One of the reasons I love working with songwriters is how different everyone's songwriting style is - Everyone has different strengths and different challenges, and my focus with each one of my students is completely unique.
But even though every songwriter is different, I do see some common mistakes among the beginners:
Focusing on too many themes at once
A lot of beginner songwriter try to throw 5-6 different hooks into one song. But the thing is, even if the hooks are INCREDIBLE, their impact will be diluted because the listener won't know which hook to focus on.
Each song should have one central idea and one main hook. Ideally, you should have that central theme in mind before you start writing. Because without that sense of direction, you lyrics might turn into aimless wandering.
You want your listener to walk away from your song with a solid understanding of what the song was about. Because the truth is, if your one hook didn't grab them, they may not even give it a second listen.
NOTE: Secondary hooks are fine in some contexts, as long as the main hook is clear and the song is super-focused.
Every section of a song (verse, chorus, bridge) has a unique function. (I break down the functions in this post.) If you don't know which section you're writing, you won't be able to make sure that section is serving its function.
You might end up with a verse that doesn't explain the context of the song, a chorus that doesn't contain the hook and isn't catchy or singable, or a bridge that doesn't stand out from the rest of the song.
Now I'm not saying every section of the song has to conform perfectly to it's ideal "function," but if you write without your song structure in mind, your might end up confusing your listener.
Pairing lyrics with awkward rhythms
I can't stress this enough: Speak your lyrics out loud. Say them like you would normally would. Be aware of where the stressed syllables fall. And use your melody and rhythm to compliment that.
It's SO easy to distort the pronunciation and emphasis of your words when you're trying to fit lyrics into a pre-written melody. (Starbucks lovers, anyone?) But sometimes a tiny tweak of the melody will help you fit in the lyrics more smoothly.
To me, this is more of a suggestion than a rule. (Though some songwriters disagree!) I think the occasionally weirdly pronounced word is totally fine if it's used in a really catchy melody and doesn't upset the flow of the song. (Sticking with the Taylor Swift references..."Say you'll see me a-gain" is catchy as hell, am I right?)
But a lot of times, with beginning songwriters, it happens accidentally and is more disorienting than catchy.
So this is my main point - be aware of whenever you're emphasizing odd syllables in a word. Explore your options. Try tweaking the melody or rhythms. If you think stressing un-stressed syllables is the best option, go for it! But often, you'll find there's a better way.
Using a limited vocal range
A lot of songwriters accidentally stay within a 4-5 note range when they're writing their first song. It's completely unintentional and usually they're not aware they're doing it - it's just comfortable for them.
So get uncomfortable.
Reach up (or down) for notes you normally wouldn't sing. Don't be afraid of hitting "ugly" notes to explore different areas of your range. Just play around in that area until you find notes that fit with your chord progression.
Once you expand your range a little, your song will be SO much more interesting and dynamic. You'll be able to use your range to create contrast in different sections of your song (ex. using a lower range in your verse and a higher range in your chorus).
So don't be afraid to experiment! That's what songwriting is all about!
Not finishing anything
Don't put an insane amount of pressure on your first song - it probably isn't going to be your greatest hit. You will get better with practice and time! And if your first song DOES have potential to be great, you can always come back to it later and tweak it.
Just don't spend 3 years on your first song. Get it done. Get it out there. You'll be glad you did.
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