There’s no better school for any kind of writing than living and feeling deeply. That’s where the inspiration for your songs will come, too. Channelling that inspiration and having it expressed in words is a craft and a skill that gets better with time and practise. Here are a few tips that would help you with the process of learning and writing better songs.
Listen like a writer
A technique that you can use to learn from the songs you love is to write the lyrics out (or print them out with space for notes) and study what’s going on inside them. Things to watch for are the turn of phrase, where the syllables are falling and how the melody has been strung together with them.
Clear your head, take the time and sit down to do the work this requires. Give it a first listen. Then, come back to it – this time as a writer. You will begin to see the specific choices that were made to blend the words and the melody together. Study how the choruses, breaks, verses and bridge sections make up the structure of the song. You must schedule time for this regularly.
Listen to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen, arguably one of the greatest songs ever written, and do this exercise:
Revise like a pro
It may be hard to believe at times how many revisions your favourite song would have gone through before it sounded like the perfection that you attribute to it. What that means is that the artist did not get attached to the first draft that she wrote but kept looking for ways to make it better.
The arduous process that it takes to just get the first draft out and the way it sounds perfect to you (amateur’s folly) as soon as it’s done may keep you from looking at ways to polish it. This would be a serious mistake. Leave the song aside for a while, a few hours or a day or two. Come back to it. You might see flaws or ways it could sit better with the melody, or where a complete change is required.
You’d be doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t spend time revising what you wrote.
Create with someone else
In this case, two or even three heads are better than one. Sure, get your first draft out, share it in a session with your co-writer/s and get creative. It doesn’t matter whether they are more experienced than you or not. There are some simple benefits of this. One, you are forced to set time aside for it away from distractions. Two, you are also more likely to insist on output from yourself. Three, the ideas and the different perspective of your co-writers will help you think outside of your creative box.
A word of caution: be clear about whether you would like to share songwriting credit with a co-writer.
Read about the origins of songs
Some of the most enduring lyrics and melodies have come from strange origins. For example, did you know that Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” is actually a song about his views on birth control, which were markedly different from what his girlfriend wanted to do?
To expand your scope about what makes for a worthy idea to write a song about, read about how the songs you love (or don’t) came about.
Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is one of the most debated songs of all time for its haunting atmospherics and mysterious lyrics. Give it a close listen:
Record and review
A basic recording of the various drafts of the song will help you develop it further by making it easier for you to come back to it. It’s also another way to share the track at whatever stage it is with your co-writers. There might be other people, non-musicians whose musical ear you trust. Seek honest, brutal feedback from them after sharing the recording with them.
Don’t wait for inspiration. Make a promise to yourself to churn out something – good, bad, ugly as hell – every single day. That is if you care about becoming part of a list like this someday.