Updated: Aug 16
In this guest post, Adam Pickering from the musical duo The Daydream Club explains how to write a song.
About The Daydream Club
The Daydream Club are a multi-genre Leicester music duo formed in 2010 by the now husband and wife pairing, Adam and Paula Pickering. Independently produced and self-released, they have amassed over 100 Million career streams to date, with a catalogue as wide-ranging as it is distinctive. The Daydream Club are signed to Wise Music Publishing.
How to write a song
Have you ever experienced that moment where your mind glazes over as you slowly drift into the abyss of a blank page? Maybe you’re new to songwriting and have no clue where to begin. Before you get going there are a few things you need to remember;
We all have to start somewhere
We’ve all faced the sting of writer's block at some point
There is no right or wrong way to write a song so go easy on yourself
There are definitely certain formats that work well for writing songs, however with new technologies in AI analysing all the big hits through time and then generating the perfect song from the formats extracted from its finding you might want to consider finding your own voice, it stands more chance of being unique.
Rather than outline the format to a perfect song I’ll just aim to lay out some useful tips and tools to get you off that blank page and closer to writing what is in your heart… cue emotional, uplifting music and self-belief goosebumps - you’ve got this!
All of that being said about formats, a good place to start is to learn a bunch of songs and see what it is that you like about them… I’m not suggesting that you then carbon-copy the format of the entire song but just absorb elements to incorporate into your writing process. For example, The Beatles would often do a major chord followed by a minor chord such as G major to G Minor which opens up the opportunity for a tasty chromatic melody line, you could then keep this idea in your back pocket when you’re writing and want to create a particular effect.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself… the basic bare bones of a song boils down to 4 key factors to consider; Chords, Melody, Lyrics and Structure. It’s your job to play around within these parameters until you find something that sparks enthusiasm in your earholes.
For a moment I’m going to presume that you can play a harmonic instrument like piano or guitar. This is often my starting point but each to their own. Figuring out a short chord sequence that you like the sound of can give you solid foundations to build from with your melody on top. Now don’t make the mistake of trying to think of the entire song all at once, place one brick at a time and eventually you will have a full wall. Try finding two or four chords that you like together.
It is no secret that endless pop songs have been built on a now-famous four-chord progression; I, V, vi and IV of a major key. These roman numerals refer to the number of a major scale that we begin a chord from (1, 5, 6, 4). So in C major, this would be C, G, Amin, F. There is something about these changes that feel very comfortable, familiar and concluded which is to do with the cadences between each chord but we won’t get into that now. My point is that it is very possible to write an endless amount of songs from these four chords alone, without changing at all within the song… that sounds quite achievable, right?
On the other hand, you could use just one chord for the entire song like John Lennon did with Tomorrow Never Knows or stick to just one riff like Bill Withers did with Who Is He (And What Is He To You)? Both these are brilliant songs from simple ideas… an approach like this requires the melody or arrangement to be more dominant to maintain the listener's attention. Once you’re comfortable with a handful of chords for a song you could then try incorporating more chords that change with each section from verse to chorus etc. One of my favourite songs we’ve ever written as The Daydream Club is 'Rolling Out the Fire' which is just 3 chords over a pedal bass (where the note stays the same while the chords change on top) throughout which creates this tension that never lets up.
Now that you’ve got your chord sequence you can start warbling melodies over the top until you find something you like (an approach I will often employ, maybe even let some random words fall out of your mouth to get an idea of what kind of words you’ll add later). You can also do it in reverse by starting with the melody (this is obviously a good starting point for those of you that can’t play a harmony instrument). As The Daydream Club, we once wrote an entire song called 'Home From Home' from a melody that I started singing in the shower, we then worked backwards to figure out what the harmony was underneath. As an experiment, you could try limiting yourself to a melody that uses only 3 notes in the verse (very Morrissey or The National) and then expand it in the chorus to lift it.
Once you’ve pinned down a melody you like you now need to figure out how many syllables the melody breaks down to, for example: “I am the Walrus” has 5 syllables. It’s also important at this point not to be too rigid with the syllable count, by that I mean that you can spread one word over a long melody (also called a melisma or more informally a vocal run). This might get you thinking about doing huge impressive vocal runs like Beyoncé, which is not wrong but I’m also talking about the beautiful subtleties of how the technique is used in more middle eastern influences like the gorgeous rolling melodies Arooj Aftab glides through on Baghon Main.
Lyrics can be incredibly personal about your own life experiences or they can be written as an outsider simply observing something and everything in between. I find that inspiration is everywhere for lyrics if you’re looking. Try to put yourself in someone else shoes and imagine how that feels or write about something in the news or a movie scene that has moved you. At the risk of coming back to The Beatles again (at the end of the day, they had a good track record for songs), they would often use the news as inspiration. I read that Radiohead sometimes use a trick where they all write down a phrase that they think sounds cool, then put them all in a bowl and pick them out at random until they had some lyrics, whether that is true or not I can’t confirm but I do think it’s a fun method to encourage inspiration.
This brings us around to starting with the lyrics and then fitting a melody to the lyrics. This approach can give you a lot more freedom to express yourself without boundaries. With either method you will want to think about rhyming… this is not always necessary (like the Radiohead example I mentioned) but it’s something to keep in mind. A strategic rhyme can make a sentence feel more poignant or make a phase blend together. Without going into too much detail you could try the following rhyming patterns:
A B A B - This is where at the end of each sentence, (A) lyric lines will rhyme and the (B) lines will rhyme.
A A B B - This is where you have a rhyme at the end of each sentence with the (A) lines rhyming right next to each other and the (B) lines rhyming right next to each other. The (A) and (B) end rhyming words can be a different kind of rhyme IE (A) could be the words ‘Lime’ and ‘Time’ at the end of the sentences and (B) could be ‘Back’ and ‘Track’. Ultimately it’s up to you, no rules just guides remember.
Internal Rhyme - Hip Hop artists are the masters of this, they don’t just wait for the end of the sentence to rhyme, they are constantly throwing the rhythmic pattern around. As an example off the top of my dome... “I sometimes find your mind is of its own kind”.
I could go on so much more about any one of these areas but I need to round things up. So finally we get to structure. Once you’ve pinned down some of the previously mentioned elements you can start to try to organise them into a neat 3-minute package or maybe you're a prog-rocker and you want a sprawling 30-minute Opus. Either way, you will need a bit of structure. As I mentioned before, this is really up to you but some common forms are:
Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Outro
Verse, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Chorus, Outro
Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Bridge, Chorus
Verse, Link, Verse, Link, Verse, Link, Verse, Link, Verse
There are numerous combo options but what you are ultimately aiming for is to keep your listener interested until the end, so it’s about introducing new ideas and elements throughout the song at strategic moments.
Write for Fun and the Rest Will Come
There are so many more fun things to explore and inspire songs like the arrangement of instruments used, starting on a different sound or an instrument that you’ve never played before, limiting yourself to a particular topic or structure… all of these can help get you off of that blank page but everything we’ve covered here today are good solid foundations to build from and the rest is up to you.
Good luck and happy writing.
How to write a song for indie musicians was written by Adam Pickering, from The Daydream Club
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