Writing Better Songs
Let’s face it, there’s nothing sweeter than playing a song for an audience, a publisher, or a friend and having it move them. Excite them. Make them dance. Or leave them tearing up. As writers, we want to reach out and touch people with our songs. As a professional songwriter, I have written many, MANY songs that, for one reason or another, have failed to move people in the slightest. I have also been blessed to have other songs reach millions and sell millions of records. Over the years, I’ve compiled a checklist that helps me move people more consistently with my songs. On a good day, I’m lucky to get these elements firing on all cylinders.
This might be the number one thing I check and recheck as I write a song. Asking yourself, “am I writing a believable song?” is essential to writing a compelling song. Does it feel real? This seems like a simple thing to master, but it’s perhaps the hardest. Great actors want to make their acting seem so effortless that it feels they are NOT acting. And great writers have a knack for making a song feel unwritten.
2. Bring Something New to the Party
If you study great writers and artists throughout history, you will see a consistent pattern emerge: they were unafraid to incorporate the old with the new, to mix styles together that were not mixed before, and to stretch the boundaries by bringing something new to party.
3. The Song is King
Often, writers sit down to write after a life event inspires and moves them to express it in a song. But also, they’re so tied to writing the song exactly as it happened in their story that they lose sight of where the song needs to go. The song will reveal its own story. Listen, and it will lead you to places you never thought possible. As a Hall of Fame songwriter once said, “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story!” The Song is always King.
4. Don’t Forget the Listener
Have you ever talked with someone, and you get the feeling they don’t care what you think or feel? They just go on and on about something that happened to them? Songs are a conversation between the writer/singer and the listener. Don’t be guilty of a one-sided conversation. Always keep in mind who you are writing the song for. Writing better songs means asking yourself, w”hat are they thinking and feeling when they hear your words and melody?”
5. Improving On What You Have
Study, learn, and master the crafts of lyric writing and melody writing. Nothing gets in the way of emotion moving a listener like technical mistakes. Learning to re-write and edit your songs can take them to the next level. Studying your craft and becoming a better writer is a lifetime journey. The more you master craft, the more consistently you will touch people with your songs.
6. Practice Subtraction Over Addition is Key to Writing Better Songs
Many writers pour their hearts and souls out on paper because they have so much to say. But great, compelling writing lives in the blank spaces. It’s about learning to say the most with the fewest words. Make each word have weight and importance, and realize what you leave out is just as powerful sometimes as what you leave in. Hopefully, this list will save you some of the trial and error I suffered before realizing the importance of these keys.
Write On! ~Clay