A while back I started a “Songwriting Tips” series. This series is not just applicable for musicians; my tips work for other types of writers and creative brains too. My first tip was “Listen.” If you haven’t had a chance to read that post, you should do so now before continuing with this one. I think all of my songwriting tips from here on out will fall under that first tip somehow. Listening is key to success at anything in life, and in order to carry out songwriting tip #2 — “Collaborate” — you must first know how to listen.
I recently learned my first lesson in music collaboration. If you didn’t know already, I’m in an indie pop/rock band called Sera’s Alibi. We haven’t made it big yet, but we have pretty high hopes and dreams. Anyway, my guitarist, Jorge, called me one day a few weeks ago and said “I have an idea.” He said he wanted to send me a chord progression. I took a listen, and when we met again in person he played it for the rest of the band and I, and we started to collaborate. We worked on the progression musically until we had a sort of instrumental arrangement down, and then it was up to me to go home and write lyrics and a melody.
I went home thinking it was gonna be hard. I had never co-written a song before. I was never really open to the idea, but I’ve been with these guys for a while now, and we are pretty comfortable with each others’ musical styles. The beautiful thing about writing songs together is that we are all very different. And it’s amazing what happens when 4 people with different styles come together to write a song. You get something truly unique out of the experience, and it happens quickly. In fact, I came up with lyrics and a melody pretty easily, and the song was written within 2 weeks.
If you don’t know how to write songs, or if you’re having trouble coming up with songwriting ideas, collaboration is the best way to work through that. I’ve had writer’s block before and it’s not fun. And if you’re a writer, I’m sure you’ve experienced it too. You’re anxiously waiting for the next inspiring musical idea to come to you, and sometimes it takes a while. But as the saying goes, “two heads are better than one,” and if you don’t have an idea, someone else will. Not only that; the experience of collaborating with other musicians only makes you better at your craft as you learn from each other. In this case, Jorge came up with a chord progression. When we all came together and played it as a band, I began to listen to the feel of the music. It was sort of dark; in fact, our drummer called it the Halloween song because the minor chords made him think of Halloween. I try to write lyrics that go with the feel of the music, and I began to listen to the music as I was flipping through my lyrical journal. I found a phrase that I had written down months ago, which brought to mind the concept of a love affair, a broken relationship and everything associated with it — hidden secrets lurking in every corner, a roller coaster ride that takes you from hopeless to happy and back within minutes. The music to this song had the same sort of feel as it shifted from dark-sounding verses with minor chords to a happier, more pop-driven chorus. I had my song concept, and the lyrics came pretty easily from there.
Writing songs isn’t hard, but if you’re trying to write a song for the first time, you may be struggling with songwriting ideas. If that’s the case, then take these two songwriting tips to heart: listen and collaborate. Talk to other songwriters. Learn from them. Work together. Write a song together. You may be amazed at what you come up with. You may even breed a whole new style of music.