Songwriting is a delightful art. Are you writing a song? Is this your first song? Or have you written many before? Either way, several songwriters will testify that each time they start writing, it feels like the first time! Because you have to start from scratch each time. In fact, the first time you write might be easier than the second and subsequent times because you have to be careful not to repeat yourself or plagiarise from your own track!
Songwriting could involve writing the lyrics as well as the music for a piece. Many singers write their own songs or were songwriters like Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, and Billy Joel. How can you improve your songwriting skills? Is it hard to write a song? That depends on whether you are hoping to win a Grammy for songwriting or you just want to pen a decent track that is an honest reflection of your mood and emotions. Can you be trained to write a song? Yes, there are courses and classes for songwriting that can help you write a good number. We also have some tips for you for songwriting to help you get started off.
Let’s bust some myths about songwriting so you have a fair idea about songwriting before you read the tips.
Myths about songwriting
- I have used up my creativity
The minute you start to write a song, it is very normal to question the very existence of your creative skills. Especially when you hit writer’s block.
Or maybe you think you used up your last drop of creative juice on your last composition. Here is a quote from acclaimed poetess, Maya Angelou, to help you here:
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.”
So, we don’t all have a predetermined level of creativity. The more you practise writing the more it will encourage your creativity and sharpen your craft of songwriting.
- You’ve either got it or you don’t
So, were you born with songwriting genes? No? Oh well, no chance of making it in this industry then? Not at all. All songwriters have to work at their craft. The unglamorous truth is that hard work and consistency are behind great works. No one’s road is laid. It is possible to learn songwriting. The songwriting courses at Berklee College of Music and songwriting classes at SaPa, after all, teach you how to master songwriting. Think of it as getting your toolkit together.
- I will start writing when inspiration hits me
Inspiration is more likely to hit you when you are active than when you are idling away your time waiting…so, keep busy, stay around music and production, observe your thoughts, and simply start writing. Don’t wait for that magical moment to come – it might never come. If there is such a moment, you have to lay the groundwork for it. Ferret it out so to speak. Deadlines, contractual obligations, and pressure can actually stimulate you towards producing the right chords and notes for your song. Some songs are easier to write than some others, but so you don’t leave it to chance, keep writing.
- If I write well, I will be discovered
There is a lot of marketing, promotion, networking, and contact-building that influences a song’s performance before it becomes an ‘overnight sensation’. It is not as simple or instant as the media will have you believe. So, promote yourself extensively on all social media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and what have you. There are thousands, perhaps millions of songs vying for people’s attention, so you need to identify your audience and appropriately reach out to them. Build your fanbase slowly but surely. When your fans notice you, so will those music companies.
Now that you have some clarity and (hopefully) renewed hope on your chances of writing that hit song, let’s see if we can help you with some songwriting tips that will help you develop a process. How do you write a good song?
5 songwriting tips to spur your creativity
1. Write every day
Writing is a creative skill but it requires discipline and practice like any other art form to perfect it. “You must write every day – at the same time if possible, to try to build a consistent habit”, says Dr. Bindu Subramaniam, Dean of SaPa Music Academy. Some days are just more productive than other days. Some days you will feel incredibly inspired and sure of writing 2-3 verses at least, but when you are about to jot it down, you might draw a blank. But if you want your creative juices to flow, you must practise writing every day – so you have an established flow.
2. Listen to different styles of music
Just as a good writer should also be a voracious reader, a songwriter should listen to different genres and styles of music to develop their own style. Perhaps you don’t know what kind of music defines you, what you like or don’t like – what you stand for. Dr. Bindu says, “It helps to listen to music by different artistes, genres, and styles, to evolve your own style.” Even if you know what kind of music you want to create, listening to others’ songs gives you the impetus and momentum to build your work.
3. Follow the rules of music
Sometimes, your inspiration simply does not strike. At those times, it helps to get back to the basics. Dr. Bindu suggests, “Follow the rules – rhyme, meter, line length and get comfortable with them.” How do you structure a song? You can follow the oft-used verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. And then add instrument solos or a bridge if you like. With pre-defined parameters comes structure that will be a base to get you started. And most often, it is the beginning that most songwriters struggle with. Once you set off, it will be hard to stop you!
|Where do you sit and write? Taylor Swift sits in her bedroom while Billy Joel must have a cup of coffee in his hand when he is writing a song, preferably with a view of the ocean. What is your creative space? It can be your small cubby hole at home, your favourite perch under a tree, your work desk, your car, or a cornerside cafe. If it works for you, continue there. Or you can try to mix and match various spots to get a different ambience for your varying creative moods.
4. Personal descriptions evoke universal sentiments
Write from your experiences. If you feel it, you will be able to verbalise and set it to music. And that is what the audience will connect to. For this, get in touch with yourself to understand what moves you. It will help if it is a strong, passionate feeling rather than a superficial one. Dr. Bindu says, “The more personally and descriptively you write, the more universally people will feel it.”
5. Don’t be afraid to write bad songs
They normally usher in the good ones. “What no one tells you is that in your pursuit to write that one song that clicks, you will write a thousand ones that don’t!” discloses Dr. Bindu. It’s definitely no joke to bare your soul on paper. You are, after all, penning down your most intimate feelings for the whole world to see. So, you can’t afford to worry about sounding foolish. It does require some degree of courage. But if you don’t react to it, no one else will. And most people want to like rather than dislike a song, so be honest (about your feelings and abilities), be aware (of your audience’s tastes), and plunge bravely into the beautiful world of music and songwriting!
You can explore SaPa’s songwriting classes at your own pace with Dr. Bindu Subramaniam.