I find that when I talk about songwriting, or even just music in general, with good musicians, I always learn something that sticks with me and becomes part of who I am as a musician. And I hope you have those experiences as well.
Many of the bits of advice and miscellaneous thoughts that I pick up from the professionals I rub shoulders with are things said casually in conversation, almost parenthetically, and I find that it’s later that I start to realize how important they are.
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I wonder if any of the following will be at all meaningful to you? Because they aren’t the sort of things that I’d necessarily write a blog article about, I thought I might list a few of them here and invite you to put your own bits of great advice you’ve picked up over the years in the comments section below.
In no particular order, here are some thoughts, tips and ideas I’ve heard in conversation that have made an impact on me:
- Not everything you write has to contain a “teachable moment.” Some songs are about your experiences and feelings, with no agenda, and don’t need to be anything more than that.
- Good music is all about making someone imagine something. You get the first say on what they imagine. But if they imagine the sky when you thought they’d imagine the ground, they didn’t make a mistake. And neither did you.
- A professional is someone who, once they solve a problem, determine that they’ll never make that mistake again. In our culture, we usually think of a professional as someone who gets paid for what they do, but honestly, that’s about the worst definition I can think of.
- Don’t work for free. Even for just an honorarium, but don’t work for free. I learned this as a young musician years ago. These days, however, things have changed and this may be hard to do. But stand up for yourself the next time someone expects you to do something for “experience”, and for the great contacts you’ll make. These days there are lots of opportunities that wind up being “for free”, but I’m talking about gigs where they pay some folks but not others. Be careful.
- Someone hating your music is not an indication that there’s something wrong with it.
- Music is about the future. Every chord progression, every melody note, every crescendo, every drum fill, every line of lyric… everything is leading somewhere. As you write, ask yourself, “Is this line of lyric making the listener want to hear the next line? Is this melodic phrase making someone want to hear what happens next? Expectation and anticipation are crucial parts of a successful songwriting formula.
- Think more about why you like something than why you don’t.
What’s the best advice you’ve received as a musician? Please feel free to share it in the comments below.
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