If, in the end, you get what you want, does it really matter how you got there?
If you ask that question in some settings, it’s a loaded one, with intense moral implications: if you were able to get enough money to finally buy that car you’ve always wanted, great. If you got that money by robbing a bank… not great.
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But in most of the creative arts, you might make the case for saying that the end does justify the means. If you’ve got lousy songwriting habits, but you still come up with a great song, do those lousy habits really matter?
What Are Bad Songwriting Habits?
And what might qualify as a “bad habit”? I usually equate the term “bad habit” with “laziness”, and so a short list might include:
- Only writing when the feeling hits you.
- Always composing music on the same instrument.
- Always using the same key, tempo & backing rhythm.
- Always singing about the same sorts of things.
Teachers of songwriting and other forms of artistic composition spend a lot of time instilling the need for good habits. But to pose the question again, if you still come up with a good song despite the fact that you might be locked into some bad songwriting habits, does it really matter?
I would say that most of the time: yes, it matters. And it matters because having good habits means that you’re likely to be able to write another good song.
Having good songwriting habits means that writing a good song won’t be simply a random occurrence. Being disciplined in how you approach the art of songwriting means:
- You can be consistently excellent. (Excellence is obvious when you write an excellent song, but if you can’t replicate that success, you lack consistency.)
- You can write even without feeling particularly inspired.
- You can write songs from different genres, using different styles, on request.
So… What Are the Good Songwriting Habits You Should Be Developing?
What are the things you should be doing that can ensure that that one great song you wrote isn’t just a random bit of luck, and that you can keep churning them out with a good measure of consistency?
Here are some things you can and should be doing that will maximize your artistic abilities:
- Be creative every day. Most days, that creativity will be songwriting, but if there’s a day you’re finding that hard, switch to some other activity, like playing your instrument, writing poetry or song lyrics, engaging in some active listening (analyze what you’re hearing), and so on.
- Create a songwriting schedule. You should commit to writing every day if you can, but I usually suggest five out of seven days a week. If you can, keep your songwriting sessions short: two half-hour sessions is better than one hour-long session.
- Keep a songwriting journal. A journal can look like anything you want, as long as it helps. If you want some ideas, I wrote a blog article about this a few years back which may be helpful: “Ideas For Keeping a Songwriting Journal.”
- Create some songwriting exercises and drills. I think at least once a week you should devote a songwriting session to short musical/writing exercises rather than attempting to write a complete song. Try some basic lyric-rewriting exercises, for example, where you write one line of lyric, and then find as many ways as possible for rewriting that line. If you want more ideas, try the ones on this blog post: Test Your Creativity With These 7 Songwriting Challenges.
You likely hate that word discipline when it comes to songwriting, but instead of thinking of these ideas as ways of disciplining yourself, think of them as ways to maximize the use of your time as a songwriter.
And the more you maximize the use of your time, the more songwriting becomes something you can do with consistency.
Remember that in the songwriting world, no one is particularly interested in the fact that you wrote one great song. One great song is simply random success, and no one in the industry is interested in randomness.
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