Anyone with a knack for putting words together can become a songwriter. But being able to write a song doesn’t automatically make you good at it. Even with immense talent, further development will be needed.
To become a songwriter of note means constantly working on getting better at what you do and indulging in practices geared towards taking your songwriting to the next level. If you’re not actively seeking ways to improve your songwriting skills, it’s easy to become stagnant, even if you’re considered good at what you do. Ultimately, your end game (commercial success or making music for friends) will determine the quality of your songs and how your listeners react to it.
So, how do you take your songwriting to the next level? Here are some of the things you can do if you aren’t yet doing so.
Know your strengths and weaknesses
If you’re not sure what level you’re at in regards to your songwriting and lyric writing skills, you can try doing an assessment to determine what you’re good at and what you’re not. Start by tabulating all the skills needed to construct a song, such as the ability to write hooks and melodies, generate song ideas, and create effective lyrics, etc.
You can then use a point system (say from beginner to mastery) to grade just how good you are in each area. This will help you to know the things you need to tighten up on as you seek to take your songwriting skills to the next level. Alternatively, you can ask someone, who knows you and your songwriting really well, to give you an honest assessment of your skills and the things you need to brush up on.
Set some goals
Becoming successful at songwriting is as much about quality as it is about quantity. That’s why you need to set goals in relation to the outcome you want to achieve from your music. If you’re just writing randomly whenever the inspiration arises, it’s highly unlikely that you will receive the results you want, especially if you’re looking for song placement and/or music distribution opportunities.
Of course, the best goals aren't necessarily hitting the big time, so to speak (which is more of a dream). They are achieving self-satisfaction and fulfillment from knowing you are able to produce a work of art that you can feel proud of. Still, everyone has ambitions and achieving those means having goals that you work towards. Therefore, you need to set targets on the number of songs you want to create over a period of time.
Want to know how to set goals for your songwriting? Experienced songwriter Brent Baxter breaks it down for you in this article.
Always create a central theme for each song
Practice summarizing your song ideas into single sentences when you set out to write a song and then expand on it. This is similar to how book authors create a short summary or blurb of what their book is/will be about. That way, you can work towards a solid storyline that listeners will be able to follow and understand.
Creating a central theme may make it even easier to write the song and even see yourself performing it. According to singer-songwriter and poet, Patti Smith, "When I’m writing a song, I imagine performing it. I imagine giving it. It’s a different aspect of communication. It’s for the people.”
Try envisioning the song as a whole (your overall, central theme) when you set out to write.
Try different writing styles
There are numerous ways to write a song and many different formats to use. For many songwriters, it is easy to get stuck in using a particular formula or rhyming pattern, especially if it helps them get going. But practicing one style of songwriting all the time might lead to all of your songs having the same characteristics. This is certainly not a good path to be on when trying to take your songwriting to the next level. Listeners can quickly pick up on duplication and get bored of your songs even quicker.
Challenge yourself by practicing different styles to make your songs more dynamic and diverse. For example, you can try different song structures, different rhyming schemes, different tempos, switch up the genre, and even experiment with varying note changes to create a variety of chords and melodies.
Established songwriters who have racked up hits over the years are those who have consistently introduced, experimented with new elements, or found ways to add new twists to their songwriting. They continue to upskill even while keeping up with changing trends in the music creation field. This leads to the next point…
Study the works of accomplished songwriters
You’re never alone in the music business, especially in the realm of songwriting. People have been penning songs for many years, so there are a vast number of songwriters you can study and emulate, from those who excel in folk music storytelling, such as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, to others who major in modern pop songwriting, including Max Martin and Sia.
A good place to start is to do research on your favorite songs to find out the songwriters behind them. From there, you can look for other songs that they have written to see the different ways they construct songs. Another experiment would be to try rewriting popular songs by these noted songwriters, adding your own style and interpretation of the lyrics, melody, etc., so you end up with a totally different sound and perspective.
On top of studying their works, you can also learn a lot from some accomplished songwriters by reading the books they write or interviews they give on the topic of songwriting, such as this Q&A with songwriting great Elvis Costello.
Join songwriting workshops and groups
The more you learn, the better you will get at what you do. Songwriting workshops and groups allow you to learn from others, who may or may not be at a higher level than you. In addition, some allow for critiquing of your work, which can help you to uncover mistakes you didn’t know you were making, or help you realize a new technique you weren’t aware of before.
In addition, being part of a community of music creators can give you a sense of belonging and support from people who get you because they know what you go through as a songwriter.
In many cities, there are creative bodies that host songwriting workshops and form groups or circles. In New York, for instance, there is a Songwriters’ Circle that meets and allows songwriters to showcase their work once per month.
There are also songwriting meetup groups happening all around the world that you can easily become a part of. In addition, you can seek out online webinars and workshops, featuring professionals in the business, who may be able to provide tips and tricks that can help take your songwriting to the next level.
Engage in collaborative songwriting
Collaborating to write a song can be a refreshing experience. Not only do you get to share ideas with other creative souls, you also get to combine writing styles, which could make the end result better than if it came from your mind alone. It’s probably the main explanation behind the fact that most of the hit songs in recent years have featured two or more songwriters. Two heads (or more) might really be better than just one.
Considering that there is not necessarily a right or wrong way to write songs, learning the art of songwriting doesn’t require you to spend years in school or follow a rigorous training routine. However, taking your songwriting to the next level means opening your art to constantly learning new tricks and applying simple songwriting tweaks.
If you found these tips helpful, don’t forget to share them with your friends. « return to blog