Ten songwriting tips to make your songs stand out

There are many articles out there on mathematical equations and formulas for crafting the perfect song.  Indeed there may be some truth in what has been researched but for most songwriters, writing songs is a purely creative task and one that is learned through absorbing every other song you’ve heard in your life and recycling that knowledge into something different and original.  But there are certain things you can do to ensure that your songs stand the best chance of success.  I will be going into these topic areas in more detail in future blogs, so sign up to the RSS feed and keep checking back if you are interested in improving your writing skills

1. Lyrics are as important as melody.

You might have the perfect melody rolling in your head.  It’s so emotional and powerful but your words lack definition and strength.  Your song will fail.  Or maybe you have the perfect story for your song, written with immense emotional intelligence, but your melody sounds like something out of a kids’ TV show.  Again your song will fail.  For lyrics must shape the melody as the melody must bring out the meaning in the lyrics.  The two are equally important and must complement each other.  You need to work on both and don’t be afraid to re-write and improve as you go along.   Equally, should you find that you aren’t good at one of those skills, find someone who is and partner up! There are plenty of famous collaborations who did just this – Elton John and Bernie Taupin for one!

2: The song title should be the most memorable part of your song.

Listen to your song as if you don’t know it.  Think about hearing it on the radio and then wanting to go home and watch it on YouTube or buy it on iTunes.  What do you search for? Your song title needs to be the most memorable part of your song for you to get those sales in.  Try placing your song title at the start or end of your chorus.  Or both!  Repetition is also important in this regard.

3: Hook me in!

Create a memorable hook.  This is really important because it is what people will have stuck in their heads long after hearing your song and it is what will make them want to come back to your song over and over again!  Hooks can be melodic in singing parts (Beyoncé is a good example of a writer who does great melodic hooks), rhythmic, (take the drum loop in ‘pass out’ by Tinie Tempah as an example) or instrumental, even if this matches something that is also sung in the song (take the melody for ‘we don’t even have to try’ in Owl City’s Good Time as an example of this, where the synth plays it alone). I will be going into much more detail about hook writing in a future blog.

4: Tell them what the song is about

People don’t have time when listening to your song to work out what you are talking about.  If they are still trying to work out the meaning in the first two lines after verse 1 ends then you have completely lost them emotionally and concentration wise.  Listen to a broad selection of songs and see if you can tell what the story is going to be about by the first 4 lines.  Great songs make it obvious very early on.

5: Poetry is different to lyric writing

You need to know about rhyming patterns and you need a good grasp of whatever language you are writing in to get those great phrases out, but keep in mind that songs are very different to poems.  For one, you shouldn’t have to spend a full English lesson working out what the meaning of the song is (unlike a poem).  Two, your metaphors, similes and other descriptive narratives don’t have to be so elaborate in a song to get the meaning across, because you have much less word space to say it in. That doesn’t however mean that you should steer away from clever ways of saying things.  For example, instead of “Your eyes are really blue” say “Your eyes shine like sapphires” as this would invoke a more emotional reaction in the listener.  Invigorate their imagination! Invest in a rhyming dictionary to help you out when you are stuck on words to rhyme.

6: Have clearly defined sections

It doesn’t matter which order you place your song sections in, such as Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus etc.  However, what does matter is that the sections are distinguishable from each other.  Repetition is a very important songwriting tool.  People expect lyrics to be different in verses but don’t stray too far from the original melody in verse 2 compared to verse 1 because people want to be able to sing along.  Choruses should be pretty much the same (and have the biggest impact) and your bridge is a chance to break from the same chord patterns you’ve been using in the other sections.

7: Choose the right key

It is no good writing and recording a full song for an artist you know, only for them to turn around and say ‘it’s too high for me’.  It is a common thing to happen and when you have a finished production, you are left with the dilemma of recording it anyway and therefore failing to get the full impact of the song across, or giving it to someone else, which may be second best!  So before you finish recording all the parts, if you have a vocalist in mind sending them the basic demo before you finish it off can save hours of hard work later.

8: Consider the right ‘man’ for the job

If your song needs drums on it, there are a number of great programs out there to help you build a drum track, but why not instead hire a real drummer?  This can change your tracks immensely and make them breathe life that they didn’t have before!

9: Word association can help build a stronger song

Write down as many words as you can think of to do with your subject area – for example ‘breakups’ or ‘meeting someone new’ and then when you’ve exhausted the list, pick out the best words that you could use to lift your song’s meaning.

10: Always have a recording device handy

Creativity can strike at ANY time, day or night.  NEVER be without either a pen and paper, or your mobile phone to record ideas down as you get them.  If you’re awoken from sleep take your phone to the bathroom, sing in your idea and then go back to bed.  Then you never lose a perfect song and you can re-assess ideas in the morning.