Ten Tips to sharpen your Songwriting Chops
1. Write down a Song Title Every day
Write a song title every day. This keeps the little songwriter in your brain on his toes. Not to mention that this way you will always have a book full of potential song ideas on those days when your idea tank seems to be running a little low. Think of songwriting the way you would a muscle, you can only build something you work on... Quick side note, looking for title ideas? Bookstores! Book Titles are an untapped resource for potential song titles…
2. Keep a file of unfinished songs
Keep a book or file of all your unfinished tunes to reference from time to time. One of biggest challenges you face as a songwriter is starting from scratch, blankly staring at an empty page. Having a proverbial “bank” of lyrical ideas and rough recordings can prove very useful and you can hit the ground running instead of having to start from scratch every time you sit down to write. Not to mention that a few days or weeks can actually give enough distance from the “painting” to add the perspective you needed in order to see a partially finished song in a new light and complete it. It can be a very satisfying experience to start with a fresh idea but don't neglect those unfinished ideas. Check in on them from time to time, they may very well be the creative jump start you have been looking for.
3. Commit to writing for 5 minutes every day
Set aside just 5 minutes a day to write and commit to it! Tell yourself you'll only write for five minutes. This is a very useful approach. On days when the creative juices just don’t seem to be flowing, make sure you still put the full five minutes of uninterrupted writing in regardless. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that these are the “breakthrough” days. On the other hand, if it’s just not happening after five minutes, put the pen down and walk away. It's always worth exploring, tomorrow’s another day. At least you flexed your mental muscle with your daily 5-minute workout.
4. Make Your Lyrics Easy to sing
Make sure your lyric is easy to sing. The biggest difference between lyrics and poetry is that it is much easier to sing lyrics than it is poetry. Sometimes, for example, the word that best tells your story may not always sound so good or be easy to sing. The word “moist” comes to mind. Lyric that aren’t easy to sing more than likely don't feel good to listen to either. The average listener won't be able to tell you why they don’t like a lyric, they just won't like it or feel comfortable with it. So, choose words that not only communicate your message, but sing well.
As I type this I am biting my tongue but think along the lines of Justin Bieber’s tune “What Do You Mean?” Specifically, the words in the hook. What do you mean? Long, easy vowel sounds. oooo oooo eeee. It sings really well.
5. Think of songs as having three parts
Think of songs as having three parts. A song with too many different parts can be difficult or even confusing for listeners to follow. Break it down to “Just three parts”. If your song has verses, pre-choruses and choruses, then odds are, there's no need for a bridge. On the flip side, if your song has verses and choruses and a bridge, there's not really a need for a pre-chorus. By keeping your song structured this way, it will help your song maintain momentum.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking complication is what makes for a great song. Songs can be simple and great at the same time.
6. Use repetition in a melody
Repetition, repetition, repetition… Repetition in a songs melody is probably one of the most powerful way of helping people learn and remember your song. One of the easiest ways to make your song catchy is to make it easy to remember. Repetition of parts of your songs melody can do wonders when it comes to making your song memorable. Trust me, repetition is Super effective when trying to “Hook” the listener.
7. Make a rough recording of your song
Now that you have completed your song, you need to record it. And no, this does not involve a trip to Abbey Road or Ocean Way Studios. A simple rough recording of the songs melody, lyric, and the chord changes is all you need at this stage so break out your smartphone or computer if you want to be really fancy. Grab your guitar or piano hit record and sing your song.
A rough recording will help you remember the songs you have written. This may not be a problem if you have only written one or two songs but you will be surprised how easily you forget your songs once you start building your catalogue.
8. Everything points to the hook
Don't forget that everything in your lyric should be aimed at the hook. Songs or at least Billboard hot 100 songs are purposely constructed with the chorus or “hook” as the songs focal point. Everything you write in your verses and bridge should build up to your chorus. Think of the verse and bridge as the setup for your punchline, which is the chorus, if I may use a joke as an analogy.
9. Write a song based on the structure of one of your favorites
Learn from the Pros! Write a song based around the structure of one of your favorites. Getting your head around song structure is an integral part of writing good songs. By no means is this plagiarism, I’m simply suggesting that you use song that you yourself love and have already been successful. Break their structure down and then write a song with the same or similar structure. This is very good practice to help you break down and understand what makes a “Hit Song”
10. Cut your song’s intro in half
We live in a time of instant gratification and sadly the same rings true when it comes to writing songs, especially when you are writing with the hopes of commercial success. As a songwriter, you would be forgiven for wanting to give your song your undivided attention, which is why more often than not we feel the need for a long musical intro to “set the stage” for the song to come. The reality however is a complete 180… Listeners rarely give a song their undivided attention, which is why you have to capture their attention and quickly. Cut your intro in half, a short to-the-point intro, which leads straight into the verse of the song, is the first step towards grabbing your listeners attention.
Hopefully this will help you on your way to becoming a better song writer. Please keep in mind that these are all simply suggestions and that writing is as much an are as painting or sculpting so there really are no hard and fast rules. This are simply a few observations into the ingredients of what make commercial songwriting success. Hope you got something out of this. Until next time. Remember to write, write and then write some more. Build that mental muscle and before you know it songs will be coming out of you like bad oysters from the night before.