Writing a manual on songwriting is like writing a manual on love. The conflict between artistic passion and rational instructions is paradoxical; nobody can become a great songwriter by relying on a do-it-yourself guide. Indeed, some artists’ styles are such that they would do better to avoid outside influence altogether. What is offered here is not a how-to instruction manual, but a comprehensive list of tips and reminders for experienced songwriters and novices alike. Basic musical understanding, prior songwriting experience, and the intuition to write primarily from the gut and not from a manual are all highly recommended.
Songs can come at us from a number of different directions, and vice versa. Let’s start with the art of purposeful songwriting with a specific conceptual approach, as opposed to writing spontaneously, which we’ll cover next. First, identify the desired essence of the song. This may help pinpoint the genre and style, which will in turn bring more focus to the structure and formula during the writing process. Is it a proclamation of love? A political statement? A woeful lamentation? A funny story? It’s quite common for the song’s essence to dwell in the music and melody, not the lyrics. Lyrical content is not crucial— what is crucial is that the songwriter keeps a steady grasp on the essential message of the song, whether lyrically or melodically, as (s)he begins to write.
Once the essence of the song is decided upon, which in turn will serve to narrow down the mood and style, try picking five to ten similar songs by influential and renowned artists and analyzing them individually: what is unique about the song? What are its strengths and weaknesses? What part of the song really “hits” the listener?
This process will help narrow down a few key aspects that the songwriter may want to include in their own song. Specifically, technical aspects like creative harmonies, changes in tempo or meter, and the fusion of multiple genres are easier to identify and replicate than subjective aspects such as passion and originality. The key is to recognize and respect the quality of influential songs, while maintaining uniqueness as an artist.