Above and beyond the inspiration that often serves as the seed for all songwriters, there are lots of significant things to consider when it comes to refining your songwriting craft. Here are a few tips and things to keep in mind if you’re wondering how to make the leap from your early songwriting efforts to writing the kinds of songs that are commercially successful.
The idea is intriguing
One of the biggest challenges in a lyric is to find an original idea when, on some level, there’s nothing new under the sun. The key here is to take a familiar concept but find an unusual angle so that you’re exploring facets of a common idea in a new, interesting way. One tip I was given years ago when looking for ideas is to wander through any bookstore and look at book titles. You never know what that will inspire.
The concept is current
This applies to both lyric and melody. If you’re looking for commercial success you need to address themes that some segment of the market will be interested in. This doesn’t mean you can’t write what moves you nor does it mean that your ideas can’t be nostalgic, but it does mean that you’ve got to find a way to also make those ideas apply to today’s listeners.
The opening line is original
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of a song’s opening line. Given that listeners have so much to choose from, this may be your only chance to pull them into your story. By avoiding clichés and making an effort to appeal to your listeners’ senses through imagery and detail, you stand a much better chance of sparking their imagination and bringing them into your song right away.
The imagery is imaginable
One of the many benefits of making your lyric relatable is that your listeners can picture themselves in your song’s story. The more believable the lyric, the greater the chance that your song will have a universal appeal. This works not only for your listeners but for potential artists who you’re hoping might be willing to record your song for their own projects.
The melody is memorable (and doesn’t meander)
Making a melody memorable means it needs to be unique. Unique, however, doesn’t mean you need to create something so complicated that no one can follow or learn what you’ve written. Memorable melodies are those with just the right balance of originality and repetition so that listeners can’t help but sing along and remember what they’ve heard.
The lyrics don’t lose the listener
Even though the process of writing a lyric is all about exploring your own experiences, the best lyricists also take their listeners into account. Keeping your lyric on track while avoiding being too predictable is a delicate balancing act but one that is worth the extra effort. Making your lyric easy to understand while still telling a compelling story is the key. Be sure your lyric says everything necessary to keep your listeners engaged in what you’ve written.
The rhymes resonate and aren’t predictable
Rhyming is one of those ninja tricks that give your listeners something to hold onto when they’re learning your song. That said, the standard “moon, June, spoon” rhymes can sometimes lull your listeners into not paying attention. Using unpredictable rhymes are great fun and engaging for your audience. Rhymes like this will keep people connected to your song on a deeper level. An additional pro tip is to keep your rhyme schemes the same in your verses. In other words, if your rhyme scheme is ABAB in verse one, then do the same in verse two. The more you can build in consistency in your songs the catchier they become.
The hook is - of course - hooky
Both your lyrical and melodic hooks need to be punchy, impactful and fresh so that they can do the heavy lifting of reaching out and grabbing your listeners. Short attention spans are the order of the day, so anything you as a songwriter can do to quite literally “hook” your listener into paying attention to your song is essential. Adding a twist to your song’s hook is another great device to grab your listeners’ ears.
The syllables are sing-able
It might help you to remember that songs - and all music for that matter - are built on mathematical foundations. The number of syllables in a phrase directly impacts a song’s rhythm and melody. Making sure that your syllables scan the same way from verse to verse makes your song more natural and comfortable to listen to and allows you to make your melodies consistent in an equally appealing way. Also, it’s not only the number of syllables that counts but making sure that you are emphasizing the natural syllables in your words which, again, just feels better to your listeners.
The demo doesn’t detract from the song
As much as I’d like to tell you that all that matters when it comes to showing your song to the music industry decision-makers is your melody and lyric, this is, unfortunately, not the case. The best way I know how to put this is that presentation counts. You only have one chance to make a first impression with your songs and if your demos are poorly recorded and performed by amateurs, the danger is that this is what is going to get the attention of your industry listeners. By professionally recording your demos, you’re giving your melody and lyric a chance to shine without easily avoidable distractions.
Being a professional songwriter is about not only the big ideas but all the little things that go into polishing your songs. It’s one thing to have an inspiration to write and another thing entirely to take that inspiration and mold it carefully and thoughtfully into the best expression of that idea possible. It’s that discipline and commitment to excellence that is the hallmark of a pro.