Love & Sex

How to Write a Love Song

Hot tips for your next love jam from local musicians

Having cut my own musical teeth on the likes of emo greats such as Jawbreaker, Get Up Kids, Kind of Like Spitting and others; on pretty much any Motown song I could find; on Bobby Darin and Bing Crosby and Gladys Knight and the queens both Aretha and Dolly, I myself am no stranger to the concept of the love song.

Of course, nine out of 10 times when we’re talkin’ love songs, we’re really talking about heartache and heartbreak songs—those “how could you do this to me?!” anthems written when the recently dumped put pen to paper and romanticize the ever-loving hell out of that person who just left, the one who got away or, sometimes, the one who has yet to come.

Like most creative things, be they music, visual art, the written word, the pyramids, the moon landing or participation in oral sex classes, the arts we make all seem to work in service of attracting, arousing and/or amazing the object(s) of our desire. What, pray tell, is the point of making anything beautiful without someone to admire its very existence and, by extension, the person who made it?

But what if you’ve never picked up a paintbrush or called a sex shop looking for a special kind of pegging apparatus or are new to the songwriting game and rightfully refuse to pay one of those terrible AI song apps? What then?!?! You go to the experts, of course. That’s why we tracked down some New Mexico songwriters to ask what tips they have for writing a killer love song.

According to bassist Rylan Kabotie (Santa Clara Pueblo, Hopi and Jicarilla Apache) of the reggae act Innastate, “The best writings when it comes to matters of the heart come from a place of honesty.”

Oh, sure, Kabotie says, you could use a bunch of $10 words to make love sound like the biggest and loudest thing in the world, but that shit gets old and can come across as impersonal. It also contributes to dangerous narratives that insist love comes as a daily lightning bolt rather than the type of thing that evolves over time and requires work.

“In the end, what makes your love?” Kabotie asks. “What do you want to tell that person when it comes to your individual relationship? It’s OK to be silly with it, playful, but as long as it comes from that real place that’s about you and yours, that shit will resonate hard with people.”

Personal resonance is every bit as important, says musician Stephanie Hatfield.

“I think it’s a giving in, a letting go, a surrender to whatever emotions come up,” she says. “They aren’t always pretty, they aren’t always rainbows and thunderbolts and unicorns and bullshit like that. That stuff the initial feeling, but sometimes it’s terror. Sometimes it creates distress. Chaos. Confusion. It may not come out like you think it should.”

For long-beloved and ever-popular singer-songwriter Jono Manson, the music is every bit as important as the message, if not even more so.

“The melody of the song coupled with the underlying chord structure that is creating the harmonic movement and potential tension of the song enters the heart in a way that mere words cannot,” he advises. “All the great love songs, even something like, I dunno, ‘Michelle’ by The Beatles or ‘I Will’… in those songs, the melody is more memorable than the words, and certainly more emotional.”

Think of it like a movie score, Manson says. We need the music, the melodies, to tell us how to feel. And, frankly, if you’re trying to woo someone with some ill-conceived and/or bummer-ass sounding shit, you’re on your own. You should listen to the guy—he’s got about a million albums out, has toured the world and written more songs on a bad day than most folks get out in a lifetime! Seriously, Manson’s got decades in the biz, so he might know a thing or two.

For country/Americana singer Esther Rose, fear is a driving force, but in a good way—in that way that tells you that you might just be onto something.

“My tip would be to write what scares you the most, and I apply that to all topics, but then everything is about love when it comes down to it,” she says. “If you feel like what you’re saying is a little bit scary, that means you’re really looking in and…you’ve accessed some part of you that’s the truth-teller. Trying to get to that place is essential.”

Indeed, just like the plot to all movies, the things most worth doing often seem to come with a healthy dash of fear. And honesty. And the melody part is nice. Of course, your mileage may vary when it comes to writing love tunes, and at the root of all the advice lies the same subtext to everything: To thine own self be true. Which is to say keep it real, keep it based in love. You got this.

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