I just typed “songwriting tips” into Google just now and I was staggered by the amount of search results on offer. There were 30.9 million of them to go through.
If you go through the websites on the first couple of pages of Google you’ll see a wide range of songwriting tips mentioned however, after a while you’ll notice that the songwriting tips all start sounding the same.
The article acknowledges that a lot of songwriting tips online sound the same but in regards to their songwriting tips the article goes on to say…
But these tips are the special ones. The ones that put you and your ideas first. The ones that open up some time to really focus, experiment and make your songs work.
I’ll be honest, the article title grabbed me first and foremost. “How ridiculous are these tips?” I asked myself, but once I started to read the article I realised that I hadn’t seen these songwriting tips before.
I started to get excited about how I could incorporate these tips into my own songwriting process.
If you hadn’t noticed, there’s a lot of information online about how to write a song. Some of that information is pretty light on the detail and heavy on the SEO (search engine optimization), while others are of a very good standard.
Ditto is an online music distributor that helps artists sell their music online through iTunes, Spotify and many, many other outlets so I would imagine that their knowledge about how to write a song or two would be very high to say the least.
As the article says…
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.
Personally, I found their list of ten songwriting tips to be very beneficial to my own songwriting process. The tips make sense and flow on from each other but the one tip that really stood out for me was the last one…
Don’t Be Afraid To Fail
Now, there’s a real lesson to be learnt for all of the perfectionists out there (me included).
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.
You might have gathered by now that I am a huge believer that the ongoing and never-ending improvement of your songwriting process will enable you to write better songs regularly and consistently.
By evolving your songwriting process (through constant practise) into something that works for you and your way of doing things, gathering ideas for your next song will, in time become an automatic thing, leaving you more time to actually write.
Personally, I’m obsessive about having to get what is in my head out onto paper so for me, improving my own songwriting process is a very important part of my creative life.
Based on my own experiences and some good old fashioned research, here are 10 tips that can improve your own songwriting process:
1. Have the right tools available
You can use the latest computer technology and software to gather your songwriting ideas but at the end of the day, nothing beats a beat-up tape recorder and an A4 writing pad and pen. The simplest songwriting tools around.
2. Make a regular time to write
Even if it’s 15 minutes a day between finishing breakfast and going to work. Make the time!!
3. Have an open mind
Be open to anything that comes your way. You don’t know where the next songwriting idea will come from.
4. Let yourself go
Don’t become preoccupied with past or future. For the amount of time you have set for yourself to write you will need to be totally “in the now.”
5. Develop a single-minded focus
If you decide that an idea is worth developing into a song and you’re happy with it so far, then focus your attention on creating a song from the idea.
6. Remember, perfection does not exist
It doesn’t have to be perfect. If you need to re-write the draft then do it because it needs it not because you have to.
7. Ask lots of questions
Writing lyrics is all about exploring a story or a concept. Asking lots of questions like “does this new idea need to be in this song?” will keep you on track.
8. Walk away if need be
If it’s not flowing, just walk away and come back to the song at a later time. There is no rule that says a song needs to be finished in one sitting.
9. Practise, practise, practise and then practise some more
Any process needs to be repeated to be made automatic. Practise often.
10. Have fun
Go off into tangents, run with a songwriting idea to see where it leads you. If it leads nowhere then reflect on the journey anyway.
Either way, have fun doing what it is you love doing… Writing songs
Your songwriting process can be whatever you want it to be however, if you’re serious about having the ability to write good songs regularly and consistently, you need to start looking at how you organise yourself and your time.
I hope these ten tips have been helpful to you. Is there anything that you’d like to add to the list? If so, let me know because I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my own songwriting better.
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.
I remember a few years ago where my songwriting was at a very, very low point. The problem was that I wasn’t writing anything at all.
I found myself with a huge case of songwriters block and it was stopping any and every form of creativity coming out of me. I became scared of writing, just in case I wrote a “bad” song and this made me very sad indeed.
Sad to the point of being depressed about the situation.
I eventually realised that not every song I write is going to be something I perform live and that I’m 100% in charge of everything that I do, so with that in mind I started to give myself permission to start creating again regardless of how I felt about the outcome.
Once I did that, the songs started to appear to me again. All I had to do was get out of my own way and write them.
Let me ask you this… How many times have you sat down to write a song, only to have your inner critic talk yourself out of it? All of a sudden doing the housework or putting out the rubbish seems to be a better thing to do with your songwriting time?
It seems that we would rather not write at all than write a so called “bad” song.
If this has happened to you, then take comfort in the fact that you are definitely not alone. I have been there many times and I’d personally would love a dollar for every other songwriter in the world that has experienced the very same thing.
Julia Cameron in her book Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity says that in life we need to “always be willing to be a beginner.” What this means is that we need to be able to be venerable enough to make mistakes, to be willing to learn again and again.
Just remember, every song that you write has the potential to be a powerful learning experience about yourself and the world around you. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to learn just because the end result might be not what you expect it to be.
You do have something to say, your opinions are important and you certainly deserve to be a creative being, a SONGWRITER.
So, get out of your own way, tell your inner critic to take a well earned rest and give yourself permission to write songs whether they end up being good one or bad ones.
Learn from every song you write and be prepared for some mistakes along the way because YOU, and you alone are in control of your songwriting process, not your inner critic.
A good song title is a songwriter’s best friend because it can encapsulate the whole song in a few well chosen words and one of the best ways I’ve found to get my own songwriting process going is to brainstorm lists of possible song titles and see what comes from that.
For those who aren’t sure what “brainstorming” means, it’s the process of spontaneously coming up with ideas on a given topic, problem or task at hand.
Now in this songwriting exercise the task is not to write a complete song but to come up with at least one A4 page of possible titles for a song. Personally, I try to do this exact songwriting exercise at least twice a week and through doing this on a regular basis I now have pages and pages of songwriting ideas for me to look back on if I find myself not knowing where to go next.
Start off this exercise, by writing down the first thing that comes into your head at the top of your page and from there start writing down your possible song titles, making sure that the next phrase is either tightly or loosely derived from the first phrase.
Here’s a short example starting off with the phrase Cry Baby:
Baby Don’t Cry
Don’t Cry For Me Baby
Why So Sad?
I’m So Sad
I’m Leaving Today
Just remember, because you are brainstorming there’s no right or wrong way of doing this exercise. You can write anything down, go off onto any tangent you like and not worry about whether you are going to use it in the future or not. It’s also important to not think about what you are writing, just be automatic, spontaneous and most importantly, have some fun with it.
Set a target of doing this for 30 minutes, two to three times a week so you can build up a comprehensive body of possible song titles to choose from.
Once you’ve been doing this exercise for a couple of weeks of doing this, have a look at what you’ve written and start to pay close attention to the phrasing and the rhythm of the possible song titles and wait for something to jump out at you. Once this happens you have the beginnings of a brand new song.
For me, looking back on what I’ve written in the past is an interesting experience in itself. It always amazes me what I’ve written once I stop second guessing my own songwriting process.
In my experience, one of the first questions a songwriter will ask about the songwriting process is “What should come first? Words or music?”
Well, there’s really no right or wrong answer to that question but I’m sure that if you asked 100 songwriters you’d definitely get 100 (slightly) different answers.
First of all let’s look at the definition of what makes up a song.
I’m an Australian songwriter so my songs are registered with an organisation called APRA (Australasian Performing Rights Association) and the definition that I use is loosely adapted from theirs.
According to APRA, a song is comprised of two main things:
Lyrics – The words in a song.
Melody – How the words of the song are sung.
Everything else that wraps around those two things such as the chords, format and dynamics, is the arrangement of the song.
It took me many years to figure out that a song is not necessarily defined by the chords that are played, but by its lyrics and how it’s sung .
For instance, if a well known song is covered by another artist, more often than not the songs arrangement will have been changed but the integrity of the melody and the lyrics would still be intact.
The reason for this is that the covered song still needs to be recognised by the listener and if the listener sings the words and hums the tune then the song has a better chance of being remembered.
Generally the average listener doesn’t worry if there was a G chord or a G major 7 chord in the arrangement or not. In fact, they probably couldn’t tell the difference.
I use to write most of my songs by fitting lyrics and melody around a completed song arrangement but nowadays, I generally write the other way around. I fit my guitar arrangements around a melody inspired by a set of lyrics. I’m finding that by doing this I’m writing more songs than I used to.
You see, at the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong way to write a song but the question of whether the music or words are written first should not concern us as songwriters.
It doesn’t matter whether words or music come first, what matters is that the words and/or music come at all and by immersing yourself into the activity of writing songs as they come to you, you’ll notice your songwriting process becoming more of a personal thing that eventually integrates itself into your day to day life
So what do you think? How do you start off writing your songs? Words first or music first… Does it really matter? Let me know what you think as I reckon this would make a very interesting discussion topic.
To increase your songwriting ability it’s necessary to increase your life experience, and that means getting out of your comfort zone and embracing what life has to offer you.
Imagine having the confidence to fully experience life with the knowledge that there could be a great song awaiting as a result of the risk being taken. That’s a mighty powerful way of looking at life.
A prime example of a situation that can benefit from this way of thinking is the awkward beginnings of falling in love. So many people don’t take the risk of falling in love for the fear of getting hurt.
My argument is that if you are committed to songwriting as a way to experience life then it is your duty as a songwriter to take the risk and just go with it.
If it works then you have some great songs to write, if it doesn’t work then you still have some great songs to write with perhaps a bit of therapy thrown in for good measure.
With an attitude like that how can you lose?
Going out of your way to fully experience life doesn’t mean having to endure mammoth changes or extreme tragedy. It’s the little things that you can do to break the habits and routines of our lives that make all the difference.
Here are some other examples of little things you can do to get more out of life and therefore get more out of your songwriting.
Go see a movie by yourself
Take a long walk on the beach
Go for a drive
Call a friend you haven’t spoken too in ages
Strike up a conversation with a complete stranger
Catch public transport
Go to a cafe and write (or start writing) in your journal
Smile at people and watch their reactions
Meditate and listen
Go skydiving (Optional – I can understand if people find this a little extreme)
Generally, we try so hard to control everything in our life so we don’t experience anything that we would consider as bad. By choosing songwriting as a way to experience life, we can relax and allow our lives to unfold before our eyes, and then write a song about it.
If you look at your life this way you will never have to say “I don’t have anything to write about” ever again.
What do you think about songwriting as a way to experience more out of life?
What aspect of your life can you do different today? How would that change affect you? Can you write a song about it?
Just remember (even if it is for the sake of your songwriting process), don’t ever be afraid to fully experience your life, choose it.
Let’s look at the word SONGWRITING for a minute. The dictionary meaning of the word is the “… writing the music and words of songs.”
Now that should give us a clue but I think the definition it goes deep enough. I reckon the meaning of the word SONGWRITING should be something like…
“The process in which a song is created using words and melody”
The word itself is comprised of two words, song and writing. The song part is the end result of a process and the writing part is the process itself.
Get it… Without the writing there is no song.
It seems like a simple concept doesn’t it? But it’s amazing how many songs aren’t written. They are started but never finished.
You see, you can talk all you like about verses, choruses, middle-eights, bridges, pre-choruses, the length of the intro and hooks and so on but without the physical activity of writing the song, all of that theory is meaningless.
Personally, songwriting is much, much more than the song itself. The act of writing a song is a whole process in itself. It’s a discipline, a meditation and for me, a way of life.
Without a songwriting process, a song (being the end result of the process) would not exist at all.
If we, as songwriters didn’t have our own songwriting process, then all of our thoughts, feelings and songwriting ideas will become random, haphazard and lacking in organisation.
How would you be able to maintain a creative and sustainable songwriting environment with all that disorganisation going on?
In future posts I will be writing about how you can create, adopt and manage your own songwriting process and in turn write more songs rather than just waiting for inspiration to come your way. Plus, I’ll be giving you insights as to how I write songs.
What does songwriting and the process involved in writing a song mean to you? Feel free to let me know as we all have something to learn from each other.
Pablo Picasso once said that “… inspiration exists, but it has to find you working” and I think that sums everything I’ve been trying to say in this post nicely.