I am a songwriter. I typically work from home using a small studio set up and have been fortunate enough to have written, co-written or produced many songs that have been commercially released.
I thought I could share some of my own personal song writing tips. Although they are very basic, these 10 rules have helped me and I hope that they help you also. Please feel free to add to my list!
1. Don’t Be a Perfectionist
Write a LOT. Churn songs out, bin them and churn more out. Don’t be a perfectionist. The aim is to improve over time, not to sit down and craft the perfect pop song on your first attempt.
By giving yourself the freedom to experiment without pressure you will develop the creative part of your brain instead of the over analytical part. Pop/Rock songwriter, Sting commented once that he finds it harder to write great songs now that he has become more analytical of music.
2. Get Feedback As Often As Possible
Be fearless with your songs. It’s OK if you write a crap song. What is not OK is to try and convince everyone that it’s a great song! Get feedback and allow people to be honest, that way you will start to learn what really works.
3. Hot and Cold
I am talking about combining opposites such as spiccato and ligatto (short and long). When you have long held chords, try a shorter or snappier vocal line. Have a funky bass line? You might want to opt for a simpler, more solid guitar part. It’s simple stuff, but worth thinking about when writing or producing.
4. Learn to Unlearn
As we learn to write songs we naturally analyse what works and what doesn’t. We absorb new chord structures and develop an obsession for doing things the ‘correct’ way. This is great as far as improving song writing goes, but somewhere along the way you may lose the ability to invent something new. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. If it sounds good to you then do it!
5. The Disadvantage of Talent
Michael Jordan is widely considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. How did he get so good? He became the greatest because he failed more times than the next basketball player, not because he was the most talented.
Raw talent can take someone 10% of the way to success, but hard work and determination make up the rest!
The problem with naturally talented people is that they never learn failure and find it harder to accept defeat. People who are average (but with a desire to win) are in many ways better equipped to stay the course and succeed long term.
6. See the Bigger Picture Always
Once you have the technical knowledge you need to write music, try and develop the part of your brain that can listen to and analyse the whole picture (instead of focusing on tiny details).
You should be able to hear instantly what is needed to make your songs work. Does it need more emotion? More energy? Is the vocal melody boring? By focusing on the whole picture you’ll be able to find the answers quicker by being honest and brutal with yourself.
7. Say it Differently
We all know that there are common lyrical themes in music. I would guess that the topic of ‘love’ is the most widely used lyrical theme. Using tried and tested themes can be a good thing, but you should always try and say it differently.
For example, Dianne Warren said “Un-break my heart” instead of “Mend my heart”. She invented a new phrase to say the same thing a million other songs have said before and it worked perfectly!
8. Keep It Simple
I know so many musicians who agree that the best songs are the simplest, yet they can’t write simple songs themselves? It is a kind of ‘musicians curse’ to assume that complicated means better. Get used to writing simpler songs that have more hooks and adhere to common (natural) arrangement structures.
Remember, you will hear the song over and over but your audience will have to ‘get’ it on the first listen. Keep it simple!
9. Work With Others
Even if you don’t like working with others, please try it. You’ll see that in many cases more heads really can be better than one.
Working with others forces you to move away from your comfort zone and in my experience produces better songs. The process of getting input from more people during the writing process is healthy and makes it unlikely that you’ll write a real stinker!
10. Take Regular Breaks
Have you ever worked on a song for 15 hours straight and been totally disappointed with the result? It’s happened to me many times!
Doing anything creative can lead you down a rabbit hole of endless ideas that (if no breaks are taken) can spiral into complex introverted expression. In other words, take a bloody break and come back with fresh ears!
Do you have song writing advice? Please feel free to add a tip with a number so we can grow the list