First of all, before I start I want preface this blog by saying that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to write a song. If you feel something, then write it. If it makes sense to you, then write it. Don’t take every song writing rule to heart all the time or else you will end up with generic music, and the last thing the world needs is another generic song in any genre.
Also, i’d like to state that these songwriting tips are my opinion based on my experience of writing music here in Nashville. I’ve written with a large majority of the best songwriters here in Nashville, so these tips are not just from me but everyone that has taught me along the way.
Write with your heart, revise with your head
Usually when you start writing a song there is a reason. You are inspired by something. Use that inspiration to guide you and let it flow. This is where the magic can happen. When your head gets out of the way and you are completely in the moment. Creation is not logical. If you spend too much time during a songwriting session worrying about how much sense it makes, or “will anyone cut this song?” then you will strangle the life out of it. Write the first draft of your song in that moment of inspiration, however long it lasts. Then let it breathe. Come back to it and see what you have at this point.
Now you will have a new clarity on what you did in the first draft. At this point it is important to introduce some logic into the mix. Hear the song with fresh ears, the way your listener will hear it for the first time and make the changes that help the listener understand the song the way you do.
Remember The Listener
I believe it’s safe to assume that most of us have some aspirations for the songs we write. Whether that be for a major artist to cut it or just for someone else to hear it and like it. While sometimes we all write songs for ourselves, most of the time we plan on there being a listener that hasn’t heard it yet. As I touched on before, this is a very important songwriting tip. It seems simple enough but it’s something we are all guilty of from time to time.
Just because you understand something that you wrote, does not mean that the listener will understand it the same way you want them to. In some cases, this is ok. A lot of rock and indie music is obscure but the basic rule is that you want to walk the listener through the song methodically. Don’t just list off lines in any order because you feel they all work. Listen and try to feel what someone, who has never heard this and does not have any idea what it is about, is going to hear when they hear the lines you’ve written. It’s easier said than done but try to remove yourself from the emotion that went into the song for a time while you make revisions.
It’s not the 1800’s in England and you’re not Shakespeare so don’t write lyrics that way. Yes, it is ok sometimes to be poetic and sing something you wouldn’t necessarily say, but those are the exceptions. The rule is that you should, once again, keep in mind who your listener is and try to speak to them naturally as if you were having a conversation.
Now this rule can be interpreted different ways. The hook of a song is usually the first or last line of the chorus and serves as the payoff for all the setting up you have done. And it’s usually the title of the song. That being said, the hook doesn’t always have to be the payoff. The hook could be a really killer line that gets repeated in the pre-choruses or a really cool musical lick that happens. The point is, don’t settle for a song with just one hook at the end of the chorus. Strive for a song with multiple hooks that keeps the listener wanting more, not just waiting for the payoff.
Good Songs Are Written, Great Songs are Re-Written
This was a tip told to me by a very successful songwriter here in Nashville. He told me that over the course of his years and 20 #1 hits, that he learned that you will almost never write a perfect song the first time around. Take the time to sit down and revisit the song and make sure that you love every single line and melody in it.
If you are new to songwriting, you may only have written a handful of songs. Perhaps you think the songs you have written are amazing and you may be right, but songwriting is like anything, the more you do it, the better you get. So don’t write your first 10 songs and then spend the next year trying to get those songs placed and cut. Keep writing! Your best songs are yet to come.
It is a well known saying here in Nashville, “Write ten songs and you will write a good one, write a hundred songs and you will get a great one, write a thousand and you’ll write a hit.”