There is no doubt that writing your first few songs is quite a challenge. No worries though, a good start to your songwriting journey can make all the difference. Here are a few ideas to help you take a step in the right direction. Though these ideas are somewhat specific to pop songs, you can use them to write a song in many contemporary genres of music.
Be at ease with your tools of choice
As cliché as it may sound, great songs come from a great writing workflow. You can use any medium to write lyrics, be it pen and paper or any software application. If you can express yourself freely without any distractions, any method works as long as you can revisit your ideas eventually. For writing melodies, you can pick up your favourite instrument or simply hum or sing it in your phone’s sound recorder. Comfort and accessibility are key. Charlie Puth named his second studio album Voicenotes because he used his phone to record song ideas. This is how much of an impact the right songwriting tools could make!
Know what is in a pop song
Most pop songs have some things in common. The similarities between songs become clearer as you analyse them. Consider Blinding Lights by The Weeknd as an example. Blinding Lights is a fast-paced (171 beats per minute) song with a strong 1980s synth-pop vibe to it. Beyond all the layered instruments and polished production, you will find all the main ingredients of a hit song: catchy melodies, simple yet captivating lyrics, a tight structure, and most importantly, repeatability.
A pop song can follow one of many structures, which are basically variations of the verse-chorus format. The chorus is traditionally the highlight of the song and it often features the most memorable musical and lyrical elements.
Choruses are repeated multiple times through a song’s running length to emphasise the ‘juicy bits’ that keep listeners hooked. In Blinding Lights too, the chorus is repeated thrice. A chorus could be as simple as the song title being sung multiple times (think of Queen’s We Will Rock You). To write an effective chorus, focus on its sing-along qualities.
If the chorus is the climax of a song, then the verses are the parts where the storytelling takes place. A typical pop song has at least two lyrically different verses that alternate between choruses. This is called the ABAB structure. This structure often runs the risk of being too repetitive. This is why many songwriters use other (optional) parts such as the intro/outro, pre-chorus, and the bridge to keeps things interesting. It is helpful to be familiar with various song structures to know what works best for a particular song.
Keep it simple
The best songs are the ones that flow like a crisp conversation. Try to write with a purpose, to serve the theme of the song. A song can be written from any point of view but it should reflect the songwriter’s personality, while keeping the listener involved in the story. Use words and expressions that you normally do. A forced attempt to insert any complexity could come off as inauthentic. Successful pop songwriters pay close attention to relatability and mass appeal. Simple and clear lyrics have the potential to reach the widest audience.
Look for opportunities to get feedback
Honest feedback can really improve your songwriting skills. Feel free to share your creation, even if it is your very first song. Attend and perform at events like open mics to be a part of the local songwriter community. You can also enter your song in a reputed songwriting contest. These contests often have established artists and music industry personnel as judges. It can be a good idea to join an online songwriting class if you wish to have specific aspects of your songs to be looked at.
Don’t be afraid to team up!
It would be quite a task to keep track of chart-topping songs that have come from songwriting collaborations. In fact, the average number of songwriters credited in a modern pop hit could be anywhere between four to six. Blinding Lights has five, including The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye). Collaborating with other songwriters can both help you play to your strengths and make you aware of your shortcomings. A co-writer can play multiple roles depending on your expectations, they can help you improve your own pre-existing material or generate new ideas.
For more in-depth tips, do watch Monali Thakur’s unluclass. In this online singing class, Monali shares her experience as a musician in the bollywood industry