This post comes courtesy of Mella from MellaMusic and BrainStamp. Mella is a professional session singer and musician – she helps musicians complete their creative ideas by providing her voice to their song or project. She has a lot of great articles on voice and songwriting at her blog, so giver her a subscribe!
I started “writing songs” (I’m using that term loosely since they were garbage) in elementary school. I had an archaic recorder and a tattered Lisa Frank notebook, both of which were my best (and only) friends.
If you are new to songwriting, this post is a great place to start.
Maybe you’ve been writing poems in a journal for years but never shared them. Maybe you’d love to see them turned into songs you can perform. Or maybe you haven’t started writing at all, but want to try.
I want to share these 10 tips with you that I wish I had known earlier in my songwriting career. I believed they would have greatly helped me back then, and hopefully they will help you now!
My top songwriting tips for beginning songwriters
As always, these are my personal opinions and aren’t meant to be gospel. You may have a completely different experience regarding some of these points, and feel the total opposite way. That’s okay! Just use what’s helpful to you.
1. Lose the ego. It will not serve you well.
This one is so important, for so many reasons. Most of the rest of these songwriting tips will only work if you complete this step first – get ready to realize that you are not in fact, the greatest thing since sliced bread. That new song you just wrote that you’re absolutely in love with? It’s probably not as great as you and your mom thinks it is.
If humility does not come naturally to you, then working on this will take some time. But it is worth it. I can promise you, if you stay humble, you’re going to make more friends, cowriters, be better liked on stage, and overall become a better songwriter because you’re not letting your ego get in the way.
2. Join a songwriting group.
It’s great to get feedback from family and friends, but sharing your work with other songwriters will really help you see where you’re at in terms of craft. Only other songwriters will really be able to help you improve in areas like song structure, ideas and development. Most of these groups are very welcoming, so there’s no reason to feel intimidated! You can find groups on Facebook or your local Meetup group.
In fact, SongFancy has a wonderfully supportive group of writers inside our 5 in 5 Song Challenge group. Sign up today and get to know some of the other amazing writers who read SongFancy.
3. Join a Performing Rights Organization.
A PRO is a great place to find all sorts of resources for songwriters. Workshops, industry nights, writing rooms, and access to a songwriter’s rep are just some of the benefits of membership at a PRO. This varies depending on what country you’re in, but if you’re in America, you’ll want to look at BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC.
Beyond awesome benefits, what exactly does a PRO do? They’re not-for-profits who’s main function is to collect and distribute performance royalties. So if your songs are played on a radio station, or performed in a smokey bar somewhere (even by you!) you are owed performance royalties for that performance of the song. PRO’s make it easy for the songwriter by staying on top of all of the administrative work for you.
Want to know how the heck to pick a PRO? Check out this article on SoundFly that goes into greater detail about them.
4. Record your ideas, even the weird ones!
Write everything down! Record all the things!
Seriously, if any fleeting bit of inspiration hits you during your day, get it down on paper or into a recorder. Hearing these snippets played back will give you ideas for what to write in the future. A lot of songwriters keep a hookbook, or a notebook/app full of song titles that can be fleshed out later. I also have a post all about the notebooks I love and another on how to organize your ideas digitally, if that’s more your thing.
I highly recommend keeping all ideas, no matter how bad you think they are. You’ll look back on some of your ideas and laugh, but every once in a while you’ll find something you can use for a new creation. Many successful artists keep libraries of ideas and as your library grows, so too will your talent.
5. Collaborate with everyone.
The best way to get immediate feedback on your work is to work with someone else on the same project. You can find cowriters at songwriter groups, open mic nights, local shows, or online facebook groups (the 5 in 5 is a great place to meet other cowriters!). Collaborating is a great way to learn from other people, stay humble, and utilize someone else’s songwriting strengths in an area you might be weak in.
You’ll also learn how you collaborate, what types of partners you like working with, and what you bring to the table in terms of ideas and effort. These are all great things to know moving forward!
6. Read everything you can get your hands on.
Never stop learning about your craft. A time will come when you’re no longer a beginner, yes, but you’ll want to keep learning. One day you may even become an expert, a master – and you’ll still find that there’s more to learn. So read anything and everything you can. “Writing Better Lyrics” by Pat Pattison is a great place to start. I have a full list here of my favorite books on songwriting (and the music industry). If you like to learn by listening, here are some fantastic TED talks on songwriting.
Additionally, if you enjoy reading anyway, read a lot of books in general. The more information you take in, the more you’ll have to write about. You can also read songwriting blogs and listen to podcasts.
The fact that you’re here reading this blog post shows you’ve got initiative! Way to go!
7. Don’t be afraid to suck.
This one is SO important: You will suck sometimes. And that’s ok. We all do.
In fact, in the beginning, you’re probably going to suck a lot. That’s ok, too.
With the exception of Mozart, I think most people are terrible when they first start writing (and really, has anyone ever found this supposed symphony he wrote at age four? Maybe he sucked then too). This is where number 1 comes in, because your ego will tell you that you’re already amazing right out of the gate. You’ve got to write some bad songs to know what songs are good. Just like anything, it’s a process. Write the sucky songs and move along so you can get to writing your best songs.
8. Have some adventures!
The best songs are based on true stories. The best stories come from people who have been around the block. Go have some fun. Live your life. Take risks. Fall in love. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Try a new hobby and write about it. Also, look for song ideas in seemingly mundane activities. You’ll want to get your brain to a point where it can find the ‘hook’ in any situation. Until then, live a life that is hook-worthy. (And don’t forget to write it all down in your hookbook!)
9. Don’t get discouraged.
Again, this relates to number 1 and also number 7. Your ego will make you overly sensitive to criticism (and you will absolutely be criticized as a songwriter). You might not be afraid to make mistakes, but you can easily get discouraged if you hit a rough patch of creativity or if you have several big letdowns in a row (again, these will absolutely happen as a songwriter). If songwriting is what you love to do, you’ve got to keep going. Take a break if you need to, but keep putting yourself out there and make it a regular practice. No one ever becomes a worse songwriter through practice, so the more you do it, the better you’ll be.
Always be kind to yourself.
There’s a lot of good advice in this post about how to handle the emotional ups and downs that come along with songwriting.
I hope these things help if you’re just starting out and aren’t sure what to do! Feel free to leave a comment about your songwriting journey! I love talking shop. If you have any other songwriting tips for beginners, share them on instagram using the hashtag #SongFancy!