This list is an excerpt from a collection of songwriting tips you can find on my blog. I’ve accumulated these tips over my 10+ years of writing, listening, discussing & reading. Where I can remember I will try to reference where I learnt each tip. Every songwriter wants to write more killer & less filler. Hopefully these tips will help you drill some fill from your grill & chill with some dill…
1) Score Each Word
Take a look at your lyrics, each lyric. Are you happy with every word? If not, why not? Try this: assign a score from 1-10 to each word for how happy you are with it & then adjust each word till they are all 10’s.
You will find that changing one word can lead to other words seeming out of place or not rhyming & it can often be a bit of a balancing act as to getting each passage to relate perfectly to the next passage etc. But you will also find that making some slight adjustments can yield brilliant results. Granted, this can be a time consuming process but for a perfectionist like me, it can really be worth the time.
This tip was given to me by a man named Greg Cameron during my time at Turtlerock Mastering as a mastering engineer. He is a brilliant technician who has worked in many places including Abbey Rd. While this method does work well, I find that for some (myself included) once you have become accustomed to this process, you can simply keep in mind that each word should be worthy for the song while you are writing, you won’t have to go back over each word, & you can instead use the next tip.
2) Say More With Less Words
If something is implied, do you really need to spell it out? For instance, I had written a line recently in my song called The Postman -
Tried to untangle these chords
& the follow line was initially -
I prayed to the gods, but my cries went ignored
Now, while this line is fine, in my opinion, it is pretty much obsolete. Any idiot can tell that if I’ve said “I tried to untangle these chords” it is implied that I was unsuccessful in my untangling ambitions. So to follow that line up with “I prayed to the gods, but my cries went ignored” Is pretty much stating the obvious & I don’t know about you, but I don’t design my music to cater to simpletons. While you may think the line “I prayed to the gods, but my cries went ignored” is an appropriate & powerful line, (& on some levels I agree) to be honest, I just plopped that line in coz I needed a line. So every time I sung the line, it felt a little off & a little fake. It is not what I truly wanted to express. So now I have 2 choices: 1) I can convince myself it’s a good line &/or settle for a line I’m not really happy with or 2) I can augment the line (& if necessary the surrounding lines) until a) it feels harmonious with the spirit of the song & b) I am saying more with less words. So as you can guess, I went with option 2 & here is what I ended up with -
Tried to untangle these chords
But failed with my pen & then failed with my sword
To me, that is a great line & it says a lot more. It implies that I tried various methods to untangle the proverbial chords & it still implies what the original line implied but now it also says so much more. It also manages to rework a popular adage but that is a whole other conversation. The point to take from this is that you CAN say more with less words. Don’t treat your words like you have an unlimited supply, one day you will be dead & no more words will you speak, write or sing. Make the words you get the privilege to string together count. If you try this tip & it’s not working for you, try going back to tip no.1 & breaking things down to a smaller level.
I sort of figured this tip out for myself after learning tip no.1 It is closely related to tip no.1 but I feel that it is different enough to be its own tip.
3) Treat Your Songs Like Experiments
Don’t expect every song to be perfect. Just finish the damn song, & then write ANOTHER SONG. If you’re having trouble getting to the songwriting finish line, I know how you feel, this is a problem I used to run into all the time.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll leave this excerpt here.
Checkout my blog for the rest of tip 3 & tips 4 & 5.
Thanks for reading, I hope you get something out of this.
Ryan Collings is otherwise known as Stanmore Phoenix. Creating his own brand of alternative acoustic folk rock on the streets of Sydney is where you can find him. Or at his blog you can find a bunch of links down the right-hand margin.