You know you want to be the next big songwriter, but you don’t know where to start. Here are a few tips to help you out. First and foremost, the inspiration from the song can start as anything: a title, a lyric, a chord progression, a melody – anything. But the hard part is expanding that and making into a full-fledged song.
One of the most famous examples is one of the most famous songs of all time: “Yesterday”. Although credited to Lennon-McCartney, this one was all Paul McCartney’s. He woke up from a dream with the melody in his head. His first thought was that he’d heard it somewhere else and it belonged to another songwriter. So composers, take note: that great tune you’ve got might have come from your subconscious and isn’t really yours! In his biography “Many Years From Now”, Paul tells a funny story about how Ringo wrote what he thought was a brilliant song – and that’s because it was a current hit that Bob Dylan had on the radio! So Paul went and played his new melody for everyone he could think of – and they all said it was original. But he still didn’t have any lyrics. He called the song “Scrambled Eggs.” It was months later on a vacation to Portugal that he suddenly came up with the word “Yesterday” and then started to figure out all the rhymes that went with it. It still took him two weeks after that to finish the lyrics.
You may want your songs to break all the rules, but there are reasons the rules exist: they help you in composing. Start with song structure. The most familiar structure is: verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus. You may not want the song to be so simplistic, but go ahead and start with that just to get something down. You can re-configure it once you’ve got some kind of structure down.
Another tip: take a look at the lyrics from current hit songs. They aren’t necessarily just a long poem. The rhymes don’t always occur where you think they will. Look at Lil Wayne’s “Drop The World”:
“You keep the sunshine, save me the rain
I search but never find, hurt but never cry
I work and forever try, but I’m cursed, so never mind”
So write down the lyrics from current hits and see how they work. Don’t imitate them, but use them for inspiration.
A few more tips: always carry some kind of recording device, because you’ll never know when that inspiration will hit. McCartney tells of numerous times he thought he had a great idea, but forgot it when he didn’t get it down in time. Remember also that a song should revolve around a central idea; you’re not writing a novel and you’re just going to confuse people if there are too many things going on in it. As McCartney says: “ Once you’ve got the great idea, they do tend to write themselves.”