Here are our top ten songwriting tips. These are tips that professional songwriters use, and also some of our own recommendations based on our experience and on feedback from songwriters and song contest judges.
1. Study the Classics
The best way to write your own classic is to study the classics that others have already written. Choose some writers that you admire and sit down and study what they do. And ask your self these questions: What structures do they like to use? What makes the melody or lyric memorable? How did they use lyrics in the chorus and how did this relate to the verses? Analyse how they used rhyme schemes, and the order of the sections of the song. How long is the intro? Is there a hook and where does the hook appear? How is it repeated and how does it relate to the song´s subject matter and the song´s title? Read and listen to each verse. Do they all the verses lead to a main message that is found in the chorus? Answer all these questions and then apply this to your own songs.
2. Write About What You Know
Pick a genre and/or subject that you are familiar and comfortable with and know about. Especially something from your own personal experience. It could also be something something you are very passionate about. This provides a natural flow and motivation. It links you and your life experience to the song in a meangingful way. It makes the song sincere and believeable and you will feel more confident writing about something you know. The more you are personally involved and connected with the subject matter, the more deeply you feel the meaning or message, the more comfortable you are with the genre and style, the more authentic the end result will be. And listeners know authenticity when they hear it. Your song will speak to them on a different level than a mechanical, contrived approach.
3. Learn Song Structure and Music Theory
Lyricists need to understand song structure. They need to know what AABA and ABAB structure means. They need to know how to use metre and rhyme schemes. Music composers need to know basic music theory: at the very minimum they need to understand keys, the chords that work for each key, key changes, cadences, resolutions. This can be instinctive, without even knowing the technical terms or knowing what you are actually doing, but there must be a knowledge and understanding of these musical and structural elements to produce a worthwhile song. Songwriters never stop learning about the craft.
4. Take Notes. Often.
Most well known and successful songwriters talk a lot about the notes they take. Snatches of lyric. Subject matter ideas. Hooks. A chord progression. Search for Lennon and McCartney and you will find photos of their scrawled notepad ideas. Like the successful songwriters, you should always have something available to record your songwriting ideas. And go through these notes regularly, expand on them, build on them. Use your phone, or an envelope, or a napkin, or a special notepad, or anything that is handy. Many songwriters keep a notepad and pen by their bed every night because many of our best ideas come at night and sometimes even in our dreams. If you get that great song idea, a piece of melody or lyric, when you are half asleep, it always helps to have a pen and pad next to you. Don´t go back to sleep and rely on your memory and think you will still remember in the morning. You probably won´t, and your genius idea will be gone and lost forever.
5. Rewrite A Famous Song
Rewriting a well known song is always a good songwriting exercise. You can write new lyrics or a new melody to an existing song. In each case you already have the advantage of working with an existing melody or lyric, and this gives you a blueprint to work from. You could also try rewriting only parts of it - for example keep the verses but write a new chorus. Or Keep the chorus and try and write new verses that also work with that chorus. When writing a new lyric to an existing melody, or a new melody to the original lyric, make sure that you use the same amount of syllables and stress points within those syllables. Each piece must fit into place. Doing this well can create a completely new and original song. This is the basis for the Songwriting Challenge Category in The UK Songwriting Contest where contestants´ skills are tested to the limits.
Some songwriters like to work on their own all the time. But most collaborate at least occasionally. Some writer´s find it much easier to write melodies and have a struggle finding words to go with them. Others only write lyrics. Others get together with their songwriting partner and share both the melody and lyrics work. Again, The UK Songwriting Contest has a special collaboration section for this. Check out the details and see how you can find your ideal partner by entering your lyric or melody. The UKSC will match up suitable lyricists and composers, put them in contact with each other and pass on work, and even professionally record selected songs.
7. Don´t be too self critical
No one writes a great song every time. You probably won´t ever hear great songwriters´ disasters because they usually keep them to themselves and don´t share them. But you can be sure that even the most famous and successful songwriters have written terrible songs that are probably as bad as, or worse, than some of your own disasters. You need to accept early on that most of your efforts are not going to be Grammy winners. Especially if you are still a beginner and starting out. It takes a lot of time and practice to become good at songwriting. There will be a progression and your songs will get better - but only if you keep writing and don´t give up. Your first songs are the building blocks along the way, and you will get better with each one. Don´t be too hard on yourself.
8. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.
Probably the number one basic mistake that most beginner songwriters make is that they don´t rewrite. Maybe your song came in a flash of magical inspiration and you don´t want to mess or interfere with that. Or maybe you struggled long and hard to get the verses, and they work well with the chorus, and the last thing you want to do now is go back to the beginning and change things, let only delete or rewrite entire sections. But the truth is that you really do need to do this. Or at least you need to go though the song critically and consider changing things. Listen to some of the early versions of famous songs as they developed - Beatles songs are a great source and place to see this in action because they can be easily found on YouTube and elsewhere in their very rough unfinished and early states. You can clearly see how these songs changed and grew, and how whole sections were taken out or added, and lyrics and meanings and styles changed. This is what you should also do before you actually call a song complete. Be sure to look at all possibilities before you decide it is finished. And remember that all the great songs were scrutinized and often heavily edited before they were released.
The easiest place to network is online and there are many songwriter’s forums on the internet. Some of these are much better and more useful than others, but if you find the right one it can be a good place to meet like-minded people and other songwriters. It could also be a good place for you to post your songs for opinions and maybe even critiques. The place that we recommend for UKSC entrants is, of course, our own Songwriting Community Group on Facebook. It´s a very friendly and helpful place for songwriters who enter songs in the UKSC and you will find some very knowledgeable and supportive people there - including professionals and even contest judges who sometimes pop in and follow posts. But check out all the others, do some searches, and also look closer to home and find out if there are any local songwriting groups, open mics, music clubs, theatre groups etc in your local area that you could get involved with.
10. Stay Positive
Songwriting can be a very humbling thing. You are putting your baby, your personal creation, out there for others to react to. This is a brave thing to do. Remember that. But the truth is that not everyone will like a song you have written. Some will actively dislike it and even other songwriters can sometimes be hurtful when pointing out what they don´t like about it. The thing you need to always remember is: never, ever, take it personally. It is not a personal judgement. Nobody equates your songwriting with you as a person. Every great songwriter has written terrible songs. Everyone learns and develops and improves. And every song that one person loves is hated by someone else. Keep positive. Move on. Believe in yourself. Learn from constructive criticism. Take every critique and suggestion on board and learn from it, but don´t accept that it is necessarily correct or the only possible reaction. And don´t ever change yourself to suit or impress others if you want to write great songs.
Take care, and best wishes from
The UK Songwriting Contest Team
Community Group: https://facebook.com/groups/uksongwritingcontest
Contest Website: https://songwritingcontest.co.uk
Facebook Page: https://facebook.com/uksongwritingcontest