How to Write a Great Song- Songwriting Formula & Tips

great songwriters john lennonSome people can sit down and write a great song without trying.

When making a song I think the most important thing is to let the music flow through you. Start writing stuff down, you can always scratch it off later or edit it.

Sometimes it takes me 15 minutes of nothingness and horrible attempts to get a song started but eventually the artistic muscle kicks in and then it gets a lot easier.

Make the Song Meaningful

This doesn’t mean you have to make it complex or it must be about solving world hunger, it just means that the song should have an impact. Lyrics are secondary to the melody, which is the most important aspect of your song. It’s what the ear remembers most, if it remembers anything at all.

Impact. Melody. Simple. Not Easy.

Think of a time when you bit into a cheeseburger at a new restaurant and all the sauce and the meat and the cheese and the bun hit your taste buds all at once and you’re like “damn that’s good”. Sure there’s a billion cheeseburgers on this Earth being eaten during any given month but still the one you bit had a real impact on your senses for a couple of minutes there.

Stevie_Wonder_great_songwritersSome of the most popular and impactful songs in history are love songs. This is because lots of people can relate to being in love with someone and the complexities of relationships and desires.

Also, kind of like in acting, when the artist focuses on their external world or another human being and not just how they’re feeling inside or what they think of themselves, that’s when their own character comes out of its separated world and becomes part of the shared experiential universe (where your listener is).

You’ll notice that this is a completely simple approach but it works time and again. It has the benefit of artist self-expression and often times the person listening in the audience can relate to the positive aspects of what you’re saying even though you’re saying it about someone else, but they can still feel like you’re saying it to them. It makes people feel and connect to the emotions they deeply want and need to feel.

Here’s the kind of emotional cycle a good song sets off in the listener:

Love. Connection. Meaning. Self discovery. Appreciation. Feeling. Liberation. Closure.

Love doesn’t necessarily have to mean romance, or sexing somebody down either. It can just be focusing on the details of something, which is often how many people begin meditation.

Some people have even sung songs about skies of blue and clouds of white and it was a massive hit song, so don’t think we need to read the Twilight novel series to bring out the love in the ears and hearts of our listeners.

Change it Up

When a song drags along or it seems like one giant repetitive beat then it won’t even matter what you’re saying in the lyrics. That goes the same for how your voice sounds, what the instruments are playing, and how the song sounds from verse to chorus, to the bridge and any other song elements.

Melody

importance of melodyThis is the most important part of any song. It’s what drives a song and makes a song interesting. No one remembers a chord progression. No one remembers the type of instruments used on a song. They remember the overall melody of the song.

Great Hooks

The hook (aka the chorus) is the climax of the entire song, and what the listener remembers unconsciously without even knowing the words (ever sang a song incorrectly for 15 years before realizing what they lyrics really were?).

A hook should drive the song concept home and complete the verse’s basic message in a powerful way, and in a short period  of time. Therefore it will likely be the most dramatic section of the song, maybe the loudest, the fastest and most excited, etc.

Effective Use of a PreChorus

There are great ways to make a hook stand out even more and that’s by leading into the hook with a pre-chorus. This is usually a memorable motif or musical phrase, it could be a refrain from the verse progression that slows the song down or creates a temporary instability that will resolve to the chorus, making the chorus (hook) that much better.

Pre-choruses also provide
additional catchy elements in a song for the listener that will have them remembering and expecting them to come again.


examples of great songwritersthe Bridge

The bridge of the song (not all songs have a bridge) in my opinion is what the song would look like if you took the same message and meaning, and then somehow cast it entirely in a just-slightly different light. Think of the bridge as a passage from the song’s message to an even newer place, a slight deviation from the verse/hook that leads perfectly back into the hook.

This is a great chance to add some conflict/confusion that makes the natural conclusion of the bridge into the hook the ultimate resolution of the song’s problem/message.

The Bridge usually occurs after the 2nd verse and hook and leads into the 3rd verse, or leads back to the hook.

Verses

A good verse builds. Verses build in excitement, and great verses build upon themselves the closer they get to the hook. The 2nd verse in many ways builds on the first verse, and can show a passage of time, provide additional clarity into the first verse or show what things look like now after the first verse and the hook, i.e. coming to a new place (and keeping the momentum going).

importance of the melody in songwritingIf you’re singing the verses and not rapping them, a very common and effective technique is to write a few lines that progress lyrically, but at the end of the 4th or 8th bar add some harmony backup singing on the words to drive home the mini-climaxes within the verse itself.

Study Songwriting – Take a class, or listen to a wide range of music genres

You can learn a lot about a successful song by scanning your radio and going through the various stations. I do this once or twice a month to hear what’s popular on the radio.

I believe studying every genre of music can enhance your songwriting/producing ability.

An Exercise in Creativity

Next time you’re going to write a song, first listen to a bunch of different songs from genres you don’t even like, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Identify the song elements that work for the song. Imagine “what made this song a hit” and identify the song vibes that are hitting and registering with your music mind.

how to write a great hit songBy acknowledging the good in other music you don’t even like, you’ll have more space to create your own masterpiece.

How to Write a Song… some quick tips

  • Don’t do what everyone else is doing, or try to write something that you think others want to hear (it will come out sounding like a cheap knock-off).
  • Don’t think that it’s the best or worst thing you’ve ever written, even if it is.
  • Don’t expect sophisticated feedback from listeners, often they don’t even know why they like a song- it’s up to you to figure out a recipe that works.
  • Do focus on exalting the human experience. I remember a song where the singers say “I took a walk” which is the most basic mundane human activity, but the way they said it was powerful and catchy. Create catch elements in your song like that without worrying if they have enough complex meaning behind them.
  • Study the greats, the hits, and incorporate your life and the world around you into your music. People will relate way more than you might expect. The special and memorable details of your verse will force people to visualize and connect with your song.
  • Make non-word sounds here and there like oohs, ahhhs, or “yeah!” here and there, or something like that… it can be a never-before-heard sound too, just make it a good one.

This is Jason Blume in the video, an accomplished platinum hit songwriter and a absolutely amazing songwriting teacher. I attended one of his songwriting classes at a music conference in LA and it definitely helped me better understand the successful songwriting formula.

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tags: how to write a song, songwriting tips, how to write a great song, how to write a hit song, how to make a hit song, how to be a better songwriter, songwriting basics

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