There’s no feeling more rewarding as a musician or a songwriter than penning something really special, coming up with the perfect combination of lyrics and melody that unlocks your creativity and expresses your art just the way you envisioned it.
At the same time, cracking the songwriting code is nowhere near as simple or as straightforward as some people make it out to be.
Sure, there are some artists out there that seem like they were born knowing how to write a song. And there are plenty of songwriters out there that make writing a song – a really special hit – look almost effortless.
The truth of the matter is this creative process can be very long, very drawn out, and very challenging if you aren’t sure of how to navigate the highs and the lows.
But that’s why we’ve put together this quick guide.
Below we highlight some of the best tips you’ll want to focus on when it comes to learning how to write a song, the kinds of tips and tricks that can make all the difference to help you create the kind of music that you’ve always dreamed of making.
Let’s dive right in!
Start at the Start
The hardest part of figuring out how to write songs is really figuring out where to begin your songwriting process to start with.
Some people say that you should start with the main melody or the central chorus of your song, others are going to tell you to start with the hook in the key-chord progression before you focus on anything else, and others still tell you that you can start pretty much anywhere you like and still get the kinds of results that you are hoping for.
Well, we can tell you that the overwhelming majority of top-tier songwriters out there say that you want to start with the part of the song that speaks to you most – the element of the song that has you so excited, that has you interested in working with this kind of melody or these kinds of lyrics, and the kind of component that unlocks your imagination and your creativity.
Songwriting superstar John Legend starts with the music and the melody before all else before moving into the hook and the rest of the lyrics, but that’s because his processes have become pretty structured over years of experience writing. Find your own process but always start in bite-size chunks before you dive deeper.
Lyrics Unlock Everything
Unless you plan on producing 100% instrumental music that the odds are good that you’re going to need to come up with catchy and impactful lyrics, and that can be harder than you might expect – especially when you’re first getting started.
You can streamline the process somewhat by focusing on what the core theme or message of your song is going to be before you get started. Start by writing exactly what you want to get across in your lyrics before you start to try and find the right words to fit to your music and your melody.
This is a big part of how Rod Stewart figured out how to write a song when he was first getting started and it’s something that he continues to focus on with all the music that he keeps putting out.
Let Inspiration Surprise You
A lot of people try and schedule their creativity but that’s really one of the worst ways that you can go about figuring out how to write a song that really matters, how to write a song that has the potential to be something special, and how to produce the kind of music that will set you apart from your contemporaries and your peers.
Instead, you’ll want to let inspiration surprise you by being prepared to write down or record anything and everything that might pop into your mind – or that you might hear while you are going through your day-to-day life – that you can apply to the music you are making.
The worst feeling in the world as a songwriter is hearing something really special or being inspired to write a lyric that fits your new song perfectly only to forget exactly what it was by the time you got home just because you didn’t write things down.
Don’t make that same mistake.
Lean On Your Experience
Your experience, your viewpoint, and your perspective as a person, as a musician, and as an artist is obviously going to heavily influence the kind of music that you make and the kinds of songs that you produce.
Writing a song is really a process of telling a story that you want to share with the world and if it’s going to move people the odds are pretty good that it has to do with something that moves you specifically.
Some of the most influential songs in human history have everything to do with personal experiences, personal stories, real-life trauma, and other moments of pain and triumph that ring true throughout the entire human experience.
Regardless of whether or not you are going through great times or having a bit of a lull, you’ll want to mine your personal experience as much as possible, shape it with your emotions and your perspective, and produce something really special along the way.
You need to look no further than the approach Taylor Swift takes when writing a song to see this kind of personal experience focused songwriting on full display.
Network and Collaborate
It’s very rare that you come across a musician or an artist that is exceptional at every single aspect of writing a song, but it isn’t all that difficult to get a couple of musicians and artists together to network and collaborate on a song – pitching in their unique strengths – and creating something spectacular that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
Maybe you really have a way with words, find it easy to translate human emotions and experiences into lyrics, and can really tell a story with the power of your language but have a tough time writing the musical elements of songs. Or maybe your situation is in reverse and that you have absolutely no difficulty whatsoever knocking the musical elements of songwriting out of the park but struggle with the lyrical aspects.
Partnering up with other artists that have strengths that mirror yours, that complement yours, lets you leverage the abilities of everyone involved in the process. You’ll also get the added benefit of their musical ear and interests thrown into the mix, too which can add a bit of extra spice and a bit of extra interest to music that you might not have been inclined to make all on your own.
Start Simple and Expand From There
Every great songwriter on the planet will tell you that you want to start as simply as possible, really trying to focus on the essential elements of your song before you add any extra complexity or “frills” to the foundation.
If, when learning how to write a song, you start with a shaky foundation with all kinds of noise built on top of the entirety of your song is going to collapse under the pressure. It isn’t going to sound great, it isn’t going to make a lot of sense, and it isn’t going to feel all that natural or all that authentic.
On the flip side of things, though, if you keep things simple and focused on the basics when you are first getting started to figure out how to go about writing a song that really hits all the right notes (no pun intended) without frills or extras – but then have the freedom to add extra components later down the line to take your song to entirely new heights.
Don’t Burn Yourself Out
One of the biggest struggles that songwriters have when learning how to write a song is learning when to unplug when to step away, and when to recognize that the muse isn’t on-duty any longer and you need a break or a bit of a reset.
A lot of newbies songwriters want to push, want to stretch, and want to sort of force the creative process in a way that isn’t all that natural and in a way that isn’t all that effective. They end up getting really frustrated when struggling with the process, not realizing that this struggle is 100% natural and almost necessary to get the results that you are looking for. Without that struggle, you’ll never have the big breakthrough (whenever that may be) that helps your song go from good to great.
Plan to take breaks whenever you are frustrated, whenever you feel your creativity starting to slow, and whenever you feel like you just don’t have the magic working in your favor.
You might be surprised at the kinds of huge breakthroughs that are possible when you come back to your music with fresh eyes and a new perspective, especially if you take a day or two away from your music altogether.