If there is one thing that all musicians both famous and amateur can agree on, it’s that sometimes writing a new song can be very difficult. Many things can contribute to this struggle including the oh so common writers block as well as a creative shortage or melodic redundancy. Often times musicians come up with an amazing chord sequence with no lyrics in mind to match or they have just thought of the most catchy chorus with no melody to sing it to. To cure even the worst of songwriting blues, here is a list of 10 tips to help with songwriting that are tried and true by some of the most experienced musicians and songwriters in the business.
- John Legend: Figure out where you want to start
Whether you start with a melody and add lyrics, or start with a hook and chorus and work on adding the music later, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you start somewhere. Trying to start writing a song expecting that you will produce lyrics and music all at once is unrealistic and creates the potential that one will become paralyzed by the thought of this impossible feat. Just starting somewhere, big or small, is the first step in the birth of a hit song.
- Rod Stewart: Pay attention to the lyrics
While instrumental songs do have their place in the mainstream music world, if you want to produce a song with lyrics, you need to think about the words you choose. Have a clear idea about the message or story you want to get across and choose the kinds of words that will fit the mood you hope to create. Once you choose how you want to express your message, you can then play with the rhythm and cadence of how you say the words and how you connect them to the melody. It is also important to think about the audience you are trying to target when choosing lyrics. Use words that will connect with the people you want to target.
- Conor Oberst: Write down or record every spark of inspiration
It doesn’t matter if you are sitting at a coffee shop or getting groceries, when inspiration for a song comes to you, you need to write it down. The best songs are created organically from sparks of inspiration that come to you when least expected. And if you think this great new idea for a song you have will still be there in your head when you get home to your guitar, you are sadly wrong. It would be a shame to miss out on a great songwriting opportunity because of a rooky mistake like not writing down every idea that comes to mind. Hit songs don’t come around every day so cherish the good ideas as they roll in.
- Taylor Swift: Write from experience
When it comes to songwriting, the cliché “speak from the heart” holds true. There is nothing more obvious than a fakely written song about something we all know didn’t actually happen to you. So many amazing classic songs that have held the test of time are written about life experiences both impressive and benign. So, it only makes sense that in order to write from life experience, one needs to experience life. Sitting in your room all day trying to think of lyrics for a song will get you nowhere. Going out into the world and seeing things and learning about life will give you great material for your next song. Writing about life will come much easier when you start living it.
- Talib Kweli: Collaborate with other musicians
If there is anything better than one creative mind coming up with cool new music, its two. Nothing limits growth and success more than thinking that you have all the answers. Approaching other musicians that you like to collaborate with can open up a whole world of new sound and new audiences to hear your music. Sometimes when two great lyrical ideas are brought together, magic happens. And that magic could be the next big chart topping hit.
- Tom Morello: Keep it simple
Surely everyone can pin point that one song they’ve heard where it is clear that there is just way too much going on. Maybe the amount of synth effects in the background is verging on excessive. Or maybe the lyrics are just too hard to understand making it impossible to connect to the message of the song. If you really want to connect to your fans, then be real with them. Cut out the crap and say what you mean. Don’t bombard your listeners with excess sounds that don’t add to the musical integrity of the song and don’t beat around the bush when choosing lyrics to tell your story.
- Leonard Cohen: Take breaks
All writers, journalists and songwriters alike, will encounter mental blocks and frustration during the course of their career. The general consensus when it comes to fixing this issue is that the worst thing one can do when experiencing writers block, is sitting and staring at your unfinished work ruminating in your frustration. Taking a step back from your work, doing something else, and coming back to it later will provide a fresh perspective from which to grow on next time you pick up your pen.
- Alex Turner, Arctic Monkeys: Don’t overthink it
Musicians who are extremely devoted to their art are often notorious over thinkers when it comes to their music. They mull over every last word and every last chord that makes up their song only to find themselves dissatisfied with the most minute minutia. At the end of the day, your fans aren’t going to notice if you use the word blue instead of violet and they most likely will not hear the difference between a D chord and a D7. Just get your song out there, and stop nitpicking. An artist never thinks their art is perfect. And it shouldn’t be. Your art should express who you are, and no one is perfect.
- Beck: Ask for feedback
When all is said, and done, giving yourself feedback is not really feedback. In order to get true constructive criticism on your work, you need to ask someone else. Hearing things from a new perspective or even just from a different mouth can help you improve your music immensely. At the end of the day, you are not writing music for yourself. If you want to attract an audience, you need to make sure your music is pleasant to the musical palate of other people. Even just asking friends and family is better than nothing.
- Johnny Cash: Don’t be afraid to fail
If there is one thing that all the pros on this list can agree on, it’s that there is no formula for success. The only thing that you can bet on is hard work and perseverance. Even if you get doors slammed on your face left and right, you can at least see these experiences as an opportunity to learn and grow. As cheesy as it sounds, it really is true that all bad experiences are in actuality, learning experiences. If you are having a “bad” day, think of it instead as a character building day. It is so clear which musicians have and have not experienced struggle in their lives. Musicians who experience struggle are able to take the punches and roll with them. Learning how to fail, and get right back up, will make you the kind of musician who can handle it all and keep on going.