Skip to main content

How to Write a Song

Learn how to write a song with this Howcast tutorial from John Popper of Blues Traveler.


Hi, I'm John Popper, lead singer of the band Blues Traveler. I also play harmonica, and am arguably one of the best in the world. But thank God, there really never can be an actual best, but I'm damn good. I'm gonna teach you a few things about the harmonica.

Songwriting is a conscious effort every step of the way. You have to have a feel for songwriting. And trying to have a decision making process that's fairly instinctual. Because you can't be second guessing yourself all the time. But ultimately, you are trying things and you are discovering things, and no song is written the same way. It could be a melody that leads you to a set of lyrics. It could be a lyrical idea that leads you to a set of lyrics, and a melody. It could be a set of lyrics that leads you to a lyrical idea. It could be a set of lyrics or a lyrical idea that leads you to a melody. So you're always trying to develop new ways and new conversations to have. And see, songwriting involves a dialogue you have. It's both. I wrote a song last night, because I thought this girl was really cool. And I had a moment with her. And it was nothing more than that, conversation with her on a bus. And basically fantasized about the conversation on the bus, and what that could mean, knowing full well that that's all it was. It was a fantasy of a conversation on a bus. But that projected in my head, several images that I thought were really cool. And that became a song. Whether or not it's a good song. Well, again, I will have to sing the song to people that I'm going to work with. And it'll inspire them, or it won't. And that's part of this process of elimination that the song has to survive. A good comedian will make the audience laugh by going, ""I know what he means,"" when they talk about something. If you, if you find yourself laughing at comedy, it's because you identify with what the guy is saying. Some part of you knows exactly the feeling of falling down the stairs, and the way the guy was talking about. Or, you know, bitches be shoppin'. You know, whatever it is that you're laughing about, it something that we can all identify with. Same exact thing with songwriting. When Alanis Morrissette screams that "You Oughta Know, it's not fair to remind me." We all know that feeling. We all want to scream at the top of our lungs, ""It's not fair."" And that's why it's such a great lyric. I think that everybody is looking for that connection. I think it makes everybody feel less alone, and I think that's what the best artistic stuff is. Is when everyone feels a common-ness, an understanding with everyone else. And the only way to do that is to mean what you say, 'cause they can spot a lie. You know, the crowd will always spot a lie. And no one is clever enough to predict what the next trend will be. You have to just be honest. And it's your only game.

Popular Categories