Since most of us become songwriters almost by accident, the line between amateur and professional songwriter is blurry at best. Strictly speaking, a professional songwriter is someone who is not only writing songs but generating income from those songs. However, it’s been my experience that long before a songwriter’s songs begin making money, they’ve put a variety of “professional” practices in place that, in time, result in the kinds of songs that artists cut and music supervisors end up using in their films or TV shows. Below are a few songwriting tips to start you down the road to professional songwriting.

Professional songwriting tips

1. Start on time

I know this sounds simple but it goes hand in hand with one of my favorite quotes which is “the way you do anything is the way you do everything.” In other words, by putting your writing times on your calendar whether you’re writing alone or co-writing and then sticking to those times, you’re setting the proper tone and showing respect for yourself and your songs. Showing up on time and ready to work is what professionals do no matter what their profession.

2. Keep a recorder running during your writing session

Many years back (so far back I used a cassette recorder) I began recording my writing sessions. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, in many sessions one co-writer or another will either sing something or suggest a lyrical idea and then promptly forget what it was. By keeping a recorder running (these days, it’s often just an app on your smartphone or laptop), you can always “rewind” and find that inspired line or melodic idea. Secondly, these recordings can also serve as proof of your ownership of the song simply by capturing the moment of creation.

3. Keep the lyric up on your computer screen

For many years, I wrote my lyrics in notebooks and on scraps of paper that I kept scattered everywhere. These days, I take full advantage of the benefits of the word processing that my computer provides. Generally, this means opening up a document, blowing up the text size so it’s large enough to be looked at from across the writing room and working on the lyric that way. This not only allows quick revisions and moving words and phrases around but also allows both writers to review the latest version of the lyric at all times. It’s just a simpler, cleaner way to keep everyone on the same page…literally. There’s also the added benefit of keeping your lyrics easily emailable and backed up.

Professional songwriting tips

4. Don’t edit too much at first

One of the surest ways to make quick, effective progress on a song is to hold off on the serious editing during the early stages of the writing process. By avoiding squeezing too hard on any one line of lyric or part of the melody, you’ll be better able to get the overall arc of the song in place. Then, you can continue to refine and refine until the song becomes a highly polished gem. By not editing too harshly – or getting too attached to anything specific – early on, you’ll be able to let the song unfold naturally and become what it’s going to become without crushing the life out of it.


Being a professional songwriter is, of course, about much more than just writing great songs; however, for the purposes of this article, I’ve chosen to focus on some of the actual songwriting techniques that professionals use to improve their writing and song output. Remember, there’s absolutely no reason not to behave like a professional songwriter right away. Don’t wait until your songs are actually worth money to act as though they already are.

Good Luck!

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8 responses to “Four Professional Songwriting Tips”

  1. JoY S.B. says:

    Thank you for sharing your tips Cliff! One of your favorites quotes is very similar to something I have often said,…. the way you do something, represents the way you do everything…. Wishing you a healthy and productive New Year!!

  2. Cliff, Thanks Once Again For Another Installment Of Your “Polished Gems Of Shared Knowledge” … I Too Remember The Cassette Recorder Method Of Capture … (:>o) … That Said, Not Too Long Ago, Began Trying Your “Don’t Edit Too Much At First” Practice And Believe It Has Bourne Worthwhile Fruit. I Suffered Too Much Under The “Crush The Life Out Of It Route” For Way Too Long … More Often Than Not I’ll Leave The Sofa After Strumming / Singing A New Idea And Plug My Analog Mixer Straight Into A Recordable CD Player. I Capture Rough Run Through And Pieces Of Songs On As Many Tracks As Are Needed Where Along With Same, I “Speak In Meta Data” I.E. Time / Date Of Capture And Verbal Thoughts And / Or Chord Progressions In Play On The Respective Track(s). Using Your Recent Advice Of Keeping The Words As Pithy As Possible, I Still Exhaust Every Lyrical / Melodic Idea Until Feeling Satisfied Song Is “Done Done” … Or, Many Times These “Pieces Of Capture” When Listened To At A Later Date Trigger Either The Completion Of Said Song Or Spawn A New Adventure … (:>o) … Once A Song / Arrangement Is Complete, The Work Of The “Polished Recording Process” Via DAW Begins … Last, But Not Least, Agreed On The Word Processor / Digital Capture Tools That Now Replace The Notebook / Scraps Of Paper, A More Practically-Organized And Professional Method Indeed! Thanks Again For Everything … Have A Wonderful Day … J Nelson K

  3. Karl Crosby says:

    Cliff, I need some brief advice from you. If you’re not living in one of the major music cities like N.Y., Ca.. or Tenn., how do you write as a lyricist only to a indie record label or small publisher to get collaboration with a professional producer?
    I enjoy all your songwriting emails, but as a songwriting lyricist only I’m having trouble finding collaboration in the R&B genre in Baltimore, Md. a non music big city.

  4. Cliff Thomas says:

    Makes sense. I’m older but have songs from my younger days. Always loved music and dreamed to play a guitar. Never thought I could sing at all. Wife says I’m getting much better at both. Several songs written when young so they reflect earlier times. Some are always timely. Fields of Vietnam. Has an orient ring to it. I have copyrighted 3 so ready to have a listen. Looking at the best option for that. Thanks for your help with people’s passions. All societies have music.

  5. Ben says:

    Good ideas, but not one size fits all. I feel most of the time when I hear “so how did you write that song” it’s never well I sat down to intentionally write and came up with it. It’s always…”well, this melody just popped in my head when I was walking my dog, and the rest is history.” I feel sitting down to write every day and force writing just creates a bunch of mediocre tracks. Not that that’s what on the radio, or anything like that. Course not. If someone truly is a creative, they’re probably getting inspiration all the time doing mundane day-to-day things. And they need to capture those moments on their phone. Of course the idea needs worked from the point of inspiration, which means crafting it…but this idea of write every day, stick to your schedule….creativity doesn’t usually operate like that. It comes when it wants. At least, the better/best ideas. Focus more on feeling happy with yourself and with your life, and writing inspiration will flood you all day long. Or…sit down to write in your cold dark apartment, bring writers block upon yourself, and leave wondering what’s wrong. Maybe it’s just me.

  6. Pedro Olivares says:

    Thanks for the update information.

    I usually copy your ideas…but not the responses from other songwriters.

  7. T.J. Kirby says:

    All good practices that I do myself. Thank you.

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