Here are 15 areas of songwriting advice I have for the new songwriter. When first learning to craft songs it’s important to focus on what will actually help achieve that goal. These items will help with that.
1) Study the Structure and Melody of Hit Songs
One of the best ways to reach the point of writing great songs is to study great songs. Look at how the writers crafted each section. Study how they used rhymes, rhyme schemes, and the order of the sections of the song. What makes the melody memorable?
Is the melody distinctively different in the chorus than it is in the verses? How long is the intro? What is the best hook in the song? If it’s a story song, how did the writer advance the story between each section. Read and listen to each verse.
Do they all lead to the main message that is found in the chorus? These are all important questions to ask yourself as you’re studying the song. Then ask yourself how you can apply these techniques to your own writing.
2) Write Everyday
Treat your songwriting as you would taking care of your body. Do you eat every day? Most people are fortunate to be able to. Everyone needs sleep to restore and refresh. If you want to improve your songwriting skills you can’t neglect them. It’s important to write something every single day.
Even if it’s just an idea for a song title or an outline for a verse or chorus, always write something daily. If a bodybuilder wants to increase muscle mass he or she works those different muscle groups almost daily. The same approach should be taken with songwriting.
3) Write What You’re Passionate About
Pick a genre and/or subject that you’re passionate about. This will help motivate you to work on those types of songs. The more you’re into a specific song style the better the chance is that you will be authentic and your writing will show it.
You’re in a better position to include the nuances of that style than you would be with a genre you’re unfamiliar with. For example, I grew up around the country genre. I also liked the pop/rock music that was on the radio too, but my muse was more associated with country. If I tried to write a rap song, well, let’s not go there.
4) Learn Basic Music Theory
This is will help tremendously when working on the melody of your song. If you know which chords are included in the key that your melody is in it will help you to come up with some interesting chord progressions.
Once you have a chord progression down, knowing which notes make up each chord will aid in finding that great melody and harmony to your song. You don’t have to know music theory to write a great song, many have been written by writers who had no music theory knowledge. However, with knowledge there is power, and being aware of these things will only strengthen your songwriting skills.
5) Copyright Your First Song
I remember having written my first song and wanting to get it registered with the Copyright Office. I was told by seasoned writers not to worry about doing that with my first songs. They said once I become more established as a writer I would understand that it isn’t necessary.
They said once a song is signed and cut then the publisher will get it copyrighted. They were right, my attitude changed over time. However, looking back now, I’m glad I did copyright my first song. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and it made me look at songwriting from the business/administrative side.
It validated to me that I was a songwriter. So, I would encourage you to go ahead and register yours with the Office of Copyright. It will cost you to register but it’s worth the investment in my opinion.
6) Always Carry Note Taking Material
Wherever you are, always have something available to jot down notes of songwriting ideas you come up with. These ideas will come and sometimes at inopportune times. Even if it’s just on your phone, or a napkin, have something handy. I would also encourage you to have a notepad and pen by your bed.
I’ve awakened many times with a song idea or title and been too lazy to get out of bed to write it down. I figured I would remember what it was in the morning and then I could write it down then. Wrong choice! I never remembered what it was. Don’t make the same mistake.
7) Rewrite Lyrics to a Popular Song
A great songwriting exercise is to rewrite the lyrics to some of your favorite songs. You already have the advantage of working with an existing melody. Try rewriting one of the verses to the song and see if you can keep the verse pointing to the message of the chorus while providing a different angle than the other verses give.
Use the same amount of syllables and stress points within those syllables. It’s like putting together a puzzle. Each piece must fit into place and contribute to the overall image the song is painting. Once you’ve done that, try changing the melody to that new section you wrote. If you’re able to come up with a new melody, voila, you now have an original section toward a new song you can write!
8) Find Compatible Co-Writers
Working with a co-writer can be a very rewarding experience. It has been for me. I’ve written an entire article on how to go about finding co-writers. You can read that here. When you work with someone else on a song it opens up so many more creative ideas. As long as each person is willing to compromise on certain areas and is supportive of the other a great song can be produced!
9) Accept Mediocrity
You need to be able to accept that your first songs will probably not win you a Grammy. It takes time and practice to get great at songwriting. Look at those first songs as building blocks along the way. You will get better with each one. Give yourself permission to produce not so great songs. Now, when you are experienced and can produce top quality songs, then that’s the time to not accept mediocrity. But until then, give yourself a break.
10) Be Willing to Edit
It’s common as a new songwriter to be so satisfied once you get that first song written. You’ve struggled so long to find the right hook, write verses and a chorus that actually work together, and put them to a great melody.
The last thing you want to do at this point is to go back in and start deleting sections and figuring out what might be a better fit. But that’s exactly what you should do before you actually call a song complete. Be sure to exhaust all possibilities before considering it finished. All great songs are scrutinized and edited before you ever hear them.
11) Learn How to Present Songs to a Publisher
There will come a time in your songwriting career when you’ll be ready to present your finely crafted song to a music publisher for consideration. One thing you don’t want to do is cold send the song out to every publisher you can find an address for.
Contact them ahead of time and see whether they are accepting material. If you don’t, you can be sure that your package will wind up in the trash bin. If you do find a publisher who is willing to listen to your song don’t send a whole CD of songs to them.
Just send the one or two that you contacted them about. I’ve written an article on how to format your lyric sheets before sending them to a publisher. Read it here.
12) Get Songwriter Business Cards
Of course, you don’t have to do this, but I think it helps create a mindset that you really are a songwriter. These can come in handy when you meet a songwriter who might become a co-writer. Or, maybe if you’re out at a songwriter’s night and meet a publisher.
The card should just have your contact information. There’s no need to put your life story on it. It will show that you’re serious about how you approach your craft and how you present yourself to others.
13) Join a Songwriter’s Forum
There are plenty of songwriter’s forums on the internet. These are great places to meet like-minded people (there are other songwriters there, lol). It’s also a place for you to post your songs, finished or not, for critique.
I would suggest participating in critiquing other songs first before you post yours. It’s just good manners to give before you ask. There are some very talented writers on those boards who can give great, free advice. Take advantage of that. I’ve met and worked with extremely talented writers on forums including one who had a number 1 country hit.
14) Attend Songwriter’s Nights
If you have the chance to attend a songwriter’s night in your area or close by, do it. It’s a terrific place to meet other songwriters. You can show your support for those performing. It’s all about networking and getting to know people and them getting to know you.
If you’re known as a supportive, positive person, you will have a better shot at being accepted. Nobody wants to hang with obnoxious, rude people, songwriter, or not. If you have a chance to visit a major music city plan ahead and see where and when these writer’s night will be held. Plan on attending while you’re there. You can make some great contacts that way.
15) Have a Thick Skin
As thick as an elephant if that’s what it takes. Songwriting can be a humbling endeavor. You think you’ve written the next mega hit only to be shot down by fellow songwriters or a publisher. You need to be able to not take it personally. Nobody is equating your current state of songwriting talent with you as a person.
Understand that every songwriter goes through growing pains on their journey. If your song gets rejected remember that it’s just your song. It could be that your song is pretty good but that it’s not the right fit for that particular publisher or co-writer you presented it to. Brush it off and move on.
These are my 15 areas of advice for songwriters. I hope you give them serious consideration. Look, I want you to succeed as a songwriter. I wouldn’t have created this site and put forth this effort to teach if I didn’t care. I love to hear great music. The more new writers I can help on their journey the better chance I have of hearing those great songs someday. So, take my songwriting advice or not, it’s up to you. Thanks for reading and write on!