Every day, countless creatives Google the phrase “how to songwrite” in the hopes that they’ll uncover some magic formula, an easy way to immediately go from someone with little experience in making any art to a rich songwriter whose hits are constantly played on the radio.
Sadly, that’s not how it happens.
Being a songwriter is a very difficult job, and it requires so much of the people who go into that field. They have to be creative, hardworking, friendly, and the type who won’t give up, whether in the beginning when they’re still mastering the basics or as a seasoned professional who keeps getting knocked down.
Read on to learn how to songwrite, but remember – this is an artform, and while there is some structure and even science involved, the only way you’ll truly succeed (whatever that means to you) is by never quitting and being authentic to your voice.
Either before you begin writing or early on in the process, you should spend some time teaching yourself about music and songwriting. Essentially, once you decide you’re going to dedicate real time and effort to this artistic pursuit, you’ll need an education of sorts.
How Do I Start To Write A Song?
The answer to this question is so long, it is summarized in the next several thousand words. Described in the most basic sense, writing a song involves finding inspiration–something you want to express or share–and then putting together words and music into something that conveys feeling and connects with people.
Start wherever you want to start, as there’s no perfect way to do this. You might begin with a finished piece of music, or maybe just one word. Read on below for suggestions and a general order in which the songwriting process should proceed, but know that once you find a way that works for you, run with it.
Songs are built upon structure, as are stories, movies, and so much more. If you’re going to write songs, you need to understand that structure, so you can either follow it or break the mold. Read articles and books and learn about intros, bridges, outros and choruses. You’ll likely understand a lot of what’s being written, but it’s good to read it in black and white.
If you need suggestions, Songtown has a list of the seven books every songwriter should read, and that’s a pretty good place to start.
In addition to learning about song structure, you should also spend some time educating yourself about music in general. Sure, you know what a chorus is, but do you know what the phrases soprano, crescendo, a cappella, bar, tempo or modulation mean? These terms aren’t specific to songwriting, but as someone who wants to get into music, and perhaps even make it your career, it would be good to understand them (and so many more).
Once you’ve researched everything from how music is recorded to the parts that come together to create a song, try listening to some of your favorite singles and new tunes. Now equipped with a new musical education and understanding of terms and specific moments in a composition, you should be able to mentally identify what you’ve read about. Attaching the sound to the word or phrase will be critical to moving forward.
Anyone can write a song, but those who make a living from their art and stick with the practice for decades are the ones who aren’t just talented, but who want to learn everything there is to know about the process. Education isn’t necessary to get started, but it is highly suggested if you want to be professional (and the best).
Some people will do the research before they begin writing, while others will decide to learn more after they’ve already been penning tunes for some time. Either way, at some point, you need to start writing, and there are a lot of steps that go into crafting a song.
As an artist, inspiration will strike you at all times and in all places. It’s messy and random, and that’s part of what makes it so wonderful. Be prepared by keeping track of thoughts with both written and voice notes on your phone. Jot down lines, words, ideas, or hum or sing little bits when they come to you. A notebook works as well, though at this point, it’s pretty old school.
There’s very little science and few rules when it comes to how to create or even start writing a song, so you can feel free to begin wherever you like. Maybe you have an idea for a single, a great title, a line you know you want to use, a feeling you want to express (love), or a moment in time you need to capture in a piece of art. Start with something that inspires you and that’s dying to get out.
When it comes to songwriting, lyrics are perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle. Of course, songwriters also need to think about rhyme schemes, rhythm, and so much more, but the vast majority of tunes are nothing without the words. Pore through the documents, notebooks and voice notes you have and pick out the best of the best. Select those few lines and words that seem to fit with the track you’re composing and work on filling in the rest to tell the story you want to share.
Also, don’t be afraid to use a rhyming dictionary. The best of the best still do so, and you should as well! Rhyming is very important in songs, as almost all popular tracks feature lines that fit together because of the sounds certain words make when sung or rapped.
What’s a song without music? What kind of music you want for your lyrics, and how you acquire it, is entirely up to you. Thankfully, for those just starting out, it’s easier than ever to secure some kind of tune to apply lyrics to. On your own, you can learn to play the acoustic guitar, or perhaps the piano. You might want to start a band, ensuring everyone’s using a different instrument to create a cohesive sound. Or, you could go online and purchase beats that lean into rap, hip-hop, pop, or electronic dance styles.
If you want to write a full song, you’ll need some kind of music. There are so many options out there, feel free to play around with what works with your words and your style until you figure out what’s just right.
Okay, so you have your lyrics and your music, so you’re done, right? Not quite. Play around with what you have and see if it works better in some other order, or perhaps with different elements thrown in or removed. Don’t treat anything as precious, meaning unchangeable. You may realize that the words don’t match the sounds, or vice versa. Change things! Mess it up! Ruin it and put it back together.
This is one of the toughest parts of songwriting, as just when it seems like you’ve created something great, you need to tear it apart to see if you can make it better somehow.
Once you’re happy with how things sound in your head, it’s time to put it down on tape…though not actual tape, which almost nobody uses anymore. Recording a demo can be as simple as singing into your phone’s mic and then taking that audio and placing it over the beat you bought online or as complicated as renting a studio and bringing in backup singers and a full band.
Don’t spend too much on the demo, as it’s not the final product, and there will be plenty of opportunities to open your wallet later on.
How Do You Make A Hit Single?
Nothing in music is ever certain, and there is no way to guarantee that a song will become a hit,
However, according to The Washington Post, there are some similarities that many smashes have with one another that you can consider when writing a tune that may help it reach the ears of millions. Most successful singles share these traits:
- Stay in one key and are in 4/4 time
- They last between three and five minutes
- They’re organized into chunks of four or eight bars
- They have a repeating chorus played two to four times
- They include the title sung at least three times
- They feature short melodic fragments that repeat a lot to help everyone to remember them
When the demo is done, it’s time to listen. And listen. And listen again. If anything gives you pause or doesn’t sound quite right, you need to accept that it’s not perfect, take note of it, and know that you’ll have to find a way to fix the problem and make it better. Don’t delude yourself into believing that something is fine when your brain and your heart tell you it’s not. Listen critically (as you have done before when learning about music) and accept the difficult truths.
Yes, walk away! Don’t get right to editing, rewriting, and changing the music. You will want to attack the track right away, but you need some time and space to gain perspective. This is true when creating anything in art–music, poetry, a painting, a dance, or writing. It’s best if you give your mind some time to think of solutions before charging ahead.
This step has actually been proven scientifically. According to Psychology Today, “If you keep your PFC [prefrontal cortex] too focused on the ‘task at hand’ then it can’t go searching for interesting combinations of information you have stored in memory. When you take a break…then your PFC is freed up to go searching and combining.
When you first begin writing a song, you need to start with some form of inspiration. Then, you have to do the tough work of coming up with lyrics, melodies, finding music (or creating it) and recording a demo. After that, you need to be honest with yourself about the semi-finished product. None of this is easy, but it’s also the fun part of songwriting.
By now, you’ve likely already spent a lot of time and exhausted yourself creatively to make a song. And you’ve listened to it and walked away, letting your mind move on to other things. Fantastic! Now it’s time to revisit it and get back to work.
What Is The Best Way To Become A Songwriter?
Becoming a songwriter is as easy as writing a song. Even if you create the worst thing anyone’s ever heard, you’re still a songwriter.
Becoming a working songwriter who makes a living crafting tunes is a different story entirely. It takes years of practice, learning, and a lot of hard work, and that’s just to break into the industry. It will require either a record deal, if you’re writing songs for yourself to perform, or connections within the business to sell your words and music to other artists.
The best way to become a songwriter is to study the craft and to continue writing. Whatever route you end up taking, you need to be great at what you do before anyone will want to pay you.
How long artists need varies from person to person, so for you it might be a few days, or perhaps a month. You’ll figure out what’s best, and when you return, it’s time to listen again. You might be thrilled with the tune, and if that’s the case, excellent! You have written a truly wonderful track. More likely, however, is the possibility that you’ll realize you don’t love certain lyrics, rhymes, how things are sung, or maybe the entire song.
Again, be honest with yourself. Otherwise, you’re not going to become any kind of songwriter.
Identify what you believe needs to be done to better the song you have and get to it. Rewrite. Change the music. Add things in and take them out. Try singing certain lines differently. At this point, you may have some strong feelings about what’s already been done. That’s natural, but as a songwriter, you both need to believe that what you’ve made is excellent, but simultaneously know that it can be altered in a moment, and that’s okay. It’s a very fine line to walk!
Once you’ve re-written and re-produced your song, you get to re-record. You might decide it’s time to finish things, or you may want to complete another demo. If you’re still new to songwriting, it’s probably best to work on several demos.
Once you have a new and improved demo, share it! Don’t post it to Spotify or sell it on iTunes, but rather look for feedback. You can ask anyone and everyone for this! Friends and family will tell you if they like it, while other musicians and those in the music industry might be able to share insight into why they feel it works (or doesn’t) and if there’s an audience for it. Thank everyone for their thoughts and suggestions (whether good or bad) and consider them all.
Once you’ve heard the reviews and received feedback on your song, think long and hard about it all. You won’t want to follow everyone’s advice, but also be careful you’re not shunning what they say if it hurts or because it means there’s more hard work in your future.
Now it’s time for more rewriting, re-recording, and finally, you’ll have a finished product that you and others are happy with. Then you get to do it all again over and over and over, and that’s what being a songwriter is.
The rewriting process is lengthy and difficult, but it’s how you take a fine idea or an acceptable demo and turn it into a fantastic piece of music. It can be painful, and you might go through periods when you believe you’re no good, but you must find a way to fight through them and continue down your creative pathways.