Just thought I would pop down a few things I have learnt about song-writing down. Over the years.
1. There are many successful ways of writing a song. You can't do it wrong, you can only do it badly. Find what works for you and do that. If you write lyrics first then music later, or the other way round. In fact I've found it useful to try out as many different ways of writing as possible. Even if there is one that sticks with you, it's great to have the others in your toolbox in case you ever get stuck. Different orders, lyrics first, music first, both together. Try it all. Some may surprise you.
2. Be flexible. Try not to hog tie yourself into rhyming schemes and length of lyric or melodic lines. If you can see it coming, chances are your audience will as well. And there's nothing better as a member of an audience than being surprised. Try things out, extend your lines long past what you think you can get away with and then whack a really strong rhyme on the end. I am constantly surprised at the shit that I get away with. Try extending a melody beyond where you think it should end. Test yourself. And once you've tested yourself and found something that you like, then the hard work begins.
3. Structure is really important. Once you've had your fun coming up with interesting lyrics and figures, the difficulty lies in the repetition of those moments of interest. New lyrics for a complicated melodic/rhythmic figure are part of the toughest bit of songwriting. Say you've come up with a triple rhyme scheme that you really like and is amusing/moving and memorable. How do you make another verse that is not only just as amusing/moving but is more so, and develops your initial ideas for the song further? This is where the work starts. Spend a lot of time thinking, sing to yourself under your breath as you cycle or shower. Take time to figure things out. Use rhyming dictionaries, talk to friends and colleagues, try things out endlessly. It takes time but it's worth it.
4. Analyse your work. Be critical of yourself. Listen to feedback BUT don't take it as gospel. A million people will have a million different opinions of your work. But underneath it all, you are the only one who knows what you are trying to achieve with the song. Take the feedback that will help you to realise your vision of the song. Sometimes it will be difficult to hear but it's worth listening.
5. When asking for feedback. Try not to ask for it immediately after finishing your song. If you have written something you are emotionally connected to then any feedback, no matter how positive, will be hard to take. Give yourself some time to distance yourself from the song, so that you can view it objectively. When you've had some distance from your work then take you'll be able to listen to their feedback without shouting at them that "You don't understand!" and locking yourself in the bathroom for three days. The thing is, if they don't understand what you're trying to do with the song then you haven't done it right and it needs looking at. In that intervening time you can prepare yourself mentally for everything that they are going to say about it and chances are you'll start to criticise it your work yourself, which is the best thing you can do.
6. In pop, songs can mean different things to different people. That's what's great about them. But if a song illicits confusion, that's a problem. For one person it can be about a person in love, to another it may be a love song to a dead parent, or about a new pet. That's great. But if the listener is unsure whether it's about one or the other, there's the problem. A song can use vague language as long as the sum total of that vague language conjures up a
coherent and specific connection in the listener's mind.
This has been nice!
More to come next time...