How exactly do you become a better songwriter? It's easy to feel stumped when trying to answer that question.
Your first few songs probably came to you in a fit of inspiration or through some intense feelings. They may be amazing or terrible.
If they were amazing, it can be hard to live up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself.
If they were terrible, you may not feel inspired to write more.
Songwriting is personal and vulnerable. For that reason, working on your songwriting chops can be hard. A lot of the time, it’s harder than practicing an instrument!
But you can become a better songwriter.
If you practice, keep an open mind and experiment, you can create more and better songs.
I think about songwriting all the time, and have written about it extensively – here are my top tips for getting better at writing!
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1. Write, Write, Write & Write Some More
The more you write, the better you will write.
Quantity does not always mean quality in art, but it can certainly help.
Writing consistently does not necessarily mean that you will write hit after hit. Often, you’ll sit down to write and you won’t feel like writing at all.
This is the perfect time to practice writing.
When you are feeling your least creative, you can make a practice turning on the creative “switch” in your brain.
If you can get over the initial hurdle of “I don’t want to do this”, “I’m feeling uninspired” or “I’m too stressed out”, then you can write and I promise it will feel amazing to be creative.
Writing often keeps your creative mind open to new ideas – when a great idea comes along, be it in the car or in bed or at a restaurant, you can record and go work on it, knowing that you can write in any situation.
Success happens when preparation meets opportunity.
You cannot control how often you get a great idea or how often inspiration strikes, but you can control how well and how often you are writing.
Make writing a habit and a practice, and I promise you will see and feel the results.
2. Stick To Your Goals & Song Writing Schedule
When songwriters decide to get serious about their songwriting, they’ll often realize they need to write more./
Unfortunately, writing is not easy.
It takes a lot of brain power, concentration, vulnerability and creativity. It’s not always easy to force yourself to write.
Writing also takes time. Personally, I've found that writing a song can take anywhere from 30 minutes to six months. Recording and demoing the song can take even longer.
It’s hard, I get it!
For all of those reasons, writing can be the first thing in your musical life you brush aside.
Instead of writing, you’ll send emails, work on art, practice, pursue business opportunities, etc.
All of those activities are quantifiable and easier to get into.
Writing however, is the most important part of being an artist. Nobody will care about your music if you’re not writing and finishing any of it!
For that reason, you cannot make excuses for not meeting your writing goals or skipping set writing sessions.
If you skipped writing a song during your designated songwriting time, that is because you didn’t want to do it. Nothing else.
You can always sit down and write. Even if it’s a short song. Even if it’s just a chorus. Heck, even if it’s just a bunch of cool song titles.
You can always create. But your must do it.
3. Finish Your Music
Many songwriters will get past the first two steps; writing and demoing regularly and flexing their creative muscles.
The next roadblock that writers get stuck on is finishing and sharing songs.
Finishing and sharing your work is the end of the creative process.
Writers can get stuck working and reworking the same song for far too long.
At a certain point, you need to realize that a song is as done as it will ever be. Knowing when to stop is just as important as starting.
When I’m in writing mode, I try to get as many ideas out as possible and finish as many of them as possible.
Sometimes, this means finishing a song that I don’t even like.
To finish a song, ask yourself:
Did I Say What I Meant To Say?
Songs don’t have to answer the world’s biggest questions. All you need to do is say what you were feeling. And, if that is just a verse or two (or a line or two) set to music, that’s fine!
Does The Song Feel Complete?
If you’re not feeling inspired by a song, but want to finish it, ask yourself how you can make the form of the song feel complete.
Could you repeat the first line? Repeat the first line but rephrase it? How can you tie a bow on the song, just for the sake of finishing it?
When it comes to recordings and demos, finishing songs is even harder.
You have a song that you love and the recording needs to reflect that.
Try to liberate all of your ideas. Don’t be afraid to chase weird sounds or unconventional ideas. It could lead somewhere brilliant!
When you feel like you’re done, take a step back from the song and come back to it in a couple weeks.
4. Co-Write Songs
Co-writing is one of the best ways to exercise your songwriting muscle.
When you plan a co-write with a creative friend, you may not feel like writing when you get to the session.
Nonetheless, you must put your songwriting hats on and create something.
Co-writing is amazing practice for many reasons:
You May Be Required To Write For Another Genre
Writing outside your genre can produce wonderful blends of styles and voices. You’ll almost certainly learn a thing or two from the way another creative brain creates!
Co-Writing Can Help You Get Out Of A Creative Slump
Co-writes force you to work on new music and create new ideas. They force you to finish songs, which could be the motivation you need.
Co-Writing Builds Relationships
Writing songs with others helps forge friendships. Having a few more friends and connections in the business never hurts – and if you write something amazing, you may both experience some success!
5. Practice Free-Writing Songs
Free-writing is easier than it sounds.
If you’re playing an instrument, find a chord progression that you like. If you’re making beats, make a beat you like.
Then, allow yourself to sing, rap, come up with hooks and write over it. Don’t stop. Record the whole thing. If you have a good idea, you can repeat it. Just don’t stop.
After a few minutes, stop and listen to the recording. Were there good ideas in there? Anything worth keeping?
Free-writing harnesses the power of “thinking without thinking”.
Your intuition often knows where a song should go far better than you do. Let your mind wander and create on its own – you may be surprised at the results.
6. Let Go Of Fear
The single biggest obstacle that holds writers back is fear.
Principally, fear of writing something bad or stupid and consequently appearing that way in front of people.
You must let go of this.
It is holding you back.
You cannot be afraid to write the music you want to write. You cannot be afraid to say whatever you want to say in your music. Whether it's deep feelings that you’ve never shared, surface level feelings that don’t represent your entire person – they are all valid!
You must be able to write about anything to get to the good songs. These are the songs that will stick with you.
Practice letting go of fear by writing down words and ideas that you think are stupid. Practice writing down words and ideas that you would be scared to show family or loved ones.
You do not need to share these.
Eventually, you will arrive at something you want to share, because you believe it is good, honest and true.
Practice this by sharing with someone you can trust to listen without judgement or feedback. Start small, keep going and you will get better at this.
7. Overcome Writer's Block / Get Specific With Your Lyrics
Feelings are big. Songs are big. But that's the problem. They are hard to get into. Hard to sink your teeth into.
The most challenging part is always getting started, because it feels like such a huge task.
I acquired my favorite technique for getting over writer’s block from the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (which is a great book for any creative person to read).
Here is the technique, paraphrased from the book.
Say, for example, you're to write an essay about something American.
That’s hard. That’s a big subject. Too big.
Okay, narrow it down to a state.
That’s a little better, but states are huge and old! Still too big.
Narrow the scope down to your hometown.
Again, that’s easier, but still a huge subject.
How about the street you grew up on, could you write a line about that?
Better yet, how about the house you grew up in?
Better still, how about the color of the bricks or the color of the walls in your house?
Start there. Describe something small. Allow the smallest detail to grow into something larger.
The more specific your idea is when you start, the easier it will be to craft a song with a defined point.
Writing about small details may seem too specific, but the audience will hear the specific details and be drawn in to the overall story. They will replace your specifics with their specifics.
8. Allow Yourself To Write Whatever You Want
You don’t have to write your next big hit every day.
If you have an idea for a song that is outside your genre, follow that muse!
Allowing yourself to create whatever you want to create is tremendously freeing.
You may find that you write well in a genre you don’t even listen to. You may find that your influences blend in an interesting way.
No matter what, writing is worthwhile. Following the muse is worthwhile. Allowing yourself the freedom and space to create whatever your brain wants to create will result in more music, which is never a bad thing.
9. Don't Give Up
The single biggest favor you can do for yourself is to believe that you have something to say and it is worth saying.
You don’t need to go around bragging or flaunting every new song you write. You don’t need to feel superior because you’ve been writing a lot.
You just need to believe that what you are doing is worthwhile.
The music business can chew you up. Showing your art to people can feel awful and humiliating, or gratifying and fulfilling, depending on the day.
The truth is, you don’t have control over anything, except what you create.
You have 100% ownership of the songs you write, how you write them, how you share them, how often you share them, and how you feel about them.
You cannot control how other people see them, how an audience responds, what your parents think, what your coworkers think or what an industry person thinks.
Take advantage of the fact that you can create whatever you want, any time. That is a beautiful thing.
Create because you love it. Create because you need it.
Own your work and keep at it. That’s all you can ever do!
How To Become A Better Songwriter – Over To You
So those are some tips on becoming a better songwriter; which will you be implementing first?