13 Must-Read Books for Songwriters
If you’re struggling to improve your songwriting or write better lyrics in general, it’s a good idea to get advice from professionals in the industry. Whether you’re a beginner or a maestro, there’s always room for improvement and one of the best ways to learn is to read as much as you can on the subject.
So, what are the best books for songwriters? There are classics like Writing Better Lyrics which offer practical advice on how to improve your song lyrics and newer books like The Art of Songwriting that teaches you how to think like a songwriter.
Songwriting is as much about the mindset as it is about writing. Reading is important for strengthening your writing abilities, developing your mind and your imagination. It also lowers stress and improves your memory, so there are plenty of reasons to check out the books listed below.
The best books on songwriting
These books all bring something different in terms of songwriting, from practical step-by-step instructions and advice from famous and respected songwriters to pitfalls you should try to avoid.
Songwriting books for beginners
#1 Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison
Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison is one of the best reads out there for improving your song lyrics. Pat Pattison is a professor, author and songwriter who teaches at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. If you want to get the same mentoring given to famous singer-songwriters such as John Mayer, then give this a read.
Pattison’s book has been a staple for songwriters for over two decades, since its release in 1996. The revised and updated second edition was published in 2009.
Writing Better Lyrics is ideal for both new and experienced songwriters and it covers techniques such as sensory writing, how to avoid clichés and ways to use repetition in a beneficial way.
A very useful technique from this book is ‘Objective Writing’. You pick an object and use your senses to write about it. These words then become the building blocks to your song. This technique is all about showing imagery and emotion, rather than just simply telling, allowing your audience to better connect with your songs.
This simple exercise only takes ten minutes and is something that you can do daily as a commitment to your songwriting.
#2 Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo
If you’re looking for a book on songwriting that is less technical and more inspirational, then look no further than Songwriters on Songwriting.
Paul Zollo has been an editor for many magazines, including Song Talk, Performing Songwriter and American Songwriter.
His book is full of funny anecdotes and advice from the greatest songwriters of our time, such as Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Alanis Morissette, Lenny Kravitz and Lou Reed.
The underlying message throughout the book and its interviews is that all songwriters, regardless of genre or generation, are united by the action of combining words and music to make songs.
Read it cover-to-cover or dip in and out of it.
#3 6 Steps to Songwriting Success by Jason Blume
If you’re looking to get on the charts, then we highly recommend you read 6 Steps to Songwriting Success by Jason Blume.
Songwriter and teacher Jason Blume has worked with artists such as Diana Ross, Britney Spears and Kenny Rogers. He draws on this experience and knowledge as a hit-making songwriter to present an understandable, step-by-step approach to achieve a hit-song.
This book covers techniques such as three-step lyric writing (used by the pros), melody and demo checklists and tools for self-evaluation.
It’s also a humorous read and features inspiring stories of how hit songs have been written and recorded.
#4 Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
It’s one thing to write a hit song using all of the tools and techniques – the hard part is staying motivated and retaining that creative flow. If you’re struggling to feel inspired, or are in a bit of a slump, then this is the perfect book for you.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear focuses on conquering obstacles that get in the way of creativity, such as self-doubt and constantly striving for perfectionism. It’s essentially a self-help book with instructions on how to live a creative life, be mindful and passionate.
Bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert asserts that in order to be creative, you must be courageous and fearless in the face of criticism and rejection. She asks: “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”
This book teaches you to care less about what other people think, and more about what’s important to you. It’s about not needing validation to do what you love, and measuring your self-worth by how dedicated you are to your craft, rather than your successes or failures.
New songwriting books
#5 The Art of Songwriting: How to Create, Think and Live Like a Songwriter by Ed Bell
The Art of Songwriting: How to Create, Think and Live Like a Songwriter is the newest book on this list. It is written by writer, musician and educator, Ed Bell.
Bell has written songs for theatre and film, and he also created The Song Foundry, which is a songwriting resource site.
Bell explains, “What most songwriting guides won’t tell you is that success as a songwriter – however you define it – is as much about how you live your life and the way you see the world as it is about your skill with words and music.”
The Art of Songwriting is ideal if you want a book that goes beyond songwriting as a craft. It is not just about running after that hit song, the theories and the craft. It shows you how to be creative, how to think and live like a songwriter and be resilient and innovative. Bell teaches you to embrace who you are as an artist.
#6 The Addiction Formula by Friedemann Findeisen
Are you looking to hook your audience? Then you should definitely read The Addiction Formula by Friedemann Findeisen.
Findeisen has been analysing hit songs for fifteen years. Throughout, he has discovered patterns which he has called ‘The Addiction Formula’. His technique is not confined to one particular genre of music. Its aim is to make your songs appeal to a larger audience but still allowing your creative freedom.
The Addiction Formula includes over 317 techniques with 331 examples of how they can be applied in order to learn them easily in a fun and quick way. This book appeals to a new generation of songwriters by focusing on modern music, using only examples of songs from the past 30 years including songs by Rihanna, Drake and Maroon 5.
If you’re overwhelmed with many ideas, then this is a good book to read if you’re looking to whittle them down.
#7 The Songwriters Idea Book by Sheila Davis
In her book, Davis takes you through ‘40 strategies to excite your imagination, help you design distinctive songs and keep your creative flow’.
This is a really great book for generating ideas and discovering new things in your own songwriting. You also get to understand your personality type from your strengths to temperament, and how to break out of your usual method of approaching lyric writing.
It is broken down into nine easy to read chapters including topic strategies, such as beginning with a title first, and examples to illustrate these devices.
#8 Songwriting Without Boundaries: Lyric Writing Exercises for Finding Your Voice by Pat Pattison
Songwriting Without Boundaries is another great read by singer-songwriter Pat Pattison.
Divided into four sections, the book is a collection of sensory fourteen-day writing challenges. These challenges include timed exercises and lots of examples from other songwriters.
This unique collection of more than 150 sense-bound prompts will help you develop the skills you need to tap into your senses and inject your writing with vivid details.
#9 The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
If you’re guilty of procrastination, then The War of Art is the book will help you get on track.
Written by bestselling author Steven Pressfield, this is another self-help book designed to break through those creative roadblocks.
The book highlights the forms of resistance faced by artists, entrepreneurs and athletes who are trying to break through barriers.
“Think of The War of Art as tough love… for yourself.”
Lyric writing books
#10 Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting: How to Write a Hit Song by Ralph Murphy
Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting is written by Ralph Murphy, who has been a successful songwriter for five decades.
It’s a book packed full of advice on becoming a successful songwriter and the skills needed to earn a living from it.
Hall of fame songwriter Paul Williams said of the book, “If there was a hit songwriters secret handshake, Da Murphy would probably have included it.”
#11 Great Songwriting Techniques by Jack Perricone
In Great Songwriting Techniques, composer and teacher Jack Perricone shares his years of experience in songwriting to teach readers the craft.
The book offers a series of lessons focusing on key elements of songwriting. From building blocks like melody, harmony, and rhythm to more advanced topics like lyric placement and tone texture.
It also includes examples of exceptional songwriting from well-known artists such as Prince, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and Taylor Swift.
#12 More Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo
Published 25 years after Songwriters on Songwriting, this book contains interviews with James Taylor, Aimee Mann, Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson and many more music legends.
Once again crossing genres to cover the breadth of popular music over the past decade and a half, this much-anticipated follow-up offers a rare look inside the music industry.
It’s a sequel worth buying and a great additional resource for songwriters.
#13 How [Not] To Write A Hit Song!: 101 Common Mistakes to Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success
While the rest of this list covers techniques and lessons to improve your songwriting, How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! covers common mistakes that you should avoid.
This book helps songwriters recognise any weaknesses in their songs, so that they can re-work them, make them stronger, and hopefully achieve the breakthrough that they’re seeking.
Brian Oliver is an experienced music publisher, songwriter and music consultant and he encourages readers to spend time polishing their songs.
This book is perfect for songwriters just starting out and looking to develop their own unique writing style, while avoiding fundamental pitfalls in the development process.
Are there any must-read books that you’ve read that aren’t on this list? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.