Top Tips for Writing Hits!

The level of songwriting from young people all over the UK and Ireland is higher than ever, so as the competition heats up for Song Academy Young Songwriter 2014, here are a few top tips to be heard above the noise…

1. Pick an interesting title
Even if you are talking about a mundane, everyday occasion or feeling, make it interesting. Compare a heartbeat to a flashing light or the feeling of losing fear by roaring it away – the more inventive the concept around the ordinary, the better. Think of recent hits Dark Horse, Wrecking Ball, Pompeii – interesting titles and concepts talking about everyday feelings to do with fear, love and empowerment.

2. Make the first four lines agree with your title
The great songwriter Ralph Murphy says it very well in his books on the laws of songwriting – if the first four lines of your first verse can link back to your title then you’re onto a winner. Take for example Roar:

I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly
Agreed politely
.. Now you’re gonna hear me roar

You create an expectation, and then you fulfil it. By doing this, you never lose sight of the message of your song, you keep in mind what you’re trying to say by always referring back to the title, thus never losing your listeners’ attention or the concept you’re expressing in your song.

3. Playing around with a major or minor scale for new melodies
Everyone know the monotonous sound of a scale being practised up and down and up and down – but if you’re stuck for melodies, why not try and take notes out of the scale and use those to bounce ideas off?

For example, if we take the c major scale of CDEFGABC, why not try picking out certain notes and changing the order; CDGCDFCB.  Play around with different combinations until your find the melody you’re looking for? You can choose any scale you like in major or minor.

4. Hooks
It has been said that the most successful ABBA songs have 5 hooks in each of their songs. A hook is a musical idea, melodic instrumental part, rhythmic phrase or a vowel/consonant sound or word repeated, that catches the ear of the listener to draw them into the song and helps to create its ‘catchiness’. According to popular commercial music today, the more hooks you can introduce throughout the song, the catchier it will be, because it’s constantly enticing the listener and, most importantly, keeping them interested. Listen to the start of Dancing Queen and the vocal ahhs and piano part before the hooky first line of the chorus, or Jessie J’s Price Tag (It’s all about the money, money, money/We don’t need your money, money, money) and try and think about hooks for your own song, either lyrically, repeating the main message of the song (e.g. Roar or Burn) or melodically, on an instrument or vocal oohs or aahs.

5. Detail
If you are listening to a song and the singer sings

You wore that shirt
In spring
In the sunshine

that’s all well and good. But if they were to add a bit more detail, you’d instantly have a much clearer vision of the setting which the singer is remembering and sharing with you, the listener:

You wore that dark blue shirt
On April 5th
In the warm spring sunshine

Instantly, there is context, there is detail, there is a picture in your mind and you can see what you are hearing. Imagery in songs is hugely powerful because once there is a description being sung to you, you can imagine it and therefore feel more involved in the song itself. And that’s what songs do, they connect people, they provide solace for people to know that they are not the only ones who feel or think a certain way, and all of these emotions and thoughts are translated to the masses by the medium of songwriting.

So to sum up, our top tips for writing hits are – create an interesting title, make the first four lines agree with your title, play around with your melodies, create hooks and get descriptive!  Have a play and we’re looking forward to listening to your songs.

Click here to enter songs into the 7-12 year old category

Click here to enter songs into the 13-18 year old category

Listen to songs entered so far

It’s been another great week for song entries to our Young Songwriter 2014 competition.   Incredible songs about everything in life, from love, trust, feeling like you’re invisible, anti-bullying, and friendships to grandparents dying and loving yourself for who you are.

Have a listen to our featured 4 songs this week on our audioboo channel. 

It’s moving to hear what inspires each young songwriter to write their songs.  Here’s what inspired Charlie Leavy to write her song ‘The Way Life Is’ “I wrote this song because I think it’s about time people realised that there are bigger issues and concerns in the world besides whom each celebrity is dating and all of the stupid scandals in the Hollywood world. Also, because the troublemaking people of today have no respect for anything and think they’re the royalty of the world as they create havoc while carrying weapons. We have bigger things to be dealing with than people who have no respect, who could easily take a look at their life and think “wait a second, I’m better than this.” It angers me how change could be within our grasp if people stopped being so closed-minded and started to think about not only life now, but life for future generations too”.

If you’re a young budding songwriter or know someone who is, enter our Young Songwriter 2014 competition!  Closing date for entries is 6th April.  Click here to enter!





We’re attracting amazing young songwriters from across the UK and Ireland!  Have a listen to the inspirations for some of our week 2 entrants songs:

Zoom Out “its about how I choose to deal with my problems. Being a 16 girl I feel the world moving too fast for myself to keep up, when something gets difficult its seems so big, but over time I’ve realised that the world moves on and me and my problems are so small compared.

All My Best Music Comes From Petrol Stations “It’s about a guy who’s travelling and is pretty happy about it but also keeps running out of music and food and it’s kind of about the dangers of living in the moment. It’s also inspired from when a friend of mine explained how he keeps finding CDs on the floor of petrol stations. I thought this was quite an interesting idea: that the music that he listens to is the music that has been forgotten by others that were simply stopping by whilst travelling and has been picked up by another, doing the same. The message of the song is that there is a balance between ‘living now’ and planning ahead”.

Find “I wrote this song because I went through a phase at home where I felt out of place. I wasn’t doing great at school and I was a bit down. I lost my way a bit, messing around and getting in trouble. So this song is about how it felt worse being away from what I was used to and where I felt safe even if times were tough and that whatever happens, home and what is familiar to you is the best place to be”.

Hold me forever “I was in a relationship last year which basically fell apart for lots of different reason but I was trying to hold onto what we had left and it wasn’t working. I wrote a song as I find it the best way to put emotions across”.

You’re so hypnotising “So there is this friend who i have known since year 3 and we were an ‘item’ for around 4 years. Then i found out he liked my best friend so i told him to go with her and leave me. This song is about all that and how i felt after everything ,even 4 years later, now that he doesn’t even talk to me properly”.

This is our chance “What inspired me to write this song was the fact me and my boyfriend were going through some tough times. The song is about saying how we now have this one chance to make things right. It says how we need to keep out the dark and start following the light. It says how we don’t need to forget but we need to move on from our mistakes”.

Click here to have a listen to our featured songs from week 2. 

If you haven’t sent your entry in yet, you’ve until 6th April! Click here to enter.

We’ve had a fantastic start to our Young Songwriter 2014 competition!  Budding young songwriters across the UK and Ireland are sending in their own original songs about things that matter to them.  It’s amazing hearing what inspires them to write songs.  Have a listen to our featured songs of week one here: 7-12 year old entrants and 13-18 year old entrants and see below what they’re all writing about.

So what are they writing about?  7-12 year olds are writing inspiring songs about what it’s like growing up and being happy with who they are and having fun in the moment, things they love like sleepovers and playing the guitar, the importance of a family and remembering loved ones.

Here are some great lyrics from our 7-12 year olds entrants;

Growing Up “Growing up is harder than writing a song, Writing a song is short and growing up is long, For growing up there’s no technique, Just be yourself and be unique. I’m growing up, just take me for who I am”.

Photographs”When photographs were of present times and everything just went in rhymes I just want it all back”

Sleepover “It’s a great day We’re having a sleepover No sleep, just movies and songs Tonight we’re gonna party forever.

Guitar Zone “I’m strumming my guitar…and I’m singing in a dream And the words just keep on flowing and I feel so happy”

Proper Family “I need a proper family, someone to be there for me, someone to comfort me, a daddy and a mummy. Just trust me”

Our 13-18 year old entrants are writing about relationships and love – the spontaneity of the moment you first realise that you have a connection with somebody, opening up and trusting people, the first mistakes, arguing about futile things, being wild with friends, breaking up, getting back together, impact of hurtful words.  Also many uplifting songs about living your life to the full and accepting people for who they are, the balance between living now and planning ahead, how small we are in the world but if we take more interest in the world we’ll be bigger within the vast world.

Here are some great lyrics and song titles from our 13-18 year old entrants:

Zoom Out “Deep in this world. Deep in this whirlwind. It’s moving so fast. No one notices what’s past. Living for the now I can’t look to my future. From one day to the next. Running after the times. Trying to keep up with deadlines .You’ve gotta zoom out za za zoom out”

Stand Tall “If you can conceive it I believe you can achieve it”

Amigos Amigas “Now you’re sitting here telling me that I’m out of line. I think you’re out of key, we should be singing the same melody.  You’re my alarm slash lullaby.  My enemy salsh alibi.  I’ll slash jealousy like a samurai”

Here I am “You give me the daylight when I can’t afford the sun you make me feel like I’m the only one.  You give me the night sky when it’s bright you make me feel like I’m going to be alright

Better Than Goodbye “Deep brown eyes and a burning desire to change the world Don’t look back, we’re flying high above, ten feet tall, held up by our love”

When In Rome “You’ve got a pocket full of dreams and a fear of flying, no space to grow your wings so I’ll lend you mine. One word from your lips and I’m seeing stars”

If They Only Knew “Someone saw the damage, someone saw the marks, someone saw through the false pretences, someone saw the scars, someone saw through her, right from the start, someone saw the missing pieces, in this girl’s hear, she felt crazy she felt mad, she felt useless, she felt sad she was tired she felt so alone, if only someone knew, if only someone had known”

Don’t Cross The Line “Took me to the edge We’re running out of time But I’m begging you Pleading you Don’t cross the line”

United “For a day, for a minute, for a second.  Why can’t be just be united”

Click here to listen to our SAYS14 entrants songs so far – and to enter!

If you know any budding young songwriters – please send them our way!

SAYS14 is sponsored by PRS for Music, Dawsons Music and Tech Music School.

Listen Closely

With the world around us becoming increasingly hectic, many people don’t have time to develop the voices of today’s youth. What with electronic gadgets being the central hub of our existence, people being constantly contactable by machines at every moment, unruly children being silenced by iPads and iPhone games, not many children are given the chance to sit down with a pen and paper and write down what they are thinking or feeling because they ‘don’t have time’. But what if they did? What if children took an hour a week to sit and reflect on their thoughts about the wider world, about what’s going on around them, about their feelings and their lives and wrote those feelings down, perhaps to inspire others, or give hope to themselves?

I have been in the privileged position of having the opportunity to listen to what young people today have expressed through the medium of songwriting and it has left me in turn astonished, inspired and humbled. Working for Song Academy, an after-school songwriting club where children who are seeking a chance to be heard above the noise and express themselves creatively are given just such a platform; a space in which they can express their thoughts, fears, excitements, disappointments, and opinions in a safe, encouraging environment. Some write for themselves, trying to cope with the effects of bullying in school, friendship crises or to make sense of death or grief, while some write to inspire others, offering them hope through song, positivity through lyrics, and as Nelson Mandela once said, by letting their ‘light shine, [they] give other people permission to do the same’.

The psychological effects of songwriting are very interesting. Music therapist Barbara Dunn says that ‘writing songs can be a very powerful tool in therapy’ as it forces one to collate thoughts and feelings into a ‘package’ that can then be analyzed and interpreted from ‘different angles.’ Some children I’ve worked with at Song Academy have found when they are in a troubled situation often they refer back to a song they wrote to provide a source of comfort, and that the power of a melody with a personal lyric can lift their mood in an instant.

Apart from the after-school club, Song Academy has an annual National Young Songwriting competition, which allows children between 7-18 years old across UK and Ireland to have their songs listened to by top industry professionals. I was fortunate to have been one of the judges last year and hearing the variety of emotions expressed, from self-harm to first love, from parental gratitude to bullying, from friendship to celebrities, the children’s songs were bursting with insightful, powerful and inspiring ideas. Children are using songwriting as a vehicle to express hopes and fears and are realizing what a powerful force music and melody can be as a medium to understand themselves and each other; and all we need to do is listen.

Dunn says ‘writing down thoughts and feelings, whether in a journal or song, can be an incredibly healing process. It is a way to give voice to the essence of who we are, to understand and express ourselves and, to some extent, our relationship to the community and world that surrounds us’. If we can get more children engaging with their feelings and thoughts, and transforming them into a song, whose message is personal or universal, then maybe they’ll grow up to believe, as John Lennon once penned, ‘there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done, nothing you can sing that can’t be sung’.

By Jessica Sharman

Something that is hugely important in separating a good song from a great one is the use of adjectives. When a song creates a picture in a listener’s mind it means it has engaged with the senses – sound, sight and feeling – for when you are able to visualise something it makes you feel a certain way. For example in Carrie Underwood’s song Wasted she uses the lyric ‘that would be like pouring raindrops, back into a cloud’ to explain how useless and futile a situation is. The powerful image helps the listener to imagine how difficult the situation is because they can visualise it. In the musical the Sound of Music the song ‘How do you Solve a Problem like Maria?the nuns sing, ‘How do you keep a wave upon the sand?’ and ‘how do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?’ Again you immediately realize how problematic Maria is because it is so beautifully described.

So in your next song, why not try to use your lyrics in a visual way and create an image for your listener – tweet your songs to @songacademyUK or email and the best descriptive lyric(s) will go up on the website!