Write Better Songs: Advice From Experienced Songwriters
Writing music 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.
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?|
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 the musical decisions that were made to create each piece of music and why — providing 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
Start small and build gradually
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.
List words which are associated with this 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|
Take regular breaks to gain a clearer perspective
Spend 5-10 minutes on this, then take a short break to refresh your mind and continue.
When you have finished, circle the words/phrases that stand out to you. These feelings, visuals and experiences will form the essence of your song.
|“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
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 it to anyone, let alone keep it. The main goal for those who are new at songwriting 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.
Carry a notebook to capture moments and ideas for your songs
A great way to turn this into a daily habit is to 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.
Note: This will not only give you material to revert back to, but will also, in time, make you much more perceptive and analytical — two skills that are essential for effective songwriting.
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Make mistakes, and have fun with it!
Be prepared to make mistakes. In fact, embrace them; they will help you to learn and will lead to better processes.
As with any habit, the key is to practise. 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!
|“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 interesting songwriting tips, we would love to hear about them in the comments below.