How To Write a Song

An easy guide to writing your first hit
By: CJ Lambert
(from the Musician’s Survival Guide)
www.MusiciansSurvivalGuide.com
CJL Studios, LLC
www.cjlstudios.com
**IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ**
This guide is for your personal use only! Under NO circumstances may it
be, but not limited to, resold, duplicated, transferred, modified, or
distributed. This material is protected by copyright law (Title 17, United
States Code).
This guide is intended to give the aspiring writer the tools to write a
successful song. The author, CJ Lambert, has written for many
internationally known artists & companies, and has worked with several
platinum selling producers. This guide will help unleash the song inside
you. Keep the dream alive!
Version 4.1
© Copyright 2010-2013 CJL Studios, LLC
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................................................................................................... “How To Write A Song” 4
................................................................................................................................... Intro 4
.............................................................................................. Understand Song Structures 5
............................................................................................................................... Chords 9
............................................................................................................................ Melodies 9
............................................................................................................................... Lyrics 10
......................................................................................................... Start With the Hook 11
............................................................................................... Put It Together / Structure 12
............................................................................................ Record & Play It for People 12
......................................................................................................................... Copyright 13
............................................................................................................. You Can Do It!!! 14
............................................................................................ Thank You and Good Luck! 15
The Musician’s Survival Guide
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“How To Write A Song”
By: CJ Lambert
Intro
Congratulations! This is a big step in the right direction for your songwriting
career. You will definitely find this material helpful and inspirational. It doesn’t
matter what type of music you like; it could be pop, rock, country, rap, R&B,
Americana, etc. Every style of music uses the same principles to bring a song
idea to life. You may have written a few songs before and maybe you had a
little trouble getting your song “just right”. This will definitely help you! Or you
may be a beginner and you are starting from scratch. For you this is a “must
read”.
This ebook is a simplified version of the first section from The Musician’s
Survival Guide. The Musician’s Survival Guide consists of 10 individual guides,
20 music business contracts, 11 career managing spreadsheets, and a
customizable stage plot in a 420+ page binder and CD, all written & developed
by yours truly.
The MSG explains many essential topics & techniques in such an easy to
understand way as an e"ort to help guide any musician to success. Every
musician’s measurement of “success” is di"erent. So, each guide is developed
in a way to cater to the professional while including the details for a novice. To
learn more, I invite you to visit www.MusiciansSurvivalGuide.com.
Meanwhile, enjoy this FREE ebook on how to write a song. This guide will put
you on the fast track to writing a great song!
You may be asking yourself a few questions:
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“How do I begin?”
“I want to start o" on the right foot. What is the first step in writing a song?”
“Is it the melody? Do I start with lyrics? The music?”
I am going to answer these and many more questions for you.
In the first few sections I will lay the foundation that must be in place for you to
write a quality song. Then we will get into the details including melodies,
chords, beats, lyrics, and so much more.
When you’re looking for ideas to start writing your song, it’s good to listen to a
lot of music and even di"erent types of music. Pick a hit song you like and
listen to it. Find out what you like about the song. Is it the feel, the melody,
the beat, or just the whole thing in general? This is the type of song you want
to use as a model for yours. Study the structure and music in the songs you
like. Good songwriters are great at listening to hit songs and picking up on the
inspiration that lies within that specific tune. Don’t copy it! Just get a feel for
the mood and apply that feeling to your own song.
You will also need to stimulate the lyric side of your brain. That’s why it is a
good idea to read books and magazines. This will definitely assist you with
writing great lyrics. You can gather song topics, interesting phrases, current
events, and so much more from reading. We will get more into lyrics shortly.
Understand Song Structures
Alright, let’s get into what makes a song fit together. But before we dive in,
let’s make sure we understand the three main parts in a song structure.
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1. Verse: This is the part of the song where you let the lyrics tell the story.
Normally the melody stays the same but the lyrics change. In the verse,
the melody is memorable and repetitive, building to the chorus.
2. Chorus: This is the part that is repeated about three times throughout a
song. I like to also call this part the “hook”. The chorus is very catchy
and hooks the listener. Usually when people have a song stuck in their
head, they are remembering the chorus. The lyrics in the chorus typically
state the title of the song.
3. Bridge: This is the part of the song that normally comes right after the
second chorus. It sounds di"erent from the verse and chorus but still
carries that common thread in the song. You only hear it once and it is
usually followed by an instrumental solo, break down, or third chorus.
Remember, you can write the parts to a song at di"erent times. I ALWAYS start
writing my songs with the chorus! This sets the feel of the whole song and it is
easy to build from there. The chorus is the main part of a song, so every other
part should complement the chorus. Basically the chorus is your writing
template.
Now let’s go over song structures.
There is an unlimited number of ways to structure a song. If you pay close
attention to just about any great song, there is a common structure you will
find. Listen to a hit song you like and identify the structure.
Here is the most common structure you will find:
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Verse 1/chorus/verse 2/chorus/bridge/verse 3/chorus
Keep in mind this structure is JUST the big picture. There are several other
parts I call “transitions” that act as the glue to help these main parts come
together. Begin your song with an “intro”. The intro could be an instrumental
version of the chorus accompanied by the most memorable melody in the hook.
So the beginning of the song would look like this:
Intro/verse 1/chorus . . .
The next transition sometimes used is a “pre chorus”. This part will introduce
the chorus but not every song uses one. If you need a pre chorus, the structure
will look like this:
Intro/verse 1/pre chorus/chorus . . .
Occasionally another transition comes right after the first chorus. These are
usually very short and resemble the intro. I simply call this part “trans” (short
for transition). Not every song has these, but it is nice to use if you have a
di#cult time getting back into the verse from the chorus. Using a transition
would look like this:
Intro/verse 1/pre chorus/chorus/trans . . .
OR
Intro/verse 1/chorus/trans . . .
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Then create another verse. Use the same melody as the first verse but use
di"erent lyrics. After your second verse, you can use a pre chorus or just go
straight to the chorus. After the second chorus, create a “bridge”. At this point
your structure looks like this:
Intro/verse 1/pre chorus/chorus/trans/verse 2/pre chorus/chorus/bridge . . .
OR
Intro/verse 1/chorus/trans/verse 2/chorus/bridge . . .
After the bridge, you can either have an instrumental section (“solo”), or go
back to the chorus. Don’t make the song too long. The last thing you want is
your listener to lose interest, so I suggest you try to keep your song in the three
to four minute range. If you feel your song is too long, try leaving out the solo
section and go straight to a chorus or a “breakdown”.
A breakdown is usually a chorus with less energy and fewer instruments. It is
quieter than a normal chorus but generally has the same lyrics, melody, and
chords. After a breakdown you go to the chorus. After the last chorus, there is
the “outro”. The outro is a hybrid version of the chorus. It’s a short transition
that resolves the song. Here are three song structure samples that you can
follow:
Intro/verse/pre chorus/chorus/trans/verse/pre chorus/chorus/bridge/chorus/
outro
Intro/verse/chorus/trans/verse/chorus/bridge/solo/verse/chorus/outro
Intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/breakdown/chorus/outro
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Chords
When picking the chords for your song, remember, you are basically writing
three di"erent parts; a verse, a chorus, and a bridge. Each part may have
di"erent chord progressions. Once you have the three parts, you can put them
together as described in the “Understanding Song Structure” section.
There are hundreds of chords that we can use in our songs. Don’t worry about
using the same chord progression that someone else has used. Chord
progressions cannot be copyrighted. Obviously, we want to create songs that
are totally original but at some point we will run out of chord progressions.
There are many songs with the same chord progression. Think of all those old
blues songs that follow a basic 12 bar (I, IV, V) or E, A, B progression. And I
can’t even tell you how many songs have the G, C, D progression.
It is a great idea to get online and look up the chord progressions to your
favorite songs, or buy the sheet music of your favorite artist’s album. Once you
have the chords to a song figured out, learn the progression, change the feel,
and write your own melody to it. Once you do this you’re on your way.
Melodies
Now that you have your chord progression picked out, it is time to work on the
melody. I like to record my chord progression and hum a melody over it.
Sometimes I play a melody on guitar or piano over the chords. Remember, start
with the chorus! This is the most memorable part of the song and you should
build the entire song around it.
The key to writing a memorable melody is repetition. If you don’t have any
repetition in your melody, it will seem lost and forgettable. The listener will
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lose interest and we cannot let that happen. Have you ever heard the saying
“you need to hear something seven times in order to commit it to memory?”
Same with music; you need to hear a repeating line within a song to remember
it. But be careful, too much repetition will have a reverse e"ect. There is a fine
line between not enough repetition and too much.
You know those songs that everyone recognizes right when they come on the
radio? These are our templates. Just for practice, use the same chord
progression of a hit song and write your own melody to it. Try following the
melody phrasing of the hit song and then change it up a bit. This will put you
on the path to writing your own melodies and help you realize why certain
melodies work and why some others don’t work.
Lyrics
Lyrics seem to be the toughest part for most writers. I think most writers
starting out fall into “poetic mode.” If this happens it’s okay. Just be aware of
it and keep writing. You should be descriptive but not poetic. I think poetry is
awesome, but it’s a totally di"erent thing. Basically, your lyrics need to be
easily understood. My best advice for this is: write the way you talk, give it
rhythm, make it rhyme, and tell a story. Make it easy to understand and make
sure it’s memorable.
You should always carry a notepad with you for times when a phrase pops into
your head. You want to remember them. Write it down! Write down word
phrases, song titles, and situations for your story lines. When you have a lot of
phrases start forming them into a story.
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Whenever I am having a tough time coming up with lyric ideas I go channel
surfing. I’m not kidding. You should try this. Turn on the TV and flip through
the channels. Only spend five seconds on each channel and write down
whatever you see that catches your interest. After doing this for a few minutes,
you should have a bunch of ideas that you can write about.
You can also look through magazines for interesting word phrases. If you see
something that sparks your interest, write it down. The whole idea is to expose
yourself to many di"erent word phrases, and in no time, you will start coming
up with your own. Also, when you’re writing your lyrics use your thesaurus to
find alternate words. This will help you put feelings into words.
You want some repetition in your lyrics. Your lyric phrase needs to get
implanted into the listener’s head. That’s why we repeat the chorus at least
three times in most songs. Follow the same guidelines as for writing a melody.
You need to hear a repeating line within a song to remember it. As I said
before, there is a fine line between not enough repetition and too much.
If you have spent loads of time writing lyrics and you feel it just isn’t your thing,
no worries. You can become an expert at writing instrumentals and find a
collaborator. Some songwriters are stronger at writing music and some are
better at writing lyrics. Many of the best songs ever recorded were written by
more than one person.
Start With the Hook
The hook is the part of the song that you catch yourself humming an hour after
you heard it. As I mentioned in the song structure section, this is also known
as the chorus. It is important to start writing your song with the hook. Your
hook is the most memorable part and sums up the whole meaning of your
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song. You want to “hook” your audience and keep them listening. By starting
to write your song with the hook, you discover the remaining parts and map
them out. Once you get to this point you can write with “the end result in
mind.”
Put It Together / Structure
Once you have the hook, verse, bridge, and any other parts written, it is time to
put your song together. This may be challenging since you have written
di"erent parts of the song at di"erent times. If you need to, go back and
review the section “Understanding Song Structures.” Once you go through this
process, you will have your song together and all you need are the finishing
touches.
Record & Play It for People
You absolutely must have a way to record your songs. You don’t want to forget
anything you have written and you have to be able to play it for people. There
is nothing cooler than recording a song you wrote and putting it on a CD for
people to hear. Next thing you know they are telling you they have a new
favorite song, and YOU wrote it!
Many newer computers have software that allows you to record your music.
That is one reason why I’m a big fan of songwriting with a computer. You can
use the software that comes with your computer or you can upgrade and start
building a studio. I own a Mac powered studio in Cincinnati, Ohio where I use
Pro Tools by AVID. This is my favorite software for recording songs. There are
many programs to choose from but I like this one the most.
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Also, there are many great tools at your finger tips that will help you become
successful with your music. You will find tons of goodies in The Musician’s
Survival Guide at www.MusiciansSurvivalGuide.com to help launch your music
forward. I fully endorse all the tools and ideas in the MSG.
No matter what you use to record your song, the whole idea is to get people to
listen to your music. Record your song and have some people listen to it for a
few days. Ask them what they liked and what they didn’t like. The cool thing
about this is you can take their advice and change some parts of your song or
just leave it and start writing another one. After all, it’s your song and you can
do whatever you want with it. But remember, keep moving forward. Don’t
keep changing and rewriting the same song over and over again. You have to
keep writing new songs in order to perfect your talent. I challenge you to write
1 song a week for a year. You will be absolutely amazed… I promise!
Copyright
Let’s talk a little about copyright. Once you have your song just the way you
want it, get an o#cial copyright. You don’t want anyone using your creation
without your permission so here are some useful tips on copyrighting. The law
simply states that once you have a tangible copy of your song (like a recording),
you own the copyright. All you really need to do is record your song. But let’s
take it a little further.
You can copyright your song with the government, and I’m going to tell you a
way to do it for around $1. Record your song and burn it onto a CD. Put the
CD in a package and mail it to yourself. When you receive your package, DO
NOT OPEN IT! If you look on the box you will notice a stamp with a date on it.
This is a stamp from the federal government. You now have a sealed package
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containing your song with an o#cial date. This can be used in a court of law
should your copyright be challenged. Pretty cool, huh?
Another way to obtain a copyright is through the Library of Congress. I have
several songs registered there. You can go to www.copyright.gov and click on
“Registration” located at the top of the screen. As of this writing, it is currently
$35 to electronically register a work in the Library of Congress. I’m not a big
fan of paying $35 every time I want a song registered, so here is a way to
minimize the cost. Once you have ten songs or so, put them all on one CD and
give the whole collection a title. If all of your songs are together and titled as
one collection, it is considered one “work”. You can then have all songs within
the collection copyrighted for the price of one. Pretty cool, huh?
You Can Do It!!!
Well, I hope this guide has helped you lay a good foundation for writing a
successful song. One of my passions is to help songwriters every day become
better at their craft. When I was learning how to write I wish I had someone to
show me exactly how to do it. So I have decided to be that person and guide
you in the right direction. I want you to be a successful songwriter and I want
to help you get there!
Maybe you want to write songs for personal enjoyment or even write songs for
a living. I think both are great ideas. You must love writing and have to really
“want it” to be successful. I have met so many good songwriters on my journey
through the music industry and I have to say, there really isn’t too much of a
di"erence between the ones that “make it” and the ones that are left behind.
The writers that have made it to the point where they are making a living o" of
their songs possess two important qualities.
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1. Never give up!!! I know that is very clichéd but it is the truth. If you write
and write and write, you will eventually get there. Don’t listen to other
people when they tell you, “You can’t make a living out of writing songs.”
Say “Thanks for your input but I’ll form my own opinion.” This type of
person might even be a friend or in your own family. Absolutely do not
listen to them! They just don’t believe, and that brings me to the second
quality you must possess.
2. You must believe!!! If you don’t believe you can write a great song or
become a writer, you won’t. Believe in yourself, even when other people
don’t believe you can do it. I believe you can write a great song. If you
put in the time and e"ort, plus some heart, you will get there. You must
believe.
Thank You and Good Luck!
Thanks for reading this guide. Stay focused, write as much as you can, and
visit www.MusiciansSurvivalGuide.com. I wish you the best of luck with your
music.
Keep the dream alive!
CJ Lambert
CJL Studios, LLC
www.cjlstudios.com
www.musicianssurvivalguide.com
www.cjlambert.com
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