By J.P. Kallio
I have been writing songs since almost the first time I picked up my guitar. Songwriting has been a love of mine. Over the years I wrote a lot of music, but it seemed to come and go in bursts. Last year I decided it was time to write music and lots of it. I wanted my songwriting be an ongoing thing rather than bursts here or there. I also wanted to understand the craft better. I wanted to get better at it.
My stubborn mind has been always good at taking things head on. If I decide to get good at something, or learn something it’s like a tunnel vision. Everything else is cast a side. So I did find some very useful advice from the masters and thought I’d share it here with you.
The first thing I noticed that had the biggest impact on my songs was writing every day. Sit down and write, even if it’s only for 30 mins, just try to do it every day. Or I might give you a weekend off, so let’s say try to write five days a week. Make it a structured habit, a routine. This way you don’t wait for the inspiration to come around, you make it happen. I can hear the know-it-all boys at the back of the glass room saying: “you can’t force creative process!” Well, yes and no. You cannot sit down and force yourself to write amazing songs every day, but you can force yourself to write every day. And as a result you will start to write better songs and more often. For every good song, you will write many bad ones. As you get better at it, your critical ear will get better, and a lot of the editing will become part of your writing process. In fact you won’t even notice you are editing.
So where do you get the advice on writing? I will recommend two books later on in this post, but I think they are plenty. The best thing you can do for your songwriting is to listen to music listen to great songs, listen to them not once or twice, but seven times. Break down the structures. Look at how they us the words. How they describe things, how they create scenes. Words are limited commodity in songs, so you need to make every one count. You need to choose the ones that have the biggest impact. Also, if line sounds too tacky or cliché, it probably is. As Ralph Murphy points it out, there is always another way of saying it, you just need to dig deeper.
There is only so many chord combinations in modern music, whether it is country, pop or rock. I applaud you for trying to come with a chord structure that has not been used before, but keep in mind you might be alienating your listener. You should never write music to try to impress other musicians, this always fails miserably! Also one of the biggest lessons I learned was not to write every song about yourself. You are writing songs for the listener. Even if the song might be about you, figure out how you can write it the way that if the listener has experienced something similar, they can relate to it. And once again I can hear a mumble at the back of the glass: “You should just write what you feel like, not to be tactical about it” Well… I’m not being tactical about it; I’m treating it as a craft. If your songs are all about your self-moaning about yourself, my guess is that no one will want to listen to them… I’m just trying to write songs that people can relate to and would like to listen to. If that’s being tactical, then I am guilty as charged.
Just a quick note on two books I would recommend you to read on the subject. Fist of all this is not a songwriting book, but a book about writing in general, and a very good one at that: Stephen King, On Writing. Just read it!
The other one is a great book on songwriting, and probably the only one you will need. Ralph Murphy, Murphy’s Laws On Songwriting. This book will teach you all about structure, lyric writing, rhyming and all the tricks of the trade.
Both books are very entertaining books to read as well as packed full of valuable information. Check it out and let me know how you are getting on with your songwriting. If you have any more questions on the subject, drop me a line.
The author J.P. Kallio is a singer / songwriter / coffee aficionado