Songwriting Tips Part 1

Your ability to write a song, a memorable melody or beat, can make or break your career. There are lots of jobs for people who can’t write; session player, engineer, roadie, boy band member etc, but if you want to be on stage in front of adoring thousands and communicating through your music, song writing is where you need to shine.

If you write a good song, it doesn’t matter if you can’t play (Ramones), record your first album on a walkman at a camp fire (Michelle Shocked), can’t sing (Bob Dylan), sing funny (Tom Waits, Björk), rarely sing (Joe Satriani) or don’t sing at all (Moby).

(Read on Dylan, Ramones, Björk and Waits fans before you get too stroppy…)

This article won’t cover the technical aspects of song writing (lyric and chord theory etc) but instead will cover the common “process” mistakes that I see my Clients make. I’m personally familiar with these mistakes because I made all of them, which is why I’m writing in this blog now instead of
being interviewed for one…

BTW – an excellent book on the technical aspects of song writing is Jimmy Webb – Tunesmith. Every book on technical song writing I have ever read was rubbish… except it.

Why your songs suck.

If your songs are communicating to your audience they will return to your gigs again and again, growing in numbers and hysteria each time, shouting song requests by name and dragging along their record industry friends. If not, it’s because your songs aren’t good enough.

Yes the front of house sound was bad, maybe the drummer kept dropping beats and probably your guitar would sound better with new strings, but it’s amazing how a great song cuts through all that crap.

You have to own up that your songs should be better. All of them.

If you are playing a style of music that is outside mainstream and industry tastes, you need to make your songs so good they can’t be ignored, just like Tom Waits or Joe Satriani.

Your songs suck. Make them amazing so they cannot be ignored.

Respect the journey.

Don’t try to write the greatest album ever right now. You’ll just get frustrated.

Ask every Dark Side Of The Moon owner to name at least 5 earlier Pink Floyd albums – I would be surprised if the majority can. I have read that John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote 900ish songs together before the first Beatles album was recorded (which was half covers anyway). Judging by One After 909, a song from that period resurrected for the Let It Be album, pretty
much all those 900 songs sucked.

You have to respect the journey. You can’t write twelve songs, whack them on an album and expect anyone to care. If you were to write 100 songs, or more realistically, 300 songs, tour them relentlessly and choose twelve out of those that audiences consistently adored, then maybe you could complain if no one cared.

Respect the journey. Write a lot of songs. Finish them, record them (in an affordable way, like with Pro-Tools or even a 4-track) and throw them away. Write some more.
Don’t worry if they suck. Finish them, record them and throw them away. Write some more.

Next month we’ll talk about communication, writing within your means and ruthless refinement.

As always, if you have any questions, email us on or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.