Have you ever had an idea for a song, but weren’t sure how to start songwriting? Or, have you written a song—or a lot of songs—but don’t know how to finish? How about that thing that happens… where you have a lot of parts to a song, but can’t figure out how to tie them all together? You’re not alone. In this blog post, we’ll cover how to start songwriting, including 7 tips for songwriting to help you begin right away.
All songwriters—experienced and newbies alike—face challenges. But we’ve taught songwriting for years, including how to start songwriting, to musicians of all ages and experience levels—and have learned a lot along the way.
Here, BMF co-founder Nate Shaw shares his tips for songwriting, breaking through and getting started on your path as a songwriter.
1. Just start.
I was in my 40s when I decided I wanted to become a songwriter. (Before that I had written lots of instrumental music for film and television, as well as modern jazz music for bands. You know horns and rhythm section or big bands.) So I was brand-new to writing lyrics and how to start songwriting. I finally started by getting a stack of little cards. I’d give myself a 10-minute challenge to write a verse, a chorus, verse, a chorus. I didn’t care if it was any good, but each morning I was going to get up and write words on cards. For others, it might be that you own a guitar and you know a few chords. So start with the chord progression. Start by strumming chords that you love and then ask yourself, “Okay, now that I’ve started a new original song, are there any ideas that come to me around the lyrics, or around what this song could be about.” It sounds so simple because, in fact, it is pretty simple.
2. Get a journal
Kaitlin, one of the creators and teachers of Song Lab—our songwriting class for adults—has some really great jumpstarts for writing lyrics, coming up with chord progressions, even deciding on a style of music that you might want to write in if you’re not clear on that. One of the simplest and most effective things you can do to get started is to get a writing journal. Dedicate that journal to your songwriting dreams and start writing in it immediately. Keep the journal close to you, not tucked away in a drawer, and where you can see it. Having that journal dedicated to one purpose and one purpose only, your aspirations as a songwriter, is a really, really great first step in how to start songwriting.
3. Make a goal
Create a daily intention or goal for writing and stick with it. For example, set a timer for five minutes and spend that time free writing in your journal. Free writing—no rules or agenda—is a great way to get out of a rut and into writing. And I promise… If you do nothing but write in your journal for five minutes every morning for 30 days, you’ll start to view yourself as a songwriter. You’ll move away from the mindset of thinking you don’t belong and into the mindset of being impressed with all you’ve done in the last 30 days. Once that happens, you can start asking yourself what’s next. “What can I do with this writing? Can I organize these words into lyrics? Can I start accompanying this free writing?” These are all really important next steps in your journey as a songwriter.
“I promise… If you do nothing but write in your journal for five minutes every morning for 30 days, you’ll start to view yourself as a songwriter.”
4. Learn from others
You can always learn from other songwriters, no matter what kind of experience you have. We have had students in Song Lab who attended music conservatory, and we’ve had musicians who are 100% self taught. All of them benefitted from listening to each other’s songs, discussing everybody’s individual process and hearing how others broke through their songwriting resistance points. Everyone seems to be universal in their appreciation for what the others in the group have taught them.
5. Rethink the rules
There are so many different types of songwriters out there, and we’ve seen a lot of them in Song Lab. One story that jumps out to me is a musician who came to BMF untrained in the traditional sense, but he wrote a lot of songs. He’s a high school teacher, and he wrote songs to teach his science curriculum. For him, songs were all about telling a story with a specific message and purpose. Telling stories about plants through songs was a really valuable tool for him to teach lessons, but it had never occurred to him that he could actually approach songwriting from a much more abstract point of view. Through free writing exercises, he learned that words don’t need to be linear, moving from point A to B to C to D. He learned that a song can be curvy, that sometimes a song needs to take a sharp left before it finally comes back around to the right, and gets to the finish. That idea transformed his writing.
6. Connect with other musicians
We’ve heard time and again from people who have attended Song Lab that sharing their work with a community of other aspiring songwriters was a major breakthrough. Why? Because the community helped them with one of the most common resistance points for any creative person: imposter syndrome. Songwriters—just like painters, poets and other creatives—frequently doubt that they are worthy of this form of expression. We ask ourselves, “Am I really worthy of sharing a song? Does the world actually want to hear what I create?” The answer is “yes”. The world desperately needs to hear your creation. It wants to hear what’s uniquely yours, because unique voices energize us. Your community of songwriters is there to remind you regularly that the world will benefit from hearing what you have to say.
The world desperately needs to hear your creation. It wants to hear what’s uniquely yours, because unique voices energize us.
7. Stay connected
This might be my biggest tip for songwriting: Whether you start a songwriting group, join a Song Lab cohort, or simply play for friends or family, stay connected to a community and above all else, keep going!
When students finish the three-month Song Lab program at BMF, they always ask what happens next. More than anything, they now consider themselves songwriters and want to stay connected with other songwriters. We hold monthly open mic nights and community hangs, so Song Lab graduates can come back to share what they’re working on. They offer a built-in fan base to one another and come together to offer support and encouragement. This community is what keeps them writing.
What will you write a song about next?
Are you looking to connect with other like-minded songwriters?
Learn more about Song Lab and how to start songwriting here.
Song Lab is a three-month course chock full of tips for songwriting that will ignite your songwriting process and connect you with others who are on the same creative path. Join for one, two or all three months.