My First Song Was A Secret

I still remember where I was when I shoved that piece of paper into my backpack.

image via reverbnation.com

I was 15 years old and hadn’t yet written any songs. I mainly played songs by Coldplay, Jack Johnson, and The Beatles, not my own originals.

But at my family’s annual vacation on the lake, I started my first song. I sat on a bed in the finished basement of our vacation house, holding a notepad, a pencil, and a timid song concept.

I wasn’t trying to impress any girls and I wasn’t even thinking I would record the song.

I was just writing. No reason. Just because I thought it would be fun.

But, to my startlement, I heard footsteps. Right in the middle of my first songwriting session.

Without thinking, my hands shoved the paper and pencil into my nearby backpack. The sound of the footsteps got closer.

I pretended to be looking inside my backpack for something as my cousin walked by and said hey.

Whew. She didn’t suspect a thing…

I know. Ridiculous, right? Why was I keeping my first song a secret from my own family?

If you’re a young songwriter, don’t be like I was. Share your music. Get uncomfortable so you can eventually get comfortable.

RELATED: Books On Creativity

You won’t get better at (or even enjoy) songwriting if you don’t share your music with others. That’s what I’ve found anyways.

If you don’t have anyone in your life that you’re comfortable sharing your songs with, email me. I’d be happy to give you some encouraging thoughts.

Don’t hold it in. It’s not good for you.


I’d like to take a second to say that Evernote is awesome. I use it to write every one of my songs nowadays. And you can get a free month of Evernote Premium right here. Enjoy.

Paul McCartney Doesn’t Know How To Write Songs

Okay, Beatles superfans, calm down.

Before you prepare your beautifully crafted hate comment, let me explain.

Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney

I didn’t say this, okay? This is straight from your man, the Great Paul McCartney.

In an interview with NPR, he said songwriting is more complicated than just learning it like math or architecture.

“You’ve never got [songwriting] down,” he said. “It’s this fluid thing, music. I kind of like that. I wouldn’t like to be blasé or think, ‘Oh … I know how to do this.'”

He went on to explain how he teaches a songwriting class but admits to his students he’s figuring it out as he goes.

“I teach a class at the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys,” he said. “I do a little songwriting class with the students — and nearly always the first thing I go in and say [is], ‘I don’t know how to do this. You would think I do, but it’s not one of these things you ever know how to do.'”

This is a great mindset to have as a songwriter.

If you say, “I don’t really know what I’m doing,” then you’re next thought is probably, “I need to figure out how to do this.”

This will lead to continual learning.

Continual learning leads to improvement.

Improvement is what every songwriter really wants.

So let’s all just admit we don’t know how to write songs.


I don’t know what I’m doing, but I do know I love Evernote for songwriting. I use it exclusively. And you can use my referral link to get a free month of Evernote Premium (woot!)

How To Get Better At Songwriting

For those of us who love songwriting, we find it frustrating. Sometimes it’s just the worst.

Songwriting
How songwriting feels sometimes

It’s difficult, but practice is what makes us better at spitting rhymes and stringing together melodies.

Professional lyric and songwriters didn’t start there — they, like a lot of us, started as amateurs. So with that in mind, here are four tips on how to become a pro at writing song lyrics.

Study The Pros

Songwriting
Leonard Cohen

The greats learned from the greats, and so should you. Study the best of the best, print off their lyrics, break down their phrasing, rhyming, imagery, and storytelling. Use their techniques.

Some pros you could start studying are Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and John Lennon — these guys knew how to put words together in a beautiful way.

It’s time to become a student again and stay one until you’re done writing songs (which should be never).

Copy The Pros

Songwriting
Bob Dylan

Austin Kleon is an artist and author who wrote a book called Steal Like An Artist. The whole idea of the book is to take ideas from others (i.e. the pros), add your own spice, and create something of your own.

For example, if you, just for fun, rewrite “Like A Rolling Stone” by Dylan, you’ll get a better feel for how he structures his words, how he describes things, and his storytelling process.

Then jot down what you’ve learned and try using the same methods on your own song.

Be Consistent Like The Pros

Songwriting
Paul Simon

Malcolm Gladwell, a best-selling, deep-thinking author who does meticulous journalistic research, writes in his book Outliers  that “ten thousand hours [of practice] is the magic number of greatness.”

He cites Bill Gates, who started coding as a teenager, and The Beatles, who played an extremely high number of gigs before becoming stars in the States.

The point is, practice songwriting like heck. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. You’re not born amazing, you have to earn it.

RELATED: How To Write A Song In 5 Simple Steps

Re-write

Songwriting
Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway writes in his book A Moveable Feast, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” And, boy, that’s true.

The first thing you put down on paper is not always the best. The first draft is almost never the last. Rewriting your lyrics is part of the songwriting process.


I first wrote a version of this article for iSing Magazine