How to Write A Song
by Lauren Lucas (Tony and ACM nominated singer/songwriter and former Warner Bros. recording artist)
In my experience with writing and talking to my peers in the songwriting community, it seems no one writes exactly the same way. Some people start with an idea and will only write when inspired. Others vibe out on a melody and let nonsense words and syllables fall out until they’re ready to focus on lyric. There are countless other ways, but here are some steps I find helpful when writing a song:
1. Set aside time to be creative without distractions. Yup, you heard me. Turn off the smart phones, TV and laptop. Plan 30 minutes, an hour, 3 hours – whatever you’re comfortable with – and discipline yourself to stay focused on creativity for that amount of time.
2. Get Inspired. Ideas rarely fall out of the sky. Really, the best ideas are inspired by and built upon the ideas that came before them. So, when I said to turn off all distractions, I meant distractions that hinder you from being creative (email, babies crying, Instagram. You know the ones.). The flip side of that coin is if you sit in a quiet room with an empty head waiting for brilliance to strike, you’ll likely wait a long time and just get frustrated coming up with nothing. In the time you’ve set aside for yourself, do things that inspire creativity. Maybe you write in a journal, or page through old entries. Maybe you read. Get out in nature and take a hike. Or listen to a new song you haven’t heard before. Maybe you already have an idea that’s been burning a hole in your brain but haven’t had the chance to flesh it out yet.
3. Write everything down. Unless you’re an elephant, and I believe it’s safe to assume you’re not, you will likely not remember the ideas that do come unless you write them down. And ideas are like gold to songwriters, so when brilliance strikes you don’t want to forget it! Studies have also shown that the physical act of writing (like, with old fashioned pen and paper… remember that?) enhances creativity. So keep a pen and pad in your glove compartment, on your kitchen table, by your bedside and anywhere else you might find helpful. To that end, go ahead and record everything, as well. If it’s a melody that strikes while you’re driving, grab your phone (yes, I give you permission) and use Lyricord’s Studio or Lyric screens to jot down ideas.
4. Dare to suck. Man, this might be the most important step. It took me years to feel comfortable opening up to ideas or lines that weren’t quite perfect. And even now when I write I have trouble letting everything flow out without major self-editing. But at this point in the writing process, it’s just a big ol’ brainstorm. And here’s the thing about brainstorming: there is no such thing as a bad idea. So if bad ideas don’t exist, why would you feel insecure about letting it all out? When you say everything that’s on your mind during brainstorming, one of three things will happen:
- Whatever you say will likely spark a new idea (remember that thing I said earlier about ideas building upon each other?)
- Sometimes, you just need to get the mental cobwebs out in order to get to the good stuff
- You’ll solve your problem and finish your song
I can’t promise you a hit song but I can promise you the sooner you dare to suck, the better writer you’ll be.
5. Be a quitter. Sometimes a song just won’t behave. The momentum dies, you’re frustrated and the meter or rhyme isn’t feeling quite right. Don’t force anything. Just quit! Not for good… for a few hours or maybe for the day. Go grab lunch, or take a walk. When your brain is fried, pushing through will likely just make you more frustrated and you won’t get any further. Or worse, you’ll start phoning it in just to make the line rhyme or the phrase fit. Give your brain the mental break it needs and come back fresh. When you revisit the song you’ll probably see the problem and be able to fix it quickly.
6. Find your writing style. I find that inspiration strikes me most often in the form of lyrical hooks. If I’m not leading towards the hook, then I get lost and inevitably get stuck. But that’s not the case for everyone. Some people love chasing around nebulous ideas, forming a verse or two and finding a hook later. Also, I really enjoy perfect rhymes. But some writers like a looser rhyme pattern. I can’t dictate what is best for you. Let the song tell you what it wants and don’t settle for a rhyme pattern or phrasing that doesn’t feel just right. The more you write, the more you’ll find what you like and what works for you.
7. Show off. Seriously, do you understand that you started with absolutely nothing – a breath of air and an empty head – and turned that nothing into something that didn’t exist before?! That’s pretty dang cool. So break out Lyricord, record your masterpiece and get it out into the world!
Lauren Lucas is a Tony and ACM nominated singer/songwriter and former Warner Bros. recording artist. Her songs have been cut by national recording artists and performed on Broadway. Lauren also works with Kidbilly Music, leading Fortune 500 companies in Team Building Through Song®.