Five Ways to Write Better Songs

There are many ways to improve your skills as a songwriter, and the best songwriters use a combination of many. These will include:

  1. Discussions with other songwriters.
  2. Discussions with other non-songwriting musicians (including players, producers, engineers, etc.)
  3. Studying the craft of songwriting (via written texts, videos, one-on-one sessions with instructors, etc.)
  4. Keeping a songwriting journal to help organize your thoughts and observations about your own music.
  5. Listening and objectively analyzing other people’s songs.

Of all the ways you can improve your songwriting skills, that final item in the list — listening and objectively analyzing other people’s songs — could very well be the most important one.

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Discussing your songwriting with other musicians is likely going to happen naturally if you’re out there performing your songs. During these days of the COVID pandemic, though, you may need to modify how that happens. It’s definitely not as easy these days to mingle with others. (But better days are coming!)

The Importance of Listening

If you want to stay current in your genre of songwriting, you really need to be making listening a daily activity. Most of the songs you’ll hear on the radio — the ones that have been professionally recorded — will usually be well-written songs, produced and recorded by a professional team, displaying the latest sound for your genre.

Probably the most important thing you get from listening is a good dose of inspiration. Listening to a well-recorded, well-written song will excite you, and you’ll find yourself feeling the creative urge to write something that makes you feel the same way.

That’s certainly not to say that every song will have that effect on you. For the songs you don’t happen to like, you find yourself getting the immediate feeling that you want to do something different. And that’s great because that is exactly how musical style evolves.

The biggest changes in music come about as a result of a good songwriter listening to someone else’s music. In that sense, your own songwriting efforts become part of a metaphorical conversation between songs, where everyone’s music becomes part of that conversation, and help steer it in different and exciting new directions.

If you’re always listening to music you’re sure you’re going to like (by a favourite singer/songwriter, for example) try this instead: choose a song from a genre you usually don’t like, and before you listen, write down some thoughts about why you don’t like this genre.

Then, listen to the song a few times, and try to articulate what you like about the song — the ways in which this song (and this genre) has surprised you. This has a way of gently forcing you to keep an open mind, and your own songwriting efforts will change and improve because of it.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Hooks & RiffsHooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.

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