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I have been involved in the process of writing music for only a few years now and have learnt in that time to fully appreciate how difficult it can be to write something that reflects you and how to make a song that people will like. Writing music can be one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do. You are battling yourself and your own creativity to craft something that never existed before you began. It is also one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. It is with this in mind that I have decided to share some key lessons I have learnt along the way to get the best out of my abilities.
1. You need an idea.
I cannot stress this enough. On countless occasions, I have sat down by myself or with a friend and decided to try and write a song. This unfortunately just does not happen. No matter how much whiskey you may drink if there’s no idea to begin with you will go around in circles before inevitably deleting it all. This idea doesn’t have to be complete. It can be anything. A basic drum beat, a melody, a chord progression, anything! Once you have this, the process becomes a whole lot easier and you can start to piece together all aspects of the song.
As a point within a point, use voice notes on your phone. They are so useful. When an idea comes to mind, get it down—hum it, sing it, whatever works for you—then leave it. Come back to it in a few days. If you still like it you’re onto something. Furthermore, draw inspiration from something. You may have an idea that you like but don’t know how to implement it, and this is where inspiration can be pivotal. Upon reading Anthony Kiedis’s Scar Tissue, he mentioned how they wrote "Under the Bridge" in his apartment with Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of "All Along the Watchtower" on repeat. This song still proves to be one of their biggest commercial successes to date, therefore highlighting that something as simple as playing a song you enjoy on repeat can help inspire your creativity.
I know sometimes repetition can drive you insane, particularly in some of the really cheesy pop songs, but it is there for a reason; it is memorable. I’m not saying you have to write everything with the same word over and over and to repeat a rhyme every other line (see what I did there), but a memorable melody that goes back and forth between similar notes can really change your songs. A great example of how repetition of a melody can be used is in Post Malone’s "Rockstar."
3. You do you.
Everyone is different which means everyone writes music differently. Do not try and mould your ideas and music into something that sounds like someone else. Upon watching a Buzz Feed video titled "I tried to write a hit song in a week," (Link included) one of the first key pieces of advice was to play to your strengths. Do not try to write a song that sounds like David Guetta just because he’s hugely successful. It will not work because it isn't playing to your strengths. Instead let yourself explore your own creativity, get weird with it, ride your own ideas as far as they will go. With regards to making the song good, I would still encourage self-criticism, just because you are writing a song for yourself doesn’t mean you have to accept that it’s alright and move on.
4. Not everything will work.
By far the most frustrating thing about writing music is that sometimes an idea just isn’t meant to be. It won’t always be a certified banger, but that’s fine. Failure in song writing is what makes you better. Ed Sheeran once said that for his music he has to persevere and that he might write 10 songs he hates and then one song that’s amazing. Plus, if anyone knows how to write a hit, it’s Ed Sheeran.
Don’t speed through the steps like a Japanese bullet train. It is the intricacies and attention to detail that can make all the difference. For example, whenever I used to write music, I would create a 1 bar drum loop for the verses and another 1 bar for the choruses. Yeah, fine this works, and most people won’t really notice. However, when I take my time to find the right beat and change it up section by section and add fills in areas of the song that will compliment it, the song standard improves dramatically. This does not mean start messing about with blast beats in every song you have. This can relate to guitar playing and piano etc. but the subtle changes can make all the difference. Like everything, the real key is to not give up.