How to Write Better Songs | 15 Tips that Really Work
Songwriting is a powerful experience that allows you to express who you are as an artist. The possibilities are endless and this guide will take you through the steps needed to unleash your inner songwriter. We asked four experienced songwriters their thoughts on how to write better songs.
Knowing the basics of songwriting is one thing, but knowing how and what to write is essential to compete with the best songwriters out there. If you want to be in with a good chance of writing something amazing, then we have the 15 best tips on writing effective songs.
How to write your own song: If you don’t know how to write a song effectively, you’re going to struggle to write something that you’ll be truly proud of. Below are 15 of the best advanced songwriting ideas for how you can go about songwriting.
Tips for writing a song
How can I write a good song? Creating original music is hard, but there are some advanced tips on how to write songs below.
Following these tips will assist you in knowing how to write a good song:
- Learn to really listen
- Pick a core emotion for your song
- Start small and build your song lyrics gradually
- Take regular breaks
- Write anything the feels right
- Carry a notebook
- Write every day
- Write collaboratively
- Make a regular songwriting schedule
- Experiment with different techniques
- Write lyrics that can have multiple interpretations
- Learn about the industry around songwriting
- Get feedback
- Keep your listeners engaged
- Make mistakes, and have fun with it
How to write better song lyrics
#1 Learn to really listen
A good starting point, when writing a song, is to pick a song by your favourite artist and to analyse it.
|the song structure||the rhythm and speed of the song|
|the notes, sounds and samples||the words and the story they tell|
|how the song is woven together|
|What does this achieve?||If this element was missing entirely, what impact would it have on the song?|
When writing a song, make detailed notes and keep them as a reference.
By attentively listening to well-written songs that inspire you, keeping notes and reflecting on them. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of how to write a song and the musical decisions that were made to create each piece of music and why. This will creat a rich foundation for your own songs.
|“Try listening to some new music by new artists. Check out the chords for some new songs and use them to write something fresh”|
— Natalie Shay, Singer/Songwriter from London
How to write a song from the heart
#2 Pick a core emotion for your song
For the sake of this exercise, limit yourself to defining just one core emotion or feeling that will run throughout your song; such as anger, sorrow, happiness or heartbreak.
Something as seemingly small as this can kick-start your song’s narrative and get your creative juices flowing.
How do songwriters write songs?
#3 Start small and build your song lyrics gradually
List words which are associated with your chosen emotion. After you’ve chosen the feeling or emotion, brainstorm key words and phrases that you would associate with this feeling.
You may find a spider diagram useful:
|Teardrop||Frost at night|
|Breaking-up||Argument with a friend|
|Losing someone||Losing contact|
|Walking away||Calling out as someone leaves you|
|Crying with head in hands||Falling to your knees|
|Tears rolling down face||Sitting in the rain|
If you’re looking for some more basic songwriting tips, click here.
How can I make music better?
#4 Take regular breaks
Spend 5-10 minutes on this the above exercise, then take a short break to refresh your mind and continue. When you have finished this stage of writing your song, circle the words/phrases that stand out to you.
These feelings, visuals, and experiences will form the essence of your song. You may think that taking a break isn’t productive, but it will allow you to clear your mind so that you write better music in the long run.
|“My songwriting starts differently each time, however I always have a concept in mind for each song, this gives me the lyrical parameters to work within.”|
— Lewis Bootle, musician whose first EP reached the top 10 in the iTunes Singer/Songwriter charts
Lyric writing exercises
#5 Write anything that feels right
“Yeah, it might be awful — but write it,” urges Lots Holloway, a full-time indie-pop musician (with over 90,000 followers on social media). The first attempts may not be the mind-blowing strokes of musical genius you’re after. But that’s okay. It will come!
|“I have this idea in my mind that I am always writing. Anything and everything can become inspiration”|
— Lots Holloway, Multi-instrumentalist, Songwriter and Indie-pop Artist
Start writing your song: no-one has to see it!
You don’t have to show your song to anyone, let alone keep it. The main goal for those who are trying to improve their songwriting process is to get used to the act of writing itself, and doing so frequently and consistently.
John Legend has a structured songwriting process in which he composes the melody first and fills in the lyrics last – the music tells him what to talk about in the song.
Writing song lyrics without music
#6 Carry a notebook
Always have a pen and paper to hand — after all, good ideas often come to us at the most random moments and leave us just as suddenly. Keep note of sudden inspirations and observations, whether it’s on the tube, at a busy restaurant, or just at home, staring out of the window — watching the world go by.
This will not only give you material to revert back to for future songs, but will also, in time, make you much more perceptive and analytical — two skills that are essential for effective songwriting.
Not only will this give you material to revert back to for future songs, but it will also make you much more perceptive and analytical — two skills that are essential for effective songwriting.
How to write a hit song
#7 Write every day
If you want to be truly great at anything, whether it be singing, playing an instrument, or writing songs, you need to do it consistently.
It’s absolutely fine to have it as a hobby, but if you want to one day become very successful as someone who writes songs, you need to work on it every single day. It will increase your chances of success drastically.
Are you ready to commit?
If you have started thinking about being a professional songwriter, chances are you already love it, but when we say about writing every single day, we mean it!
It can’t be “often” and it definitely can’t be “whenever you find the time to do so,” it needs to be a priority, and that’s where it can start to get tough.
This commitment can’t fall by the wayside. There will be times when you need to limit your songwriting time, but you should be thinking about actually putting pen to paper every single day.
How to write a song – lyrics
#8 Write collaboratively
If you’re struggling to write lyrics on your own, try working with another person.
Writing on your own is perfectly fine and you’ll probably spend a lot of time doing it, but there are a lot of benefits that come with pairing up with someone else.
You’ll find that you can learn a lot by just sitting down with another musician and working on a song together, especially if you’ve never done so before.
Working with one other songwriter is usually how most acts enter the world of co-writing, and it’s a solid first step, as larger groups can be more intimidating if you’re only used to expressing your feeling through music on your own.
There have been hundreds of notable co-writing partnerships over the years, arguably the most successful partnerships are those that form from great friendships.
The partnerships of John Lennon and Paul McCartney or Elton John and Bernie Taupin are great examples of how two people can cover each other’s weaknesses to create musical masterpieces.
How do you write an amazing song?
#9 Make a regular songwriting schedule
Saying you will write every single day is one thing, but it’s hard. The best way to ensure that you will work on your craft day after day after day is to schedule a time to do so and try and make it something you can’t get out of.
It’s so easy to see the day disappear before you if you don’t have a block of time set aside to write, so don’t think you can just squeeze it in whenever you find the time.
Notice when you are regularly wasting time
If there’s a certain part of the day when you usually focus on other hobbies, when you watch TV, or when you’re wasting time on the internet, block it off in your calendar as songwriting time.
It’s best to start with 15 or 30 minutes and go from there. Often the hardest part of a songwriting session is just getting started – bear that in mind.
#10 Experiment with different techniques
Even if you think you know which songwriting techniques work well for you, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment! Try everything you can and then mix them all up and try even more new things.
Blend styles, write in different voices, pen tunes from different perspectives, work with new people who are on the other end of the industry, play around with forms, melodies, rhythms, and structures, and then go back to what you’re most comfortable with.
Of course, remember to try switching things up again later.
Experiment with different styles and genres
There’s no right or wrong method to songwriting, especially if you’re doing so on your own time. You may find you actually love crafting country songs when you thought you’d be a Pop Songwriter or perhaps your poppy lyrics actually work great with guitar riffs.
These days, those who rise in the ranks and make it to the top of the charts in one genre often find themselves partnering with songwriters and musicians working in other styles. Always keep an open mind to other styles of music, even if you might not like them or be familiar with them.
How to write a song about someone
#11 Write lyrics that can have multiple interpretations
When writing a song about something or someone, think about how you can write lyrics without them only applying to that particular individual.
Of course, your lyrics can simply mean exactly what they are, but richer lyrics are often more interesting for the listener.
If they can apply an aspect of the song to their life by listening to it, they’re much more likely to relate to it. For example, you might find you’ve written a song about losing your job. Is there any parallel between your experience and those of others? You might even be able to turn it into a political statement.
The content could already be there in your song; it might just need to be polished a little.
How can I improve my songwriting connections?
#12 Learn about the industry around songwriting
Before you even consider becoming a full-time professional Songwriter, you will need to learn everything there is to know about the industry from a holistic standpoint. If you don’t, you may find your career is limited by your lack of knowledge.
You wouldn’t want to end up in an embarrassing situation because you don’t understand a term.
If you’re going to school for songwriting, you’ll go over the basics (and plenty more) in an introductory class. If you’re going about this on your own, you’ll need to dedicate some time to teach yourself.
Look up the language used in the business and what every job connected to creating a track does as well as the business of songwriting.
You can never know too much, but if you go into a songwriting session not knowing phrases like “split,” “performance rights organisation,” “A&R,” or “hook,” people are less likely to take you seriously.
#13 Get feedback
How is a Songwriter supposed to know if what they’ve crafted actually works? That question can be very important to those who are about to shell out a lot of money to record something in a studio, It’s worth discussing even if the songwriter isn’t the one who will be performing it.
Before something is 100% complete, share it with others to see what they think. You should have some kind of recording that will convey the emotion and power of the song. When you spread it around, try and have different people listen.
Ask other Songwriters to give it a listen and see what they think but also feel free to send it to people who aren’t writers.
Great songwriting should resonate with many different types of people and if you can connect with one person but not another, that might give some insight into what your potential target audience could be.
Lyric writing process
#14 Keep your listeners engaged
When considering advanced songwriting tips, it’s important to consider using literary devices.
Metaphors are great. Don’t be too literal with your lyrics and music. Keep your listeners guessing as to what your song could mean. You’ve hit the bullseye if you can get more than one interpretation of the lyrics to resonate with different listeners.
Symbolism is good too. In films, for example, it might rain when a character is sad. Try and portray that in both your music and lyrics. In this particular example, a persona in your song might not be portraying their true emotions. The lyrics could seem happy and positive, but underneath, the music could hint at a darker narrative.
Foreshadowing is a great technique to use – having small things early in the narrative gives a clue to what’s coming next.
These strategies (and of course, any others you can think of) can be deployed in your lyrics, but it’s easier to make sure you aren’t forcing in these devices all of the time otherwise your listeners might become confused and disengaged.
#15 Make mistakes, and have fun with it!
When in the process of songwriting, be prepared to make mistakes. In fact, embrace songwriting mistakes. They will help you to learn and will lead to writing better songs and better songwriting processes.
As with any habit, the key is to practice. Just like learning an instrument, songwriting is a skill that needs to be trained.
So set some time aside, grab a pen and paper, and have some fun writing songs!
|“Keep pushing. The more you wrestle with songs, the more you know how to fix them and the more you recognise if you are being led somewhere magical”.|
— August, Singer/Songwriter — London
We hope you feel inspired. If you have any tips on how to write better songs, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below.