You’re riding in the front seat of your car, steering wheel in hand, and the stick shift in another. The radio announcer goes on a tangent: —only here on 107.1 FM, your radio, your music, and the greatest hits. In the background, you hear the muffled sound of a song you’re mostly sure you recognize, but it’s not until the radio host cuts off his mic, that the song belts through your speakers. Suddenly the world feels lighter, breezier. It’s one of your favorites. It’s everyone’s favorite. The song of the summer. The wave-your-hands-in-the-air, drive-with-the-windows-down, forget-about-your-problems song that has been topping Billboard for weeks.
In that breezy lightness that only music can bring you, you wonder: how do they do it?
Take it from the greats—the oldies, like Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, Elton John, and the contemporaries, like Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Harry Styles—they all have something in common: talent, perseverance, hard work, creativity, and dedication. Though all of those qualities are necessary in order to write a great song, there are some songwriting tips that can take your songwriting to the next level.
DRAW INSPIRATION FROM WHAT YOU KNOW
A good songwriter draws inspiration from their everyday life. The best songs ever written, whether you are a fan of Pop, R&B, Hip-Hop, or Trap, come from somewhere, and that somewhere lies in the mind of the songwriter. We all go through hard breakups, difficult familial situations, we all party, we get that promotion (or we don’t), or we take a trip to get inspired.
Perhaps the phrase “write what you know” has become overused and tiresome, but for aspiring new artists or those who want to dip their toes in this world, drawing from your day-to-day experiences is a great starting point. Letting go of the fear of expressing ourselves through love, heartbreak, grief, or happiness and putting all those feelings into a song might just be the key to turn into the next song someone blasts through those car speakers.
MAKE IT CATCHY
Those songs that you heard on the radio or your Discover playlist on your Spotify, keep their audience hooked and engaged with easy to remember phrases and melodious choruses that stay in the mind of their listener all day. If you have ever gotten a song stuck in your head and are riddled with thoughts about how infuriating it is that you can’t stop thinking about Bieber’s latest chart topper, that is the ultimate example of how a great, catchy song makes its audience come back for more.
FIND YOUR UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE
It’s a well-known fact in the world of music that those candy-sweet pop anthems use the same progression of chords. They follow a formula that has worked for the music industry for years and will continue working for years and years to come. However, when formulating your own song, it’s important to find your brand, something that will, without a doubt, distinguish you from the masses. Great artists don’t write a good song by copying the exact same process that the rest of their peers do. They write a good song by giving it their own twist, and their own style. It’s not uncommon to hear the riff of a song you have never heard of before, but immediately know who is behind that catchy tune.
Setting yourself apart and proving that you can bring something different to the world of songwriting is perhaps the most important part of the process. What will set you apart from the crowd? Is it memorable lyrics, a catchy melody, or the way your song elicits reaction and emotion out of your target audience? You decide.
BRANCH OUT AND LISTEN TO OTHER STYLES
Drawing inspiration from other kinds of music outside of your preferences is a fantastic way to make something unique and original. Consider a Pop singer who added a hip-hop riff to that song you can’t stop hearing at your local bar, or the rock legends who’ve incorporated classical music into their mix; they have taken something outside of their comfort zone, elevated it, and created one of those songs that you will play over and over again on that perfectly curated playlist you’ve created.
Don’t be afraid to demonstrate versatility, show that you can be flexible and apply something new and outside of the box to that song you’ve been working so hard on.
BALANCE YOUR MELODY
One of the most important qualities of a good song—or just about anything—is symbiosis. Your melody needs to make sense, and in order for a melody to make sense it must follow a scale, use a congruent chord progression, and have a structure. A song is not defined by noises randomly slapped together, it has a start, a middle, and an end, and those sections must come together like a well-tailored suit.
DON’T GIVE UP
Even if your song has failed to be what you wanted it to be, never stop trying. Like any art, songwriting takes inspiration and creativity but it also takes skill, practice, and repetition. The more experience you give yourself, the better you will become. If you fail, take the loss and try again, improve upon your work, start anew, and learn from your mistakes.
The greatest songs in the world weren’t written overnight. Good songwriting takes perseverance, your unique voice, catchy melodies, versatility, and self-inspiration. But if you put all of that together, you can be the one topping Billboard’s Top 100 before you know it.