Every year we get asked the questions “what type of song should I enter into The Young Songwriter competition?” and “do you have any songwriting tips?” so we thought we would put together some ideas and guidelines to help you write a winning song!

We believe the key way to raise your songwriting game is practice – write more and more songs and get feedback on how you’re doing.  Take on different ideas and challenges.  Write songs on your own and collaborate with others who have different skills sets to spark ideas off each other.

As well as running The annual Young Songwriter competition, we inspire many aspiring young songwriters throughout the year and help make sure their songs are the best they can be by offering an insightful song feedback service, weekly online and in-person songwriting clubs in term-time and online/in-person holiday workshops throughout the year.  Being part of a vibrant community helps to raise everyone’s songwriting level.  In addition, across our social media platforms we offer songwriting tips and challenges to accelerate your songwriting progress.

The main things that we listen out for when judging The Young Songwriter competition entries are originality, captivating melodies, evocative lyrics, a coherent structure, a catchy chorus, emotive performances, clever use of rhyme, invention, a sense of anticipation, and strong concepts.  The songs can be in any genre.

It’s important to say at the outset that songs which break all the rules and defy any expectation  can be the biggest hits of all! Therefore, in as much as there are so called ‘rules’, feel free to bend and break them if you feel inspired to!

The power of songwriting is that no matter what inspired the songwriter to write a song, the listener interprets the song in their own unique way, and finds strength from the message and connection.

 

Here are some elements of the songwriting process which we think are important:

Have a strong theme/concept

One of the key components, and biggest challenges, of songwriting is trying to express common, relatable feelings in an original and interesting way. The more inventive you can be when describing your feelings or experiences (for example, the pressures and joys of growing up and living in our society), the better. It’s a great way to boost self-respect and self-identify through song, and to talk about issues you are passionate about in an engaging way.

Young Songwriter competition entries cover a huge spectrum of topics, from personal experiences and feelings, to wider issues involving the writer’s communities, or even the entire world. Looking back on prior years, a popular theme was the state of the planet and awareness of environmental issues such as climate change. Another theme that came up a lot was mental health, with songs exploring anxieties, depression, drugs, death and high expectations. We also received many entires that explored the need be who you are, embrace your individuality and go for your dreams. Many songs took a stand for equality and freedom from barriers. Love and heartbreak always feature highly in Young Songwriter entries, with many different spins: we broke up, we’re breaking up, we’re about to break up, we’re not going to break up, I wish I could break up with you, we didn’t break up, I wish I had someone to break up with. Also, songs about the pain of toxic relationships and unrequited love.

But not all songs have to be dramatic and poignant – many people wrote songs about aspects of everyday life, like nature, sunlight, boredom, society, the stars, anything! Through lyrics and harmony the seemingly banal can sometimes be lifted onto another plain. It is great to be able to find inspiration in ordinary things, and it’s an amazing skill to be able to present those things in a way that people find exciting.

 

Come up with an interesting song title

A song title is almost like a book cover, so 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. It can also be a good way to start a song, having a strong title that sets the theme of the song can inspire more lyrics around it!

We’ve had many interesting song titles in The Young Songwriter competition past entries, including; Biting Into Ice, Concrete Sheets, Sneaks & Geeks, Dead Plants, Like Lava, T-shirt, Packet Full Of Noodles, Armour, Paperclips, Shine in the Darkness, Blue Fingertips, Burnt Peaches, Lies In Makeup, Sungrazer, Hijacked By Parasites, Reset, Little Alchemy, Dopamine, Me Myself and I, Mrs Ocean, Keyboard Warrior, Battlecry, Muddy Clear, Growing Gills, Swim Against The Stream, Muddy Boots & Messy Hair, Ode To Ego, Painting With Colour, Helvetica, Puppeteer, Head Full Of Clouds, Same Blood, Mindless Town, Can’t Buy Forgiveness, Cat And Mouse, Fading Rainbow, The Taste Of Dust.

 

Have a good song structure

Here’s an example of a great song structure:

Introduction — An opening passage, either instrumental or vocals without lyrics

Verse I — Introduces the song’s message and sets the scene

— 4 to 8 bars long

Pre Chorus — Link between the verse and chorus
— Builds up both melodically and lyrically

— 2 or 4 bars

Chorus — Main message of the song
— Catchiest part and most memorable part of the song (normally includes a ‘hook’)
— Most dynamic part of the song

Verse II — Continuing the explanation of the song

— Solidifying the message and introducing new imagery

— Lyrics change, melody stays broadly the same as verse 1, but you can tweak it a bit to keep it interesting!

Bridge or Middle Eight — A contrasting section that brings the song to a new level

— Rhythmically and melodically the song changes

— Looking at the message from a different view point
— Can build up tension leading up to the climax of the song

Chorus — Repeat (can add hooks to the outro of it)
Outro — The closing passage. It can be instrumental or vocal

 

Write engaging lyrics

Young Songwriter finalists write lyrics that show the listener a scene unfolding rather than simply telling the listener how they feel. American songwriter Jason Blume, who has had hits with Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys, says whilst there are no rules to songwriting, there are tools to help you craft that perfect hit. And all you need is a simple AID – action, imagery, detail.

Action:

Use verbs (action or doing words) to help illustrate what is going on in your song. For example, instead of saying ‘I miss you and I’m sad’, try and show what missing someone and being sad looks like :

  • ‘I wipe the tears falling from my eyes’
  • ‘I clutch a tear stained picture of you’
  • ‘I drove by where we first met’
  • ‘I couldn’t walk through the door where we said our last goodbye’

The action words are ‘wipe’ ‘clutch’ ‘drove’ ‘walk’.

And instead of saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m in love’, why not show what a person in love does?

  • ‘I wrote our names inside a heart, engraved upon a tree’
  • ‘I hand picked and carried home 100 flowers for you and put a vase in every room’
  • ‘I sing your name like a favourite song’

The action words are ‘wrote’ ‘picked’ ‘carried’ and ‘sing’.

Write a list of action words down before starting on your next song and try and use at least 5 of them in your next song to show what your feeling.

Imagery:

Blume says ‘whilst you cannot see heartbreak you can see the images and actions that convey that a person is heartbroken’:

  • ‘She fell to her knees, laying flowers on his grave’
  • ‘He kisses her photo’
  • ‘His tears hit the floor like a waterfall of pain’

The images are ‘knees’ ‘flowers’ ‘grave’ ‘photo’ ‘tears’ ‘floor’ ‘waterfall’. Blume also states that by including ‘tangible items’ and nouns in your lyrics like ‘furniture, clothing, a car, a house, a specific place, food’, you enable your audience to enter your song.

Along with your list of action words, try and write down a list of images and every day nouns to try and include in your next song.

Detail: 

This is the third part of AID that will help you to show your listener what is going on in your song. This time we’re searching for adjectives (describing words) and adverbs (describing verbs) to help the listener visualise your song more clearly. For example, if we were to go one step further with some of our examples from the Imagery section above and add a bit more detail to the floor, or the grave, you have something like this…

  • ‘She falls to her knees on the cold, muddy ground and lays white lilies on his grave’
  • ‘He tenderly kisses the photo of their wedding day in his old rocking chair
  • ‘His bitter tears slowly hit the wooden floor of his kitchen, like a cascading waterfall of pain’

Even with a few additional adjectives and adverbs, the scenes are much clearer to visualise; you can hear the creak of the old rocking chair, you can taste the bitter tears that fall onto the floor and see him in the kitchen, you can feel the cold muddy ground that she falls to – instantly you have transported your listener directly into the scene of your song, as if they are there with the singer, watching over what is happening.

So next time you’re stuck for lyrics, all you need is a little AID to help you on your way!

 

Play around with new melodies and chord sequences

Play around with different combinations until your find the melody you’re looking for. Choose a key for your song and then try out the I, IV and V primary chords as well as the  II III, VI and VII chords.

Make sure your chorus stands out from your verses with different melodies and chords.

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 ‘ahh’s 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). Other songs with simple but strong hooks include One Kiss by Calvin Harris featuring Dua Lipa, or Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen.

A lot of hooks are incredibly simple and may even be made by manipulating vocal parts, cutting them up or re-pitching them in an interesting way, songs that do this include Latch by Disclosure featuring Sam Smith, or Stay High (the Hippie Sabotage remix of Habits) by Tove Lo. Try and think about hooks for your own song, either lyrically, melodically or instrumentally. They can be incredibly simple and consist of a couple of notes, or a bit more interesting, just make sure they stick in your head!

 

Rhythm

Rhythm is an important part of many songs, it’s what makes people dance, or makes them nod their head and tap their feet. A solid rhythm can be a hook in itself, and it will lay the foundation on which to base the rest of your song around. It will also determine what kind of song it is, is it a fun, dancey song that makes you want to dance, like Get Lucky by Daft Punk? Or is it a slow, wistful song that people will sway along to, like Imagine by John Lennon? It could even be a fast, uptempo song that sounds exciting and triumphant, like Feel The Love by Rudimental ft John Newman.  If the aim is to make the listener dance, try writing a song to the BPM of 120. If you’re writing a romantic acoustic song, experiment with different time signatures like 6/8 as this will get people swaying along to your song!

Another thing to experiment with is using triplets, it can open up a whole new world of melodic and rhythmic possibilities! A good example that we mentioned in the previous section about hooks is Latch by Disclosure featuring Sam Smith, you’ll hear the hi hat doing triplet rhythms where traditionally for that genre you would expect an even number of hi hats (either quarter notes, eighth notes or sixteenth notes).

Beats and rhythms also don’t have to be perfectly on beat, and often a beat that makes you want to dance will be a ‘swing’ or ‘shuffle’ rhythm, this is a technique that changes the length of notes to create a more uneven but interesting rhythm. An example of a swung rhythm is Ex’s and Oh’s by Elle King, hear how some of the hits are slightly late which gives a driving feel to the song.

 

Production

The Young Songwriter competition entries are mainly judged on the song itself rather than the production, but there are some entries that use the production to help present their song in a stronger way. For example, a more pop/electronic entry might rely on solid drum sounds and more bass than an acoustic entry. Both are totally acceptable approaches and it’s important to note that you do not need incredible production skills and a top mix in order to submit a successful song, many of the best songs ever written would still be just as good whether they were produced fully or just played on one instrument!

 

Recording

We receive many different styles of recordings, many people record themselves at home, even in their bedroom with a phone! We understand that not everyone has access to recording studios or fancy equipment, and much like the production, if your song is strong it will shine even without an expensive or time consuming recording process. The most important thing is that the recording is clear enough for our judges to hear the individual parts, try to avoid recording in noisy environments that may make your recording difficult to hear, or distract from the song itself. You can record elements separately and combine them in a DAW (SoundTrap, Logic, Pro Tools, Reaper, Ableton or any other suitable software) or record with one microphone in one go, whichever you feel most comfortable with!  If recording onto voice memos be sure to sing as clearly as possible as the judges don’t want to miss out on hearing your amazing lyrics. That goes for all recordings.

 

THE POWER OF SONGWRITING IS THAT NO MATTER WHAT INSPIRED THE SONGWRITER TO WRITE A SONG, THE LISTENER INTERPRETS THE SONG IN THEIR OWN UNIQUE WAY, AND FINDS STRENGTH FROM THE MESSAGE AND CONNECTION.

 

Remember to check out our insightful song feedback service to make sure your songs are the best they can be before entering The Young Songwriter 2022 competition!  Entries can be sent from 1st February to 31st March 2022.  We also run online songwriting clubs and holiday workshops throughout the year.  In addition, across our social media platforms we offer songwriting tips and challenges to accelerate your songwriting progress.

 

 

 

A must for aspiring young songwriters!  Develop your songwriting skills.  Be inspired.  Meet like-minded young people. Write great songs.

Bookings are now open for our popular online songwriting workshops over half-term & the Summer holidays! Songwriting workshops for beginners, intermediates & advanced young songwriters.  Small groups of like-minded young creatives get inspired by Song Academy professional songwriters & take on songwriting briefs to express themselves with lyrics & music….writing their own original songs. Collaborative technology used with Zoom and Soundtrap to create an excellent online experience.  Builds confidence & creative skills……and great fun!

Two types of songwriting workshops:

  • Want to write a song with others? Join a group of up to 8 young people to write a song from scratch together. Then start writing your own song. 3 hour workshop
  • Want to write your own song? Join a group of up 4 young people and write your own original song over 3 days (2 hours each day). 6 hour workshop.

All groups have young people the same age and songwriting/musical experience.

CHECK OUT DATES & HOW TO BOOK YOUR PLACE. Don’t miss out! Limited places available.

Testimonials:

“A perfect holiday activity – creative, fun, great group of kids, inspiring leaders and a fantastic song written & performed in such a short time. Bravo!” Emma, Mother
“I’ve come away with loads of ideas to try out with my new songs. Plus I’m going to start writing some with the friends I’ve made!” Anya, aged 16

Never written a song before?

Here are some easy steps to get started!

 

STEP 1 Create a strong concept for your song & engaging title

First work out what style of song you’d like to write. Listen to some songs in different genres to get a feel of what style of song and topics you want to speak up about. Check out our suggestions of songs to inspire you

One of the key components, and biggest challenges, of songwriting is trying to express common, relatable feelings in an original and interesting way. The more inventive you can be when describing your feelings or experiences (for example, the pressures and joys of growing up and living in our society), the better.

Try these two ways of starting a song:
1. Select 5 things in your bedroom i.e bed, chair, window, guitar, books – and then turn them into interesting song titles. For example: Bed – Safe Haven, Chair – Where I’ll Stay, Guitar – Broken Strings, Books – Read All About It
2. Find a quote you like. For example: “It is never too late to be what you might have been”, “an obstacle is often a stepping stone”, “to avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing”, “your only limitation is your imagination”.

STEP 2 Start writing!

Thinking of your object or quote, focus your senses on it and write freely for 10 minutes non-stop. Anything goes. Use all 7 senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, organic (awareness of inner bodily functions, eg, heartbeat) and kinesthetic (your sense of relation to the world around you. For example, when the train you’re on is standing still and the one next to it moves, your kinethetic sense goes crazy!)

After your 10 minute writing exercise, think more about the lyrics you’ve written and write some rhyming couplets. Remember that lyrics have a rhythm and using different rhyming schemes can help to shape your lyrics and make your songs more engaging. Here are two rhyming schemes for you to start with:
A-A-B-B
lines 1 and 2 rhyme, and lines 3 and 4 share a different rhyme.
OR
A-B-A-B
lines 1 and 3 share a rhyme, and lines 2 and 4 share a different rhyme.

Choose the one that works best for you and the song that you are writing.

Below are some examples of well known songs that use both rhyming schemes:
‘Happy’ Pharrell Williams (Chorus) in AABB form.
A Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
(Because I’m happy)
A Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
(Because I’m happy)
B Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
(Because I’m happy)
B Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

‘Anyone’ by Justin Bieber (Verse 1) in ABAB form.
A Dance with me under the diamonds
B See me like breath in the cold
A Sleep with me here in the silence
B Come kiss me, silver and gold

Once your rhyming couplets have been written, you can now count the syllables in each line. If you count the syllables whilst tapping your foot (creating a tempo) you will notice that you are naturally creating a rhythm. This can be extremely helpful when working out your melody and figuring out how long your lines are going to be. From here you can improvise melodies over the lyrics singing to the rhythm you have created. The song now can start taking shape before you have even come up with the chords!

Think about creating some metaphors with the words that are connected to your song to give your song a unique twist. Write a list of 5 interesting adjectives, then write a list of 5 interesting nouns. Think about each combination and write some sentences. Write a list of 5 interesting nouns and then 5 interesting verbs. Think about each combination and write some sentences. Write a list of 5 interesting nouns and then 5 interesting nouns. Think about each combination and write some sentences. You get the idea!

Once you have loads of lyrical ideas, organise them into the different sections of your song to build your song’s story. Try using the suggested song structure below starting with the lyrics for your chorus (the ones which paint a picture of the main message of your song).

Suggested Song Structure for your song:
Verse 1 — Introduces the song’s message and sets the scene
— 4 lines
A
A
B
B
or
A
B
A
B
Pre Chorus — Link between the verse and chorus
— Builds up both melodically and lyrically
— 2 lines
A
A
or
A
B
Chorus — Main message of the song
— Catchiest part and most memorable part of the song (normally includes a ‘hook’)
— Most dynamic part of the song
— 4 lines
A
A
B
B
or
A
B
A
B
Verse 2 — Continuing the explanation of the song
— Solidifying the message and introducing new imagery
— Lyrics change, melody stays the same as verse 1, possibly with a few small changes to keep it interesting
— 4 lines
A
A
B
B
or
A
B
A
B
Bridge or Middle Eight — A contrasting section that brings the song to a new level and adds depth
— Rhythmically and melodically the song changes
— Looking at the message from a different view point
— Can build up tension leading up to the climax of the song
— 4/8 lines
A
A
B
B
or
A
B
A
B
Chorus — Repeat (can add hooks to the outro of it)
Outro — The closing passage. It can be instrumental or vocal

Check out our examples of song structure including rhyming scheme and chord movements at the end of this blog post.

STEP 3 Create a chord progression and add a melody

There are three main chord progressions for songs in popular music. First, a bit of background about chords. A chord is a collection of notes played at the same time. The most simple chord is made up of 3 notes (called a triad). Every chord is built from a scale, and each scale has 7 separate notes (for example, in the key of C major there are C, D, E, F, G, A, B). Each note of a scale has a chord built from it and the order of these chords is referred to in the Roman numerals I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII. The sequence of chords is the same in any major scale. I is major (‘happy’ sounding), II is minor (‘sad’ sounding), III is minor, IV is major, V is major, VI is minor and VII is diminished. A triad is made up of the I, III and V notes. These are called the primary chords as there are all major (for example, in the key of C major C, E, G).
The three main chord progressions are:
1. I, IV, V (Which is C, F, G when played in the key of C Major)
2. I, V, VI, IV (C, G, Am, F in C Major)
3. I, VI, II, V (C, Am, Dm, G in C Major)

Choose a key for your song and choose one of the three chord progressions, perhaps start with the key of C, E, F or G. Play your chords and improvise different melodies for your lyrics.

It works well to have different chord progressions for your verses, chorus and bridge. Here’s an example of the different chord movements between sections for ‘Castle On The Hill’ by Ed Sheeran.
Verse 1: Standard 4 chord progression to lay the foundations and set the scene
D – G – Bm – A (I – IV – VI – V)
Pre-Chorus: Change in movement, going to chord IV here creates a lift in the song and allows tension to build towards to chorus
G – A – D – G (IV – V – I – IV)
Chorus: With tension, comes release and the song feels like it needs to resolve from the pre-chorus leading into the chorus. The pre chorus ends on chord IV and the chorus starts on chord I which in musical terms is a plagal cadence which gives us the resolve we need.
D – G – Bm – A (I – IV – VI – V)
Verse 2:
D – G – Bm – A (I – IV – VI – V)
Middle 8: Chord progressions moves to minor first which helps convey the change in perspective in the song
Bm – G – D – A (VI – IV – I – V)
Soundtrap is a perfect tool for creating your song. Add instrumental parts and beats and sing in your melodies and harmonies!

Examples of song structure including rhyming scheme and chord movements

DYNAMITE by BTS

Chords that run throughout are Bm/Em/A/D (VI, II, V, I) which proves that great songs can be written with the same 4 chords running through the song.
Verse 1 — Introduces the song’s message and sets the scene
— 4 lines
A Shoes on, get up in the morn, cup of milk, let’s rock and roll
A King Kong, kick the drum, rolling on like a Rolling Stone
B Sing song when I’m walking home, jump up to the top, LeBron
B Ding dong, call me on my phone, ice tea and a game of ping pong

Pre Chorus — Link between the verse and chorus
— Builds up both melodically and lyrically
— 2 lines (In this case the pre is in 4 lines)
A This is getting heavy, can you hear the bass boom? I’m ready (woo hoo)
A Life is sweet as honey, yeah, this beat cha-ching like money, huh
B Disco overload, I’m into that, I’m good to go
B I’m diamond, you know I glow up, hey, so let’s go

Chorus — Main message of the song
— Catchiest part and most memorable part of the song (normally includes a ‘hook’)
— Most dynamic part of the song
— 4 lines
A ‘Cause I-I-I’m in the stars tonight
A So watch me bring the fire and set the night alight (hey)
B Shining through the city with a little funk and soul
B So I’ma light it up like dynamite, whoa oh oh

Verse 2 — Continuing the explanation of the song
— Solidifying the message and introducing new imagery
— Lyrics change, melody stays the same as verse 1, possibly with a few small changes to keep it interesting
— 4 lines
A Bring a friend, join the crowd, whoever wanna come along
B Word up, talk the talk, just move like we off the wall
A Day or night, the sky’s alight, so we dance to the break of dawn
B Ladies and gentlemen, I got the medicine, so you should keep ya eyes on the ball, huh

Bridge or Middle Eight — A contrasting section that brings the song to a new level and adds depth
— Rhythmically and melodically the song changes
— Looking at the message from a different view point
— Can build up tension leading up to the climax of the song
— 4/8 lines
In this instance BTS use this section as a post – chorus to reinforce the message of their song. This is very popular thing to do particularly in the most commercial sounding songs. Another example of a song using this technique is ‘Shape of you’ Ed Sheeran when he repeats: ‘Come on be my baby, come on’.
A Dy-na-na-na, na-na, na-na, ayy
A Dy-na-na-na, na-na, na-na, ayy
A Dy-na-na-na, na-na, na-na, ayy
B Light it up like dynamite
A Dy-na-na-na, na-na, na-na, ayy
A Dy-na-na-na, na-na, na-na, ayy
A Dy-na-na-na, na-na, na-na, ayy
B Light it up like dynamite

Chorus — Repeat (can add hooks to the outro of it)
Outro — The closing passage. It can be instrumental or vocal
As you can see from the example above, each section can have a different rhyme scheme so don’t feel like you need to be restricted to one.

BONES by MAREN MORRIS

Verse 1 — Introduces the song’s message and sets the scene
— 4 lines
Verse chords: G – D – Bm – A (IV – I – VI – V) (songs don’t always have to start with the first root chord!)
A We’re in the homestretch
B Of the hard times
A We took a hard left
B But we’re alright

Pre Chorus — Link between the verse and chorus  Pre-chorus chords: G – D – Bm – A (IV – I – VI – V)
— Builds up both melodically and lyrically
— 2 lines (In this case the pre is in 4 lines)
A Yeah, life sure can try to put love through it,
A But we built this right, so nothing’s ever gonna move it

Chorus — Main message of the song
— Catchiest part and most memorable part of the song (normally includes a ‘hook’)
— Most dynamic part of the song
— 4 lines
Chorus chords D/F# – G – A – Bm (I – IV – V – VI) The chorus resolves to the root chord giving the song a perfect cadence

A When the bones are good, the rest don’t matter
A Yeah, the paint could peel, the glass could shatter
B Let it rain
B ’cause you and I remain the same
C When there ain’t a crack in the foundation (Introduces a new rhyme)
C Baby, I know any storm we’re facing
D Will blow right over while we stay put
D The house don’t fall when the bones are good

Verse 2 — Continuing the explanation of the song
— Solidifying the message and introducing new imagery
— Lyrics change, melody stays the same as verse 1, possibly with a few small changes to keep it interesting
— 4 lines
Verse chords: G – D – Bm – A (IV – I – VI – V)
A Call it dumb luck,
B But baby, you and I
A Can’t even mess it up,
B Though we both try

Bridge or Middle Eight — A contrasting section that brings the song to a new level and adds depth
— Rhythmically and melodically the song changes
— Looking at the message from a different view point
— Can build up tension leading up to the climax of the song
— 4/8 lines
Chorus chords D/F# – G – A – Bm (I – IV – V – VI)
In this instance Maren Morris repeats the chorus but varies the dynamics of the music to give the song a little twist. This is also common in pop music.
A Bones are good, the rest, the rest don’t matter (baby, it don’t really matter)
A Paint could peel, the glass could shatter (oh, the glass, oh, the glass could shatter)
A Bones are good, the rest, the rest don’t matter (ooh)
A Paint could peel, the glass, the glass could shatter (yeah)

Chorus — Repeat (can add hooks to the outro of it)
Outro — The closing passage. It can be instrumental or vocal

 

Every year we get asked the questions “what type of song should I enter into The Young Songwriter competition?” and “do you have any songwriting tips?” so we thought we would put together some ideas and guidelines to help you write a winning song!

The main things that we listen out for when judging The Young Songwriter competition entries are captivating melodies, evocative lyrics, a coherent structure, a catchy chorus, emotive performances, clever use of rhyme, a sense of anticipation, and strong concepts.

It’s important to say at the outset that songs which break all the rules and defy any expectation  can be the biggest hits of all! Therefore, in as much as there are so called ‘rules’, feel free to bend and break them if you feel inspired to!

The power of songwriting is that no matter what inspired the songwriter to write a song, the listener interprets the song in their own unique way, and finds strength from the message and connection.

Here are some elements of the songwriting process which we think are important:

Have a strong theme/concept

One of the key components, and biggest challenges, of songwriting is trying to express common, relatable feelings in an original and interesting way. The more inventive you can be when describing your feelings or experiences (for example, the pressures and joys of growing up and living in our society), the better. It’s a great way to boost self-respect and self-identify through song, and to talk about issues you are passionate about in an engaging way.

Young Songwriter competition entries cover a huge spectrum of topics, from personal experiences and feelings, to wider issues involving the writer’s communities, or even the entire world. Looking back on prior years, a popular theme was the state of the planet and awareness of environmental issues such as climate change. Another theme that came up a lot was mental health, with songs exploring anxieties, depression, drugs, death and high expectations. We also received many entires that explored the need be who you are, embrace your individuality and go for your dreams. Many songs took a stand for equality and freedom from barriers. Love and heartbreak always feature highly in Young Songwriter entries, with many different spins: we broke up, we’re breaking up, we’re about to break up, we’re not going to break up, I wish I could break up with you, we didn’t break up, I wish I had someone to break up with. Also, songs about the pain of toxic relationships and unrequited love.

But not all songs have to be dramatic and poignant – many people wrote songs about aspects of everyday life, like nature, sunlight, boredom, society, the stars, anything! Through lyrics and harmony the seemingly banal can sometimes be lifted onto another plain. It is great to be able to find inspiration in ordinary things, and it’s an amazing skill to be able to present those things in a way that people find exciting.

 

Come up with an interesting song title

A song title is almost like a book cover, so 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. It can also be a good way to start a song, having a strong title that sets the theme of the song can inspire more lyrics around it!

We’ve had many interesting song titles in The Young Songwriter competition past entries, including; Biting Into Ice, Concrete Sheets, Sneaks & Geeks, Dead Plants, Like Lava, T-shirt, Packet Full Of Noodles, Armour, Paperclips, Shine in the Darkness, Blue Fingertips, Burnt Peaches, Lies In Makeup, Sungrazer, Hijacked By Parasites, Reset, Little Alchemy, Dopamine, Me Myself and I, Mrs Ocean, Keyboard Warrior, Battlecry, Muddy Clear, Growing Gills, Swim Against The Stream, Muddy Boots & Messy Hair, Ode To Ego, Painting With Colour, Helvetica, Puppeteer, Head Full Of Clouds, Same Blood, Mindless Town, Can’t Buy Forgiveness, Cat And Mouse, Fading Rainbow, The Taste Of Dust.

 

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 by Katy Perry:

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. It also helps emphasise the message of the song and helps people remember it!

 

Have a good song structure

Here’s an example of a great song structure:

Introduction — An opening passage, either instrumental or vocals without lyrics

Verse I — Introduces the song’s message and sets the scene

— 4 to 8 bars long

Pre Chorus — Link between the verse and chorus
— Builds up both melodically and lyrically

— 2 or 4 bars

Chorus — Main message of the song
— Catchiest part and most memorable part of the song (normally includes a ‘hook’)
— Most dynamic part of the song

Verse II — Continuing the explanation of the song

— Solidifying the message and introducing new imagery

— Lyrics change, melody stays broadly the same as verse 1, but you can tweak it a bit to keep it interesting!

Bridge or Middle Eight — A contrasting section that brings the song to a new level

— Rhythmically and melodically the song changes

— Looking at the message from a different view point
— Can build up tension leading up to the climax of the song

Chorus — Repeat (can add hooks to the outro of it)
Outro — The closing passage. It can be instrumental or vocal

 

Write engaging lyrics

Young Songwriter finalists write lyrics that show the listener a scene unfolding rather than simply telling the listener how they feel. American songwriter Jason Blume, who has had hits with Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys, says whilst there are no rules to songwriting, there are tools to help you craft that perfect hit. And all you need is a simple AID – action, imagery, detail.

Action:

Use verbs (action or doing words) to help illustrate what is going on in your song. For example, instead of saying ‘I miss you and I’m sad’, try and show what missing someone and being sad looks like :

  • ‘I wipe the tears falling from my eyes’
  • ‘I clutch a tear stained picture of you’
  • ‘I drove by where we first met’
  • ‘I couldn’t walk through the door where we said our last goodbye’

The action words are ‘wipe’ ‘clutch’ ‘drove’ ‘walk’.

And instead of saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m in love’, why not show what a person in love does?

  • ‘I wrote our names inside a heart, engraved upon a tree’
  • ‘I hand picked and carried home 100 flowers for you and put a vase in every room’
  • ‘I sing your name like a favourite song’

The action words are ‘wrote’ ‘picked’ ‘carried’ and ‘sing’.

Write a list of action words down before starting on your next song and try and use at least 5 of them in your next song to show what your feeling.

Imagery:

Blume says ‘whilst you cannot see heartbreak you can see the images and actions that convey that a person is heartbroken’:

  • ‘She fell to her knees, laying flowers on his grave’
  • ‘He kisses her photo’
  • ‘His tears hit the floor like a waterfall of pain’

The images are ‘knees’ ‘flowers’ ‘grave’ ‘photo’ ‘tears’ ‘floor’ ‘waterfall’. Blume also states that by including ‘tangible items’ and nouns in your lyrics like ‘furniture, clothing, a car, a house, a specific place, food’, you enable your audience to enter your song.

Along with your list of action words, try and write down a list of images and every day nouns to try and include in your next song.

Detail: 

This is the third part of AID that will help you to show your listener what is going on in your song. This time we’re searching for adjectives (describing words) and adverbs (describing verbs) to help the listener visualise your song more clearly. For example, if we were to go one step further with some of our examples from the Imagery section above and add a bit more detail to the floor, or the grave, you have something like this…

  • ‘She falls to her knees on the cold, muddy ground and lays white lilies on his grave’
  • ‘He tenderly kisses the photo of their wedding day in his old rocking chair
  • ‘His bitter tears slowly hit the wooden floor of his kitchen, like a cascading waterfall of pain’

Even with a few additional adjectives and adverbs, the scenes are much clearer to visualise; you can hear the creak of the old rocking chair, you can taste the bitter tears that fall onto the floor and see him in the kitchen, you can feel the cold muddy ground that she falls to – instantly you have transported your listener directly into the scene of your song, as if they are there with the singer, watching over what is happening.

So next time you’re stuck for lyrics, all you need is a little AID to help you on your way!

 

Play around with new melodies and chord sequences

Play around with different combinations until your find the melody you’re looking for. Choose a key for your song and then try out the I, IV and V primary chords as well as the  II III, VI and VII chords.

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 ‘ahh’s 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). Other songs with simple but strong hooks include One Kiss by Calvin Harris featuring Dua Lipa, or Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen.

A lot of hooks are incredibly simple and may even be made by manipulating vocal parts, cutting them up or re-pitching them in an interesting way, songs that do this include Latch by Disclosure featuring Sam Smith, or Stay High (the Hippie Sabotage remix of Habits) by Tove Lo. Try and think about hooks for your own song, either lyrically, melodically or instrumentally. They can be incredibly simple and consist of a couple of notes, or a bit more interesting, just make sure they stick in your head!

 

Rhythm

Rhythm is an important part of many songs, it’s what makes people dance, or makes them nod their head and tap their feet. A solid rhythm can be a hook in itself, and it will lay the foundation on which to base the rest of your song around. It will also determine what kind of song it is, is it a fun, dancey song that makes you want to dance, like Get Lucky by Daft Punk? Or is it a slow, wistful song that people will sway along to, like Imagine by John Lennon? It could even be a fast, uptempo song that sounds exciting and triumphant, like Feel The Love by Rudimental ft John Newman.  If the aim is to make the listener dance, try writing a song to the BPM of 120. If you’re writing a romantic acoustic song, experiment with different time signatures like 6/8 as this will get people swaying along to your song!

Another thing to experiment with is using triplets, it can open up a whole new world of melodic and rhythmic possibilities! A good example that we mentioned in the previous section about hooks is Latch by Disclosure featuring Sam Smith, you’ll hear the hi hat doing triplet rhythms where traditionally for that genre you would expect an even number of hi hats (either quarter notes, eighth notes or sixteenth notes).

Beats and rhythms also don’t have to be perfectly on beat, and often a beat that makes you want to dance will be a ‘swing’ or ‘shuffle’ rhythm, this is a technique that changes the length of notes to create a more uneven but interesting rhythm. An example of a swung rhythm is Ex’s and Oh’s by Elle King, hear how some of the hits are slightly late which gives a driving feel to the song.

 

Production

The Young Songwriter competition entries are mainly judged on the song itself rather than the production, but there are some entries that use the production to help present their song in a stronger way. For example, a more pop/electronic entry might rely on solid drum sounds and more bass than an acoustic entry. Both are totally acceptable approaches and it’s important to note that you do not need incredible production skills and a top mix in order to submit a successful song, many of the best songs ever written would still be just as good whether they were produced fully or just played on one instrument!

 

Recording

We receive many different styles of recordings, many people record themselves at home, even in their bedroom with a phone! We understand that not everyone has access to recording studios or fancy equipment, and much like the production, if your song is strong it will shine even without an expensive or time consuming recording process. The most important thing is that the recording is clear enough for our judges to hear the individual parts, try to avoid recording in noisy environments that may make your recording difficult to hear, or distract from the song itself. You can record elements separately and combine them in a DAW (SoundTrap, Logic, Pro Tools, Reaper, Ableton or any other suitable software) or record with one microphone in one go, whichever you feel most comfortable with!  If recording onto voice memos be sure to sing as clearly as possible as the judges don’t want to miss out on hearing your amazing lyrics. That goes for all recordings.

 

THE POWER OF SONGWRITING IS THAT NO MATTER WHAT INSPIRED THE SONGWRITER TO WRITE A SONG, THE LISTENER INTERPRETS THE SONG IN THEIR OWN UNIQUE WAY, AND FINDS STRENGTH FROM THE MESSAGE AND CONNECTION.

 

Check out our insightful song feedback service to make sure your songs are the best they can be before entering The Young Songwriter 2021 competition!  Entries can be sent from 1st February to 31st March 2021.