10 tips for getting started as a songwriter

piano keyboard
Piano keys

The key to getting started: play around with some basic chords

ACM’s Ivor Novello-winning songwriting tutor goes back to basics with advice for anyone wanting to get their creative juices flowing

Tim Hawes is a Songwriting Tutor at the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) and one of the UK’s most successful songwriters. His songs have sold over 10 million copies, including five UK No 1 singles, and he’s also won an Ivor Novello Award for Hear’Say’s Pure And Simple. Here is his best advice for songwriters who are just starting out in the industry…

1. Let life be your muse

Inspiration is everywhere. Observe the world around you – whether it’s nature, people, conversations, travel or the arts – and process your thoughts with the aim of turning them into an original piece of material. Absorb life, looking for inspiration in the detail, and see where your imagination takes you.

2. Write it down

Create a songwriting book which you use to document all your ideas, lyrics and musical brainwaves as soon as they come into your head. Don’t filter them – just jot them down as reflection and development can be the next stage. No idea is a bad idea… you never know which seemingly crazy concept may prove fruitful in the future.

3. Plan your song first

Whilst a song can of course start from music or lyrics, to avoid running to a standstill it can be a good idea to work out the title of your song, or at least the general theme, plan your lyrical direction and roughly know where you’re heading with it.

4. There are no rules when it comes to order

Some genres today are more production led, and a track or “beat” my provide the inspiration for a song. Other genres may be better approached from a simple guitar or piano idea. There are no right and wrong ways of writing…but a great lyric or concept is perhaps the very heart of the song.

5. Play around with some basic chords

Don’t get too complicated early on. Jamming with three simple chords and some heartfelt lyrics can go a long way… the rest is development and embellishment.

6. Don’t give in to writer’s block

If your songwriting’s stuck in a rut, go for a walk and let nature clear your head. Or try writing about a recent experience, a specific person, a film you’ve seen, a novel you’ve read or an artwork that’s inspired you.

7. Be universally creative

Songwriting really only covers a small handful of subjects, but the best songs are ones which both challenge you creatively and connect with a wider audience via a universal theme. Push yourself to achieve this if you’re going for a hit single!

8. Songwriting is the business

The nature of songwriting has changed hugely in recent years. These days, it’s not only about sitting around in a studio all day writing songs, it’s also about attending meetings, sending emails, making phone calls, and updating your social media accounts. Learn to blitz your admin.

9. Don’t rush into signing a deal

A songwriting contract is a legal agreement between a songwriter and a publisher, who will typically take a 15 to 30% share of any income collected from your songs. Songwriting deals are very complex, so if you’re offered one, make sure you send it to a lawyer to review before signing.

Mike Batt at French House Party 2024

10. Talent + ambition = success

Songwriting is extremely competitive and to be successful you need to have it all: a genuine passion and obsession for your craft, determination in achieving your goal, a thick skin, and the ability to make your own luck. Be reliable and be a nice person. When fortune comes your way with an amazing opportunity, get to work and make it count!

To find out more about Tim and his work with ACM, check out: acm.ac.uk/tim-hawes/

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