Best Songwriting Quotes & Tips


In this section I present you with some of the best songwriting quotes I’ve come across. I invite you to enjoy them and be inspired. I’ll be using this section for regular updates, so you can bookmark it and keep coming back for more.

John Lennon: “I’d spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down. Then, “Nowhere Man” came, words and music, the whole damn thing, as I lay down… Songwriting is about getting the demon out of me. It’s like being possessed. You try to go to sleep, but the song won’t let you. So you have to get up and make it into something, and then you’re allowed sleep. ”

Neil Young: “I don’t force it. If you don’t have an idea and you don’t hear anything going over and over in your head, don’t sit down and try to write a song. You know, go mow the lawn… My songs speak for themselves.”

Christine Anderson: “I’ve been relying very heavily on my instincts as of late, and my songwriting has come to depend on my ability to surrender to the inspiration whenever it strikes. When I clear my mind and let the music take over, my hands seem to move on their own, and my voice utters words I haven’t premeditated. This is pure instinct. It’s like riding a wave. You just take a deep breath, hop on, and hang on as long as you can. That’s basically how I songwrite when I’m composing impromptu pieces. It’s a lot like channeling. Or free associating. And it’s super fun, because anything can happen! It’s pure creativity.”

John Prine: “I think the more the listener can contribute to the song, the better; the more they become part of the song, and they fill in the blanks. Rather than tell them everything, you save your details for things that exist. Like what color the ashtray is. How far away the doorway was. So when you’re talking about intangible things like emotions, the listener can fill in the blanks and you just draw the foundation.”

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Songwriting Quotes and Tips:

John Prine: “Some of the songs come so fully, it’s like they are pre—packaged. There have been a couple that came in the middle of the night. And I thought, jeez, I’ll never forget that. And went back to sleep, and it was gone. You’ll hear something years later that another songwriter that you respect writes, and you go, jeez, I think that was the remnants of that song that got sent to me.”

Lucinda Williams: “It’s just the more you do it the better you get, or at least that’s how I feel in my case. I think it’s a combination of confidence and just having done it this long and just learning. I’m always learning. I’m still honing my craft.”

Lamont Dozier: “I don’t think about commercial concerns when I first come up with something. When I sit down at the piano, I try to come up with something that moves me.”

James Taylor: “I started being a songwriter pretending I could do it, and it turned out I could.”

George Gershwin: “Out of my entire annual output of songs, perhaps two, or at the most three, came as a result of inspiration. We can never rely on inspiration. When we most want it, it does not come.”

Tracy Chapman: Songwriting is a very mysterious process. It feels like creating something from nothing. It’s something I don’t feel like I really control.

Burt Bacharach: “Music breeds its own inspiration. You can only do it by doing it. You may not feel like it, but you push yourself. It’s a work process. Or just improvise. Something will come.”

Hal David: “I tended not to be concerned about whether a song was going to be a hit when I wrote it. Because it became evident that none of us knew what was a hit and what wasn’t. So I thought if I just write what I like, why shouldn’t people like what I like?”

Lenny Kravitz: “I never sit down to write. When I’m moved, I do it. I just wait for it to come. You just hear it. I can’t really describe writing. It’s in my head. I don’t think about the styles. I write whatever comes out and I use whatever kind of instrumentation works for those songs…A lot of people don’t listen to the lyrics, really. A lot of people pretty much only listen to the chorus.”

Ozzy Osbourne: “I don’t want you to play me a riff that’s going to impress Joe Satriani; give me a riff that makes a kid want to go out and buy a guitar and learn to play.”

Patti Smith: “Poetry is a solitary process. One does not write poetry for the masses. Poetry is a self—involved, lofty pursuit. Songs are for the people. When I’m writing a song, I imagine performing it. I imagine giving it. It’s a different aspect of communication. It’s for the people.”

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Songwriting Quotes:

Joan Baez: “It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page…People don’t want to hear anything that they don’t want to hear…You have to package it in a certain way so that it can break through the wall people put up.”

Pete Seeger: “I write a song because I want to. I think the moment you start writing it to make money, you’re starting to kill yourself artistically.”

Richard Thompson: “I think you can refine what you do, and become more consistent. And you write better songs that have a better shape and a better feeling. You evolve into and out of things, and go through stages, but, ultimately, you do improve.”

Richard Thompson: “Every song really tells a story. Some are more fleshed out than others. Some are more linear than others. But most pop songs, apart from pretty basic dance music, is telling some kind of a story—usually a love story, sometimes a political story. In modern songwriting there is a lot of cinematic technique, where you jump into the middle of action. You might be writing in first person through the eyes of the protagonist. It’s a little cinematic scene, and you do hard cuts. And some more is left to the imagination. I do a lot of that in addition to the narrative songs, and I enjoy both. I’m surprised by how popular the ballads are, the story songs. So in a sense, I’m reacting to what the audience would like.”

Songwriting Quotes:

Sammy Cahn: “I don’t write songs, songs write me.”

Paul Simon: “It’s very helpful to start with something that’s true. If you start with something that’s false, you’re always covering your tracks. Something simple and true, that has a lot of possibilities, is a nice way to begin.”

Bob Dylan: “My best songs were written very quickly. Just about as much time as it takes to write it down is about as long as it takes to write it…In writing songs I’ve learned as much from Cezanne as I have from Woody Guthrie…It’s not me, it’s the songs. I’m just the postman, I deliver the songs…I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet.”

James Taylor: “I started being a songwriter pretending I could do it, and it turned out I could…To be a musician, especially a singer/songwriter–well, you don’t do that if you have a thriving social life. You do it because there’s an element of alienation in your life…I wish I could say, ‘Oh, that would be great to write a song about.’ But what I’m doing is assembling and minimally directing what is sort of unconsciously coming out. It’s not something I can direct or control. I just end up being the first person to hear these songs. That’s what it feels like…that I don’t feel as though I write them. Then there’s a phase when you button it up and finish it. But it all starts with a lightning strike. A melody will suggest itself in the context of whatever I’m playing, and then the cadence will suggest words. And those words don’t come from a conscious place. I typically will work on a lyric in a three-ring binder. On the right side, I’ll write the lyric, and on the left side, I put in alternate things.”

Tom Cochrane: “As a songwriter, if you can touch people and make them feel a little less alone in the world, then you’ve done your job.”

Songwriting Quote

Merle Haggard: “I think it was Tommy who told me, ‘When your song is called ‘XYZ’ or whatever, every line has got to make sense against your title.’ He showed me little methods of proving to yourself whether the line belongs, and ways of finding out whether you were able to get more out of a line if you tried.” —

Mark Knopfler: Each song has its own secret that’s different from another song, and each has its own life. Sometimes it has to be teased out, whereas other times it might come fast. There are no laws about songwriting or producing. It depends on what you’re doing, not just who you’re doing.

John Prine: “I just tried to come up with some honest songs. What I was writing about was real plain stuff that I wasn’t sure was going to be interesting to other people. But I guess it was…I’ve never had any discipline whatsoever. I just wait on a song like I was waiting for lightning to strike. And eventually–usually sometime around 3 in the morning–I’ll have a good idea. By the time the sun comes up, hopefully, I’ll have a decent song.”

Gillian Welch: “You know, it’s a pretty mysterious thing still, why you start the songs you start, and the specific flavor of them, the nature of them. I don’t know about other writers, but, for me, it’s still somewhat out of my control. It’s not really a logical process.”

The songwriting craft…

David Crosby: “My songs emerge unbidden and unplanned and completely on a schedule of their own…We have, all of us, over the years, written things that responded to the world as it slapped us in the face. Me and Nash, singing “To the Last Whale” and “Find the Cost of Freedom”. Stills coming up with “For What It’s Worth”. These came right out of the news. People have accused us of taking stances and the truth is we don’t.”

Mick Jagger: “A lot of times songs are very much of a moment, that you just encapsulate. They come to you, you write them, you feel good that day, or bad that day.”

Billy Gibbons: “My discussion with Keith Richards about the creative process led me to believe that there’s an invisible presence of a stream of ever-flowing creativity that we overhear–all you have to do is pull up the antenna and dial it in. This presence allows you to maintain your sense of origin and move forward.”

Nancy Griffith: Being a good songwriter means paying attention and sticking your hand out the window to catch the song on the way to someone else’s house!

Mike Gordon: “A lot of the great songwriters in history have been collaborators, with a separate lyricist.”

The Songwriter’s Journal: “Think back about a time you got together with your family. Maybe it was a family reunion or a holiday get-together. Try and remember who was there and what made the day memorable. Crazy cousin Al? Great Grandmother Minerva? The turkey that was cooked too long? There are probably several song ideas in just that one day.”

David Mead: “Sometimes a great song is defined as much by what the lyric doesn’t say as what it does. One of the advantages of writing a song as opposed to writing literature, painting a portrait or building a house is the extraordinary context that the music provides for the lyric. Sometimes good melody and chord structure allows a lyricist to say very little, leaving the music to imply the rest of the story. Intriguing plot lines and amazing imagery are impressive, but feel horribly out of place if they crowd the emotional content of the music. The ability to provide just enough information in the lyric is what separates great lyricists from great writers.”

Shooter Jennings on his father’s songs: “All those songs are totally timeless. They’ll always stand up because they came from a real place. They weren’t crafted songs. They were written from the heart.”

Be inspired by these Songwriting quotes…

Gary Talley: “Sometimes an unexpected chord change can be the difference between a good song and a great song.”

Loretta Lynn: “Sometimes they work, and sometimes they just won’t. Sometimes you get hung up on them. When that happens, you just throw it back, and maybe come back to it two or three weeks later.”

Dan Kedding: “The ending should be short and sweet. … Trust your audience to understand your message and don’t try and beat it into them. Stop yourself from prolonging the story because you’re having such a good time.”

Lyle Lovett: “Writin’ songs is like a mystery. The most difficult thing to do is have a good idea. If you have a decent idea, the songs are the easy part. Actually having something to say is the hard part. If you get an idea for a song, then it pulls you along. There are just some ideas that you get that are really hard to edit out; it’s hard to stop thinking about some bad ideas. So you just finish it and you end up putting it on a record.”

Lyle Lovett: “Beyond hoping that someone will like one of my songs, I don’t think about how a song will be received. I just hope that, when somebody hears one of my songs, they’ll want to hear it again. I don’t have an impact or an effect in mind. I really just try to write something that makes sense for me, that seems true. For me, songs are sort of sacred ground, because it’s a place where you can actually tell the truth. You don’t have to be diplomatic. I think the point of a song is to just say something that’s true, or that expresses an idea that reflects something that’s true, whether it’s a truth about human nature or about the way people bullshit one another. A song doesn’t have to be serious to be true… but to me, that’s what a song is. And if I can get that right for me, then it’s worth writing. …You’re asking people for their time and attention, and it’s a chance to tell somebody what you think, or to share a joke. I just always hope that whatever’s in the song is worth demanding somebody’s time [for].”

Boz Scaggs: “My songwriting and my style became more complex as I listened, learned, borrowed and stole and put my music together.”

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