How I Wrote A Song That Got 20 Million Streams On Spotify
When I quit my full-time job to become a singer and songwriter five years ago, I braced myself for a long journey. I felt overwhelmed wondering how I would write, record, and release the original music that I wanted the world to hear. Even still, I decided I'd give it a shot and started writing my own songs. I bought my first microphone (a Blue Yeti microphone), recording software (Logic Pro), and started my music career.
I never thought I'd be able to write a song that reached 20 million streams on Spotify. But in the course of five years, I ended up writing two that did! And I'm here to tell you how I did it.
For the purposes of this blog post, I'm going to focus on how I wrote my song Willow Tree. This song was a collaboration between myself and two amazing producers (Rival and Cadmium).
As a fledgeling songwriter, I felt like I was spinning my wheels. It was hard to decide on where to start: lyrics, rhymes, or melody? After doing some research and reading a book on songwriting (Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison), I discovered a technique called object writing. A majority of my songwriting now is based on this technique.
In object writing, you focus on one object, situation, or location, and write about it! Sounds simple, yes? Let me explain it in more detail.
Your first goal is to pick something to write about. How do you pick? Keep it simple. Look around your room or your house. Look on your phone for the most recent photo you've taken. What objects are there? Pick one, and only one. Don’t make things too complicated.
Once you've picked something to write about, your goal is to write down as many words and phrases you can related to the object using the five senses; smell, sight, hearing, touch, and taste. Let me give you an example.
While writing my song Willow Tree, I wrote down a list of the following:
As an extra challenge, try giving yourself only ten or twenty minutes to come up with all of the words and phrases related to your object.
After you've written down as much as you can, organize the words by rhyme. For example:
Drifting in the breeze
Next, flesh out your rhymes and turn them into full lyrics. Don't worry so much about the melody of your song yet. It's easy to add, remove, and replace words and syllables later. Take a look at how I did it below.
You and me
Hanging from the willow tree
Drifting in the open breeze
P.S. These lyrics are the actual lyrics to my song!
Afterwards, set your lyrics to a melody. Writing the melody may be challenging, but follow these steps below for some inspiration. Use a keyboard, guitar, or other instrument for help!
1. Choose a chord progression. I find that the easiest way to come up with a melody is to decide on a chord progression first. Certain chord progressions elicit different emotions. Do you want your song to be happy or sad? For my song, I chose a chord progression usually associated with sad songs. Listen to some songs by your favorite artists. What chord progressions do they use?
2. Choose the speed of the song. Decide if you want your melody to be fast or slow. Do you want an upbeat song, or a slow, romantic song?
3. Choose a structure to your song. All songs usually have a certain structure to them. Here are some common structures:
Verse -> Chorus -> Verse -> Chorus -> Bridge -> Chorus
Chorus (Hook) -> Verse -> Chorus (Hook) -> Verse -> Chorus (Hook)
4. Write the melodies to each section of your song. This is probably the toughest part. To come up with a melody, try humming the first series of notes that come to mind using the lyrics you've written while playing your chord progressions. Listen to your favorite songs for inspiration. How do those artists put certain notes together?
Once you've written the melody, record your song and edit the vocals. You'll need a recording microphone, recording interface, and recording software on your computer or laptop to do this. I'll write a future blog post on how to do this soon!
If your main focus is songwriting and not production, you'll want to find someone to produce your song and create the music to accompany your vocals. Consider hiring a producer as a work-for-hire project. Or, send a few cold e-mails to other producers and get a collaboration started. Make sure to sign split sheets with them so everyone knows what percentage of royalties they'll be getting from the completed project, in the event that you start making money from your song.
For my song Willow Tree, I worked with two producers (Rival and Cadmium) and released the song through a label (NCS). For more tips on finding a label to release your music, check out my blog post HERE.
It took about a year for Willow Tree to gain any traction on Spotify. A two years later, other YouTube content creators got a hold of the song and started creating meme videos using the song in the background. This caused a surge of traffic to the song on YouTube and Spotify from young viewers who recognized the song from those meme videos.
As of today, the song has hit 20 million streams on Spotify. If you don't believe me, check it out here on my Spotify page yourself!
If you're still feeling confused or overwhelmed about writing and releasing original music, here is a little pep talk from me to you:
Like anything, it takes time for people to discover your music. You might spend hours trying to promote your music by sending e-mails and pitching to independent Spotify curators, but people still might not listen to your songs. Part of your success as a musician will always be based on factors you can't control. Were people able to discover your song? Did you write a song that related to topical issues? Was your melody memorable? Were your lyrics memorable? Was the production of the song catchy? Did people like your song? There's no way for you to predict how your fans and new audiences will react to your music releases. Sometimes you'll need to leave it up to luck to determine the success of your music.
Knowing this, my suggestion is to take advantage of your creativity when it hits you, and let your creativity rest when it needs it. When you feel inspired, write as much as you can! With every song you write, you're creating an opportunity for yourself to get discovered. You'll also hone your songwriting skills. But remember to be gentle on yourself and to restore your creative energy. My creativity ebbs and flows. When I'm not having a creative day, I don't force it. I take a break by going outside for a walk or just come back to it the next day.
My song Willow Tree took me about two hours to write. I still remember writing in the closet of the small apartment I was living in at the time. Using the technique above, the lyrics came quite quickly (as did the melody). This doesn't happen for all of my songs though. I guess I got lucky!
Hope you guys enjoyed these tips on writing original songs! If you have any of your own own tips please leave them in the comments below - I'd love to keep building on this post with your feedback.
Want to learn more about songwriting? Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a songwriting lesson!
For a one minute tutorial summary of what I mentioned above, check out this TikTok video I made HERE.
Writing your song is only half of the work. If you're looking for tips on how to promote your music, make sure to read my blog post HERE.
Make sure to read part 1 of this article HERE and submit to even more Spotify playlists for free!
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