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Paul McCartney reveals his secret songwriting tips

As one half of arguably the greatest writing partnership in the history of recorded music, when Paul McCartney offers songwriting advice, you bloody well take it. More often than not, songwriters are remarkably coy about their craft, preferring to keep the secret to their success under lock and key, perhaps out of fear that they’ll be usurped by some guitar-clad youngster on the hunt for a hit. Paul McCartney, however, is more than open to the idea of sharing some of the tricks of the trade. Let’s look at some of his best advice for songwriters.

McCartney is incredibly pragmatic about the art of songwriting. For him, it’s all about getting stuff done. People who write music often like nothing more than leaving a song to simmer gently while they go off and do other things, believing that, with time, the song will reveal itself to them. In McCartney’s view, this is a very bad move.

As he suggests, leaving songs on the back burner gives you time to plant those seeds of self-doubt, which, by the time you’ve gone to pick up the guitar and have another bash, have blossomed into established creative blocks. To avoid this, it’s best to not be too interior about one’s songwriting. “I don’t think about what I’m writing about, it spoils the magic for me,” McCartney begins. “So I don’t often come to writing a song with much of an idea; maybe a title, maybe just a phrase, or just a thought I’ve had.”

Sitting down with no clear roadmap might seem like a frightening prospect, but in reality, it makes the songwriting process a good deal less stressful. By going into a writing session with an open mind, McCartney implies, you’re going to open yourself up to the idea of embracing new chord changes and lyrics that you would otherwise have ignored if you happened to have your heart set on a pre-established idea. McCartney encapsulates this idea when he says that, if there is a method to songwriting, then it’s about “not having a method.”

“Usually I’ll sit down and I’ll start something I fancy doing, you know, either a key that I fancy playing around in – [on guitar] or on piano – and I see where I go to first, I just see where I go first, just see where it leads me. It’s how we always did it,” McCartney continues. “I would sit down with John and we just sort of follow this road.”

But while driving without a map is much more creatively stimulating, it can also be exhausting work. That’s why McCartney suggests getting the skeleton of a full song – lyrics and all – written down before you decide to pack it in for the day. “Try and get to the end in one go, and it’s normally, then, pretty much written,” he says. “You may then look at it and go ‘oh that lines a bit ropey’. If you’re lucky, more often than not, you find that you’ve just sort of done it.”

Make sure you check out the full interview in which Paul McCartney breaks down his songcraft below. It’s well worth your time.