Songwriting Tips

When I wrote my first song at age 16, I scrambled to do a “poor man’s copyright” because I was convinced the song was so good that someone would want to steal it from me.  But it’s unrealistic to think that we are hit songwriters, or even good songwriters, from the very first song.  Not unlike any other type of profession you might choose, landing a career as a professional songwriter is a process made up of education, practice, determination, practice, marketing, practice, and all-around hard work.  Over the years I’ve had opportunity to coach songwriters on a number of levels – from teaching beginners at songwriter boot camps, to mentoring those majoring in songwriting at a local university, to helping develop new writer careers on the professional level.  The list below is a 6-step outline that should put you on the right track toward a professional songwriting career:


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John Lennon Songwriting Contest 2012

John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

Entries now open for the first round. Good luck!

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International Songwriting Competition | The #1 Song Contest for Songwriters

International Songwriting Competition | The #1 Song Contest for Songwriters.

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Brian Vander Ark


As the frontman of The Verve Pipe, I’ve had my share of bad gigs.  It was all part of paying your dues in the 90’s. Back then there was this prevailing sense that things were happening in our genre, and that any day we were going to be signed by a major label.  That potential deal was the golden carrot that dangled just out of reach.  It was the reason that you played the shitty bars that had stages that felt weak under your feet; stages that inhibited your glorious rock moves, for fear you might fall through and discover god knows what beneath.  It was the reason that you put up with crooked promoters and asshole sound men.  You knew that it wasn’t going to last for long.  You were going to be noticed by the majors. Your songs were so much better than anyone else’s.

Your fans…

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The Beatles – Melodies and Memories – Why they were Fab

The Beatles– Preview version of supporting text for Lesson Two and Three on Successful Hit Songwriting.


First Lines of  Beatles Songs:-  Written from the ‘first person’ perspective/viewpoint


A Day In The Life – I read the news today, Oh boy!


Strawberry Fields Forever – Let me take you down


All I’ve Got To  Do – Whenever I want you around


Taxman – Let me tell you how it will be


Julia – Half of what I say is meaningless


Think for Yourself – I’ve got a word or two to say about the things you do


You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away – Here I stand with head in hand, turn my face to the wall.


Run For Your Life – I’d rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man


No Reply – This happened once before when I came to your door


Please Please Me – Last night I said these words to my girl


In My Life – There are places I remember all my life


I’m Only Sleeping – When I wake up early in the morning


We Can Work It Out – Try to see it my way


I’m Down – You tell lies thinking I can’t see


I’ll Follow The Sun – One day you’ll look to see I’ve gone


And I Love Her – I give her all my love, that’s all I do


Do You Want To Know A Secret? – You’ll never know how much I really love you


Here There And Everywhere – To lead a better life I need my love to be here


Wait – It’s been a long time, now I’m coming back home.


Help – Help! I need somebody.


Long Tall Sally – I’m gonna tell Aunt Mary ’bout Uncle John


Ticket To Ride – I think I’m gonna be sad, I think it’s today, yeah.


When I’m Sixty-Four – When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now.


I Want To Hold your Hand – Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something I think you’ll understand.


Let It Be – When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me.


Helter Skelter – When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide


Yellow Submarine – In the town where I was born


Eight Days A Week – Ooh I need your love babe, guess you know it’s true.


Norwegian Wood – I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.


Real Love – All my little plans and schemes, lost like some forgotten dreams


I Am The Walrus – I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together


She’s A Woman – My love don’t give me presents, I know that she’s no peasant


Glass Onion – I told you about Strawberry Fields, you know the place where nothing is real?


Octopus’s Garden – I’d like to be, under the sea.


It’s All Too Much – It’s all too much for me to take


A Hard Day’s Night – It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog






The Beatles –  Songs Recorded with Titles as the first line in the song:


Don’t Let Me Down,

Tell Me Why,


I’ve Got A Feeling,

I Want You,

You Never Give Me Your Money,

Martha My Dear,

I’m So Tired,

Dear Prudence,  

Love Me Do,

In Spite Of All The Danger (Paul song from 1950’s performed by early Beatles, aka. Quarrymen),

Here Comes The Sun,

Hey Jude,

Good Day Sunshine,

For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite,

I Should Have Known Better,

Good Morning Good Morning,


I’m Looking Through You,

Lady Madonna,

She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,

I’m A Loser,

What Goes On,

I Call Your Name,

Any Time at all
Can’t Buy Me Love
Free As a Bird
Her Majesty
Hey Jude
Hold Me Tight
I call your name
I should have known better
I want you (she’s so heavy)
I’m looking through you
I’ve just seen a face
Lady madonna
Little child
Love me do
Mean Mr Mustard
Oh Darling
Penny Lane
She came in through the bathroom window
She loves you
The long and winding road
There’s a place
Why don’t we do it in the road?
You never give me your money
You’re going to lose that girl

It Won’t Be Long,

If I Fell,

Martha My Dear,

Here Comes The Sun

I’m a Loser

Good Day Sunshine
I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party
I’m So Tired
I’ve Got A Feeling
She Said She Said


A Hard Day’s Night
Any Time at all
Can’t Buy Me Love
Dear Prudence
Free As a Bird
Goodday Sunshine
Her Majesty
Here Comes The Sun
Hey Jude
Hold Me Tight
I call your name
I don’t want to spoil the party
If I fell
I should have known better
It won’t be long
I want you (she’s so heavy)
I’m a loser
I’m looking through you
I’m so tired
I’ve got a feeling
I’ve just seen a face
I want to tell you
Lady madonna
Little child
Love me do
Martha My Dear
Mean Mr Mustard
Oh Darling
Penny Lane
She came in through the bathroom window
She loves you
She said, she said
The long and winding road
There’s a place
Why don’t we do it in the road?
You never give me your money
You’re going to lose that girl

Cry Baby Cry

It’s All Too Much

Two Of Us

Hello Little Girl

Lovely Rita

If You’ve Got Trouble

Step Inside Love/Los Paranoias

Not Guilty

Hello Little Girl

In Spite of All The Danger


And A Few Further Examples From The Solo Years


Mull of Kintyre

Maybe I’m Amazed

Ram On




The Beatles – Songs recorded (Originals and Covers) with Titles written in ‘First Person’


Please Please Me 1963

I Saw Her Standing There

Ask Me Why

Please Please Me

Love Me Do

P.S. I Love You


With The Beatles 1963

All I’ve Got To Do

All My Loving

Don’t Bother Me

Hold Me Tight

You Really Got A Hold On Me

I Wanna Be Your Man

Money (That’s What I Want)


A Hard Day’s Night 1964

I Should Have Known Better

If I Fell

I’m Happy Just To Dance With You

And I Love Her

Tell Me Why

Can’t Buy Me Love

I’ll Cry Instead

When I Get Home

I’ll Be Back


Beatles For Sale 1964

I’m A Loser

I’ll Follow The Sun

I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party

Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby


Help! 1965

I Need You

You Like Me Too Much

Tell Me What You See

I’ve Just Seen A Face


Rubber Soul 1965

Drive My Car

You Won’t See Me

I’m Looking Through You

In My Life

If I Needed Someone 


Revolver 1966

I’m Only Sleeping

I Want To Tell You

Got To Get You Into My Life


Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967

With A Little Help From My Friends

When I’m Sixty-Four


Magical Mystery Tour 1967

I Am The Walrus


The Beatles (The White Album) 1968

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

I’m So Tired

Martha My Dear

Don’t Pass Me By

I Will

Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey


Yellow Submarine 1969

N/A – No tracks


Abbey Road 1969

I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

You Never Give Me Your Money


Let It Be 1970

I Me Mine

I’ve Got A Feeling


Past Masters Volume 1

From Me To You

I Call Your Name

I Feel Fine

I Want To Hold Your Hand

I’ll Get You

I’m Down


Past Masters Volume 2

Don’t Let Me Down

You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)


Live At The BBC

I Forgot To Remember To Forget

I Got A Woman

I Got To Find My Baby

I Just Don’t Understand

I’ll Be On My Way

I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry (Over You)

Keep Your Hands Off My Baby

Lonesome Tears In My Eyes

Ooh! My Soul

So How Come (No-One Loves Me)


The Complete Silver Beatles

Take Good Care Of My Baby


Live At The Star-Club, Hamburg

Hallelujah, I Love Her So

I Remember You

I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate

Where Have You Been All My Life


Anthology 1

Leave My Kitten Alone

Lend Me Your Comb

My Bonnie

You’ll Be Mine


Anthology 3

Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues


The Beatles With Tony Sheridan

Why (Can’t You Love Me Again)

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The New Rules for Successful Hit Songwriting – Lesson Two

Hitmaker Tim Hawes & David Brogan (Blog author) - Real World Studios

Rule Two

The First Line

by David Brogan (c) 2012

  • How to begin – First impressions still count. Following on from Rule One,  first lines will not get a second chance. Dress to impress. Rise and shine. If you were going out on a ‘blind’ first date, wouldn’t you make an effort? I imagine you’d probably invest quite some energy, time, and money into maximising your appeal to a prospective date. After all, this could potentially lead to a lifelong relationship. Likewise, if we were attending an all-important job interview, wouldn’t we research the firm, attempt to anticipate every potential question and reply, and ensure we presented ourselves in the best possible light? Wouldn’t we want to communicate in a friendly conversational tone and make a lasting first impression on others that outshines all competition?
  • Invest – Your song IS that first date, that all-important job interview. Invest all you can afford – time, energy, and money – After all, you don’t want the competition stealing your date, do you? Or taking that job? You must outshine the competition if you want to be a hit songwriter. So, how do we ensure we shine? Well, I suggest doing what we would do on that first date or job interview – Introduce ourselves with an all-winning smile! In song terms, this translates as first lines being simply irresistable, they must make audiences passionately want to hear what is coming next in the second line. (Tell me more, tell me more – from “Grease” -Summer Nights – a song all about that first date).
  • First Person ViewpointWould you go on a first date and talk about someone else? In order to write hit songs today, we should predominantly take the first person perspective. Let’s imagine that first date or job interview we talked about earlier. Who would we talk about and why? I suggest there would be very slight chances of a second date or job offer if we wasted our listener’s time talking about anyone or thing other than ourselves and them. You are selling yourself on a first encounter. Potential hit songs stand a much greater chance of success if communicated directly and personally with the audience. No-one should introduce third-parties or other distractions to an intimate conversation unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • Houston, we have a problem – Communication breakdowns and how to avoid them. We live in an age of attention deficit disorders, fastfood chains, instant celebrities, disposable napkins/relationships/stars- you name it, and all manner of distractions vying for our time and attention. The hit songwriter always establishes and maintains their audience’s attention. In today’s highspeed modern culture, this is increasingly important, but not so difficult to do.
  • Talk clearly, distinctly, and directly – This sounds like grandmother’s advice, but never truer than for today’s hit songwriters.
  1. Address your listener with ordinary conversational everyday language and in a friendly tone. Engage them. Make them want to listen to you.
  2. Introduce yourself (the singer’s role), introduce your subject and the theme of your song. You may very well decide to establish the title or chorus – your song name or signature – immediately in the first line.  (Rihanna – What’s My Name?  – Begins with Chorus)
  3. Try to directly address the BIG FIVE – Who? What? Where? When? and How? Paint a background scene, a canvas or stage on which all the song action and story will take place.
  4. Give detailed descriptions. It may be useful to think in terms of being questioned by detectives, or asked to give evidence in a major trial under cross-examination.
  5. Establish a unique perspective if possible – in other words, your subject matter may be universal in nature, but think of expressing it from another perspective, with a current slant, or new ways of saying it. Be contemporary – NEWs not OLDs.
  6. Be upbeat and positive. Come on! Who wants to go on a first date with a grouch? We are talking about principles and templates for HIT songs here. If you simply insist on being negative in the first line, you should really think about turning this around later in the song to show the singer as a winning role model, someone who can directly face and overcome life’s problems.
  7. Remember, the song is about the LISTENER, not YOU, the songwriter. Sure, when you go on a first date, you will talk about yourself somewhat, and try to present yourself in the best possible light, honestly and authentically – (Very important: no-one likes frauds, especially not in songs). But then- well, wouldn’t you compliment your date? Wouldn’t you ask them questions? Wouldn’t you want to know their history, about their thoughts, experience, and feelings on life? Remember, everyone’s favourite subject and what they know most about is themselves. As a songwriter, get into your audience’s head and write ABOUT them, FOR them, and FROM their perspective.
  8. Don’t confuse your audience. Confuse them, lose them. Stay on subject. Don’t jump around randomly from point to point. Address only one subject, one event, one feeling or emotion, one thought, and talk deeply about this. Knowledge is power only when actioned. Stay focused and on track – If you are focused as a songwriter, your audience will be too whilst listening to your hit songs.
  9. Give your best – All the time. Don’t settle for the first line that pops into your head. Write and rewrite. Is the first line instantly memorable? Is it unique? Does it relate directly to the song title? Would you, as a listener, want to hear the next line? Does it have universal appeal? Is it newsworthy and current?
  10. I wish he would tell you what she is doing to them – Confused yet? Don’t change perspectives or point of view. To echo the lyric line – ‘Please don’t let me be misunderstood.’
  11. Finally, do all of this in the first line, using only single syllable words if possible, and with a maximum of seven words and eleven syllables for the entire line. Impossible? Remember – You, yes! YOU!!  You are a hit songwriter, you are heroic, you are writing the soundtrack to people’s lives – In the words of Alice, do five impossible things before breakfast.
  • Just to prove to you it’s not impossible I happened upon an on-going survey on the excellent Why Music Matters website yesterday where they asked people to submit their all-time favourite first lines of songs. Quite a coincidence! Anyhow, the results so far are very revealing. Of the first lines I studied, over 90% of them are written from the first person perspective. Remember, this is a list of people’s favourite first lines, so the survey is not restricted necessarily to hit songs. I imagine the percentage may have been even higher if this restriction had been added.
  • Hit Song Examples –  McCartney’s Yesterday – “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…” (8 words, 13 syllables – but one could argue this is actually two lines of lyrics. First line -1 word, 3 syllables. Second line – 7 words, 10 syllables). Neil Young’s Heart of Gold – ” I want to live, I want to give…” (8 words, 8 syllables – Again, arguably two lines!). From these first lines – wouldn’t we want to know what happens next in these great hit songs from yesteryear? Ok, not convinced?? Let’s get up-to-date! Adele’s Someone Like You – “I heard that you’re settled down…”(6 words, 8 syllables – Excellent example, and also already establishes the “I and Thou” conversation between singer and audience). Finally, for the Doubting Thomas’s among you – Eminem (ft.Rihanna) – Love The Way You Lie – “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn…” (8 words, 9 syllables – the YOU of the listener watching her burn is strongly implied) – Also, song BEGINS with the Chorus, and Eminem’s first line rap – “I can’t tell you what it really is…” (also 8 words, 9 syllables) …. I rest my case.
  • Write as you speak. K.I.S.S – Keep it simple songwriter!
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