Writing a song with unforgettable melodies and creative lyrics can be challenging. Even the most experienced songwriters go through writer’s block at some point in their career, and there are many different approaches to songwriting. 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.
“I have a structured songwriting process. I start with the music and try to come up with musical ideas, then the melody, then the hook, and the lyrics come last. Some people start with the lyrics first because they know what they want to talk about and they just write a whole bunch of lyrical ideas, but for me, the music tells me what to talk about.”
2. Lyrics matter
Unless you’re producing instrumental music, the lyrics are arguably the most important part of your song. Lyric writing 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.
“I deliberate over the lyrics; I really do. I’ll come up with one line in a day, and then it might be a couple of days before I come up with the rhyming line.”
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.
“You can’t manufacture inspiration, so a lot of it is still a waiting game for me. There’s still a lot of mystery to songwriting. I don’t have a method that I can go back to – they either come or they don’t.”
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.
“My experience with song writing is usually so confessional, it’s so drawn from my own life and my own stories.”
5. 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.
“I like collaboration because, first of all, I’m good at writing lyrics. I don’t know how to make beats. I don’t play instruments. I’m not a good singer. So even when you see a solo album of mine, it’s still a collaboration.”
6. 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 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.
“The combination of three chords and the right lyrical couplet can be as heavy as anything in the Metallica catalogue.”
Tom Morello, Rage Against the Machine
7. 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.
“I wish I were one of those people who wrote songs quickly. But I’m not. So it takes me a great deal of time to find out what the song is”
8. 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.
“If anyone asks me about songwriting, I guess I’d say that you just gotta do it.”
Alex Turner, Arctic Monkeys
9. 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.
“I enjoy the collaboration. I always envied people in bands who got to have that interaction. It’s a nice change helping other people with their music and not being all about what I’m trying to do myself.”
10. 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.
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”