Songwriting Tips for Beginners: Advice Actually Worth Following in 2021
30 May 2021 by Geo Euceda
Choosing a career in the music industry as a songwriter is crazy. There is a constant power struggle between the artistic side (the fun part of making music) and the business side (actually making money, the more frustrating part).
In this guide, we’ll focus on sharing the absolute best songwriting tips and career advice – touching on everything from easy chord progressions, the importance of writing repetitive, catchy song lyrics, conquering writer’s block, the ideal songwriting process, and ways to escape those painful creative ruts.
Review: The Anatomy of a Hit Song
The winning components of a hit song are straightforward – melody, lyrics, the main riff, repetition and catchiness.
The first time someone hears a song, not only does it need to resonate, but it needs to be remembered. A new song entering your brain for the first time needs to be super catchy, otherwise it will be forgotten and buried in the sea of noise.
What gets repeated gets remembered, and what gets remembered gets done.
The best songwriters always keep simplicity and repetition at the center of their writing process.
Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk”:
– “Don’t believe me just watch” repeated 18 times.
– “Uptown funk gon’ give it to you” repeated 26 times.
Migos’ “Walk It, Talk It”
– “Walk it like I talk it” repeated 126 times.
Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”
– “Shake it off” repeated 70 times.
Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”
– “I know” (and the melody) repeated 26 times.
Camila Cabello’s Hit Song “Havana”
– “Havana oo-na-na” repeated 75 times.
Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”
–“How does it feel, how does it feel?” repeated 8x times.
John Lennon’s “Imagine”
–“Imagine all the people” repeated 8x times.
The more times we are exposed to an ad—whether it is on television, radio, online, or in print—the more likely we are to remember it and be affected by it.
Music is no different!
WE ARE FARMERS. DUM DUM DUM DUM DUM DUM DUM. (7x repeat).
Writing hit records also requires you to “dumb down” for the masses.
Too repetitive? Maybe. Does it work? Absolutely.
1. Great Writers Ignore Negativity & Harsh Critics.
We see these types of comments all over social media, especially on the verified pages:
THIS SONG IS TRASH.
JUST QUIT ALREADY.
Comment threads across the internet are eager to tell you how awful you are. So why even go down that rabbit hole?
It’s easy to get sucked into all the negativity, but just remember:
“You can please some of the people, some of the time. You can please a lot of people, a lot of times. But you can never please everyone, all the time.”
Ralph Covert says you probably don’t suck at songwriting, you just need to make better choices.
2. Learn How To Sing.
A songwriter who sings is like cheating on a test.
This guide is for unleashing the best songwriter within YOU. That means, learning how to sing (at least enough to record reference takes and demos), will benefit you tremendously.
You don’t need to sing like Beyonce to be successful!
However, you should be able to hold down melodies and express the vibe of the song, especially if your goal is to place the music with a major artist, or license your song in a commercial, etc.
That’s why singer/songwriters are so valuable, because they can do both! Leveling up will accelerate the entire songwriting process, therefore learning the basics of singing will help you create better melodies and run faster recording sessions.
Keep in mind that some of the best singers can’t write a lyric to save their own life. And vice a versa, some of the best lyricists are brutally tone deaf.
Many incredible writers can’t sing a lick, but it hasn’t stopped them from writing timeless classic songs.
In fact, “over singing” can hurt you as a songwriter. Why? Because incredible singers are not always the most relatable. They sing too virtuously, and mass audiences are not able to follow along.
3. Learn How To Play Instruments.
A singer/songwriter who plays instruments (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, bass) has an unfair advantage in the music production process.
You don’t need to be Mozart, or be an expert with music theory – but knowing how to play chord progressions, riffs, melodies, and being able to record some midi will definitely help you while writing lyrics.
In fact, some of the best songwriting advice from top writers suggests writing lyrics to an instrumental track or set of melodies first (rather than writing lyrics without a melody).
4. Learn DAW Basics.
A modern day singer/songwriter should be able to comfortably navigate various DAWs (digital audio workstations):
- FL Studio
- Logic Pro X
- Pro Tools
- Studio One
Why these programs? At the end of the day, they are just more songwriting tools to have in your arsenal of weapons.
But actually, they are time & money savers. You will waste a lot of time and money paying a professional audio engineer to track ALL your crappy demos and musical ideas.
I get it – you’re not a professional audio engineer. But knowing the basics of these audio recording softwares will benefit you greatly.
Learning these programs isn’t about perfecting your technical engineering skills. It’s about being able to get ideas down, self-record your own song concepts, and pitch rough recorded drafts to producers you are working with.
Great songwriters understand how to deliver their rough ideas and concepts to professional recording engineers and producers. In most cases, DIY singer/songwriters will even be able to provide a decent rough mix that already captures the vibe of the record.
5. Invest in a DIY Recording Setup.
DIY home recording studios are extremely affordable given all the advancements made in recording technology.
For around $1,500 you can actually buy everything you need to build a home recording setup!
Now, this might sound expensive but when you compare that to professional recording costs, it’s a drop in the bucket.
Below is a list of equipment you can purchase to get started:
- Digital Audio Workstation Software (DAW) – $300
- Playback Speakers: Rokit – $300
- Audio Interface: Try Behringer – $200
- Headphones: Sennheiser Pro – $200
- Condenser Microphone – $100 – Options here.
- Desk / Table – $200 – Options here.
- Acoustic Sound Foam – $100 – Options here.
- Pop Filter – $50
6. Write More Songs, More Often.
A song a day? What’d you say?
Literally write a song per day.
Even if you suck, you need to build the habits of consistency, repetition, practice, routine and discipline.
Your daily goal is to release as many musical ideas out of your head and onto paper as possible.
Grammy award winning songwriters have written hundreds, if not thousands of songs. You aren’t going to make it by only writing 10 songs.
Enjoy the process, and get to work.
7. Reverse Engineer Successful Hit Records.
Take any popular hit song, or your favorite song and download the instrumental, or any “type beat” that sounds similar.
Now try to reverse engineer the song structure and understand why it became a hit. Take note of any ideas from the original that you like and try to create your own flavor that can be applied to the instrumental.
This technique will show you how advanced you are in writing a good song compared to a great song, or how you stack up against whoever is already writing the “hits.”
Just keep in mind, popular music doesn’t mean it’s a hit. It just means that it’s popular, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good quality music.
8. Write Killer Top Lines.
If your ears perk up the second you hear a new song and you love it from the moment you hear the intro – that exact melody you love is the top liner used to hook listeners.
Many singer/songwriters don’t have the ability to create melodies that the masses will love.
It’s methodical and borderline arrogant to think you know what the masses want.
Examples of killer top lines:
- Chris Brown – Zero.
- Migos – Walk It, Talk It.
- Ozuna – Unica.
- J Balvin – Reggaeton.
- Adele – Hello.
- DJ Khaled – Popstar.
- Drake – Started from the bottom.
We can all sing that unforgettable melody which goes hand-in-hand with that repetitious hook.
It’s flawless, effortless, undeniable – so easy to hear, yet so hard to create.
The hip-hop group Migos are the masters of repetitive top lines. They take song titles and repeat them ruthlessly throughout the entire song.
It’s a formula, and it works. Plain and simple. Now go do it!
Also published on Medium.