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Top 5 Important Bits of Advice For Songwriters

You could fill a book with advice for songwriters, and because of that it’s sometimes hard to sift through all the information to determine what’s most important.

Because everyone’s writing style is different, and because everyone has their own reason for being a songwriter in the first place, certain bits of advice will be important to some, and not that important to others.

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As a teacher of music, the only way I have to determine what’s most important for songwriters to know is to think about the number of times I find myself saying the same thing to many songwriters.

So here’s a list of the five things that I find myself saying over and over again — five things that seem to be useful for practically any and all songwriters:

1. “Process is not as important as end product.”

Coming up with a process for helping you write a song might be important, but your process will never be as important as the song at the end. There are many ways to write a song, and there’s not one of them that’s “the right way.”

Here’s another way of saying the same thing: If you write a song, but you find that it’s just not very good, your process was probably not the reason for the song’s failure. Having a clear understanding of what makes songs work is important; the process you undertake to write a song is only a set of steps that you find useful to get to that end product.

2. “Music theory will not stunt your sense of creativity.”

Sadly, there still seems to be a prevalent thought making the rounds out there that tries to assert that the more you know about the nuts & bolts of music, the more boring your music will be.

If that were true, then the most inept, boring music out there would be the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Bach. But those composers, who were masters of the theory of music, also happened to write the most imaginative, powerful music of their time.

If you find that your understanding of music theory gets translated in your mind as a set of rules for how to write music, you’re using theory wrong. Theory is only meant to help you understand the structure of music, and provide you with a quick, concise way to communicate musical ideas to others. It can help you understand why a certain piece of music works so well, but shouldn’t be used as a set of rules for how to write music. It’s important that you know this difference.

3. “Other people’s opinions of your song shouldn’t (necessarily) cause you to change your song.”

Just because someone dislikes your song is no reason to change what you’ve written. You should accept it as normal that some will like your songs and others will dislike them.

If an experienced musician suggests a better way to write some aspect of your song, you should most certainly heed that advice and consider it carefully. But even the advice of a good musician should not necessarily be taken. When all is said and done, what you do in your song is up to you.

And most certainly do not feel an obligation to change your song based on the opinions of others.

4. “Not every great song becomes a hit song.”

Hopefully this is a no-brainer. Not every great song becomes a hit. To be a hit song, it has to not only be good, but must also fit into certain parameters dictated by the music industry, especially regarding length, feel, instrumentation/production and more.

Too many songwriters are fixated on trying to fix songs merely because they don’t match up to the standard hit model of the day. That’s a shame. It’s far better to have a song that succeeds on its own merits. Those merits may or may not conform to the hit song formula of the day.

5. “Practically every good song can be described in one sentence.”

If you’re unable to come up with one succinct sentence that describes the basic essence of your song’s lyric, you’ve likely got problems.

As a teacher of songwriters, I’m often saying that the verse tells the story, and the chorus communicates emotions. But as you likely know, that story the verse tells may not be a “first this happened, and then that happened” kind of story, like you find in Eagles’ “Hotel California.”

Nonetheless, if your verse simply gives impressions of circumstances, like in Michael Jackson’s “Bad” (“Your butt is mine/ Gonna tell you right/ Just show your face/ In broad daylight…), those thoughts and phrases need to all have a point of focus.

That point of focus should be able to be communicated in one clear sentence. That sentence needs to be able to sum up the entire lyric. And most of the time, that summation should be similar to the sentiment communicated by the chorus lyric.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.  Hooks & Riffs“Hooks 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.Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting ProcessThousands of songwriters are using “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle” to polish their songwriting technique. Discover the secrets to writing great melodies, lyrics, chords, and more. And get a FREE copy of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.

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