You know, I would say that songwriting is something about the expression of the heart, the intellect and the soul – Annie Lennox
Songwriting is a beautiful thing. It’s a means to express yourself, but at the same time, a place to hide and be solemn with your thoughts and emotions. Songwriting has given me a sense of direction in life, from the day I wrote my first song at age 15 called ‘Summer’s Back’ (you don’t want to hear it, trust me), till now, where it has helped me in every aspect of my music endeavour and personal life. Now that is not to say that songwriting is always a joyous and a smooth process, in fact, sometimes it can be tedious and lacklustre; so, in this article, I decided to give you a few concepts that may refresh your songwriting perspective.
- Dissect and scrutinize your favourite songs and implement their techniques into yours – Why is it that you like them? Could it be the lyrics? Maybe it’s the groove of the drums? The melody? Maybe the blend of instrumentation? Answer these questions and try to implement those elements in your songwriting. As you understand what makes you enjoy a particular song, you get to find a bit of who you are in the process. And it might be the secret sauce you need to write better songs.
- Listen to new music, a new genre, a new artist – When was the last time you listened to a new piece of music, or artist? If you can’t remember, then you are in the red zone. If you really want to take your songs to the next level, you need to have a sense of what is trending, as well as how songwriting has progressed. That is not to say that what is current is the way you should write songs. But it can give you a sense of how to better portray the context of your song. Listening to current music does a few things: a) give you a fresh perspective when coming up with an idea for a song, b) learn a new technique musically, c) understand the language the current generation uses, d) how the production affects the song, and how they compliment each other and finally, e) challenges you to incorporate a new perspective, which can make songwriting feel fresh again.
- Finish the damn song – Yes, we are all guilty of this. We have great ideas, lyrics, melodic hooks, even titles. But if we don’t develop and finish them, what is the point? I could have 500 undeveloped song ideas, but if none of them are finished and/or released, what do I have to show for? Ideas are cheap, unless they are developed and executed. By finishing a song, you achieve a couple of things: a) a sense of achievement, b) another song in portfolio to release or pitch, c) develop your songwriting skills, d) you get to exercise and stretch your ways of thinking, and e) you can properly move on to the next!
- Learn a new instrument or learn one! – There is nothing better than picking up a new instrument, that you have never played before and trying to write a song with it. There’s a certain challenge, and sweet innocence with this approach. Every instrument has its own feel and sound; which will certainly affect how you respond to the songwriting process. It also affects your ideas by giving it a platform to express itself in new territory. It’s good for the brain (and the soul). Try it. Ukulele anyone?
- Try writing in a new structure – When you’re starting out in songwriting, please stick to your typical pop song structure (V-P-C-V-P-C-B-C). I’m talking, your first 100 songs at that. Once you get a good grasp of how different sections of a song works, and how they compliment each other; you can now use that skill to better portray your new song ideas. I’m a big advocate and fan of the typical pop song structure, although after a while, you can stagnate and your songwriting process starts to be predictable (not necessarily a bad thing). That’s why I think it is a good idea to write in different structures for e.g. AABA (folk, jazz structures). It gives you a sense of advancing your ability to express a song idea, and you get to add a new context to dabble in! Don’t lock yourself with one way of doing things, always challenge and experiment! Push the envelope.
- Write a song from someone else’s perspective – This is a powerful technique, in fact, not a lot of songwriters I know do this. It’s very easy to see things from our own perspective and be totally biased with our emotions and outlook, but there is beauty in writing from someone else’s point of view. It may make you see the situation differently, it can make you feel like you are an extension of the other person you are writing the perspective from. This is also a great way to come up with unique lyrics that aren’t typically in your repertoire. It gives your song, a new outlook.
- Don’t forget about the rhythm – We all know that a song is a combination of the lyric and melody. But the connection between the two is the rhythm. If you listen to all the best choruses in the past decade or so; you’ll notice a trend. The rhythms are catchy too! Try this. Listen to what’s currently no.1 in the charts and clap out the lead melody line. Get it? Is it complex that you can’t clap it out? Make sure you spend time understanding how rhythm can be in your favour as a writer. Should the verse be more busy and rhythmic, and the chorus be more spacious with simple rhythms? Vice versa? Will the audience be able to catch the rhythm easily? Can they groove to it? Can I clap the melodies? 😊
An as usual, take the advice you think will work for you; and get rid of the ones you don’t agree with (don’t worry, I won’t take it personal).
If you would like to know more, or just connect and chat, come say hi (@jonathanmilanes):