ACM Songwriting Tutor, Tim Hawes, is one of the UK’s most successful songwriters and producers, with over ten million record sales to his name, including five No. 1 singles… and an Ivor Novello Award too! Tim knows pretty much everything there is about being a successful songwriter, so here are his 10 top tips:
1. Look far and wide for your songwriting inspiration.
Inspiration can hit at any time, and anything can be inspiring – nature, travel, books, people, sadness or a melancholy mood; even your own thoughts and dialogue. Play around with new chord sequences or melodic shapes, or simply listen to a new song by a much-loved artist. Soak it up, go with the flow and see where your creativity takes you.
2. Decide the ‘heart’ of your song first.
Before you even put pen to paper, establish the concept or title of your song; know where you’re heading in a lyrical sense and plan your journey. Otherwise, it’s a bit like trying to write a novel without knowing what it’s about.
3. Match your lyrics with some simple chords to get your songwriting process started.
Songwriting is simply a result of the collision of words with musical elements. Playing chords can give you an extra weapon for enhancing the emotional complexion of your words and vice versa. Three simple chords and some honest words can go a long way… the rest is development and progress.
4. Find a new way of talking about a universal theme.
There are only a small handful of themes used in songwriting. The art is in the interpretation – finding a new way of saying a simple universal thing. Songwriters have a choice: shall I say it in a way that satisfies me creatively, or shall I say it in a way that connects with a wider audience? The best things happen when these two aims collide.
5. Don’t let writer’s block get you down.
Writer’s block can be a worrying thing. If you’re struggling to get your songwriting moving, try writing about someone else, or a film, picture, novel… even a newspaper story! Or go for a nice walk and let nature clear your mind of the clutter of everyday life, and inspire some new ideas in you.
6. There’s no correct order in which to write a song.
Whether you start with the lyrics or music first is totally up to you, and can often depend on the genre or style of the song that you’re trying to write. Be prepared to mix things up if you need to.
7. Songwriting can be taught… but natural genius can’t.
All good songwriters need to have an antenna which picks up information from the world around you, turns it into observations, and digests and processes it with a view to dispatching an original, creative expression. The best songwriters do this in the most unique, but universally connectable way.
8. Don’t rush into signing a songwriting contract – they can be tricky!
A songwriting contract is an agreement between a publisher and a songwriter, whereby the songwriter writes songs and the publisher then uses those songs for commercial opportunities. The publisher will typically take a 15 to 30% share of the income collected depending on the nature of the deal. Sometimes the deal will include an advance for the writer which is recoupable from royalties. There are many variables in deal structures, so if you’re offered one, make sure you send it to a lawyer to review before signing.
9. Learn to be versatile – songwriting involves more than just writing songs.
The idea of sitting in a studio all day leisurely writing songs is a thing of the past. These days, songwriting also involves meetings, phone calls, emails, social media, and other assorted admin tasks. Be organised. If you fly through the paperwork, you’ll have more time to do what you really love – songwriting!
10. Have what it takes to succeed.
Songwriting is a very competitive industry and to be successful, you need to have what it takes. This includes a genuine passion for songwriting; an obsession with your craft; a ‘no compromise’ determination in achieving your goal; and the ability to go out and make your own luck. There will be knock backs along the way, so develop a thick skin and never give up. Network as hard as you write, and write as hard as you network. Be the first to put yourself forward and always present your best work. Be reliable, and above all else, be a nice person – a good attitude goes a long way. When luck comes your way with an amazing opportunity, get your head down and work hard!
If you’d like to study Songwriting at ACM and hone your craft with advice and guidance from industry leaders like Tim, please call our Admissions Team on 01483 500 841 or visit www.acm.ac.uk/open-days/ to book a place on an ACM Open Day today.