When I found out that my friend Liz Walker placed in a songwriting contest, I had to interview her. I knew she was a writer, but I had no idea she was also a songwriter. I also didn’t know the first thing about songwriting.
When I thought of songwriting, I envisioned a bunch of twenty-year-olds sitting around drinking beer and randomly strumming on a guitar. While some hit songs are written that way, Liz told me that songwriting is as much about construction and careful editing as writing short stories and novels.
Like all artistic endeavours, songwriting is a craft that requires practice and skill development to reach an audience beyond your friends and family.
How songs are written
There isn’t a hard and fast rule about where you should start when writing a song. Liz explained that her songs often start in different places.
- A Concept or Idea: A song can start with an idea of something you want to write about and share with other people. Knowing that you want to write about a recent breakup or the fires burning on the west coast can provide inspiration.
- Lyrics: Lyricists are songwriters who only write lyrics. These words can then be given to musicians to write the music.
- Melody, chords: Sometimes it’s the music that comes first.
Some General Songwriting Advice
Liz always recommends taking classes and workshops to learn about writing. She’s the one who got me to go back to college to take a year-long fiction writing course. And we have gone to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference together several times.
Drawing on what she’d learned in the courses she took with Robin, Liz shared a few of her favourite songwriting tips.
- Focus on only one idea in a song.
- The chorus is the most emotional part of a song. The goal is to convey what the singer is feeling about a situation and give us an emotional experience.
- Verses provide the details. They give us information about what the singer is thinking, doing and saying.
- The title is also emotional. The title is often the first or last line of the chorus.
- To help with turning lyrics into music, start by speaking the lines and emphasizing certain words to find the natural rhythm, which will translate to the rhythm of the song.
- If you’re wanting to release music commercially, it’s important to know your genre and write music that fits within that genre. It’s okay to write for multiple genres, as long as the songs are branded separately. No one wants to hear a country song when they were expecting R&B!
- Rhyming dictionaries are a thing… they can even help you with slant rhymes (near rhymes).
- There are studios with professional musicians and singers who will create a song demo from a working recording provided by a songwriter, although costs, production quality and contract terms vary among studios. A songwriter should ensure that they either own the rights to the master recording that’s produced by a studio or that the splitting of the rights has been done legally and fairly. An entertainment lawyer can help if needed.
- This website has great advice for anyone wanting to record their song themselves.