How to Write a Song | 12 Songwriting Tips from the Pros
Here are 10 helpful songwriting tips, each backed up by quotes from some of the world's most successful songwriters.
Find out how to write a song from the best in the biz
1. Where to start writing your song
Getting started is often the hardest part of the songwriting process. Developing your song’s main melody or central chorus is considered by some to be the best place to begin writing your next track. Once you’ve got your hook or key chord progression, you can build the rest of your song around it. But don’t worry if you're struggling to find the perfect melody straight away, this method isn’t for everyone.
Starting with your song’s main riff or hook isn’t ideal for every songwriter. Some songwriters prefer to start at the beginning of their track by writing a killer intro, which will lead them naturally into the rest of the song, while others will get the lyrics down first, and then worry about the tune afterwards. There’s no rule when it comes to writing a new song. It’s down to the songwriter, the song and the original inspiration to determine your starting point.
You'll also want to think about what sort of environment you want fans to listen to your music in. Are you trying to write a catchy nightclub hit, a motivational workout tune for gym or Peloton users, or something more chilled? Have a think before you put pen to paper.
2. Lyrics matter
Unless you're producing instrumental music, the lyrics are arguably the most important part of your song - even helping you earn music royalties. Writing lyrics can often be the most frustrating and difficult aspect of the songwriting process, especially for amateur songwriter's lacking in experience.
Having a clear idea of what your song will be about is a good start. You could write down exactly what you want to get across in your lyrics, then play about with the rhythm, structure and cadence of your words to fit them around your melody. A solid lyrical hook for your chorus is particularly important, while the verses and bridge can be built around your central theme.
Chord progressions are also particularly important when it comes to writing your lyrics and finding a natural flow. Learn more about how to write a chord progression!
3. Record any spur of the moment inspiration
There’s nothing worse as a songwriter than coming up with an amazing melody or riff, only to completely forget what is was an hour later. Forgetting your ideas can be really frustrating, so it’s important to make a note of your idea while it’s fresh in your mind, even if it’s just recorded quickly on your phone or scribbled on a scrap of paper. You’ll be glad of the reminder later when you return to continue working on the song.
4. Write from experience
As obvious as it may sound, some of history’s greatest songs are about personal experiences, with artists drawing on real-life events and traumas to spark their creativity. Whether you’ve been through hard times or great times, you can use your life experiences to great affect. Put those feelings into a song you can be proud of.
5. Take inspiration from everywhere
Don’t restrict your writing inspiration to one-specific genre or style. Listen to a whole range of music and try to figure out how to use other sources that you might not have first considered to help you come up with new lines. You might hear a particular section sung by a grime artist or folk singer and think that their pronunciation or flow would work well in one of your tracks - even though you’re a metal band. Whatever you like the sound of, give it a go. It might work.
6. Have fun and challenge yourself
Although sometimes your songwriting might feel very much like work, it’s important to remember that it’s also meant to be fun. Try to keep that enjoyable element in mind and challenge yourself to make catchy and memorable lyrics. Your feelings will definitely come across within your writing so have fun whilst doing it!
7. Collaborate with other musicians
If you’re suffering from writer’s block (everyone does at some point!), then collaborating with other musicians can offer a great way to break new ground and get a fresh perspective on your track. Show them what you’ve got so far, discuss any new ideas they might suggest, and see what comes out of it. Getting an outside perspective on your track from a fellow musician can help to bring the best out of your music. Two heads are always usually better than one.
TIP: You'll notice rap artists do this a lot. If you're an aspiring rapper or in the process of becoming a rap artist, make sure you go heavy on the collaboration opps!
8. Keep it simple and build on it
Keeping your track as simple as possible at first is an excellent way to accelerate the
songwriting process and work out the structure of your song. Many complex songs from 5 or 6-piece bands started life as a few chords strummed on an acoustic guitar. Once you’ve got the basis of the song in its simplest form, you can go about adding drums, strings, brass or any other additional elements afterwards. Don’t make things harder for yourself by overcomplicating your track right from the beginning.
9. Make sure to take breaks
Writing a song from scratch can sometimes be frustrating and mentally tiring work, especially if the ideas aren’t flowing as easily as you’d like. Often a 15-minute break away from your instrument or lyrics pad can help get the creativity flowing and stop your mind from becoming too clouded to see the ideas and inspiration you’re searching for. Whether it's written in two hours or two months, the final product is all that's important, no matter how long it takes.
10. Don't overthink it
Musicians and songwriters are often our own worst critics. If you judge your own songs too harshly you’ll never get anything done, so it’s important to keep an open mind. And while it’s great to take your time and carefully consider each facet of a new song, it’s often easier to get things done when you let the songwriting process flow, stop worrying and just get on with it. Overthinking can be your worst enemy. Get the basis of your song down, and you can always go back and change things afterwards.
11. Ask for feedback
It’s easy to lose sight of how good or bad your song is after you’ve spent hours and hours working, changing and creating it by yourself. So find someone you trust to give honest advice, and who’s opinion you value, and ask them to critique it for you. You might find they have some fantastic insight into how it could be improved. Don’t just play it for someone who might be afraid to hurt your feelings - you want honest opinions, not just yes men.
12. Don't be afraid to fail
Apologies for the cliché, but if you’re failing and struggling to write the song you know is in you – just keep going. There’s no secret formula for successful songwriting, other than the combination of hard work, positivity and talent. This quote from the legendary Johnny Cash sums up the point perfectly.
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