Guest-blogger and songwriter Jemy wrote his first song back in 2011 and is itching to pass on some tips to help anyone who wants to start writing while keeping things fun and worthwhile. Besides sharing some personal experiences, Jemy offers some nuggets of wisdom from renowned songwriters. Since every man and his dog seems to be writing, it’s not really worth chasing your dream on a horse-drawn chariot while everyone else is racing in a Tesla. In short: good prep is everything.
Naturally, it’s a good idea for beginners to get some learning done before they start writing songs. Just like anyone attempting to cook some fancy new recipe for lasagne, they’re going to need to know what kind of pasta they need; if they need fresh or canned tomatoes, butter or oil and what temperature to set the oven at so they can nicely bake their fresh creation. While that’s where the metaphor ends, this kind of preparation is essential since it provides a solid start that’s more likely to keep you motivated. But, where do you find the knowledge needed for this great start? For me, it was the YouTube channel from UltimateSongwritingLessons.com. These short five-minute-long clips keep things clear and to-the-point by laying out the essential basic principles of songwriting and why they exist in the first place. If I had never come across these videos, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog. So, just like a billion books have been written about cooking lasagna, there’s a billion YouTube videos, webinars and workshops (and even books) on the subject of songwriting. Find something that works best for you and eat up all the useful information you can get your hands on!
The Songwriting Basics
But, so what are the basic elements to writing a song? In my very humble opinion it would be the structure, chords, melody and lyrics. It’s worth outlining the structure the song will take before beginning. The ‘ABABCB’ structure is what you’ll most likely hear on the radio. ‘A’ here stands for a verse, ‘B’ for the chorus and ‘C’ for the bridge (the change-up before the final chorus). Since songwriting gurus like The Beatles would often use an AABA structure for their songs, there really are no specific rules when it comes to deciding on the song structure. It depends on the song and is entirely personal. According to songwriter, Jason Blume (author of ‘6 Steps to Songwriting Success’), the melody is the best starting point since no one is going to be standing waiting at the coffee machine tomorrow morning, humming the drum beat or chord sequence. Sure, sometimes a great melody comes along and forms the foundation of the song but sometimes, I just find three of four chords on my guitar or piano that sound good together and just play around with them. Whether deciding on the structure, figuring out the melody or putting a few chords together, knowing these basic elements will provide a great foundation to start building on.
Give Your Song a Head and a Tail
A great tip when it comes to writing lyrics comes from the qualified mouth of songwriting legend and former president of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), Ralph Murphy. In his own words: “If you’re getting stuck writing the first verse, you’re probably writing the second verse”. The British singersongwriter, Tom Odell has taken this principle to heart since he will usually only write the first verse last. Such little insights are valuable when you realise that any songwriter you care to mention will always have a collection of half-finished songs gathering dust on the shelf. I certainly have plenty! Who knows how many little ideas and snippets that have never been given a head and tail are hiding in the depths of my hard drive? This is inevitable and, while it is the case that some of these half-baked songs might one day prove your next hit, the more you limit leaving work unfinished, the better. A half-finished song will never make a whole demo and after all, that’s what you want: a killer demo and the next stop on the way to achieving your dream (preferrably in a Tesla).
How do you usually start writing your songs? Does any of the above ring true or do you have very different ideas? Let us know in the comments below!