An Easy 3-Part Songwriting Formula
Do you have folders full of half-finished songs? This is a common problem and you’re definitely not alone. In this article, we’ll go through a songwriting formula I’ve learnt that has allowed me to know whether a song idea will work, and write better songs faster.
This article is a summarised transcript of our video “The Simple Songwriting Formula that Changed Everything for Me”. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.
Understanding the Formula
This formula is all about finding a writable idea. A writable idea is the combination of a concept, a title and a song map. We’ll go into each of these individual components in the later sections of this article.
For now, click here to download a free PDF song map template that will help you finish every song you start:
When you have these 3 components together, it gives your song structure and a plan. This ensures that you don’t feel as if you’re just groping around in the dark during the songwriting process.
Part 1 – The Concept
In this case, having a concept means having a general idea of what you want to write about. Jimmy Webb provides the following as an example of a song concept in his book “Tune Smith”:
“I want to write a song about someone who goes through acute mood swings from euphoria to emotional exhaustion. I love this person and want to address the song to him.”
It’s important to note that just having a song concept is not enough to make a song idea. In order to have a song idea, you must have a song title.
Part 2 – The Title
Having a song title does two important things. Firstly, it provides your song an anchor – otherwise popularly known as a hook. This is important because coming up with a song idea is all about limiting your options and possibilities. Aside from that, a title also ensures that you have a target for all of your lyrics.
For example, the song “First Times” by Ed Sheeran is a song about him celebrating all of the daily first times he gets with his partner. In the first line of the song, he describes the first time he played Wembley Stadium. This creates contrast to all of the first times he talks about in the song with the love of his life.
A title gives you destination, which in turn gives you direction. That being said, this doesn’t mean that you have to stick with the same title throughout the songwriting process. What’s important is that choosing a title gives you momentum and it’s that momentum that will help push you forward to further develop your song.
Part 3 – The Song Map
A song map is having an idea in your mind about how you could approach this title from at least two different angles, where the meaning and emotion will grow as the verses progress. The concept plus the title need to contain a clear way in which your song idea will develop.
As an example, let’s look at the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Below is the song map we’re able to extract when we examine the lyrics:
Verse 1: How happiness feels
Verse 2: The idea of obstacles to happiness is introduced
This is actually a really useful song map for writing songs to convey a clear mood or emotion – which is very common in film and TV songs. We can even replace the emotion “Happy” with any other emotion to create a different song.
Below are two examples of universal song maps which you could use:
- Problem -> Intensification -> Escalation:
A great example of a song that uses this song map, is “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” by John Mayer. The concept of this song is “A relationship that is on the brink of collapse”, and the title is “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”. The song starts with the narrator sensing that there’s a problem between the two of them.
This then turns into them starting to pick fights with each other, followed by the two of them trying to hurt each other. We can see from the progression of this song’s story that it clearly follows the song map Problem -> Intensification -> Escalation.
- Situation -> Context -> Consequence:
For this song map, we tend to start in the present moment. This is followed by us trying to zoom out from the situation to provide some context on the present moment. The final part is where we introduce the consequences of the situation that was introduced. Often, the introduction of the consequences is the emotional heart of the song.
A great example is “The House That Built Me” by Miranda Lambert. In this song, the situation that’s presented is Miranda knocking on her childhood home door. Then, we’re given some context as to why this action matters to her. Lastly, the emotional consequence of leaving her childhood home is made clear in bridge.
Conclusion: An Easy 3-Part Songwriting Formula
Although this songwriting formula is useful, it’s important to remember that by no means is it the be-all-end-all of songwriting. There’s no one right way to write songs. However, knowing this formula will provide you with something to go on when you feel stuck during the songwriting process. This way, you can put an end to unfinished songs for good.
If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now
Turn your inspiration into beautiful songs with step-by-step guidance through two professional songwriting methods. By the end of this course, not only will your tool belt be stocked; you’ll have a plan and a method for finishing your songs – all of them: