We recently came across a post online that discussed how to be a better songwriter. The points given really got me thinking about some of the best songs I’ve heard and some of the things many of them have in common.
One attribute I find present in a lot of them is their simplicity. In creating songs, one of the best things you can do is to keep your songwriting as simple as possible. Keeping it simple does not mean lightweight or nonsensical or adding a lot of fluff, it simply means maintaining clarity so that your listeners don’t have to be doing mental gymnastics to keep up.
To ensure you’re keeping it simple, there are a few things to keep in mind when writing your songs.
1. Visualize your songs in three parts
Keeping this basic song structure in your head is the easiest way to ensure your songs stay simple and are easy to digest by the audience. Most popular songs that are highly listened to use this basic construction, which can come in the form of verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge – chorus for example. You can even drop the bridge for some songs or add a “pre-chorus” if needed. Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” has a pretty straightforward chorus, followed by a verse and pre-chorus then chorus again. There is a lot of repetition of “I get knocked down…” but this simplicity worked as it was a very popular hit song in the late 1990s.
Structuring your songs this way helps to maintain their simplicity and allows listeners to keep up with the regularity of the parts. In turn, this makes it easier for them to memorize and you do want your songs to be as catchy as possible, don’t you?
2. What’s the purpose of your song?
This is an important question that your song must answer in order to stick to the point and maintain simplicity. If you decide to write and you have no idea what it is about, then what you will get is an aimless composition that is meandering and possibly confusing to the listener, if it gets that far. Are you writing a song about a particular person, a way of life, a recent happening, or a personal experience? Whatever it is, determining this reason before starting to write is a good practice to have if you’re set on learning ways of how to be a better songwriter. Keep coming back to it until the song is finished.
3. Don’t overthink when writing
The mind is a beautiful thing but it can also get out of control if you try to think too hard about any one thing. When writing your songs, try not to overthink the lyrics, melody, chord progression or any other element of the song. Listeners are weird creatures and what you think might not work could very well be the part in a song that catches their attention; on the other hand, what you think is the perfect hook could be a turn off. With that said, go with the flow and write what comes to mind. Of course, you should still edit and have someone else listen to it but be confident in your abilities and your song, which will help to prevent you from overthinking.
People have short attention spans, so if your song gives them too much to think about, they might just press the skip button or totally avoid it. In an attempt to make their songs sound different from what’s already on the air, some songwriters may try weird song structures and arrangements. You might run the risk of overwriting or straying, which can turn out to be just too much for listeners. Keeping it simple is an essential skill if you want to learn how to be a better song lyricist. It’s what has worked for most songs over the years… it still works today.