, to give you a more specific example of what these tools are and what they can do for you and your creativity!
Hookpad is an in-depth, powerful songwriting tool for mastering music theory, regardless of your skill level.
Western music theory is a nearly endless topic for research and investigation.
There's over 2000 years of trial, error, experimentation, and elaboration. It doesn't help that every couple hundred years the rulebook is completely ripped to shreds and then rebuilt from the ground up.
Sometimes, you don't want to have to know all that there is to know about harmony, counterpoint, serialism, or 12-tone theory just to write a pop banger!
Hookpad handles all of the music theory for you, so you can hit the ground running and focus on songwriting and creativity!
Hookpad focuses on chord changes and progressions, built around the 'Nashville System', letting you focus on creating memorable melodies.
Chords are grouped by color, helping you to quickly and easily identify chords that go together.
It doesn't just stop there, though. Hookpad also offers melody suggestions, highlighting the notes of a chord so you can see what goes together and what doesn't. The notes of a chord make for a more solid sound, while non-highlighted notes are more dissonant.
Finally, Hookpad offers a wide array of virtual instruments to play your backing tracks.
You're no doubt tired of playing along with MIDI organs and tacky backing guitar tracks from the '80s. You'll be able to play your charts with a bunch of high-quality instruments that you'll actually want to listen to, which makes practicing infinitely easier.
Masterwriter is a simple-to-use songwriting software suite for all of your lyrical needs.
Have you ever been listening to a song you love, only to notice a cheesy lyric or overused cliche?
It's like a needle scratch on the record, pulling you out of the moment and breaking its spell.
While you may have been thinking the artist was a genius a moment ago, the second coming of Bob Dylan, you might be thinking they're the New Age Papa Roach in light of their lyrical choices.
Masterwriter is an all-inclusive songwriting tool that specializes in helping you write lyrics.
Basically, Masterwriter is a database that stores all of the pertinent information for a song.
This includes lyrics, demo recordings, copyright information, and publishing details.
It also features a dictaphone-style recording interface, so you can quickly record song ideas and sketches.
Masterwriter's real claim-to-fame is its lyric writing tools. It's got a built-in rhyming dictionary, a thesaurus, and both conventional and phrase dictionaries.
This is Masterwriter's true superpower. It's a powerful, intuitive, easy-to-use software platform for strengthening your lyrical writing abilities.
Its interface is slightly rough and outdated, sadly, as it's more or less just a database and word processor, rolled into one. There's no slick app for this one. Don't let this deter you, however.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Good songwriting software is not about bells and whistles. It's about what works and what works well.
Ableton Suite is one of the most popular digital songwriting tools of the 21st Century for good reason.
Are you a musician, a DJ, and computer programmer, all at the same time? You're not alone.
It's all-too-common to work in multiple mediums, styles, and genres - sometimes in the same song. A lot of songwriting software doesn't take this into account, which means you have to load separate programs for each activity.
Ableton Live gives you everything you need to take your song from a rough sketch to a fully realized production, simply and intuitively. You'll even be able to use it to perform the song after the fact, if that's your jam.
Ableton operates in two main modes.
There's the Songwriting Mode, which basically operates as a recording interface and a sampler all blended together.
Then there's the Production Mode, which operates like a traditional DAW and multitrack sequencer.
The first and best thing about Ableton is how easy it is to use. Once everything's set up and running, you can record 'clips' in Songwriting Mode. This is basically recording a sample, like you would in a sampler.
It's also an easy way to make multiple takes of a recording without having to create a separate track for each one.
This, in and of itself, isn't that striking. It's what you can do after the samples are recorded, where Ableton truly shines!
Once you've got your samples, it's almost criminally easy to lay out songs.
Working with Ableton also helps you to internalize musicality, helping you to polish your songwriting instinct to a razor's edge.
Ableton is particularly well-suited for musicians blending live instrumentation and recordings.
Have you been looking for an easy way to integrate samples into your live tracks? Ableton's for you. Are you looking for a way to blend DJing and live music? Ableton's got you covered, too.
Having every musical tool at your disposal in one easy to use interface can really help you to understand the way that different parts of music interact.
Programming drums, bass lines, and special FX will help you understand the role of each in a band.
Having everything in one place, at one time, also helps you to internalize many common production techniques, such as EQ, compression, and reverb.
Ableton's intuitive interface will help get all of those knobs and sliders into your bones in less than no time. You'll be a music-making machine before you even realize what's happening!
RhymeGenie's a nice choice if you're looking for lyric-writing software with a slicker, more modern interface, especially if you're looking for excellent free songwriting software. You'll get a free copy of TuneSmith as well!
We've already talked about the merits of Masterwriter in terms of taking your lyric-writing game to the next level. Masterwriter's slightly old-fashioned interface is going to be a deterrent for a lot of users, however, especially younger users who aren't used to a raw database-style UI.
Rhyme Genie is a fully cross-platform songwriting tool that gives you everything you need to become a master lyricist.
First and foremost, Rhyme Genie has one of the most extensive rhyme engines out there.
It offers so much more than just your average rhyme dictionary. You're able to sort of by exact rhyme, close rhymes, even feminine pararhymes.
Furthermore, you're able to filter by noun, verb, adjective, or adverb.
You won't have to go searching through your memory banks like some mad game of MadLibs when you're using Rhyme Genie.
The inclusion of TuneSmith is part of what makes Rhyme Genie worthy of this list, however. TuneSmith is a ridiculously powerful free songwriting software solution for those who are taking their music career seriously.
Have you ever sent out a batch of demos for possible publication?
Have you ever tried to manage a promotional campaign all by yourself?
If you have, you likely know the incredible amounts of emails it takes.
You need to keep track of the status of each one, as well. You'll need to make follow-up inquiries and send thank yous. You'll likely need an address book for all of your industry connections, as well.
TuneSmith handles all of that for you. It's essentially customer relations management (CRM) software for musicians.
If you work in retail or sales in any capacity, you know how powerful - and necessary - CRM software can be.
Taken together, Rhyme Genie and TuneSmith are a powerful combo for musicians looking to take their career to the next level.
Chord Miner is excellent free songwriting software for guitarists looking to expand their chord vocabulary.
Chord Miner is a simple program with profound implications.
It features over 7000 different chords as well as many of the most common variations on many of the most common ones. That's just the beginning, though.
Chord Miner also features a chord change database.
You can look up other songs that feature the same chord or chord sequence. This lets you look at the chords surrounding the one you're looking up, giving you even more ideas to flesh out your song.
Finally, Chord Miner also lets you rearrange the chords of your song so you can easily try out different permutations. You'll be writing new and unique-sounding songs in less than “no time” and with minimal pain and frustration.
Technology makes everything easier.
It's like condensed time, energy, and effort. It's the epitome of the 'Work Smart, Not Hard.' And when you work smart and hard, there is nothing that can stop you!
Ready To Take Your Music Career To The Next Level? There are more opportunities than ever before for creatives if you know how to go about it.
I've been helping musicians cultivate their creative careers for over 25 years.
Whether you're looking for the best songwriting software or to expand your vocabulary, I'm always dreaming up new ways to help musicians discover their fullest potential.
If you're ready to take your creative career to the next level, unlocking your creativity and increase your odds of making a living as a working musician, check out my online courses or sign up for my personal coaching!