Building a Pro Songwriter’s Toolkit – Part 1

Do you ever wonder how the “pros” write great songs time after time, hit after hit, year after year? Do you wish you knew the tips and tricks they use when they sit down to write and how they know when they’ve got a winner? Now you can build your own Pro Songwriter’s Toolkit and get started writing your best songs ever!

Truth be told, every writer has a short list of go-to tips and tricks they use to write those awesome songs and now you can use them, too! I want to share a few I’ve used through the years to get you started building your own Pro Songwriting Toolkit. We’ll add to that toolkit as we go in future blogs, but let’s get started!

1) Always start with the strongest hook and title you can find. There’s no doubt that a great song always has a great hook. This hook is almost always the title, though there are some notable exceptions, including Matt Redman’s now classic 10,000 Reasons written with Jonas Myrin. In that song, a phrase from the verses became the title, even though the primary lyric hook is “Bless the Lord, oh, my soul” taken from Psalm 103.

Almost without fail, though, the hook of a song is also the title. In countries outside of the U.S., interestingly, songs are almost always known by their first lines, so this song would be better known by the hook instead of its given title. But for your writing, always start with the strongest hook and build the song from there.

Sometimes hooks develop as you write and come upon a great phrase, but you’ll get further faster by starting with a strong hook and building the song from there.

There's no doubt that a great song always has a great hook. Click To Tweet

2) Begin with the end user in mind. Who will sing this song? An artist? A congregation? Children? Youth? Or will you use it in your own ministry? Begininng with the end user in mind will shape and inform your song development. If an artist is the end user, you will have more flexibilty in things like range, key, and artistic nuances.

If a congregation is to use it, the range becomes smaller and the key critical. If children or youth are to sing it, the subject matter, memorability, and range are also critical to make it useful. If you’re writing for your own purposes, the limits are much more pliable, though you still want to be careful to keep your primary audience in mind and not write so far ahead of their tastes that you lose them.

Beginning with the end user in mind is a great way to make sure your songs are on target. Think about your audience and end user now – what communicates best with them?

3) Make every word count. One of the most common mistakes developing writers make is extraneous words in their lyrics. How concise can you make that line? Is that descriptor worth the real estate it takes in that line? Is every line pointing to the hook? Have you crammed more than one primary thought into the song and distracted from the hook and impact it can have?

Bill Gaither used to say to me, “There’s only room for one idea in a song,” but many of us want to put everything we know into it, including the kitchen sink. Resist that urge to prove you know a lot of things and make every word work towards the payoff you want to have in the primary hook/title.

Stick to one idea. If the song is about the “cross of Jesus,” don’t throw in phrases about communion or heaven or America or whatever else doesn’t belong. Stay focused. Laser focused. Look through the song you’re working on now and ask yourself if EACH WORD really relates to the hook and how.

Mark the ideas and phrases that don’t lead you to the big payoff and find ways to rewrite them to make it all add up to that delicious hook. Making every word count is critical to great songwriting.

In Part 2 I’ll be bringing you three more excellent tools to put in your toolkit you won’t want to miss! In the meantime, get started with these and write your best songs ever! 

Want more FREE songwriting tips? Download my PRO SONGWRITERS TOP TEN TIP SHEET here and get started today becoming the writer you know you want to be!

John Chisum

John Chisum is a pioneer in the Christian music business, serving alongside people such as Bill & Gloria Gaither, Twila Paris, Paul Baloche, Don Moen, and many more. As Managing Partner of Nashville Christian Songwriters, John seeks to empower Christian songwriters worldwide to discover and fulfill their call to write.
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