Credit: Mary McCartney

Paul McCartney's essential songwriting advice

Everybody knows that Paul McCartney is one of the finest songwriters of all-time with piercing heavenly vocals. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a world without Macca in it. The former Beatle has been the platinum gift that keeps on giving for close to 60-years, offering up an endless line of musical gems — ever wondered how he manages to do it and discover the secrets to his success? Then look no further.

Unfortunately, there are no formulae that he has followed that made him one of the most extraordinary writers of all time. However, his mindset and approach to writing have helped him become such a great. In 2014, McCartney delighted a group of promising young musicians with a smattering of his most precious songwriting tips at a London community event. His words went down like gold dust as the audience realised that even Macca hadn’t completely worked out the art of songwriting yet. The former Beatle is open about how even though he is one of the most experienced and well-qualified songwriters on the planet, he is still bereft of the answers.

“The great thing is there are no rules,” Macca says to the small audience who are in the palm of his hands. “I take a small songwriting class in Liverpool at my old school, and I always say to the kids that there is no rules and I don’t know how to do it.

“It can happen any way. I do like collaboration and writing with John was the ultimate collaboration. I think we were both very lucky to find each other because we played perfectly off each other. An example I always give is I was writing a song called, ‘Getting Better’, which went, ‘Getting better all the time’, and he goes, ‘It couldn’t get much worse’. Okay, come on, then let’s think about that. You’ve suddenly got the foil to what you’re doing, and the next line isn’t just ‘Getting better still’. I would do that to his songs, and he would do that to mine,” he blissfully recalled.

In a conversation with NPR in 2015, McCartney also offered some words of wisdom: “There is no sort of point you just think, ‘Okay, now I can do it, I’ll just sit down and do it.’ It’s a little more fluid than that. You talk to people who make records or albums, and you always go into the studio thinking, ‘Oh, well, I know this! I’ve got a lot of stuff down, you know, I write.’ And then you realise that you’re doing it all over again you’re starting from square one again. You’ve never got it down.

“It’s this fluid thing, music. I kind of like that. I wouldn’t like to be blasé or think, ‘Oh you know I know how to do this.’ In fact, I teach a class at the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys — I do a little songwriting class with the students — and nearly always the first thing I go in and say [is], ‘I don’t know how to do this. You would think I do, but it’s not one of these things you ever know how to do. You know I can say to you: Select the key. We will now select a rhythm. Now make a melody. Now think of some great words,’ That’s not really the answer.”

The beauty in the sincerity of McCartney’s answer on this subject is there is no secret code to access creativity, and the only thing you can do is mine and mine in the dirt of your imagination until you discover gold. It’s an undoubted fact that few, if any, have written as many delectable pieces of music as the founding Beatles member, but even Macca would admit that he’s made his fair share of faux-pas over the years.

The one key ingredient is consistency and keeping that hunger to improve alive. The second you rest on your laurels is the same moment that the quality recedes, which McCartney has never allowed to happen for too long over the last 60-years