So, you’ve found the inspiration and you’re ready to write (see part one). Great! Now what? There are a lot of factors that go into writing a song, many of which are down to personal style and preference but your choices and decisions during the writing process all affect the end product so it’s worth knowing some of the basics!
Avoiding Clichés (Or How to Make Them Work for You)
Songs are interpreted in many ways and if you want to make your meaning clear you may fall into the trap of clichés. In fact, this may have the opposite effect, by using clichés you run the risk of your song losing not only it’s effectiveness, but its meaning too. A way of avoiding these clichés is to flip them completely on their head by changing an aspect of the line so it has a completely different meaning. For example, take an idiom such as ‘water under the bridge’ find the opposite of water, perhaps fire, so that it becomes ‘fire under the bridge’, which switches the meaning and then brings up connotations of a bad break up, a fight etc.
Another example would be taking ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’ and altering it be something such as ‘wearing your heart under your coat’, for example, which has completely the opposite meaning. This way you give a nod to the original cliché so your meaning is clear but also can create double meanings and avoid the lyrics sounding too contrived.
Clichés can also be used ironically, this depends on the phrasing of the line and the surrounding lyrics. This can create a kind of self-aware humour within your lyrics.
This idea of clichés doesn’t just apply to the lyrics but also to the phrasing and structure. Don’t feel pressured to conform to standards of song and rhyme structure and don’t force rhymes just because you think it should! It will sound forced if it is and this will ruin the flow of the song.
Below we will be listing the typical definitions of song elements but this does not mean that you cannot use them differently.
- Introduction – The section at the beginning of a song generally before the lyrics start.
- Verse – Usually recognisable due its melodic repetition although the lyrics usually differ. Typically uses rhyme in an AABB or ABAB format. This is where you can be more wordy and detailed, verses can tell a story.
- Pre-Chorus – A transitional section between verse and chorus which can create a build up to the chorus.
- Chorus / Refrain – A repeating section heard throughout the song that contains the hook and the main idea / theme of the song. This is where you want to keep the lyrics more simple. A refrain may also refer to a shorter repeated passage (such as ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ in basically every pop song ever).
- Bridge – A contrasting and transitional section of the song which breaks up the repetitive pattern of a song.
- Middle Eight – Named so because it is typically eight bars long, a type of bridge that has different characteristics to the rest of the song.
- Outro / Coda – A way of ending the song, how the song winds down or fades out etc.
- Interlude – Defined usually as a break or a gap, in music an interlude can be part of a song or a whole song that is part of an album (‘Interlude’ on My Chemical Romance’s album ‘Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge’).
- Instrumental Break / Solo – Pretty self explanatory; similar to an interlude but may be longer and more involved. Can be a showcase of a certain instrument and can tell a story. As with an interlude, it can be part of a track or a whole track itself.
We find it best not to force it. Let the words come first and then arrange it because, let’s be honest, that’s the fun part. Also don’t be afraid to stray from the norm, let it happen naturally.
Making it Scan
Making words ‘scan’ in a song is making them fit well in the melody. There should not be any awkward jumps, gaps or change in tempo due to the amount of words in a line. This can be the most difficult part of writing a song. It doesn’t matter how great the line is on paper if you cram a load of words in and it doesn’t scan it will not sound good.
If you can’t bare to part with your words, you may be able to change the melody to fit. Sometimes it is best to compromise; changes that you make don’t just affect that one line but also the surrounding lines.
Sometimes known as an ‘earworm’, a catchy song is usually created through the use of repetition. There have even been studies on it which should tell you how effective it is! Quite simply, the repeated exposure to a line or melodic phrase will make it more likely to stick in someone’s head.
This kind of repetition is usually the hook which is usually found within the chorus. There is no hard and fast rule and nothing is stopping you from having multiple repetitions or hooks within the song if you wanted.
You could run into issues, however, if the song is overly repetitive. Eventually, if something is repeated too often people will just stop listening. So finding that middle ground is important.
Finding the Hook
The effectiveness of the hook will be shown in how recognisable your track is. There are a lot of factors to aid the recognisability of your song, but a main one is the hook.
In order to create a hook here are some things to consider: Keep it simple. Make it rhyme. Make it repeat. Try to sum up the song in one line and use that to create your hook.
How Genre and Style Affect Your Writing
If you want to write a punchy, memorable, upbeat song then you probably want to keep the lines short and the words simple. Whereas, if you’re writing a ballad, you can afford to be wordier. It is slow and lingering and therefore you can use longer lines and words with more syllables.
Genre is also important, punk for example, is very reliant on it’s topic, usually the theming is quite political. Again, you don’t necessarily have to stick to these ideas completely but it helps if you are aiming for a certain feel.
Your style may also be affected by your motivation for writing. If you are a primarily a writer and you are wanting to make a career out of writing for other artists, then this doesn’t mean that you can’t write from personal experience but that it may be useful to practise writing to a brief. This also gives you the opportunity write for a variety of different genres and styles.
If you are primarily a musician and a performer and are writing for your own use, then it may be useful be more aware of the style and feel that you are creating for yourself through your song writing. If you have a vision you can completely mould this creation from lyrics, music and sound.