When I began songwriting almost 10 years ago, I didn’t really have any clue on how to go about it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know any songwriters or have anyone giving me any advice. So it took years for me to get the hang of it and find little tricks to help me in my songwriter process. I wasted far too many hours going round in circles not knowing what to do or how to be the best songwriter I could be.
So, I have put together a list of my top 10 tips for new songwriters (or experienced ones) from the things I have learnt along the way. Because everyone’s writing process is vastly different, I’ve tried to pick ones that will help out every type of writer. These would’ve helped me a lot back then, so I hope just one of these can help you a little.
1. Get a nice songwriting notebook.
The right notebook can make all the difference to your attitude. When I first started writing, I wrote my lyrics directly into a Word Document on my laptop, and that was a major mistake. I was never excited to see my new lyrics on the screen, but now, with my current rose gold and marble notebook, I get so excited to write in it. The quality of my lyrics and enthusiasm for songwriting went through the roof. Try changing up your book see what happens!
2. Keep that book on you at all times.
You never know when an idea is going to hit you, so having your cool book right by your side is the best way to go. Not only is it convenient, but knowing your awesome songwriting book is right there can also put you in the new headspace of “I’m a full on, professional songwriter”. That is an amazing feeling and your ideas will be better for it. Also make sure you write any ideas down straight away so you don’t forget them. I’ve had amazing ideas that I thought “I’ll remember that” and I never wrote it down, and low and behold, I forgot it. Don’t do that.
3. If you don’t know music theory, try learn the basics.
When I started writing, I didn’t have a clue how music worked. I hadn’t studied music at school, and I’d only just begun playing guitar. Although music theory doesn’t necessarily help with lyric writing, it does when it comes to everything else. It took about 3 years before I studied music theory and it made it all the difference to how I heard and understood music, and therefore my writing dramatically improved. I’ll be totally honest – I hated learning theory, but I really wish someone had explained the importance of it earlier. I’d really recommend learning how keys work (which makes things like harmonising so much easier) and other stuff like timing. Find ways to make it fun!
4. If you’re stuck, write down one word at the top of a page.
This is something tried once when I had a great idea for a song but I couldn’t quite get it off the ground. I wrote the main word of the song at the top of a blank page, then wrote a bunch of words beneath it that had to do with that first word in one way or another. For example, if your first word is ‘bright’, then beneath it write words like ‘shiny’, ‘sun’, ‘stars’, ‘moonlight’, ‘eyes’, ‘smile’ – they just might spark an idea! Some of my best lyrics have come from this method.
5. Don’t sit down to write without an idea.
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started writing was trying to write when I wasn’t inspired. I’d run (or maybe it was more of a brisk walk) home from school, so excited about being able to write, but I’d sit down in front of my desk with no ideas. Consequently, I never got anywhere on those days. I’d stare at a blank piece of paper for hours, or write down the most random, obscure lyrics that didn’t mean anything. I learnt quickly that it’s important not to try write for the sake of writing. Wait for an idea – a spark. That’s when your brain is telling you it’s got something good. So keep that notebook ready, and be patient.
6. Listen to other music for inspiration.
A lot of musicians are afraid of being inspired by other music in fear of copyright. But I think listening to music while in the process of writing is the best! For me, it’s like I have an internal fuel tank. As I go about my days, writing, going to school, dealing with many ups and down, that fuel runs out and my passion, inspiration and motivation lags. But listening to my favourite album or song fills me up again and ideas come flooding in – almost as though a part of my brain is reminded why I want to be a musician. Along with that, I believe in the saying ‘art inspires art’ and listening to music from decades ago or a brand new single can inspire and influence something amazing and fresh.
7. Keep your mind open.
As a creative person, I think it’s important to keep your mind open to any and all possibilities. Don’t to be closed off to certain ideas, or paths. For example, you might adamantly want to be a country songwriter, but don’t block out ideas that come in pop orientated. We all know that worked in Taylor Swift’s favour. Or maybe you start a song thinking it’s going to be a ballad, but as you’re writing it, it might turn into an uptempo banger or the perfect song for a Disney movie. I spent so many years being sure I was meant to be the singer of a rock band, but eventually I gave in to the signs telling me to be the solo pop artist I am today. So be open to things that might not be unfolding the way you pictured. Go with the flow.
8. Tell people about your songs.
Don’t keep your songs a secret. I know taking your songs outside the safety of your bedroom can be the hardest step of all. And of course you can keep them to yourself until you’re 100% happy with it, but make sure you are at least telling someone about the fact that you are writing. It took forever before I told anyone about my music or let them hear it. I think I was so scared they’d tell me my songs were bad and I’d never want to write again (cause I’m dramatic like that). It made “music” and “songwriting” such taboo words in my life and it became harder and harder by the day to imagine showing someone my work. My advice would be to try your best to encourage conversations about your music and show someone a song. Having songwriting an open conversation will be so helpful and encouraging. I promise your songwriting will be better off for it because your confidence will skyrocket.
9. Ask for feedback and take constructive criticism.
In conjunction with tip number 8, the sooner you are open to hearing constructive criticism the better. I was so closed off to the idea of asking someone’s opinion and feedback on my songs. It wasn’t until I convinced myself it was OK for my work to not be perfect straight away that I started listening and encouraging everyone’s else’s criticism and thoughts that my songwriting got to the next level. It can be so hard to hear something negative about your songs – especially ones that you love and think is your best work – but feedback is an important part of any creative art. Unfortunately, as songwriters we are already more sensitive and emotional than the average person (and proud of it!), so any other than glowing reviews can be a hard pill to swallow. So all I can say is try your absolute best to be open to suggestions.
10. Don’t freak out about writer’s block.
The real taboo words of songwriting – “writer’s block”. It’s totally OK to be stuck. Don’t freak out and go into a panic like I used to. I’d throw my arms in the air screaming “I’m a terrible songwriter! I suck!” every time I couldn’t think of an idea within a few minutes. I was so afraid I’d never have a good idea again, but I soon learnt that the best ideas come when you least expect it and a block will always pass. Don’t give up. Maybe walk away from it and come back later. A block will always unblock, whether it been clogged for a few minutes or years. It’ll clear up when it’s meant to. You will learn over time things that will help get the juices flowing again. Read my blog “Writer’s Block Unblocked” for some ideas!
So those are my top tips for new songwriters! I hope you enjoyed the blog and at least one of those tips were helpful to you. Make sure to pass it on to any songwriting friends or someone in the creative industries who might benefit from these tips.