Today I want to outline some simple things that go into the songwriting process and hopefully encourage or benefit a reader in their creative expression.
But before I start, please know there is no set formula for writing a good song, there is no method that produces a popular hit or an instant classic. A good song has a lot to do with both the writer and the listener, and in this day and age where the entirety of recorded music history is just one click away, people have both a more diverse palette, but also a more specific personal taste.
Because of this there are less songs that are as hugely popular as in earlier eras, but also there are more songs that get a decent audience and fan base. The range of successful songs is so vast that one can barely draw any consistencies from studying modern music; but there are definitely some things that will help you to write better music and so I will endeavour to outline these qualities.
Songwriting is both about the songwriter and the audience, and I think one must focus on both these aspects of music when writing, and never let one drown out the other. A song is a medium of expression, a vehicle that the musician uses to articulate a particular emotion or message, and if so then it must be made in such a way as to be effective in delivering that message.
A study into music theory reveals certain chord progressions, styles and melodies induce different feelings in the listener. A good songwriter must be aware of this and use it purposefully to convey what they want. But what they want to convey is one of the biggest things they need to figure out â it has to be something they generally want to express.
Something they've experienced, or a concept they've thought about or something that they see in the world around them. Once they know what they write about, they need to effectively communicate that through lyric and music such that they compliment each other. Communication is this: you say what you really want to say, but you say it how it needs to be heard.
One thing I see so many young songwriters do is they try and put all their best ideas into one song. As a creative person, you're constantly taking in new ideas and new ways to express these ideas, but you need to learn how to communicate those ideas as succinctly and simply as possible.
If a song is both talking about God's unconditional love, your favourite sport team and a break-up with a spouse, the listener is going to have no idea what the song-writer is on! You need to focus on delivering one message, concept or feeling as well as you possible can.
Plan how you want to describe the different aspect of your point, decide on what message you want the chorus to be and how the verses can compliment that, how the pre-chorus can build upon the verse if its needed at all, and if the bridge is a resolution or another step in building your case.
Planning out the lyrics helps with clarifying the message, and this also works for the musical side â which part do you want to be the strongest or the quietest, when does the dynamic build or fall, and how can the music compliment the lyrical content when its playing. Preparation benefits clarity, and simplicity strengthens communication.
One of the most important parts in the songwriting process is the pulling apart of it and being able to re-edit it. Making sure you're expressing exactly what you're trying to express is essential and often becomes obvious only upon reconsideration, when some ideas that seemed so bright in the creative moment suddenly seem so not so great after a second listen.
There are very few songs, if any, that were completed in one go. And when they are, they're generally very simple in form and concept, or completely abstract. As much as every song is precious to a songwriter, you need to get used to hearing other peoples critiques and input, changing parts of the song where needed â even when you think it is completely perfectly finished.
I rarely have an attitude that a song is completely finished, and that is partly because of my perfectionist nature but also because of my appreciation of other people's creative ideas and I know that I can often benefit from their inspiration. Work through a song patiently till you're very satisfied with the complete outcome, then work hard to record and perform these song ideas as best as you possibly can; this you give your song the best chance at being an effective communication, and that is what a good song is.
A song is one of the most powerful art forms as it combines poetry with music and intertwines them in a beautiful expression of emotion and creativity. Practice hard and work with other people, always being true to yourself and intentional to the audience; you will get better at this craft and develop over time.
Always cultivate your passion for music and push yourself to be a better artist and create better art â all for the glory of The Creator in whose image we are made. To spread Jesus' fame throughout the earth.
Daniel J. Mathew has finished his Bachelor of Music at Sydney's Wesley Institute and currently volunteers in Hillsong Creative, City Campus.
Daniel Mathew's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-mathew.html