If you spend any time on YouTube, you can get a pretty clear idea of what songwriters find difficult. It’s there for all to see and hear. It’s the double-edged of social media: it can get your music out there to a large audience right away, but also displays any weaknesses or issues right away.
Take a look though the comment and questions that get posted on the Songwriting Reddit, and you’ll see writers giving voice to the problems plaguing them as they seek to perfect their craft.
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Here’s a short list of some of the most common ones. If these are the ones you’re dealing with, I’ve listed some quick solutions you can try.
1. I can’t finish songs
Most songwriters go through periods of time where they can start songs just fine… they just can’t seem to finish them. What to do?
- Decide on a song form early on in the process. If you’ve come up with a great chorus hook but can’t progress beyond it, decide what other sections your song is going to have. Quite likely a verse, of course, but what else? Pre-Chorus? Bridge? So turn your attention to the verse, start lower than your chorus, and develop a new melody. Now sing your verse and chorus, and keep adjusting your verse until it sounds like a good lead-in for your hook. Generally the more you write, the easier it is to picture the whole song.
- Write several potential melodies on various days. Try completely different tunes over the same chord progression. Don’t worry about writing an entire song, just concentrate on one melody at a time. Then put two of them together, starting with a lower melody and moving to a higher one. This will give you a verse and chorus that both use the same chord progression (not so rare these days), and the low-to-high range will work well.
- Keep song fragments and stick them together. If you can’t finish songs, then take unrelated bits that you’ve started over the past year or more, and see if any two of them join up to form good verse-chorus partners.
2. I hate my lyrics
Lyric problems are a very common complaint even among experienced songwriters. Some ideas for solving the lame-lyric problem:
- Make sure you’re using common, everyday words. Your lines of lyrics need to read like a conversation. That’s not to say that a more poetic approach isn’t possible, but if you’re simply trying to get things working, stick to basic vocabulary.
- Avoid (or at least be careful with) clichés. You can’t totally avoid clichés because it’s part of communication. But they can come across as lyrical laziness, and audiences can have a negative reaction to them. Clichés will work better in choruses than in verses.
- Get your lyrics in the proper order. Songs that are basically about how you feel will often fail because every song needs some sort of story, whether obvious or implied. If you’ve written a song about how you tend to feel at parties, your lyrics need to imply a backing story. So take the time to write a short story — a page or 2 — and then use it as a guide to get your lyrics in the right order. And remember: use verses to give the particulars of that story, and choruses to give your emotional reaction to what’s going on.
3. I’m worried what others will think of my song
The point of songwriting is to offer an audience a glimpse into your musical soul, not to please others. It’s tricky, because if no one likes what you’re writing, your audience will shrink to the point where no one is knowing (or caring) what you write because they’ve stopped listening.
On the Songwriting Reddit, you will see a constant stream of “what do you think of my song?” posts, and I feel a bit sorry for them. It’s not that it shouldn’t matter to you, but the fact that someone likes or doesn’t like your song isn’t the determining factor in whether or not the song is good.
The determining factor comes more from you: Do YOU like the song? Is it saying what you want it to say? Do you like the melodies? The instrumentation/production? The chords? Is there anything you’d like to do differently? Worry less about what others are thinking, and work to improve your songwriting technique. If you feel the need to ask others what they think, be sure to ask someone that you respect and admire (a good musician), not some random person.
4. How do I find songwriting partners?
One generation ago, a songwriting partner was likely to be someone in your own neighbourhood, someone you could sit down with and write collaboratively. These days, you can be on opposite sides of the world doing that very thing via Skype or other texting apps.
But the job is always the same:
- Partner with someone who exhibits different strengths from your own, but who shares a similar vision of what good music is.
- Partner with someone who likes/respects what you write.
- Partner with someone who is reliable, who has the same longterm vision for where this is all going.
5. I want to write but I can’t sing/can’t play
If you’ve got a desire to write music but you can’t sing it or can’t play an instrument well enough, there are a few things to consider:
- Start practicing! To be a good songwriter, you need the ability to play at least well enough that you can hear the ideas you’re creating. You don’t necessarily need to be able to play well enough to do your own recordings or performances,. But even a moderate amount of practicing on an instrument should give you the chops you need to get your ideas down.
- Take instrumental/voice lessons. Find someone in your area who can give you the basics of how to play an instrument, or how to sing. You might be surprised to know that there’s a much better performer lurking inside you!
- Use a songwriting partnership to help deal with playing/singing deficiencies. If you can’t sing or play well enough to get your ideas recorded or in some sort of permanent format, partner up with someone who can. Even just grunting out your ideas more or less in tune should be enough for an experienced partner to be able to flesh them out.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
Have a great melody, but stuck at the “how to add chords to it” stage? “How To Harmonize a Melody” shows you, step-by-step and with sound samples, how it’s done, with suggestions for chord substitutions that might work as well. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.