You will find pearls of wisdom from the hearts and minds of the following songwriters…
Now there is a fine list of songwriters to get inspired from so enjoy part two of Songwriting Tips From The Hitmakers and as always, if anything resonates with you then leave a comment or, let me know and we can have a chat about it
There’s something about hearing songwriting tips from other songwriters (especially one who have a hit or two under their belt) that really hit home to me the importance of treating my songwriting as a craft above anything else.
To help you improve your songwriting chops, we’ve enlisted the aid of several well-known songwriters, most of whom have been lucky enough to strike that mystical connection with the public. Feel free to, ahem, “borrow” a few of their ideas to use as foundations for your own songs.
Here is part one. I’ll put up parts two and three in the next couple of days
I hope you enjoy these songwriting tips as much as I have. If any really resonate with you then let me know.
I realised a long time ago that when it comes to the songwriting process there’s no such thing as the perfect way of writing songs, it can always be improved upon.
Listed below are twelve ways in which I think you can enhance, improve and eventually master your songwriting process.
Even if you implement just one of these suggestions you will be well on your way to writing more songs and generally being more creative with your life.
Here they are in no particular order of importance:
1. Always keep a journal
I cannot stress enough the importance of documenting what happens in your life and how you think and feel about it. This always creates the foundations of some great songs
2. Always make time for you
If I ask a songwriter why they haven’t written as much as they would like, the reason of not having enough time almost always comes up.
True, to get a song down from mind to paper requires a certain amount of “free” time however, if you make that time every day to write something or play something you are going to feel much better about yourself.
3. Use all of your senses in your song lyrics
We have five senses (see, hear, taste, touch, smell) which we use to experience anything that happens in our lives. Why don’t we use them in our writing as well.
Pay close attention to your senses, be mindful of them in your writing.
4. Become perpetually curious with the world
I have a theory that songwriting is life. Songwriting is our way of making sense of the world around us. If we become perpetually curious with the world around us we will have more to write about. Some ways in which you can do this:
Always ask ‘why’ either out loud or in your own mind
Go out of your way to experience life to the fullest
Take some risks
Do something different every day
Become open to learn new things
Life is about experiences, so go and find new ones and write them down in song.
5. Tame your inner voice
Most of the time your inner voice attempts to prevent you from doing what you know you should do as a songwriter. This is your ego talking and even though it has good intentions (to ‘protect’ you) what it says to you does not further your cause.
Next time you hear your inner voice mumbling inside your head as your about to do something, try to ignore it and do it anyway.
6. Don’t be afraid of your own writing
Remember, it’s okay to write a ‘bad’ song (whatever that means) and the more ‘bad’ songs you write the closer you are to writing a ‘good’ song. Don’t be afraid of the outcome, just immerse yourself into the songwriting process and marvel at whatever come from it.
7. Listen to lots of music/read lots of books
This is another exercise in making time for yourself. Listening to music attunes your mind to different musical structures and melody combinations and reading books exposes your mind to different word phrases and lyrical snippets that you can use in your own songs.
8. Learn other peoples songs
I am not asking you to become a cover musician however if you learn songs that you have a real affinity with you will begin to really understand why you love that song so much and with that knowledge you can then apply that to your own writing.
If you don’t play an instrument at least know the lyrics and melody of your favourite songs.
9. Find and know thyself
Commit to the concept of finding out who you really are. When you know this you’ll be able to write a love song for instance, and not have it sound like one big cliche because the lyrics will come from you and not an interpretation of what every other songwriter has said.
10. Don’t throw anything away… EVER!
Whether it be on paper or on your computer, don’t throw anything away, don’t delete anything from your hard-drive that pertains to your songwriting process. What you may think is rubbish now could be treasure later on. Our moods change day by day and so does our outlook on what we write.
11. Join a songwriting organisation (or two)
The best way to learn more and to gain confidence in a skill is to experience the input of others. At the very least you will not feel so alone in your songwriting endeavours. Seek out and join one (or more).
12. Find a songwriting collaborator
Two heads are better than one at times. A good collaborator makes you write better, will inspire you to come up with more ideas, will allow you to ask questions, bounce ideas and share ideas much more freely.
Every songwriter should have at least one collaborator in their contacts list.
Phew! There you go. If you have any experiences after applying any of these suggestions (positive or negative) or, you have other suggestions that need to be added to this list, let me know, I’d love to hear from you.
Sometimes a song will appear to you and you can get it down with the greatest of ease and sometimes writing songs is like trying to pull teeth out of the mouth of an angry crocodile.
I know that this piece of advice is going to sound counter-intuitive but if you find yourself in the middle of a period where nothing is coming out and because of that, your motivation is very low, the first thing you should do is to stop worrying about it.
We have all been in that same situation (I know I have).
No matter how hard you try there’s still a blank piece of paper staring at you. It makes you feel all angry and stressed inside because you think you should be writing SOMETHING.
Someone said to me early on in my music career that instead of forcing a song that doesn’t want to come out, the best thing to do is to do nothing at all so that’s what I do when I find myself in these situations.
I do NOTHING.
I just find something else to do. I go for a walk, visit a friend, clean the house, read a book, anything that will take me away from the process of writing songs.
The last thing I would want to do is to get all frustrated and upset that nothing is coming out. Doing that will just make the problem worse I mean, how can you be motivated if you’re stressed out all the time?
My advice to you is that in times such as these you need to give yourself a break.
Cut yourself some slack, take some time out to do other things and please, don’t set a time limit on it because the last thing you want to be doing is putting more pressure on yourself to get back into your songwriting.
If writing songs is your passion, you will eventually come back to what you love doing the most. All roads eventually lead to the next song to write
Sometimes the other things in your life need your attention and taking a break to sort those things out is probably just what you need to do at that time.
As John Lennon so eloquently put it “…life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
So, if life does get in the way, don’t try to resist it. Just let it pass by and go with the flow of it because once you are clear to write again, you will do it with a renewed sense of vigour and gusto. I guarantee it.
If writing lyrics is all about manipulating words onto paper, then to be a good lyricist you would need to develop a healthy respect for the English language and how it can be put together to tell a story, describe a scene or, to put across a point of view.
It would also be handy to become very mindful of what you read, speak, see and hear around you. This would seem like an easy task as words are all around us yet we don’t really see them do we?
We take words for granted.
Actively seeking out words does not mean getting out the dictionary and reading it from cover to cover but it does mean increasing the amount of reading that you currently do now.
If you’re like me, you’d be saying to yourself that you have no time to read. My answer to that excuse is “who says you don’t have time?”
As songwriters, we just can’t afford not to have the time to read. We need to slow our lives down a bit so we can pick up on what is happening around us. We might just miss out on a songwriting idea if we don’t.
One of the ways that you can increase the amount of reading with very little effort on your part, is to start having your local newspaper delivered to your door.
At the start of every day, get your newspaper and a cup of your favourite beverage and start reading it, taking note of what you read and the pictures that you see. What you’re doing is looking for something that captures your attention, something that jumps out at you and compels you to write a song about it.
A headline may make a great title for a song, a quote may make a good line for a chorus and an articles theme may make a great song story but a word of warning here, newspapers are notoriously full of bad news so don’t get sucked in by all of the negativity.
You’re looking for songwriting ideas, not an excuse to feel sad.
If you’re one of those songwriters who only writes when they’re feeling angry or passionate about something, then reading a newspaper every morning will be the equivalent to finding a vein of gold for you.
For the rest of us its a good opportunity to just take some quiet time out, grab a notepad and pen and allow the ideas to enter us from the freshly printed pages of your daily newspaper.
Okay, let’s clarify something here. Having a songwriting process does not mean that you have to force yourself to write songs.
Nothing gets done if you force things. It goes against nature itself.
In nature, changes happen in their own time and at their own pace. Things grow, evolve, breathe and become whatever they are supposed to be.
The problem with us human beings is that we try to hurry things along because we feel that nature moves too slow for us and it’s the same with songwriting.
With a songwriting process, all we’re trying to do is facilitating a set of activities with the end result being a constant flow of songwriting ideas. We achieve this flow by writing without concentrating on the end result.
When we engage ourselves in our songwriting process we are already moving towards the completion of a song. This is automatic.
Have you noticed that when you sit down in front of a blank piece of paper and say to yourself “I am going to write a song now” you immediately put yourself under pressure to do just that.
The pressure you’ve placed yourself under then triggers off your inner voice to say things like “ok then, start writing but, it better be good” or “are you sure you have something to write about” or “don’t you have something more important to do right now?”
More often than not we give into our inner voices and we find the reasons NOT to write. This is where the songwriters block cycle starts.
If you look at each day of your life as a means of creating possible songwriting ideas you’ll more easily incorporate writing songs as a part of what you do in life, just like getting up in the morning.
If, in your day to day songwriting activity you become inspired to finish a song then great. If nothing comes from the activity then, great. You’re still doing what you love.
Can you see where I am going with this?
Don’t force your songs to come out, get out of your own way and let them happen and they will appear soon enough.
It doesn’t matter WHAT you write, what matters is THAT you write. Doing this will allow your songs to breathe, grow and evolve from the songwriting ideas that you initially come up with.
Remember, you are a songwriter and writing songs is in your nature so do it, live it, breathe it and BE IT.
Take it from me, there will be times when you’ll need a little bit of help in getting your songwriting process underway.
But when this happens to you, be comforted by the fact that there are free online songwriting tools available that are able to get your creative juices flowing again.
As a songwriter who comes up with musical ideas much more easily than lyrical ones, I use these online random word generators and (song) writing prompts whenever I find myself in a situation where I’m fresh out of songwriting ideas.
I know from personal experience that from time to time a prompt such as a good song title or a few well chosen lines overheard in a conversation can be all that’s needed to open the floodgates of inspiration.
So, with that in mind, I thought I’d do some online research into these types of songwriting tools.
Some are fairly serious and some are humorous but if you have a look at them all you’ll find some value in these sites I’m sure so here is the BIG List Of Songwriting Prompts And Lyric Generators for you to enjoy and be inspired by…
You’ll notice that some of these tools are a bit tongue in cheek but there are also some songwriting tools that are seriously good. Either way, by using these tools it’s my hope that you’ll take your creativity to places you’ve never imagined as much as I have by using them.
I’d be interested to hear how you go with any of these. If you come across any other songwriting tools that you feel will help anyone with their songwriting process, feel free to let me know about it.
Let me ask you something… Have you heard of the KISS principle?
It stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid” and it’s a good rule of thumb for when you’re writing songs.
We human beings are really funny creatures, we get bored with simplicity really quickly, so we try to complicate things so we can remain interested in whatever it is we’re doing.
As songwriters, one of the main assumptions we make with our songs is that, how we feel about them is how everybody feels about them.
This is simply not the case.
Making a song more complicated may be of interest to you, but chances are it may lose your audience, so be very, very careful.
A great song is like a great soup. If you put too many flavours into the it, the soup becomes too overpowering for the palette and you become unsure of what type of soup you’re eating.
You see, a song is made up of two essential components:
Put simply, a song without words is an instrumental and a song without music is a lyric or a poem. All are just as important as each other however, as songwriters we need to make these distinctions clear in our own minds.
If you don’t pay close attention you’ll end up with a song that, while it might be great for you to listen to, it may have too many ideas in it for its own good.
Too many songwriting ideas in one song tends to do is overshadow the melody which restricts the listeners opportunity to be engaged in a musical journey through the songs lyrics.
Any hooks that the listener can grab onto become lost in the mess.
In keeping things simple, you’re allowing your songs to breathe and develop organically. A great song has just as much space as well as substance in it and as songwriters we are the scales that allow the balance between these two elements to exist.
Musical arrangement, counterpoint and harmony are very, very important in songwriting however, look at these components as things that you use mindfully, knowing full well that too many ideas can do to your song.
Always remember, never be afraid to keep things simple.
Simplicity is neither bad or boring, it’s the best way to get your message or intention across to the listener and besides, we could all do with a bit more simplicity in our lives don’t you think?
When I was studying music in High School some years ago, I remember having one of my many intense conversations with my music teacher Mr Morgan about the so-called “rules” of music and why I had to learn them.
I remember saying to my Mr Morgan defiantly, “well, if anything goes in music, why are we having to learn all these rules and structures?”
Now, being a very knowledgeable and insightful chap his answer was simple and straight to the point. He said to me in the calm and measured voice of a Zen Master that I must “first learn the rules in order to break them.”
I was blown away by the answer and from then on, everything just made sense. My insatiable appetite for learning all about music suddenly doubled (no, tripled) right there and then.
What I’m outlining here is that even though the music industry seems to be only wanting young, good looking pop singers who can sing songs of little or no substance, someone will always come along and break the rules.
The music industry is indeed a constantly changing and dynamic beast with a voracious appetite for great songs. It’s always good to remember that the music industry would die a slow and horrible death if there were no more songs to be written.
Just think about it… The songs we write today could potentially shape the music industry of tomorrow so learn all the rules you can so you can then be that songwriter that makes a difference by breaking those rules.
When you’re honing your craft, perfecting your process, increasing your songwriting activity and researching your art, you’re not doing this to find some magic formula that will make you millions upon millions of dollars.
You’re doing all this work to exponentially multiply the amount of sonic colours that you can paint with.
Don’t use the songwriting tips, ideas, techniques and rules that you pick up along your creative journey as a means of corralling your songwriting output in a certain way under the misguided promise of finding some sort of songwriting holy grail.
Use that information as some sort of point of reference so you know how you’ll do things differently next time. Change your direction from time to time, challenge yourself and don’t ever be just content with where you’re at right now.
Nurture your desire to keep learning because in a world full of similarities, it’s the little differences that make you and the songs that you write, stand out the most.
I hope that in some small way All About Songwriting helps you to learn all the rules you’ll need so you then know which ones to break first.