This one’s for all my singers in the SongFancy sphere who have been quietly reading along, wondering how the heck to get started writing their own songs.
Perhaps you love singing cover songs on YouTube, but now you want to branch out with your own music. Or maybe you’ve been keeping a “diary” of poems that you thing would make great songs, but don’t know how to add music to them. Maybe you don’t know where to start!
Hi, love. Welcome to the family! Time to get loud with your own songwriting. I’m so excited to hear what you come up with. Are you ready to dive in? Let’s go!
How to write songs: Singer edition!
First things first: Start keeping a journal
Taylor Swift did then when she first started writing with Liz Rose way back in the day. Keeping a journal is a great place to start gathering up your thoughts, which then become the raw material for new songs.
A journal is a great place to process the events of your day. What happened? How did it make you feel? Because what happens in your life has happened in someone else’s life. Use your journal to collect your life’s stories that you can later turn into songs.
Start a hook book
A hook book is a great way to start turning ideas into titles. What’s a hook book? First, let’s define what a hook is: A hook is the “punchline” of a song, if you will. It’s that one line that wraps everything up in a nice little bow. It usually appears at the end or beginning of a chorus. Most of the time, it’s also the song’s title. A good example is “The Middle” – the song’s title is The Middle. We also hear the hook “why don’t you just meet me in the middle” at the top of the chorus and again at the end of the chorus. The song’s overall concept is about meeting someone halfway in a relationship to make it work. That’s why The Middle makes for such a great hook!
So a hook book is a collection of hooks. Think of it like a list of titles, that are conceptually strong. Brainstorm hooks based on the pages of your journal. If you see that you’ve told a story about something in your day that can be wrapped in with a single phrase, that’s a hook. Make note of them in your hook book.
A hook book can be a separate notebook, a list app on your phone, or just the back half of your daily journal.
Learn the basics of song craft
This step is important, and you should know that it will take the longest. Luckily though, it’s the most fun.
Order books on songwriting. Pat Pattison is one of the best songwriting teachers out there. I highly recommend checking out Writing Better Lyrics. You can also grab some of my favorite books from this post.
Keep reading posts from SongFancy, too. Here are some great posts to check out as you learn the basic craft of songwriting:
- 6 Songwriting Tips for Finding Melodies in the Space Around You
- 4 Quick and Dirty Chord Progressions for Beginning Songwriters
- Writing for the Senses: Songwriting Tip for Memorable, Meaningful Lyrics
- Amazing Phrasing: How to Write Lyrics and Melodies that Fit Together Like a Glove
Pay attention to the music you love
Start paying close attention to the songs that you love. I mean really dissect them. What sections are in it? How many times does the chorus repeat? What’s the rhyme scheme? How long is each part? How does it feel moving from one verse to the next? What is it about?
As you pay attention to the music you love, you’ll learn SO much. Take all that good research and apply it to your own songs.
Be honest, but learn how to tell stories
As a songwriter, you’re most likely going to be compelled to write songs about your own life experiences, and also write completely fictional stories. These may seem like completely different artistic statements, but girl: Both are necessary.
Learn how to write both of these songs with grace and skill. Learn how to express yourself authentically and get vulnerable. Learn also how to tell a good damn story.
Above all else, I encourage you to always write. Don’t ever let anyone’s criticism or judgement keep you from writing what you want to write.
Make it a habit and set goals
Want to write crazy amounts of songs? Make writing something a daily habit. Something means a song, a verse, an idea, a collection of hooks, even a page of freewriting in your journal. Just write something every single day.
Pat Pattison encourages writers to write for 10 minutes first thing in the morning; If you want to really kick your songwriting into overdrive, take up his unique exercise of daily object writing:
- Wake up. First thing, grab your notebook from your nightstand.
- Set a timer on your phone for 10 minutes.
- Spend 10 minutes free writing on a single word. Write from all 7 senses: Sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, body (pulse, pains, breathing), and kinesthetic (dizzyness, warmth, motion). Write down everything that comes to mind, even if it makes little sense.
- When the timer sounds, put the pencil down.
Set a goal for your songwriting so that you always know where you are along the way. It’s hard to stay encouraged with ourselves in any creative endeavor unless we set goals that we can see ourselves crushing. I have a goal setting strategy you can follow (and a free download) in this post.
Most importantly: keep it fun
Songwriting should be enjoyable, or at the minimum, necessary! Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s difficult. You may find that writing honestly becomes cathartic. It takes a lot of energy to write songs. And if you share them, you’ll be met with criticism (because EVERYONE and their mother has an opinion on what you should be writing. Eye roll.)
Do whatever you need to keep songwriting enjoyable for you.
Join a speed-songwriting challenge
If you’ve never written a song before, I want to invite you to come participate in my 5 in 5 Song Challenge. We write 5 songs in 5 days to songwriting prompts. It’s a heckuva a lot of fun, and you’re bound to fall in love with songwriting!