[Editors Note: This article was written by Joan Selby.]
Writing a song that captures our feelings and conveys them to an audience is often more difficult than it seems. Sure, it is easy for us to understand every metaphor and to relate to certain emotions that our lyrics describe, but will a perfect stranger understand what we are trying to say? Moreover, songwriters that have to meet a deadline can’t always allow themselves to wait until inspiration hits them.
So are there any shortcuts we could take on our way to creating a new “Stairway to Heaven”? The answer is NO, there is no simple hack that allows us to produce an instant hit… but there are a few guidelines that can make the whole process much easier.
1. Quantity makes quality
Writing is a craft. As with any other craft, writing also requires a certain amount of experience mixed with some talent and creativity.
When you need to come up with a song in a specific amount of time the best thing to do is to simply create as many variations on the theme as you can. You could compare your work, see what you like and even take parts of different songs and put them all together in order to get that perfect composite.
Additionally, you could turn to various online services that could help you improve your content or even write some lyrics for you. Here are some useful online apps and services:
- Superior Papers is an online service that can be of help if you ever get stuck during your writing process.
- Grammarly is an excellent tool to proofread your lyrics
- HemingwayApp can help you perfect your style, spelling, and grammar.
- WhiteSmoke is also a good solution for fixing those little writing imperfections.
2. Play with words
We can send one message in a million different ways and have each variation convey a different emotion. Simple things like “I love you” could have an even more powerful message if we write them while using contradictions, metaphors, hyperbole, etc. Such lyrics make the audience think and discuss the meaning of your words. Even to this day, people are arguing what Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, George Michael, and other great songwriters wanted to say in their hits. Moreover, versatile lyrics give much-needed depth to the song as oppose to repeating the same stuff over and over again. If you ever need some help there are online dictionaries that could help you find the perfect word.
3. Be a storyteller
Think of each song as a story that you want to share with your audience. Every good story needs a hero, a confrontation, and a resolution. This way the song will have a storyline that would attract the listeners and give them a reason to stay with the song until the end. Even better, some of the audience could relate to the hero of the story and receive the lyrics in a more personal manner.
It doesn’t have to be a personal story that came from your experience. Look for inspiration in books, movies, legends, and myths. Some of the best pop and rock songs tell the story of actual historical figures that are familiar to the audience. Iron Maiden’s “Alexander the Great”, Rory Gallagher’s “Philby”, and many other evergreen hits speak about historical figures and they have all managed to capture the audience throughout the decades.
Don’t be too focused on the rhyme, sometimes it’s better to craft a brilliant verse that doesn’t rhyme than placing a blunt word just because it fits. For example, Morrissey is an exceptional songwriter that rarely uses rhyme in his songs. However, that didn’t stop the British hitmaker to produce some of the most beautiful songs ever. Previously mentioned Led Zeppelin hit “Stairway to heaven” is also leaning on the storytelling more than rhyme and it’s one of the best (some would even say the best) rock song of all times.
4. Ask for feedback
Software developers always organize alpha and beta tests before they publish their new software. This means they organize test groups in order to see if there are any bugs or other improvement possibilities. When you finish writing, send your lyrics to some people you trust and ask for a feedback. It’s important that the feedback is honest and detailed, don’t go for, “Wow honey, you’re so talented!” — that won’t take you anywhere you want to be.
Make sure that you really learn from what others have to say and then use that knowledge for further improvements. Don’t focus on the praise; turn your attention to constructive critics and work on making things better.
It’s not easy to make an unbiased assessment of your own work; most artists have this kind of difficulty. Having a second opinion is essential as it helps us see what we were unable to notice on our own.
5. Keep the audience in mind
We give our audience our heart and soul through the words that we put together. Our experience, love, fears, and hopes go out to those that listen. However, one thing we should keep in mind is if what we say actually matters to those who listen.
As an artist, you should always aspire to bring valuable content to your audience, something that they can relate to, learn from, and accept as their own. Try to think about your fans while you create your newest hit. Keep in mind their age, cultural background, previous likes and dislikes.
The last category is perhaps the most important; sometimes the best recipe is to simply do what worked with the audience earlier. Straying away from your trademark style could often result in negative reception; it could even cost you your entire career. Of course, you shouldn’t run from experimenting and adding new ideas to your work, but always keep in mind how your audience will react.
These pieces of advice represent what I think are the most basic elements of good songwriting. It doesn’t mean that you should avoid adding your personal ideas or consider an entirely different approach if you see it fit. The most important thing is to enjoy while working on your songs because nothing can hide pure love and dedication that you pour in each word.