Improve Your Songwriting With Kanban

Recently at my day job we've been talking about a few different ways to bring better visiblity to our development, specifically so that other departments can see exactly what we are doing.

Came across a tool for setting up Kanban boards called Trello, love the features, UI, it feels like a solid product.

Songwriting kanban board

After some fidgeting with it we decided it wasn't up to par with what we were looking for, but I was struck with one of those d'oh ideas during the process.

I could use it for my songwriting.

The Process

Anyone who has written songs will agree, the process is hard and confusing as hell.

You'll get ideas all the time, they'll move through various stages of completion. An idea you flesh out today might suck tomorrow then gain appeal a few weeks later only to fall into disfavor, repeat, repeat...

The hardest part for me is knowing what I have to work with and whats already been worked on enough.

This is where Kanban comes into play!

Enter! The Kanban!

Kanban is a pretty simple method for visualizing work as it moves through a pipeline. It was coined in Japan by Toyota, back in the early 1950's as a system to better production.

In software we use this to emphasis just-in-time delivery without overwhelming developers.

The system will always show us what needs to be done, how much needs to be done, and the progress of each bit of work.

Visiblity is the key.

This is where it comes into play for my songwriting. I need to see what ideas I've got and where they are, without the overhead of keeping them in my brain.

The Board

Central to kanban is the board. Visualization occurs across rows and columns, representing the ideas and progress respectively.

Here's the board again, for reference:

You'll see that I have five queues lined up:

  • Rough Ideas for those newly formed or in limbo ideas.
  • In Progress for those who have made it past the 'this might be something' phase.
  • Arranging for songs that are close to having a beginning and an end.
  • Writing lyrics for any song that is having its lyrics worked on.
  • And finally Finished, for erm, finished songs.

These boards are a bit misleading.

Songwriting is never as straightforward as idea -> arrange -> lyric -> done. Lyrics can come before arrangement, visa versa. You can write out a small little idea, patch a few other ideas together, but still not have a cohesive start and ending. Finished is rarely the end, you'll re-write lyrics, re-arrange parts, add/subtract stuff, its pretty hairy.

But this is something.

Being able to sit back and just see anything is a tremendous help. Like I mentioned before, keeping all of this in your head is impossible and dangerous. You'll lose great ideas and just handicap the process.


Songwriting is fucking hard. For me, its harder than writing software.

It contains a load of uncertainity, endless cycles of done not done in progress needs work kinda sucks, and its really taxing to keep track of all this.

While I'm not gonna sit here and formalize my creative process, this will be a bit of an experiment to see if it helps me keep things together and ultimately improves the process without sacrificing the end result.

Lets see what happens?