7 Mistakes to Avoid When Trying to Write a Hit Song
Writing a hit song is not an easy task. It will take time, effort, commitment, and lots of luck to make it happen. However, most musicians fail even to get started because they are waiting for inspiration and not intentional with their songwriting.
If you don’t have general guidelines to develop your writing, you could waste time on things that don’t matter. While getting good at crafting catchy songs can take years of practice, simple hacks can speed up the process.
By avoiding these seven common mistakes, you can increase the likelihood of writing a hit song at some point in your life.
Let’s get started!
#1 Thinking Your “Above” Formulas
Look, I get it; you’re creative and want to be original. However, stick with the basics when trying to write songs that connect with a broad audience.
Craft a strong chorus and then build every other part of your song to support the chorus. Also, please don’t make the listener wait to hear the chorus (don’t bore us, get to the chorus).
Getting to the “hookiest” part of your song is more important than ever today. With 365 million users on Spotify alone (not including other streaming services), Listeners are engaging with music in a more disposable way.
While thinking of music as a disposable commodity might leave a bad taste in your mouth, it’s a reality of the market. So if you want to write a “hit song,” then you have to adjust.
Examples of formulaic goals to strive for in your next song are:
- Keep your song length between 2 and a half to 3 minutes.
- Write with an intro, verse, chorus, bridge structure (lots of modern songs omit a pre-chorus).
- Get to the chorus in under 30 seconds.
#2 Writing Without the Audience in Mind
If you look up songwriting tips, you might see advice to “write what you know.”
This isn’t bad advice, but you will write lyrics that only relate to your own experience and alienate your audience if you take this too far.
The number one goal is to teach the listener about their own emotions; to bring context and meaning to their life experiences.
This is where writing from what you know comes into play. It’s critical that you first understand a particular emotion before adequately communicating it to others via your song.
A great way to ensure you connect the emotion/theme of your song to your intended audience is to imagine them as the other character in the story.
If you’re the narrator, then sing to your audience.
If their the narrator, then react to what they are saying.
Some examples of audience types can be:
- A group of friends
- The world at large
- A single person (friend, lover, child, etc.)
Once you understand the emotional experience you want your audience to connect with, you will craft lyrics that will transport your listener into the story you’ve created.
#3 Writing Complicated Lyrics
Your song will not connect with a listener if your lyrics are too complicated, wordy, or hard to understand. A good rule of thumb is to keep your lyrics conversational.
Try speaking them out loud. Does it sound like something that could be said in a natural conversation? If not, then this is a good sign that your words are overly complicated.
Try and write your lyrics at a fifth-grade reading level. They should be easy to remember and understand while casually listening to them. If you want to check the reading level of lyrics you’re working on, a free app called the “Hemingway App” will help guide you.
Keep your lyrics simple, and don’t ever expect your listener to pull out a dictionary to understand the story you’re trying to tell. They will not do it. Instead, what they will do is skip your song and move on to the next.
#4 Ignoring Current Music Trends
If you want to write musice with a greater chance of catching fire, you need to pay attention to what is trending in current music. This is where a quality music producer can help to polish your song.
If you study what’s on the radio, you’ll notice certain sounds get used repeatedly. So listen and figure out ways to incorporate these sounds in your songs. Being intentional with these trends will help your music “blend in” with what’s currently popular.
For example, In 2020, there were tons of trap-hats and snaps. These sounds were production flourishes featured in many hits and became a part of the collective conscious.
By being aware of trends in popular music, you can give your songwriting and production an edge over others by sounding relevant to the times.
#5 Not Having a Central Lyrical Theme
Write songs with a controlling idea. A controlling idea is the main point your music is trying to communicate.
A common mistake that songwriters make is trying to fit too many details into a song. Instead, every word, stanza, and section should build upon the song’s main idea. If it doesn’t, then it needs to be cut out.
For example, if you are writing about “young love,” you would want to write lyrics that bring more context and meaning to that phrase.
You could write your verses with the narrator and listener on a rollercoaster to further illustrate this point. As you explain the feeling of being on the ride, you are bringing to life the emotion of being young and in love.
Using this commonly shared experience to support the phrase young love, you have a greater chance of the listener having a more poignant, personal, and emotional experience with the song.
Be mindful of what you’re trying to say. For example, if you can’t explain to someone what your song is about by the title, you need to dig deeper before writing.
#6 Not Getting an Outside Opinion
Finding someone you can trust to give you honest feedback on your songs is critical to growing your craft.
It’s almost impossible for a writer to keep an objective opinion after spending hours, days, or even weeks on a song.
Many tangible benefits come when you have one or two people that aren’t afraid to give you critical feedback.
- It will confirm to you what you already knew needed fixing.
- It will reinforce your good ideas and give you the confidence to continue working on your song.
- The feedback will most likely unlock the most vital part of your song.
In my songwriting journey, I have had all the pieces of a song working except the hook (the most critical part of a song). It wasn’t until a friend pointed out where they thought the song would go that allowed me to discover the hook that transformed my entire song for the better. (editors note: if you want to know what song this is “Fj Isles “Ascension”)
Hearing critical feedback is difficult for most creatives. Still, suppose you can allow yourself to be vulnerable and open to suggestions. In that case, you will craft better and more accessible music.
#7 Not Finishing Your Song
The best way to never write a hit song is to have a bunch of incomplete songs. So make it a habit to finish every song you start.
Songwriting is a skill that you develop over time. The more you do it, the more you develop your unique sound. Also, your initial ideas are much better than you think. There is nothing worse than listening to something you did a year ago and realize that you had a great idea that you bailed on.
If you are new to songwriting, you’re going to write bad songs at first. So the best way to get past the “pain period” is to write as many songs as you can in as short of time as possible.
Don’t worry about them being any good or not; just focus on developing the writing skills. This process will also help you not get attached to one song because you’ll be confident in your ability to create another.
If you want to write a hit song, you must learn to love the process of songwriting.
What to Do Next?
The best music is often not written alone. There are usually multiple writers’ in a room contributing to a song. Co-writing can be a great way to speed up your songwriting process and get to writing a hit much sooner than if you tried alone.
Find songwriters in your community or online and reach out to them. See if they would want to do some co-writing sessions and set up a regular schedule. I guarantee if you keep these tips in the forefront of your mind during your co-writing sessions, you will inspire those you work with and be able to create a hit in no time!
If this task requires too much time and hassle on your end, help is right around the corner. At Supreme Tracks, we have a team of acclaimed, professional songwriters and arrangers, experienced at writing hit songs. Use their expertise and support to give your songs the best chances for success. Learn more here.