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?
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.
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.
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.