Professional songwriters make it look easy. They sit in a room with three to four of their best buddies, somebody brings his guitar, then two hours in, bam! a hit song is born. What is crazy is that in most cases writing a hit song doesn’t look like that. Here are five tips and songwriting secrets you can start using today to write better songs. If you have never tried to before, here is how to write a song.
You are within 20 feet of a famous statue. From that distance, you can plainly make out that this statue is of George Washington. From 20 feet away his likeness is clear. As you move to within 2 feet you can make out the detail in Washington’s nose, ears and even how the artist chose to include a small mole on his cheek. Not one of these details was important for you to recognize the figure being portrayed when you were 20 feet away, however as you drew in closer, you could see that it took those details to make this statue a masterpiece.
How to write a song – Stage 1
Being able to distinguish whom the statue was of when you were 20 feet away is like the chorus of a hit song. You know the song within two words of hearing it. It’s recognizable. It makes sense. Moving in closer to the statue is like the verse of your song. It’s like the detail used to portray Washington’s nose and ears. Those details in a verse support the main idea of the song by being a set up to the chorus. These words and melody intentionally lead to the chorus without giving away the hook and punch of the chorus. The mole on Washington’s cheek is like a bridge of a song. It’s an unexpected twist that gives the entire piece extra character. Bridges of songs are meant to be a new idea that is more of an “ah-ha” thought that hasn’t yet been conveyed in the chorus or preceding verses. It is supposed to bridge the last ideas of the song with the main one, or the chorus.
How to write a song – Stage 2
All too often songwriters get bogged down in trying to build an intro, create a main guitar hook or find the perfect drum groove to fit your idea. While those are going to be important, I venture to say that those are not a part of the songwriting session. They are arrangement decisions. The best thing you can do to write a song is to try and figure out what you are going to write about and then outline it. A storyboard is great for writing a movie, but it’s also an incredible tool for songwriting. If you are able to decide early on the narrowly focused subject and theme of your chorus then you will be able to build a plan for what the verses and the bridge will need to say to support the chorus idea. If you begin with the finishing touches of intros and outros you will never finish your song.
How to Write a song – Stage 3
Cadence and pacing are of utmost importance. If you are saying in your mind, what are cadence and pacing, then you have happened upon a great blog post for you. Cadence and pacing are the structural elements of your specific verses and chorus. Taken from poetry, you’ll often hear this as a rhyming scheme or A.B.A.B. formula. What a songwriter would be talking about here is how is the song going to flow. Will there be a rhyme at the end of phrase one that needs to rhyme with the end of phrase two? Or will that rhyme need to work with phrases one and three and then lines two and four are symbiotic? Establishing this ahead of time is how a professional does it. This is not left up to chance. The other challenge is in how fast the lyrics can and should be sung in a particular style of music. For instance, a slow ballad with a ton of thirty-second notes for a singer may be overwhelming. On the flip side, at a tempo of 55, whole notes may cause the audience to go to sleep. You have to stay true to the meter and style of the song you are trying to write. Anything else may end up as a dud of a song. Remember, we are talking about professional songwriting here. That means you want to turn these songs in for a profit in some way. They aren’t just for your ears only.
How To Write A Song – Stage 4
Great songwriters edit. Just like how an editor for a book will do their best to trim the fat, a good songwriting editor will trim out any errant word. If you can say the same thing in 4 words, but you currently have it written as 6 then cut it down to 4. One of the worst things you can do while writing a song is to get married to a particular line or idea. I always say that the only one I’m married to is my wife. Getting emotionally wrapped up in a line that you like but simply isn’t working is forfeiting the opportunity of finding a much better line. Dare I say the perfect line. You wouldn’t know it was out there unless you let up on the reins and allow for editing.
How To Write A Song – Stage 5
If you can’t remember your song then neither will the guy listening to his radio. During your songwriting session, if you are having trouble remembering either the lyrics or the melodies that you have just created then sing them over and over again. Get them stuck in your own head so that they become the right ones. Massage each and every lyric until is so memorable that you wake up singing it. One of the best writers that I’ve ever worked with never wrote down a word of the song we were writing together. I asked him at the end of our session why he didn’t like to journal the words and he said the same as what I’ve written above. If you cannot even remember the very song that you are writing how will your audience? I challenge you to write a song one time without writing anything down or doing quick audio work tapes. You may be surprised at the extra focus it requires of you. I bet it is good for your songwriting outcome.
The benefits of using these songwriting techniques are that they are like iron sharpening iron. Each time you write another song you will get a little better. Edison had to try over 1,000 times to find the perfect light bulb. Those other 999 attempts were not wrong, they were simply the many steps it took to create the light bulb. There was a refining of ideas until the light bulb’s invention. Write every day. Keep a log of what you’ve written. Revisit song-starts. Those are abandoned songs on the trash heap of your songwriting journal. Creativity comes in spurts. Those spurts get closer together the more you build your songwriting muscle.
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I love talking with songwriters. Please shoot me an email on my contact page. You may also comment below with more songwriting tips. I’ll post more songwriting posts in the near future. Learning how to write a song is very doable. Practice, practice, practice.