There are 7 factors that I require when writing a song that makes me happy and they are:
1) Emotions: The best place to find these are through the turmoils of your life. The good, the bad and the ugly. They are the driving force behind wanting to write something in the first place.
2) Catchy melody: Usually my songs start with some sort of chord progression on the guitar but not always. Then a vocal melody wrapped around the chords in an interesting and satisfying way. If you interviewed most famous songwriters, they’d tell you most of their best songs seemed to channel through them in an almost effortless fashion. If I look back on the songs I’ve written, I’d agree that my stronger songs were the ones that seemed to write themselves.
3) Strong lyrics: If you put strong lyrics with a very catchy melody then you’ve got something to be proud of for sure. Don’t ignore the importance of lyrics. I’ve only recently realized that they are the “icing on the cake”. A great melody gets you far but if you have lyrics that connect, they you’ve made a fan or two. Write from the heart. Write about something we all can relate to but do it in a way that you feel hasn’t been done before. For example, write a love song without using the world “love”, or write a happy song with “minor chords”. Whatever you do, make it ‘yours‘.
4) Re-writing: This is where a lot of people fail miserably. They’re always too damn proud of their first take and are afraid to throw away something to make the song better because they really like one line. Don’t be afraid to trash a line even if it was your best line. If it doesn’t fit, save it for something else.
Changing Chords and melody can lift a song too. Sometimes for example, you can replace the root chord with a minor 6 and give it some mood.
5) Play it live: Play your song to your friends and ask for honest opinions. Don’t let the negative vibes get you down either. A lot of the time, you’re friends won’t know what they’re talking about- but a good song is pretty much universally liked and you’ll be able to weed out the good from the bad and generally get a sense of what is strong.
6) Write lots: You’ll get different opinions on this but for me, writing a lot of songs just makes me a better songwriter. It’s like learning to play the guitar. If you practice every day, you’re going to be much better than if you play it once a month.
7) Sleep on it: It’s weird but often I’ll wake up in the morning and play the new song again and it doesn’t have the same impact on me. That’s a sign that perhaps it just wasn’t the hit song I was planning on retiring on.
But I’m sure I’ve got one in me ready to surprise the world. It’s just around the corner! 🙂
Good luck fellow songwriters.