As musicians, we spend the bulk of our time improving on what we do. We’d probably all agree that every new project we start (and sometimes never finish!) is a step towards getting better at songwriting. While there isn’t a surefire method to write a great song, there are many helpful hints to spark creativity, get out of ruts, or nudge us in the right direction. We hope you might better understand your own process, or how to write music, with the following songwriting tips!
1. Decide Where to Start
Sometimes this is more of an organic discovery than a conscience decision, but figuring out the first piece of your song will help set you on your creative journey.
Do you begin with a chord progression or a melody? Maybe you have lyrics already written that you’d like to set to music, or perhaps there’s a drum pattern you want to build a song around.
Whatever the case may be, finding your starting point builds a solid creative foundation from which you can continue writing!
2. Take Advantage of Moments of Inspiration
How many of us are fully prepared to record whenever we have a moment of creativity? Some of the best ideas come while we’re at work, sitting in traffic, or simply handling our day-to-day lives. It isn’t always convenient, but taking advantage of spurts of inspiration is crucial!
If you’re not at home and set up to record your ideas, grab your phone and hum that melody into a voice memo. Whether physical or digital, keep a notepad handy to jot down lyrics or any other ideas you can flesh out later.
Of course, if you’re free to get in songwriting mode at home, don’t let fleeting moments of motivation pass!
3. Express Yourself Freely
This is one of the hardest things for any artist to master. We’re inevitably our own worst critics, and battling self-doubt is one of the biggest hindrances to creativity and motivation.
It’s important to sit down with the intention of self-expression rather than the goal of writing a hit record.
Improvise, make mistakes, embarrass yourself, and you’ll surely find gold flecks within the raw expression. Most importantly, you’ll allow yourself to grow as a confident artist if you first allow yourself to fail.
4. Scribble in Your DAW’s Piano Roll
Get the juices flowing by loading up your favorite virtual instrument, grabbing the piano roll “pen,” and jotting down random notes. This is a particularly useful tip if you’ve hit a roadblock or don’t know where to begin. Don’t expect to have created a masterpiece, by any means, but be receptive to happy accidents that may have occurred.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll have a two-note sequence that sparks some inspiration and leads to a fantastic melody.
5. Write What You Know
When it comes time to write lyrics, personal experience is a fantastic place from which to draw. It sounds cliché, but it’s so obvious that it often eludes us altogether.
Some of the greatest timeless records were, of course, written about the artist’s own life. Heartbreak, loss, and moments of joy and triumph are universal experiences that inevitably lead to relatable, emotive lyrics.
6. Use Different Tools
Last year we spoke to Tim Randolph (Imagine Dragons) who shared some incredible songwriting tips. For example, to keep his creative chops sharp, Tim works in more than one DAW.
Sequencing MIDI in a DAW like Logic or Ableton and then tracking audio in Pro Tools is a great way to keep things fresh and inspiring.
Have a guitar or keyboard collecting dust? Pick it up and see what comes out of it! Sometimes the fresh feel and tone of an instrument you haven’t used in a while can be an excellent catalyst for creativity.
7. But, It Isn’t All About the Tools
As musicians, engineers, and gear nerds, chances are we’re always looking at the next acquisition. However, don’t let what you don’t have restrict your creativity.
If you have a computer and a DAW, everything needed to write a song is already in front of you. Ultimately, the most important tool you have is yourself, and you can surely make do with what you’ve got.
8. Commit to Creative Choices
Don’t overthink it! When we’re lucky, songs seemingly write themselves. If it sounds good, trust your creative intuition and refrain from over-embellishing or heavily editing a section or part.
Committing to choices early in the process might even lead to great ideas you never would have considered otherwise.
9. Work with Other Musicians
In the era of bedroom producers, most of us are holed up in our project studios alone. We might hit a speed bump in a song and shelf it as a “bad” idea. Learning how to write a song from other musicians is a valuable asset.
Bouncing ideas off of other musicians is arguably the best way to foster creativity and a productive songwriting session.
10. Have an Efficient Workspace
Let your workspace/home studio work for you. Having an organized, efficient set-up ensures you spend less time prepping for a session and more time actually writing music.
It’s also essential to being ready to go when those moments of inspiration strike!
11. Take Breaks!
Perhaps one of the best songwriting tips we can offer is that it’s okay to take a break! Whether it’s 15 minutes or even a couple of weeks, focusing on other activities and a life outside of music is so, so important.
As a guitarist, I’ve often heard interviews with some of the most technically proficient players who’ve taken a month or longer away from the instrument entirely. Sometimes we have to rekindle our love for something by forgetting how much we enjoy it in the first place!
12. Write Often!
By far the most important thing you can do as a songwriter is to do it as often as possible. The only way to improve at anything is to dedicate yourself to it, ideally making it a habitual practice.
Try to set some time aside each day, or at least several times a week, to work on music.
You may not write an entire piece in a half-hour chunk of free time, but you canaccumulate enough material from short sessions to stitch something together over time.
Simply doing it is the optimal way to learn how to a write a song!
Universal Songwriting Tips
These 12 songwriting tips probably seem fairly simple, because they are! Maybe more important than anything else is the idea of not overthinking it. The best work we do seems to happen effortlessly, and that’s the zone we’d hope to be in as often as possible. Utilizing the mentioned songwriting tips will hopefully put you back in the right headspace when it’s time to create!