If you’re a songwriter, you’ve probably written at least one love song.
Love’s something we all can relate to, regardless our age, gender, experience, or life situation.
And love songs are popular. People have been writing and listening to love songs for thousands of years. That’s not likely to change anytime soon.
People love love. It’s a big topic with many nuances, both positive and negative. Folks obsess over it. They never get bored exploring, talking about, or singing about love.
But why are there so many love songs?
Because music is such an excellent outlet for our emotions. While listeners relate to many different emotions in songs, love songs resonate especially deeply because people feel love so deeply.
For general audiences, love songs are like greeting cards — they can help people express their feelings when words don’t come easily. Music fans rely on songwriters to help them say what they can’t put into words themselves.
For us songwriters, love is an endless source of inspiration — as well as an outlet to express feelings we can’t talk about.
But it can be tough to write a good love song.
Because we’ve all heard so many love songs, it’s easy to rely on clichés or recycle more of the same old same old. It’s also common, if you’re not careful, to fall into lazy habits.
Finally, writing truly great love songs can be uncomfortable. You’ll have to dig deep into your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences and bare your soul to the world. That’s tough.
The good news is, you can write strong, catchy, memorable love songs if you know the common mistakes to avoid.
In this post, we’ll explore the writing process for love songs, as well as the ingredients for touching and enduring ones.
How Love Songs Are Different
Love songs are their own special unicorns. It helps to realize this before you start writing and then find out either your writing’s weak or you’re in over your head.
You’ve probably heard — or even created — some pretty cringe-worthy early attempts at writing a love song.
We’ve all been there.
But once you know what to look for, writing love songs becomes either easier or at least more straightforward.
There are three major mistakes to avoid when you’re writing any song, but especially when you’re writing love songs.
1. Boring Writing
Love is supposed to be exciting, different, and interesting. But because so many songs have been written and sung about love, you need to go the extra mile to make sure your songs stand out.
Embrace art and inspiration for sure, but avoid spilling all your random thoughts onto the page. When you put on your editor’s hat, be ruthless.
Is each line, each word as strong as it could be? Can listeners relate to it? Do you have a unique angle, or are you simply rehashing something that’s already been done?
2. Heard-it-all-Before Writing
Many rhymes, phrases, stories, and scenarios have been overused, especially in love songs. When listeners (and publishers, and A&R reps) hear any of these, they tune out because they’ve heard it all before.
Some examples are: “love is blind,” “there are plenty of fish in the sea,” and “you’re cold as ice.”
If you want to write strong songs, you must first recognize those overused phrases (because they can slip in without you ever noticing) and then rewrite them.
Use your own words. Come up with creative descriptions.
And yes, you will hear many clichés in currently popular songs. Maybe a popular artist got a pass because they wrote it or maybe some other part of the song was so strong it slipped through.
But if you want to be a pro songwriter, you owe it to yourself not to give a gatekeeper an excuse to pass on your songs.
3. Lazy Writing
If you want to move listeners, you’ve got to dig deep into your own feelings and experiences. It’s not always a comfortable thing to do — writers either tend to avoid it or go full-on into catharsis mode.
The result is poorly-written love songs that fall flat. You could either be too clinical on the one extreme or uncomfortably oversharing on the other. It takes work to find a good balance.
You might also fall into lazy habits, borrowing heavily from other popular songs without even realizing it. Take care — a little goes a long way!
So keep these mistakes in mind as you work through the steps of the songwriting process.
7 Steps for Writing Songs From the Heart
We’ve already covered the process for writing a song in How to Write a Song: A Beginners Guide to Songwriting. Everything I said there applies to writing love songs, so I won’t repeat that post here. Check that out on your own if you haven’t seen it yet.
Instead, I’ll give a brief review of that post (spiced up a little!) and concentrate on what’s different about writing love songs. Specifically, we’ll expand on Step 2 – Choosing Your Theme and Step 4 – Writing Your Lyrics.
Step 1: Assemble Your Weapons of Love (aka, Songwriting Tools)
Grab your guitar, piano, or other favorite instrument, plus a recording device and a notebook. Also, gather any notes you may have collected for inspiration, whether that’s possible song titles, quotes, stories, phrases, or experiences you’ve had.
Step 2: Embrace a Heartfelt Concept
Remember, your song’s theme or concept is your main, unifying idea. It’s the glue that holds your song together. Your concept could be a title, it could be a story, or it could be inspiration from a real-life experience (yours or someone else’s.)
Your love songs won’t tell your exact life story, and they shouldn’t. But the best ones are definitely inspired by real life.
Also, since love is such a broad topic, you’ll want to narrow down your concept from the beginning so you can stay focused.
1. Use this list of topics for inspiration:
- Sex, seduction, desire, and intimacy
- New love, young love, or first love
- Crushes, infatuation, or admiring someone from afar
- The one that got away
- The one that was always there but you never noticed
- Summer love, brief affairs
- One night stands
- Friendship and companionship
- Jealousy, rivalry, or competition
- When love is good or when it’s bad
- Arguments or disagreements
- Apologies, compromises, making up
- Best and worst relationships
- Rejection or slights
- Relationships that didn’t work, breakups, or divorce
- Commitment or lack thereof
- Songs about love (i.e., Love Stinks, Love Is a Battlefield)
- Being single
- Looking for love
- Forbidden love
2. Once you have a general topic/direction, decide what your song will say about that idea (that’s your concept.)
For example, will you walk away from a forbidden love, or will you give up everything to have it? Giving your song a strong concept or a unique angle from the beginning will make it much easier to write.
3. Finally, decide which emotions you’ll tap into.
Do you want your listeners to feel ecstatic, frustrated, sad, hopeful, or something else? When you know what you’re aiming for, you’re more likely to write a song that touches people.
So, a strong concept will be [topic] + [your angle/opinion] + [emotion]
Once you’re sure you have an awesome concept, you can move on.
Step 3: Build a Foundation for Feelings (Song Structure)
Your song’s structure is the plan you’ll build on. Choosing a structure from the beginning makes writing your love song easier.
But your structure matters to your listeners as well (even if they don’t notice it) because it makes your song familiar, relatable, and memorable. Choose a popular song structure and check out this post for inspiration.
Step 4: Move Listeners With Empathy and Personal Experience
You always want to tap into emotion, but when you’re writing love songs you often have to be a bit more introspective.
You also have to avoid the common mistakes we mentioned in the beginning of this post. Here are a few tips to help you do both.
Do’s and Don’ts for Memorable Love Songs
Keep these guidelines in mind to write the best love songs you can.
Don’t make lists.
Don’t turn your song into a list of positive attributes — as in, you’re so beautiful and so funny, with your long legs and your dark hair and the way you rescue kittens and puppies.
While compliments are nice, listeners will quickly tune out. Instead, your song needs movement. Your lyrics have to take listeners somewhere, even if it’s not an outright story song. Remember to always write to your hook.
Example: My Girl, The Temptations
I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day
When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May
Once you’ve found the clichés in your first draft, pull out your handy old thesaurus and rhyming dictionary. Brainstorm. Collaborate.
Look for better words, unique phrases, or original ways to describe the same thing. Don’t forget to collect great examples of unique phrasing to inspire you when you feel stuck.
Example: Hey-Ho!,The Lumineers
I don’t know where I belong
I don’t know where I went wrong
But I can write a song
I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart
Avoid overused or lazy rhymes.
When you listen to songs, you’ll find many rhymes that have been used over and over: like, moon — June, kiss me — miss me, chance — romance. If you find yourself gravitating toward easy rhymes, stop and see if you can be more creative (you probably can.)
Example: Just the Way You Are, Bruno Mars
When I see your face
There’s not a thing that I would change
‘Cause you’re amazing
Just the way you are
Find new angles.
Dig deep into your own emotions and experiences. Now, that doesn’t mean you need to bare your entire soul in every song you write (although you probably will once or twice in your writing career.)
But sprinkle in some powerful, moving nuggets that will lift the whole song to a new level.
Example: Drops of Jupiter, Train
Tell me, did you fall for a shooting star
One without a permanent scar?
And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?
Do be relatable.
Drawing on your personal experiences helps you to write from a unique perspective, but avoid being so specific that no one can relate to the song.
For example, you might have a hard time writing a relatable song about how hard it is to write love songs because most people never even try.
Example: Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
You’d be like heaven to touch
I wanna hold you so much
At long last love has arrived
And I thank God I’m alive
You’re just too good to be true
Can’t take my eyes off of you
Do be sad or nostalgic.
If you’re writing for the masses, in general, you’re going to want to avoid being overly serious or depressing.
Love songs, however, allow you a little more emotional bandwidth. With a love song, you have a bit more flexibility to go down paths you might otherwise avoid.
Example: Rolling in the Deep, Adele
The scars of your love remind me of us
They keep me thinking that we almost had it all
The scars of your love, they leave me breathless
I can’t help feeling
We could have had it all
(You’re gonna wish you never had met me)
Do paint detailed pictures.
Avoid vague descriptions of how you’re feeling, like, “I’m so sad” or “you ripped my heart out.” Instead, make your descriptions so clear your listeners can imagine your lyrics are a scene in a movie.
Example: Edge of Desire, John Mayer
Don’t say a word, just come over and lie here with me
‘Cause I’m just about to set fire to everything I see
I want you so bad I’ll go back on the things I believe
There I just said it, I’m scared you’ll forget about me.
Finally, don’t be afraid to rewrite.
That’s where songwriting magic happens!
Step 5: Craft Your Siren’s Song (Build Your Melody)
Your melody will usually be the most memorable and singable part of your song. That’s why I like to keep melodies nursery rhyme simple.
You’ll rarely keep the first draft of your lyrics intact once you start experimenting with melody. Expect some back-and-forth, revising both until they work together seamlessly.
With love songs especially, make sure your melody is evoking the emotions you’re aiming for in Step 2.
Step 6: Write Music From the Soul (Your Chord Progressions)
The chords in your song are a foundation or base layer your melody dances on top of. You might come up with your chord progressions first, or you might be inspired by a melody first — either way is fine.
But when it comes to chord progressions, make sure that you’re choosing popular progressions that fit your genre. You can find a full guide to chord progression here. And again, make sure your chords convey the song’s emotions.
Step 7: Capture Your Passion for Posterity (Record Your Demo)
Finally you’re ready to demo your love song! Whether you record in your own home studio or head out to a pro studio, make the best demo you can.
You’ve put in all the effort to write a great song, so be sure it shines. You don’t need to give every song a full band treatment, just make sure your version is as close to radio-ready as you can get it.
Congratulations on writing your latest love song!
Start Writing Better Songs From the Heart
If you’ve written any songs at all, you’ve probably at least attempted to write a love song.
And if you’re serious about a songwriting career, I can guarantee you’ll be writing more.
That’s why it pays to know how different love songs are, and the common pitfalls songwriters stumble into while writing them.
So keep these tips in mind during your next writing session. Your romance writing game will be stronger simply because you now know what to watch out for.
And if you want more, be sure to check out the whole songwriting process in How to Write a Song: A Beginner’s Guide to Songwriting.