The Secret to Great Songwriting

The Secret to Great Songwriting

Guest post by Alice Wade

Image credit: Pixabay

All musicians tell a story. Sometimes, as we explored in our piece Storytelling for Musicians, it is a personal story that builds into their image as an artist. Having a backstory is vital, and it is something that helps build a brand.

However, you can have the best branding and marketing ploy of any artist out there, but if your music isn’t any good, then nobody is going to come back. Ensuring people find your music is a niche and it is a hugely important part of the process. Ensuring those same people return is not the job of a marketer or your social media presence – it is all about your tunes. That's the other element of storytelling that artists must tap into, the story of their songs.

Do you write songs that resonate with people? Can people identify with your music? Can they feel it? Are they interested enough to hear what you are going to do next? The answer to those questions will only be positive if you understand how to write good songs.

That’s what we’re going to help you with today, with some ideas to get you started on the songwriting process.

Write about a place

What makes a good song? It’s usually when people write about something personal, something that matters to them. For instance, the great Bruce Springsteen, a songwriter of the highest order, wrote Youngstown, a former steel town eventually decimated by the closure of factories and the decline of the steel industry. He wrote from a third-person perspective, using a factory worker as his inspiration.

Of course, you don’t need to be a multi-platinum artist to write a moving song about a place. Gainesville native Bacon James recently won an award for his songwriting efforts, telling the story of the Santa Fe River and how it helped him through a challenging time. At both ends of the scale, a successful song about a specific place has resonated with people

Write about a situation

Songs about situations, both political and cultural, always strike a chord. Punk music built an entire reputation on songs about situations; Stiff Little Fingers rather bravely wrote about the troubles in Ireland, something that Northern Irish contemporaries, like The Undertones, shied away from. In the early nineties, The Levellers were another band who made music about situations, such as The Battle of the Beanfield, a clash between police and New Age Travellers in 1985. Even today, in times of austerity and a cost of living crisis, good bands are putting out music about the political situation, as seen in the Black Water County track Living and Giving about the cost of living crisis in the UK.

Writing about a situation can get your music across to people who might otherwise not find it. Politically charged music with a message can transcend the genre, or attract fans of other genres to your work. Also, if it’s something you care deeply about, that will come across in the quality of the writing.

Write about you

If all else fails, just write about you. Rather than creating experiences, write about those you have lived and things that matter to you. Johnny Cash was a great songwriter who could turn his hand to anything, but his most famous track, I Walk The Line, was written about his experiences from his first marriage, a pledge to his wife (that he didn’t keep). Amy Allen is well known for telling her personal stories also – she’s been writing songs since she was ten, and her most recent release, Heaven, shares her experiences of watching people she loves grow up with addiction.

By writing about yourself, you put a message out there for others to feel and hear. You might even speak to them, speak about their experiences, and that forms a deeper, long-lasting bond between songwriter and listener.


The overriding message here is to write about something personal – a place, a situation, yourself, or a multitude of other things that matter to you. If you do that, it makes your music more ‘real’, giving it, and you a firm and clear identity. The music world is littered with soulless pop, churned out to top the charts and make people millions, but as smaller artists, such as Bacon James, Black Water County and Amy Allen prove, if you write about something that you care about, you’ll quickly build up a following of people who understand that you’re the real deal.

That’s how you keep them coming back for more.

Article written for the exclusive use of
By Alice Wade

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