Ten Tips for Songwriting Success

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An important note: Pick your feedback person (or people) wisely. A bad choice of feedback person – someone who dislikes your kind of music, or who doesn’t have your best interests at heart – will be very bad for your creativity! And remember: each person’s opinion represents the opinion of some segment of your potential audience. If you really believe that the reaction you get from your feedback person isn’t what most people will think, try it on somebody else. Maybe you’re right, and maybe not. But it’s really important to find out!

2. When writing lyrics, insert concrete details drawn from your own experience.

Seventy or eighty years ago, believability wasn’t much of an issue in songwriting. (Remember “The Good Ship Lollipop?”) Today, things are different. If a song sounds pretentious, you’re in trouble.

How do you make a song come across as believable? One of the best ways is to pull concrete details from your own actual experience (even if it’s a completely different experience) and put them in your lyrics. Why? Because when we describe real experiences, that kind of detail is almost always in there. On the other hand, when we talk about things we haven’t actually experienced, those kinds of details are missing. The listener will pick up on that and assume you’re not talking about a real experience. So, regardless of whether you’re writing about a real experience or not, pull real details from your own experience and put them in the lyrics – even if it’s just to describe a location where something takes place.

For example: suppose you’re writing a song about a lonesome person in another country or time period, a place or time you never experienced personally. You’re trying to convey how lonely they feel on a cold winter night. Instead of making up details, draw real details from actual memories you have of a cold winter night. For instance: I remember noticing how the snow sometimes seems to hang in the air outside the window when there’s only a faint breeze. Or how sounds travel differently when the air is cold. Or how my breath condenses on the scarf wrapped around my neck. If you’ve never been in a cold winter night, pick a detail from a warm night that focuses on the night instead of the cold. When listeners hear these details, the song will sound believable to them.

Be careful: If you draw details from your imagination , not from actual experience, they’ll usually be cliches, and people will recognize them as such. (There goes the believability of your song.) Only details drawn from actual memories of real experience will make the experience in your song sound like first-hand experience – even if it isn’t. And the effect on the listener will be dramatically different.

3. Write about something you have an emotional investment in.

Make no mistake: one of the main reasons people listen to songs is that most songs provoke some kind of emotion. If you want people to enjoy your songs, they should contain some emotion, both in the music and the words.

Basically, if you write about subjects or events that have emotional meaning for you, your emotion will come out in the song. If you really don’t have strong feelings about your subject, that will also come across in your song. So, before you choose to write about something, make sure you have some emotion tied up in it.