Songwriting is a rather unique skill to develop. For starters, the barriers to entry are rather low. Pretty much anyone can decide they want to start writing songs, whether as a hobby or for a living. You don’t need to go to school for years or pursue an impressive degree to say you are a songwriter. You just need to start creating.
While no special training is required to start writing songs, becoming a good or better at songwriting does call for some understanding of the basics. For instance, songwriters need to know about common song structures, writing styles, and best practices. This is especially important if you are trying to develop a professional songwriting career. To increase your chances of success, there are also a number of songwriting mistakes you want to avoid.
Focusing too much on rhyming
Newbie songwriters are often encouraged to rhyme in order to get the hang of building lyrics and learning song structures. In addition, rhyming helps to make your song catchy. With that said, focusing too much on rhyming can limit your creative output and lead to predictability.
Imagine you have written a lyric ending with “raining money.” The number of words you can use to rhyme with this phrase in order to complete the next line is quite limited. You could wind up stuck trying to come up with a suitable rhyme, end up writing a rhyme that is completely off or produce a rhyme that is easily predicted by the listener.
Now, it’s not that rhyming is not important; after all, most pop songs indulge in some amount of rhyming. The issue is being too dependent on putting rhymes together. Instead of putting all your focus on rhyming, ask yourself if your lyrics flow well together. A song having good flow makes it easy to listen to, which is important if you want listeners to remember what your song is about.
Taking too long to get to the hook
If you check the majority of songs on the Billboard Charts, they tend to get to the first chorus in under a minute. This is not coincidental but rather intentional. In a world of short attention spans, taking longer to get to the first chorus can cause listeners to lose interest, and professional songwriters realize this.
Of course, there are exceptions. There are plenty of hit songs that take longer than a minute before the chorus plays. But many of those songs keep listeners engaged in different ways. They often have other minor hooks in the introduction or at the beginning of the first verse, start out with an instrumental prelude, or have lyrics that tell a story. Craig David’s “7 Days” is a good example of a song telling an engaging story that keeps listeners hooked for over a minute before getting to the chorus. Another exception is Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which doesn’t even have a chorus but keeps listeners engaged with its variations in lyrics, rhythm, and melody.
There is fluff in your lyrics
In a bid to try and make your lyrics interesting, you may be tempted to add as many details as possible. Not only can this achieve the opposite of interesting, but it can also result in your song getting longer than it needs to be.
When writing song lyrics, each line should be advancing the story one step further. You also don’t want to constantly be repeating the same words and phrases over and over. Sure, some level of repetitiveness is recommended if you want to write a catchy pop anthem. However, if you are repeating the same set of lyrics or phrases throughout the entire song or repeating your first verse in the space of a second, or for a bridge, it might be an indication that you are being lazy or lacking in creativity.
Your songs sound the same
Every songwriter should aim to have a distinct style or signature. This helps to set your work apart from all the creations being put out by the thousands of other songwriters you are competing with. At the same time, it is important that you have the presence of mind to ensure your new song does not sound like your last.
To prevent this, you can have other people listen to your songs and give their opinion (since you may not be able to hear the similarities yourself). Another trick to try if you find yourself writing songs that sound the same is to listen to music from a diverse array of artists, then try to write from the perspective of each individual. Bear in mind, you won’t be setting out to plagiarize (which is wrong and can get you in trouble), but rather to learn new styles you can incorporate with yours to produce songs that have their own sound.
There is little or no variation
If the rhythm and flow of your song remain at one level from start to finish, listeners will likely get bored easily. Practice switching up the patterns in melody, rhythm, harmony, and even tempo of your song to keep it interesting.
This can be carried out in a number of ways. For starters, you can make a chord change when moving from verse to pre-chorus and then again when starting the chorus. For the second verse, although having the same lyrical structure as the first, you can try tricks such as lengthening the chords or implementing subtle melodic changes so they don’t seem like the exact pattern. Also, if you are constructing a bridge, it needs to add contrast to the rest of the song.
Making mistakes is all part of the learning curve, so don’t sweat it if you have been guilty of any of the errors on this list. Getting good at songwriting requires continuous practice and pursuing new tricks, so the more you do it, the better you will become.