Writing songs is an enjoyable and creative form of self-expression. However, it could be as burdensome as it is exciting. Even the best songwriters will tell you that the journey from a blank page to a full song can be challenging. To achieve songwriting success, it's crucial to take active and deliberate steps that can help bring your creative ideas to life. Whether you're a seasoned songwriter or just starting out, here are some active steps that can guide you on your path to songwriting success.
Where to begin
One of the biggest hurdles faced with songwriting is the answer to the question 'where do I begin?' To that we say, start anywhere! There is no fixed pattern for songwriting. Some creators suggest working on your lyrics first to ensure they're clear and rhyme, others advise that your melody should determine your lyrical arrangements. Do whatever works for you as long as there is synergy between your melody, rhythm, and the actual music when it comes together. As for inspiration - from your own experiences, conversations, and observations, you'll find that it's everywhere. Just be prepared to capture it when it strikes. A tip for this is to have a notebook, or a recording device (your phone can serve both purposes) with you to capture fleeting ideas, lyrics, melodies, or even snippets of conversations.
Arrange your ideas and define your message
Now you have inspiration, what next? Successful songs often have a clear message or theme. Before you start writing, take a moment to define what message you want to convey through your song. Is it a personal struggle, a political statement, or a celebration of life and love? Having a clear message will give your song direction and purpose.
Writing effective lyrics
Lyrics tell stories, convey emotions, and communicate information in a way that listeners can relate to. A good writer provides listeners with words they want to hear or the words they’d say if they could. Be truthful and honest: Write what’s real for you, write what you feel, and write what you love. Think about your struggles or struggles your listeners could be going through and write about them. With a great theme and a fresh approach to an idea that has wide appeal, you’re already well on your way to a successful song.
Songwriting is like every other skill. The more you put in, the greater the improvement. Without the right techniques and structures, your creativity and inspiration may be hindered. It is important to understand song structure as they are the building blocks of successful songs. Songwriters employ one of the following four basic structures or a variation of one of them:
Verse - Chorus - Verse - Chorus ('Ese' by CalledOut Music)
Verse - Chorus - Verse - Chorus - Bridge - Chorus ('Creator' by Phil Wickham is an example)
Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus ('Promises' by Maverick City Music is an example)
Verse - Verse - Bridge - Verse ('Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' is an example)
Once you know how song structures work, you can choose, on a case-by-case basis, the most effective way to express each of your songs in a way that will reflect your vision and please your listeners. Some important points to note:
Considering that a stream is only counted when a listener listens to a song for more than 30 seconds, how you start your track matters a great deal! In the era of quick listening, you want the first part of your song to be as catchy as possible! Songs are as little as two minutes now, and ideally in the first 10-15 seconds, your listener should be locked in
A pre-chorus gives you a bit of a break from your verse, but helps you flow into your chorus nicely! It acts as a bridge that links your verse to your actual chorus. You want your pre-chorus to be a little familiar, pitch-wise; and not too far away from the sound of your chorus, musically. The highest note in your pre-chorus should be a bit familiar to your verse and chorus. If you nail the pre-chorus, you can throw it anywhere, even at the end of the song.
Your goal as a songwriter is to deliver your idea from your heart to the listeners - both lyrically and melodically. When composing melody, instead of words, the language available to us is comprised of notes, rhythms, and chords. Communication is key; don't make the mistake of composing complicated melodic lines that are difficult for a non-singer to retain. Hymns and children's songs are a good example. They're easy to learn and therefore linger even in children's minds. A good idea here is, if your verses are very word-heavy, your chorus should be worded lightly. To set yourself up for success, you want to have a long-term approach to your songs. Think about live performances and how you can ensure the listener can sing along to some extent. This links to repeatability - which is a big factor to consider (the desire for a listener to have your song on repeat.)
Repeated Phrases & Hooks
The “hook” is any part of a song that “grabs” the listener. It might be an instrumental riff that listeners can’t get out of their minds, a memorable melodic phrase, a catchy line of lyric that “hooks in” the listener, or a combination of two or more of these elements. A repeated phrase could serve as a hook. It is also a subtle way to fill in blank gaps by adding some flare to the music. Although achieved with style, you can shout aloud a line from the song. You can also echo certain lyrics repeatedly. The effortless way is to ensure you find parts of the song that you can have fun with and play around with them while recording or listening back.
If your listener makes it through to the end of the song, you want to ensure the outro is worth the wait. This is a rewarding feeling for both the artist and the listener! A tip is matching sections - linking a line in the intro to the bridge and then the outro. This could also be a memorable line within the song you want the listener to have in mind. Be creative with it and be very fluid and authentic as you record and listen back!
There are no rules with this! You can be very fluid with your title choices; either by using a line or phrase from the chorus or verses of your song, or a word that adequately conveys the message of the track or project. Whichever choice you make, you must ensure that the title you pick has something that relates to your track or project.
Collaborate with the right people
Some of the most successful songs were co-written by two or as many as eight individuals. Share ideas with fellow songwriters in your community to draw inspiration and make necessary changes to your drafts. In the production phase, your producer, vocal director, and music manager also make a huge difference to the outcome of the project. You were not meant to do life alone and embracing community even in songwriting and creating is a sure way to add value to your work over time. You also make these key people advocates of your work, sharing organically when the project is released because they were a huge part of its formation: a win-win!
With the right techniques and consistency, songwriting becomes easier. If you haven't quite mastered the art of songwriting, don't be hard on yourself. It’s unrealistic to expect your early songs to be at par with those written by professionals. If you want to improve, make time for yourself and your creativity. Rome wasn't built in a day. Learn, grow, and write a lot. Remember that you can also always outsource if you decide that it's not for you.