Let’s say you’ve got a songwriting idea. You sit down at your piano or guitar, your notebook in hand. You might write the title in bold letters at the top of the page. Maybe you come up with a riff or a few chords.
But then: the empty page starts to get to you. Your mind goes blank.
There are a few ways to write your first song. These are the steps I usually go through to kick-start writing, otherwise I will be staring at those blank lines for days. Here are a few steps I recommend you do:
1. Decide your Song Structure
The most common song structure is Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus. We can throw a Pre-Chorus in there if it needs it. If we’re telling a story, two verses before the chorus often match the best.
2. Decide your Point of View
Who is talking? You? Another person? Are you creating a character?
Who are you (or a character) talking to? Yourself? Another person? An audience?
Deciding whose perspective we’re writing from and who we are speaking to can create a sense of direction in the song. If you’re writing a personal song, directly addressing ourselves or the other person (ex. “I” am speaking to “You”) creates an intimate feeling. If we’re writing a hopeful song, just understanding that you’re speaking to a friend can spark the creativity.
3. What Am I Talking About?
Maybe you have a title already, or what you would call a main hook. What does this title say about the story? (Even if you don’t want to lay out a full story in the song, you still need a story that is happening in the background). What does the title say about the character singing the title?
Alternatively, let’s say you have a story, but you need a hook line. Ask yourself – what would these characters say? How can the story be summed up in a few words? What is the main point you want to get across? That goes in your chorus.
4. What Happens in the Verses?
What is going on in your song? You need to describe the details leading up the chorus in your verse, so think about what kind of details you want to provide. You might need to define the Who/What/When/Where/Why/How of the song.
5. Define your Conflict
Why write the song, anyway? Even when we have an idea, sometimes the reason we get stuck is that there’s no conflict. Is it a happy love song? Maybe your conflict is the other person is holding back.
6. Start with your First Chords
Come up with a couple of chords that sound nice together, or a rhythmic riff. Do the chords sound like they’re more suited for the Chorus – big, conclusive, coming to a realization – or do they sound more suitable for the Verse – beginning, story details, leading to somewhere?
Also, hum along for melodies.
7. Try your First Line
If you’re really stuck on beginning that first line (whether you start with your verse or chorus), figure out a line you would start with. Put yourself in the eyes of your character – what would you say first in that situation? Write down that line, then rhyme with it.