Daily listening is every bit as important to a songwriter as daily writing.
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If you ever listen to interviews with top-level songwriters, you’ll probably notice how much they talk about the songwriters that have influenced them. The best songwriters can usually speak intelligently about the music that has guided their own personal style.
Good songwriting doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s the product of 1) a person’s talent, 2) their work ethic, and 3) their devotion to other good musician’s work.
Talent is a tricky word to define, because it can be hard to distinguish between natural ability on the one hand, and hard work and dedication on the other. Leaving talent and work aside for the moment, it’s undeniable that your songwriting will need the steady influx of musical excitement, inspiration and motivation that comes from listening to good music.
If you take pen in hand daily and make songwriting a constant activity, you’ve done one of the most important things you can do as a writer. The other thing is listening.
Songwriters need to listen with a critical ear. That is to say that you need to be not just feeling entertained, but you need to be trying to understand exactly why good music sounds good.
Here are some ideas for how to make good use of the time you spend listening:
- Do it daily. This is the easy part, as it is usually something you do without thinking about it. Daily listening keeps the creative juices flowing. It can give you ideas for your own music. And no, that doesn’t increase the likelihood that you’ll plagiarize something you’ve heard.
- Listen to different genres every day. We all have our favourite styles of music, but great things can happen if you, as a country fan, listen to metal, or pop or rock. You’d be surprised how your musical brain is able to set style aside for the moment, and allow new ideas to permeate your own music.
- Listen to a good song several times. Get as familiar with every aspect of a good song as you can: instrumentation, melodic shapes, lyrics, chord progressions, and so on.
- Listen critically. Ask yourself questions about why the song works. What’s the best moment? What is the melody doing in the bridge? What is the form of the song? What is the guitarist doing there? In short, analyze the song, and try to get a full understanding of the musical decisions that were made.
- Write your thoughts down. Keep a journal of your daily listening. If there’s something you don’t like, try to put it into words that you’ll find helpful. Simply saying, “I hate the bridge in this tune” is not very useful. “The energy of the song dies away too much in the bridge” is much more useful. Then, as you read through your notes on a different day, you can use your journal as a guide for what you should be doing in your own music.
In addition to those 5 tips, it’s tremendously beneficial to talk to other musicians about the music you like. Get other people’s thoughts on the music you’re listening to. It can be extremely educational to hear that someone else has a completely different take on a song, perhaps noticing something that you’ve missed.
All this is to reiterate the point that good songwriting doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Daily listening will work wonders when it comes to improving your songwriting technique.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)