A person playing the guitar

How to write a love song

By BBC Maestro

Love is a subject that has captivated the minds of some of the world’s greatest poets, musicians, artists, scientists and philosophers throughout history. Still, the yearning to understand the nuances of love, and share our experiences with it, continues to occupy the minds and hearts of creatives today. In particular, the minds of musicians.

But what does it take to write a romantic ballad? And what makes a great one? Read on to find out how to write a love song.

What makes a love song?

Love songs have long been centred around the acts of falling in love, being in love or the loss of love, and the feelings that these experiences bring us. Beyond romantic relationships, they can also capture familial love – think about Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely, written about his daughter. Other songs may be devoted to platonic love (love for a dear friend) – think of Dianne Warwick’s heartfelt tribute to friendship in That’s What Friends Are For. They can also celebrate the love of something – it could be of faith, a sentimental place or a treasured item.

Romantic love songs may delve into specific situations – such as meeting someone for the first time, or dreaming of finding the right person. They might also explore themes of infatuation when a connection begins to blossom, or perhaps the tumultuous breakdown of a relationship. Think about Nina Simone’s version of I Put A Spell On You. Or take a look at Adele’s latest album 30 which grasps the all-encompassing reality of overcoming divorce.

The spectrum of themes covered in love songs is broad: lust, desire, intimacy, companionship, commitment, loneliness, jealousy, rejection, betrayal, grief and more. In turn, some of the emotions that love songs churn up are varied. So before you begin writing your very own love song, it’s worth considering some of the emotions and themes you may want to evoke.

A couple hold hands

How to write a love song

One of the long-standing reasons love songs are successful is because of their impact to strike a chord with their listeners. The ability to tug on the heartstrings of people with just a melody or particular lyric is what makes a love song so powerful. A great love song will make the listener feel something. It may be an upbeat riff that instantly makes them feel joyful, or a poetic line that expresses exactly the way they feel or what they want to say. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how to begin writing your love song.

1. Be inspired

Listen to some of the greatest love songs out there today. It might be their lyrics that draw you in or an energetic hook. What themes do they explore? What emotions do they evoke in you? You can reflect on love songs across different eras and genres, or you could even delve into the expansive world of poetry – something that has inspired the work of iconic artists like Amy Winehouse, John Lennon, and Joni Mitchell.

Many musicians choose to reflect on their own experiences with love. What feelings have you experienced in your romantic, familial, or sentimental relationships throughout life? Try to be authentic. Using your own personal experiences and feelings can create a love song that truly connects with an audience.

Also, what mood do you want to portray in your love song? Start thinking about melody, pace and pitch. Is your love song going to be catchy and uplifting, or low-tempo and mellow? What instruments or musical tools will you need to use? There’s plenty to think about.

Person writing in a book

2. Finding the words 

Sometimes “there are no lyrics yet for the verse but there’s enough to really start to build the track around it and paint the picture,” says Mark Ronson is his BBC Maestro course on music production.

There is never-ending debate about whether the lyrics of a song are more important than the melody or vice versa. Gary Barlow says in his BBC Maestro songwriting course, “I had melodic ideas first. The lyrics happened later. And they came less naturally to me than the music”. If you have an inkling to write a love song, you may feel an urge to write lyrics first, then to activate your lyrics with a melody. Or you may have a beat or rhythm filling your head and you just need to find the words to bring it to life. If this is the case, you can build your lyrics around the melody you’ve created.

When it comes to writing lyrics, it’s best to write straight from the heart. “In the songwriting process, I always find it’s great to just go with the flow,” says music producer Mark Ronson in his online music production course. What do you want to say? Is it different to what’s already been written and sung about before? If it’s not, how can it be? You can try writing in a stream of consciousness, or you may prefer a more formulaic approach, choosing to follow a song structure.

Try writing the first verse and a chorus. You may find certain lines work and others do not. Move them around the page and work out how and if they fit. If you decide a line or idea doesn’t work, don’t disregard it – keep it somewhere safe – as it may be useful down the line. Find what works for you and keep at it.

If it hadn’t been for my system of logging ideas, many of my songs would never have been written.

Gary Barlow, British songwriter

3. Melody

You could tackle the melody first. You may want to produce your own or outsource this to musicians or producers. Mark Ronson will often start creating some samples whilst his artist collaborator works on crafting or finalising the lyrics. His advice? “You don’t want to cook it too much before the song’s actually finished. Once the lyrics come on the verse, it could take a little bit of a different direction,” he says. “But it’s great to add enough to keep everyone [collaborating] excited about the track”.

Most songs require a melody for verses, a chorus, the bridge (if featured) and an intro and outro. You could add some vocal melodies in verses and your chorus too.

It’s best to first start by creating a melody for your chorus or first verse. Then move on to the other verses, your bridge, and how you will open and close the song.

“Try different chords and see what feelings they evoke, then work from those emotions,” says Gary Barlow in his songwriting course. Adding a great motif to your love song can make it more impactful too.

4. Put it all together

The process of songwriting is quite symbiotic – whether you’re adapting words to a melody, or melody to words. It can be a meticulous process as you refine your rhythm and define your lyrics so that they work well together. It may also feel like a never-ending process, but the stop-and-start journey of cutting, cropping and tweaking will only add to the integrity of your love song. “It takes a while to get to that magic thing…” says Mark Ronson.

Gary Barlow listening to music

5. Feedback

This is a valuable part of any creative contribution to the world. Feedback is so important. And it’s something that can be embedded throughout the songwriting process, not just at the end of it.

Your love song may be packed with emotion, killer riffs and an infectious melody and it may the best piece you’ve ever written, but it’s always good to play it for someone else and get their opinion. Share it with friends, family, industry peers or mentors. As Gary Barlow says, “the more I got into music, the more I realised it was all about collaboration.”

Revisit ideas and share any areas of concern. It’s good to know how it lands with an audience, as Gary summarises eloquently “when an audience connects with your song you get this incredibly rewarding feeling.”

So where is your love song going to go? Perhaps you hope to share it with a partner or loved one. Or maybe you want it to reach the ears of millions? That’s up to you. If you’re feeling encouraged and you’ve created something you’re proud of, why not keep writing? Who knows, you could be on your way to producing your very first album with love songs ripe for the charts. 

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