How to Write a Song: A New Songwriter’s Guide to Success
Any aspiring artist knows how difficult songwriting and song composition can be, especially in the early stages of their career, when they’re just starting to really explore their creativity. Songwriting is one of the most challenging parts of being a musician, and not everyone can do it successfully, which is why many popular hits on the radio are not written by the artists singing them.
But if you want to be a fully-rounded artist and have full control over your work, you’ll want to give it a go and try to write your own lyrics to your songs. This shows commitment, passion, and dedication to your craft, and that’s what record labels and talent scouts are looking for. It will, however, take a while until you become comfortable with writing lyrics and build confidence in your songwriting skills. That’s why you need a lot of practice, and some helpful strategies to help you ease into the process.
Choose a title or decide on a song topic
The first step of the songwriting process is choosing a topic. What do you want your song to be about? What do you want to talk about? What is the approach you’re taking to that particular topic? It’s crucial to narrow down your area of focus and not include too many themes in the same song, otherwise you’ll confuse the listener.
Choose something you want to talk or sing about, and then think of a song title. While some artists pick the title of their song after they’re done writing it, it’s important to have even a tentative title to the song before you get all your lyrics in order. The title can be tweaked afterwards, but it can serve as a guiding light, unlocking your inspiration and keeping you on track.
Choose a song structure
While you want to allow yourself to just go with the flow when writing your songs, it’s important to have structure, otherwise you could end up doing too much or too little and losing focus. Choosing a song structure before you start writing lyrics or recording music will allow you to be more efficient with the songwriting process, and will serve as a much-needed guideline.
Common song structures
You don’t have to invent complex song structures yourself - there are already some very effective and popular song structures out there to choose from, and these are the most common ones used in music nowadays.
This structure is used often in pop and rock music, but also in other genres. It basically alternates verses (A) and choruses (B), but it can be further enhanced with occasional bridges (C ) or pre-choruses.
Another popular song structure that alternates verses with choruses, but includes a pre-chorus that builds tension and anticipation for the catchy chorus.
This song structure begins with two verses instead of one, which is another way of building anticipation for the chorus. It’s a structure commonly used in folk and indie music.
This song structure is heavily used in jazz music or musical theater, where choruses are not always an intrinsic part of the composition. It consists of two verses, followed by a bridge and then another verse, without a chorus.
Write and organize the lyrics
Once you’ve got your song topic chosen and have selected your desired song structure, it’s time to start working on the lyrics. This is where many new songwriters freeze or get that dreaded writer’s block, but don’t be discouraged. The important thing is to write down your thoughts on the topic on paper, jot down ideas and things that you really want to express or get across to your audience.
Start by jotting down ideas, words, phrases, anything that you can think of, and use that as your starting point to ‘connect the dots’ and gradually build verses, bridges, and choruses. Don’t think too much about what people are going to think about your lyrics, just try to get your message across and put your thoughts and feelings into words.
Write your chord progressions and melody
Some artists start building songs from a melody or a chord they come up with while experimenting with musical instruments, or ‘jamming,’ as they say. Then they write lyrics to go with that melody. Other artists, and especially new songwriters, build their songs starting with the lyrics - but you should obviously follow your own course and do what feels natural and comfortable to you.
It all depends on where your confidence lies: if you’re confident in your songwriting skills, words might come natural to you; on the other hand, if playing a certain instrument and experimenting with chord progressions is your passion, you’ll find it easier to build a song starting there.
Writing your chord progression and melody can be challenging, whether you already have lyrics in mind or not. Sometimes, a melody will come to you naturally while jamming or playing around with musical instruments or beats. That’s why it’s important to always be practicing and experimenting, trying out different things, because you never know what will spark your inspiration.
A good example is a scene in Peter Jackson’s documentary, The Beatles: Get Back, which shows Paul McCartney jamming on his guitar and coming up with the now-legendary chord progression from Get Back, featured on the band’s 1970 album Let It Be.
A useful tool for musicians, and particularly helpful for new songwriters, is the circle of fifths. You can use the circle of fifths to harmonize melodies, create chord progressions, and modulate to different keys within a musical composition. It’s a great music theory tool to use to easily find chords and notes that go well together and sound pleasing to the ear. Chords that are adjacent on the circle of fifths diagram naturally go well together, allowing you to build a structure and foundation to your songs without overthinking and trying to figure out what notes go well together.
Experiment and enhance
Now that you’ve got a raw first version of a song, it’s time to polish and refine to elevate it to a professional-sounding level. Experiment with modulations, adding new instruments to the mix, an intro or outro, backing vocals, or anything else that might work. Record your song, listen back, and keep refining until you have a version that you’re comfortable with. Have other friends or fellow musicians listen to it and offer tips and advice if you’re not sure about the final version, or if you feel like something is missing, but can’t really put your finger on what it is.
You can also get valuable feedback on songwriting, producing, composing, and more from some of the biggest players in the music industry on Xposure Music. Just create a free account and find a music pro that you look up to or trust and get one-on-one, personalized feedback on your work and your career path.
These are some additional tips that can be useful for new songwriters, so be sure to keep them in mind - they could have a significant impact on your creativity and productivity when it comes to writing music.
Keep a lyrics diary
Whether you’re new at songwriting or have extensive experience, keeping a diary or journal of lyrics that come into your mind is essential. You never know when inspiration will hit you, so make sure you always have a note-taking app or pen and paper on hand to jot down ideas when they come to you.
Take inspiration from everywhere
Songwriters and artists in general take their inspiration from the environment around them. Be present and in the moment and keep an open mind, and inspiration will follow. Whether you’re on the bus, on the highway, waiting in line somewhere, or watching the people around you, keep your eyes open and try to capture real-life moments in your lyrics.
Write from your own experience
If you really want your music and your words to connect you to your audience, your best bet is to write and sing from the heart. Take inspiration and write songs based on your own life experiences, things you’ve gone through, experiences and moments that stood out to you, and challenges you’ve faced. Your listeners will be able to relate to you and your words and that’s what ultimately draws people in to fall in love with a certain song or album.
Record spur-of-the-moment ideas
Whenever you have an idea for a melody or a chord progression, don’t allow it to fade. Instead, use an app on your phone to write tone chord progressions, or record the tune into your phone so that you can remember it later when you’re back home or in the studio and have access to your music instruments and equipment. Technology has come a long way and there are now various apps that allow you to write down or record melodies or chord progressions when you don’t have your guitar with you.
Listen to other artists
Of course, listening to artists you look up to can also trigger your inspiration and unlock your creativity. Try to go deeper than that and read the lyrics to songs you love without listening to them. Read the lyrics and get an idea of the storytelling employed by the songwriter, then focus on the chord progressions and modulations in the musical composition. You might discover new tricks or combinations that you hadn’t noticed or thought of before, and this can help you further expand your own skills.
Ask for feedback
As a new songwriter or aspiring musician, it will take you a while to build confidence in your songwriting skills. Getting feedback from friends, family, but most importantly, from other artists or people in the music business can be crucial, because it can validate that you’re on the right track, or help you improve on your skills. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and don’t get discouraged if you get constructive or negative feedback instead of praise. Take it as an opportunity to improve and hone your songwriting skills, and keep experimenting.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to write a song with no experience?
To write a song with no experience, start by selecting a simple chord progression, writing down your thoughts and emotions, and creating a memorable melody to fit the lyrics.
Is songwriting a skill?
Yes, songwriting is a skill that can be developed and improved over time with practice and experience.
What genre of song is easiest to write?
The easiest genre to write a song in may vary depending on personal preference and familiarity, but generally, simple and straightforward genres like pop or folk tend to be considered easier for beginners due to their accessible structures and melodies.
Can you write songs if you can’t sing?
Yes, you can still write songs even if you can't sing, as songwriting primarily involves creating melodies and lyrics, and there are various ways to collaborate with singers or musicians to bring your songs to life.
What is the hardest part of writing a song?
The hardest part of writing a song can vary from person to person, but often it is the process of capturing and expressing genuine emotions and ideas in a way that is both relatable and artistically satisfying.
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