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Writing a song is one of the most personal things any person can do, and everybody, from a child in their bedroom to a chart-topper, can always use some songwriting tips.

Whether the tune is about a breakup, facing the end of life, or dancing in a club, putting pen to paper and then letting the entire world hear and read what’s been written is scary, and it requires the person behind the cut to allow themselves to be vulnerable.

Songwriting is an art, and thus there’s no way to know if you’re getting it right or wrong, and there’s no one who can say for sure whether the end product is wholly fantastic or terrible. It’s all in the eyes, or the ears, of the beholder, as well as the artist behind the work. While there’s no roadmap to a perfect track or steps to take to ensure there are no mistakes made, there are tips that everyone can follow that will help them get started, break through Writer’s block and complete a tune.

If you write songs, or if you’re only thinking of trying to pen lyrics, read this article for some songwriting tips that you might find helpful as you progress as a Songwriter.

This article also features insights on songwriting from the following professional Songwriters:

  • Cliff Goldmacher (Ke$ha, Keb’ Mo’, Mickey Hart)
  • Ben Johnson (Charlie Puth, Meek Mill, Justin Timberlake)
  • Peter Zizzo (Vanessa Carlton, Avril Lavigne, Jason Mraz)

Getting Started with Songwriting

How do beginners start songwriting?

Hugh McIntyre

This is a very vague answer, but, you just…start. You can read all the songwriting books and articles and listen to Songwriters talk about the process until the cows come home, but nothing will get written if you don’t sit down and begin. If you need a little more help than that, here are a few tips.

Some tips for beginners who want to start songwriting:

  • Read. Check out articles and books from those in the music industry and well-known musicians who have years of experience with songwriting.
  • Listen and Watch. Interviews and podcasts with Songwriters are everywhere, and each person will have a different take on how to craft a tune, and all of them are valid.
  • Brainstorm. Come up with some topics you’d like to write about, from a breakup to a fight with your mom.
  • Jot Down Ideas. From single words to complete stanzas, keep a notebook with you and write down everything that comes to mind.
  • Piece It All Together. Once you have some phrases or lines that are all about the same topic or theme, try putting them together in a different order to see how they work.
  • Sing Do these lyrics sound and feel right? If not, is it the words? The order? Maybe how you’re singing them? Take your time and play with everything!

What are the most important aspects of songwriting?

Hugh McIntyre

There are quite a few different aspects and factors that go into penning a great song. What are they?

Here are some of the most important aspects of songwriting:

  • Melody: The tune of the song. It’s best if it’s something that will get lodged into a listener’s mind and never leave.
  • Chords: You don’t need to understand chords immediately, but if you want to progress with your songwriting, you’ll want to learn not only the names of the chords, but what they sound like. That way, you can place your words over them and make a song.
  • Lyrics: The words that everyone will one day be singing along to.
  • Sections: Every song has different parts, or sections, to it. You’ll want to read up on what an intro, verse, bridge, chorus, and outro are. Then you’ll understand how most songs are structured.
  • Theme: What is the song about? It can be love, loss, a party, or anything in between.

How do you get better at songwriting?

Hugh McIntyre

Like so many other things in life, there is only one way to become better at songwriting–keep doing it. There is no way around this fact, so accept it, learn to love the process, and continue churning out those tunes!

But if you want a specific roadmap, here’s how you get better at songwriting:

  • Keep writing. The more songs you write, the more you’ll understand what works and what doesn’t, as well as who you are as a Songwriter.
  • Share your work. Let others listen and ask for feedback. What do they love or what doesn’t work for them? Keep all of this in mind when you write your next song.
  • Continue learning. Read, listen, and watch more and more. Hear from the experts and those who have succeeded in songwriting before you.
  • Listen. Keep playing music! Now that you’re a Songwriter and not just a fan, you should think critically as you listen. How did a musician get a lyric stuck in your head? Why did they pick that word over another? What made someone choose one way of expressing an idea over another? Ask yourself these questions and so many more!

1. Know Your Instrument

So, you’ve decided to be a musician. That’s great! But…what instrument are you going to play? Are you going to shred a guitar in a hard rock band? Sing along to an electro-dance beat? Croon over a soft piano? While many artists bounce back and forth between styles and certainly use a lot of different tools, having some kind of idea of what may be used to create your next track can be helpful when it comes to writing the song itself.

Some melodies work better in certain kinds of songs, which usually lend themselves to one instrument or another. While there are no hard and fast rules in songwriting, going into penning a track knowing what you’d like the final product to sound like can be a great place to kick off.

How do you write a song with no experience?

Ben Johnson (Charlie Puth, Meek Mill, Justin Timberlake)

Just like you start any new hobby or profession! Just start. A great way to start is to try to write a song that sounds like one of your favorite songs. Then think about what you want to say, or what emotion you want to convey, and then just start singing.

It’s amazing how many hit songs have been written just from someone sitting down and singing whatever comes to the top of their head without thinking too hard about it. Be patient with yourself and understand that it’s most likely going to take a lot of bad songs to get to the good ones.

Cliff Goldmacher (Ke$ha, Keb’ Mo’, Mickey Hart)

There’s certainly no one way to do this. I think a lot of Songwriters come from the place of already being musicians, playing an instrument, or even being Singers. For me, when I started writing songs, I was sort of imitating songs that I knew and liked. Not consciously.

It wasn’t like I said, “I’m going to write a song that sounds like so-and-so.” I just think that we are, as Songwriters, the total sum of our influences. So when I started writing, I guess I was writing songs in the style of songs that I knew and loved.

I think it’s rare that somebody just sits down one day and says, from an intellectual place, “I’m going to write a song.” I think more often than not, you’re doing this because you can’t help it. Maybe you’ve been writing poems or you’ve been playing music for a while, then all of a sudden you just sort of turn a corner and you want to put something new into the world.

For those who are really trying to do this on an intellectual level, I think analyzing songs that you like and that you respond to is a good place to begin, because you can kind of get a sense of what’s working. If you’ve already become aware of a song, that means it’s been successful on some level commercially. So looking at a song like that and thinking about why it works may be a good place to start if you really are starting from scratch.

But more often than not, I think you write a song because you can’t help it; because you were playing your instrument, or you were singing, or you started to write a poem and you realized, “Hey, this kind of feels like the chorus of a song,” and just went from there.

Peter Zizzo (Vanessa Carlton, Avril Lavigne, Jason Mraz)

To be honest, you have to not be able to stop yourself from writing songs. Writing a song—and most importantly, finishing a song—can be a very scary and brutal process. You have to want to do it. You have to have a love for it and be excited about it.

When you get a really good idea or something you’re excited about pursuing, that’s nice. But when you get into the work, it can get very hard and you’ll want to stop. If you really want to do anything in life and you want to do it well, you have to understand that it’s not always going to be fun.

What’s fun is when you’ve finished something and you love it. You feel proud about it before anyone else in the world hears it. I find that to write and finish a song that you like when it’s still just yours, and no one else has heard it, is a beautiful moment of self-validation. And it’s an earned validation. It only comes because you did the work.

I don’t mean for it to sound scary in terms of the work. What I mean to say is, you have to love something to want to try it—whether it’s writing a song, playing a musical instrument, painting, or acting. There has to be some bravery involved. I would say it starts with a desire. It starts with you hearing songs and loving songs and wanting to try to write a song you’ve loved.

In more mechanical terms, I would say if you love songs, figure out why you love them. What are your favorite parts of the song? What is it about that part of the song? Is it the melody? Is it what the words are saying? Do you play a musical instrument?

If so, can you figure out the chords? Most contemporary songs have chord changes. With some pieces, you can adapt those chords and write different songs out of them. There are all kinds of ways operationally to start writing a song, but my overall answer is you just have to do it. And you have to want to do it.

I would say mindset is the second thing. The first thing is the interest and the passion. You have to convince yourself to do it and tell yourself that it’s important to do it. It has to be “this is the thing I have to do.” It’s hard to keep appointments with yourself. Or you might be writing with somebody else and you’re collaborating. You’ll call that person up and say that you want to write a song together and make time to do it.

2. Decide What Comes First

When writing a song, do you pen the lyrics first or the melody? Well, in a nutshell…yes.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), there is no formula for writing songs, so there is never a perfect place to begin. You may want to launch this latest process with a melody that’s been stuck in your head, or perhaps there’s one line you jotted down some time ago that you know would make a killer title. Great! As long as you have something that’s inspiring you to begin with, don’t worry about what it is, just get started!

3. Learn Your Genre

There’s a saying in most artforms that you can’t break the rules until you know them. This is certainly true in the music industry, as you should first understand things like song structure (more on that soon), the pieces of a song, and genre before you embark on melding them together and crafting something completely original and brand new.

Genre isn’t as important these days as it used to be, but chances are if you’re just starting out as a Songwriter, a great tip is to study other tracks that fit under the style you’d like to make. If you’re planning on writing tunes for the dancefloor, you may not want to borrow lines and ideas from Norwegian death metal bands. You can certainly experiment, but make sure you explore lyrics and listen to lots of songs to create lists of tropes, typical words, structures, and even melodies that are commonly used.

4. Choose a Song Structure

Again, when you’re just beginning your career as a Songwriter, you may want to start with something familiar and simple and work your way from there. Many tracks contain verses, choruses, and bridges placed strategically, and most of the biggest hits follow similar structures. Get to know these, what purpose each piece of the song serves and how you can make each one as interesting and catchy as possible.

I won’t dive into all the different song structures here (this would be a much, much longer article if I did), but this is work you should do to develop a deep understanding of how songs are constructed before you begin trying to assemble some of your own.

How long does it take to become a good Songwriter?

Cliff Goldmacher (Ke$ha, Keb’ Mo’, Mickey Hart)

I hope this doesn’t sound daunting, but I would say don’t even begin to think about knowing who you are as a Songwriter until you’ve written 100 songs. I think once you’ve got 100 songs under your belt, you’ll be able to look back and start to find some patterns in your writing.

You’ll start to find the beginnings of your voice as a Songwriter, and I really mean the beginnings. I’ve written over 1,000 songs. I can promise you that I really didn’t know what I was doing or understand my own process until I’d written over 100 songs.

A friend of mine said the greatest thing: “Every once in a while, you’re gonna screw up and write a great song.” That’s fine. The problem is that you might write one that’s really great, but you might not have any idea how to recreate that process.

By the time you’ve written 100 songs, you’ll understand your process enough as a Songwriter so that every time you sit down to write, you know that you’re at least going to start at a baseline level of quality. And then, every once in a while—and we don’t know why—certain songs that we write will just have that extra magic pinch of pixie dust on them.

By giving yourself permission to just write, and write, and write, and write without expecting to be great right away, you’ll start to learn what’s working and what isn’t and be able to consistently create the stuff that does work.

Peter Zizzo (Vanessa Carlton, Avril Lavigne, Jason Mraz)

Your whole life? One song? Somewhere in between? I was writing songs when I was eleven or twelve. I thought they were great. I always thought I was a good Songwriter. I think the more important question is, how long until you believe you want to be a Songwriter? That shouldn’t take long at all.

It’s an unquantifiable skill. You can be a magically brilliant Songwriter and never have a break, a hit song, or make a lot of money. I’m thinking of two of the greatest Songwriters I’ve ever known in my life, and they’ve never made a lot of money doing it. I don’t know how important that is to them, but they scare me with how good they are. They own their part and their love of it.

Also, you never know when something might happen. Could be decades down the road. A good thing to go by is if you want to be as successful as someone like Ed Sheeran, read his story. Learn about what he went through. He started putting out EPs when he was fourteen and pretty much homeless and he slept on people’s couches for years.

Someone asked him, “How is it that you stayed with it through all of that rejection and silence?” He said it was because he had no plan B. It was this or death for him. A song like “The A Team,” that was the song that got him going and established here. “The A Team” was on a few of his earlier EPs long before anything happened for him. It was popular in England for a while before his label in the states decided to try it here.

When they tried it as a single here, it took a long time to catch on in radio. The only reason they kept trying was that they knew it had been a hit in the UK. They stayed with it, spent more money, and eventually, it started to happen; it became a massive hit.

To most people, they’re like, “Ed Sheeran wrote this amazing song, it became a big hit, and he became a star.” That’s not the way it works. He wouldn’t have had that kind of dedication from the label here if it hadn’t been a hit in another country. It wouldn’t have been a hit in another country if he’d given up on the song two EPs back and stopped thinking about that song and playing it for people. Staying with it was the only reason he became successful.

Ben Johnson (Charlie Puth, Meek Mill, Justin Timberlake)

It depends a lot on what you classify as “good”. If you’re enjoying writing songs, you’re a good Songwriter in that capacity. If you’re having fun, if your friends enjoy listening to your songs, and that is fulfilling to you, that can be classified as being a good Songwriter. If you want to be a commercially successful Songwriter though, it most likely will take years.

When I moved to Nashville and began my songwriting journey, I had already written hundreds of songs that I thought were pretty good. But it took six years of hard work after that before I landed my first cut. And I’m still learning and striving to be better every day because it is a very competitive industry, so if you don’t enjoy the craft and the process of writing songs, it can quickly wear you down.

I genuinely enjoy writing songs, whether they are ever heard or not, and I think that’s important if you want to be a Songwriter!

5. Write Everything Down

If you think of anything clever, funny, something that rhymes, or a particularly interesting way to convey a feeling or emotion…anything that may one day be of use to you in a song, write it down! You may believe it’s the best thing you’ve ever come up with and you’re sure to remember it, but you won’t. We have all played that game before and lost.

Whether you keep a pen and small notebook in your pocket or stick to some sort of notes app on your phone, make sure you have a dedicated space for all the little snippets and ideas that pop into your brain. You will want to carve out some time to organize all of these and explore some of them. You never know which one will become the chorus to your next hit song or that one line in a verse that sticks with all your fans.

6. Be Authentic

When you’re writing a song, you can choose to open up and share what resides in the deepest recesses of your heart…or you can create a tune that’s all about having fun on the beach in the summer. Not all music has to be emotional and revealing, but the best of it must be authentic.

Writing authentically can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but basically, all you need to focus on is that you have to be yourself. Stick to your writing style, how you like to sing, to make art, and to what you want to say. Don’t try to copy others or pretend you’re someone you’re not. You’ll never succeed by being anyone other than your own interesting, creative self, as tough as that may be sometimes.

7. Write With Others

When most Songwriters are just starting out, penning lyrics and creating melodies is a lonely, solitary practice. Some artists choose to work that way for their entire careers, but most musicians find collaborators who add their two cents and bring the tracks to a new level with their own songwriting tips.

If you are just beginning your songwriting adventure, you may need to do some work to find people who want to write with you. There are plenty of online forums and websites where you can do this, or you may want to stick closer to home and ask a friend, family member, classmate, or someone in a local band to join you.

Writing with others is a good way to flex a new muscle, learn from your collaborator, and experience how many of the biggest hits in the industry are crafted, as very, very few big tunes are composed entirely by one person.

Is songwriting an innate talent or a skill you can develop?

Peter Zizzo (Vanessa Carlton, Avril Lavigne, Jason Mraz)

I think both are true. There are people that have a great innate ability to do things, and then there are people that have the love for it and just want to do it. That goes for anything at all. In many cases, I’d put my money on the people that weren’t born with as much innate ability to succeed over the people that were.

When you’re born with a gift, generally what happens is you grow up and people notice you have this gift. People tell you that you’re amazing at this, you’ll be a star, you’ll be incredible, it’ll be easy for you, etc. I know that comes from the right place, but it’s fairly destructive. What happens is when you grow up and get out there in the world, you find out it’s really, really hard to be successful no matter what you’re doing and how good you are.

And you may fail a lot. You may fail for years without a single break. When someone has been groomed to think that they’re the best and that it will be easy for them, they’re not prepared for that kind of rejection. They feel like all the eyes of everyone they grew up with are on them, and they’re going to feel bad so they won’t work as hard. If they start to fail, they’ll become depressed and self-medicated. All sorts of crazy things happen to talented people.

I’ll give you an example. When you ask who the greatest inventors of the last 150 years were, the first two names that come up are Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison is known for inventing the lightbulb. The truth about Thomas Edison is that he didn’t really invent the lightbulb and he really wasn’t a super brilliant guy. He was, by all accounts, a guy that would work ten times harder than everybody else, loved science, and loved the world he got into, more than anybody.

His Teachers said he wasn’t their best student but he outworked everybody. He loved the press and self-promotion. He worked with about thirty other scientists, and a series of things were developed that eventually became the lightbulb, through trial and error, and he got himself a lot of press for it. He’s seen as a great genius, but really what his genius was was his desire and his love of what he did.

The most successful Songwriters and Singer-Songwriters, when you peek behind the curtain, these are also people that are terminators in terms of their work ethic, fearlessness, and their ability to navigate and narrate their story and their brand. You didn’t used to have to be that way. You could be a Joni Mitchell, or a Donovan, or a Laura Nyro and become a hugely successful talent. It was purely based on how good you were.

Today, you also have to have a very canny sense of the age that we live in and how to navigate it. So people like a Shawn Mendes, a Taylor Swift, or a Justin Bieber, these are talented people for sure, but they’re smart and not afraid of anything. They’ve worked harder than most people put together because it’s what they want. Maybe there are more talented people out there who haven’t gotten where they’ve gotten and that’s because of the work ethic and the fearlessness.

Cliff Goldmacher (Ke$ha, Keb’ Mo’, Mickey Hart)

The answer is yes. It’s both. I do a lot of songwriting consultations. When I talk to my songwriting consultation clients, I tell them, “I can’t teach you to be inspired.” You can’t do that. The spark is yours and yours alone. But I can teach you what to do with the spark once it comes.

So there is a certain amount of natural desire to create and natural inspiration that you can’t really teach. But once you’ve got that, I can teach you where to look for inspiration in the future. I can teach you ways to keep that inspiration alive, and I can teach you what we call the craft of songwriting, which is how you take that inspiration and turn it into something that other people will care about.

Ben Johnson (Charlie Puth, Meek Mill, Justin Timberlake)

I think it is both. When I was seven years old, I was the best baseball player on my team. But my mom told me that a lot of the kids who weren’t very good would one day be better than I was if I did not work hard, and she was right. Many of the kids who were riding the pine at 7 beat me out for all-stars at 14.

There’s no doubt that you can have an affinity for something, but in the end, it’s the hours and effort that you put into it that pay the true dividends. If you want to develop your skills as a Songwriter, you should be ready to put the hours in.

Some things I suggest working on are studying songs you love, figuring out why you love them, and trying to implement what you find in your own songs. One thing I think people underestimate is just how many songs you most likely need to write to get to good ones. Even the best Songwriters in the world are writing fifty songs you never hear before they get to one that you do.

8. Write...and Rewrite

So, you’ve come up with excellent rhymes, honed in on your melodies, and even recorded a demo of your song. That means you’re done, right? Not exactly.

Whenever anyone is writing something for public consumption, a big part of the process is rewriting. Yes, everyone has to do it, from Journalists to those creating movies and TV shows and even Songwriters.

Look at what you have and think of new ways to say what is already in front of you in black and white. Are there other perspectives? Different adjectives or verbs that might spice things up? Perhaps a different rhyme scheme, or melody? Maybe the composition is a bit too full and you need to space everything out a little, allowing the lyrics and the music to breathe.

Nobody can tell you exactly what