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No matter what musical genre you call your own, there are certain things you can and should be doing to see your best potential as a songwriter. Which ones are you doing on a regular basis?
- Talk to/read about/otherwise communicate with other good songwriters in your genre. Working in a vacuum is never a good thing in the arts. Good art means doing something similar to what’s already being done, but then going an extra step. You can only do that if you know what the best of your genre is already doing.
- Familiarize yourself with the best music of other genres. Genres exist because there are enough people (millions, usually) who enjoy that style. You can’t ignore that kind of interest or success, and it’s best if you try to learn what people like about it, even if you don’t. Daily objective listening is key.
- Make a songwriting schedule. Some songwriters write with the same mindset they use for buying a chocolate bar: they happen to walk past a store, so they wander in and buy one. They happen to be holding a guitar, so they strum out a few chords to see what happens. Songwriting deserves better. Look carefully at your own schedule and work out, day by day, the segments of time you plan to devote to songwriting. And stick to it. (And that means not waiting for inspiration.)
- Improve your singing and playing chops. Being a performer of music makes you a better writer of music. You come in contact with more tunes that way, you rub shoulders with good performers who have (usually) good opinions on what good music is, and you’ll come up with better songwriting ideas.
- Perform/upload your songs on a regular basis. Get your songs out there. It keeps you from working in a vacuum. (Be sure that the versions you upload are well-performed and polished. See my recent article on that.)
- Do speedwriting and brainstorming sessions on a regular basis. At least twice a week or more, sit down with your instrument, set a timer, and see how quickly you can write. Speedwriting and brainstorming have this important advantage over normal songwriting: there’s no time for your musical mind to criticize you! From time to time, you’ve just got to let the ideas flow, and it’s something you’ll find will improve your skills when you return to “normal” songwriting.
- Do song analysis regularly. This can be done in any number of ways, but here are 3 that will make you a better songwriter:
- Take a favourite song, one you’ve loved for a long time, and pull it apart. Look at each element separately — the chords, the lyrics, the melodies, etc. Why does it work. What do you love about each element? Write your analysis down as if you’re going to use your notes to explain this song to someone else.
- Do the same thing to one of your own songs.
- Take a song you dislike, one that’s made it big, and analyze it. Try to figure out why others like it. Even though you dislike it, approach the analysis as if you’re willing to justify it to others.
Who knows how many things a good songwriter needs to be doing daily, but these seven will get you on the right track. I don’t know anyone in the world of musical composition who aren’t doing most or all of those.
Songwriting is a skill that never sits still. You’re either honing and improving your skills, or your letting your abilities atrophy. Doing the seven items in the list above shows you level of interest, and gives you the best chance to show the world your abilities.