A Practical Approach To Songwriting in 2017
We may not be a team of songwriters ourselves but we come across A LOT of music makers and songwriters. We think we can point you out in the right direction - giving you a good start to penning new music or even evolving and developing the songs that you already write. While you may have the technical skills, we want to share with you certain things that may be totally overlooked in the songwriting process, similar to how you're taught mathematics in school but not really taught how to apply that to doing your taxes.
Here are three practical approaches for improving and building on your existing songwriting skills.
1 - Don’t be afraid to look for help.
It’s easy to say and think that you’re a one-man band and hope to keep it that way. As they say, pride comes before the fall - don’t get too cocky to think that you can’t improve what you’re doing. Even if you’ve written what you think is the best song - we’re sure someone out there could give you some pointers on how to build on it.
Writing with someone has huge perks. Some artists find it hard to get in the zone with other people in the room - fair enough but you won’t know until you try. One of our favourite Reload Sessions artists - Raphaella has written with literally hundreds of different musicians from all parts of the world. She’s penned songs that have had commercial success all over the globe - from Korea to Germany, working with many other writers in the process. If you don’t believe us, look up your favourite song and check the credits - very rarely in today’s day & age will you find a commercial hit written exclusively by one person.
Reach out to new musicians you like or some of the smaller independent labels or writing houses to see if there’s scope for collaboration. An opportunity could present itself after a chance encounter at an open mic. You never know where you might find your next writing partner or what you can create as a team - bouncing off another writer has huge perks which shouldn’t be overlooked. You’re combining the best of two or three writers by writing as a team.
Your co-writer could make up for any deficiencies in your writing prowess - whether lyrical, melodical or through general articulation of emotion.
Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
Similar to the above, there’s so much to learn from someone who has been there and done that. These multi-award-winning musicians songwriters can certainly improve what you do either by breaking down the elements of songwriting or compartmentalising any problems you may have.
Below are a list of some of our favourite books which can help you take your writing to the next level.
- Writing Better Lyrics
- Essential Guide To Lyrics Form & Structure
- The Complete Rhyming Dictionary
- How [Not] To Write A Hit Song: 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success
- Six Steps To Songwriting Success
Like above, educate yourself and learn from those who have not only encountered your problems in the past but overcome them. There’s so much content online for artists to draw on and a few minutes of browsing YouTube really highlights this. The great secrets of songwriting can be easily accessed. Does this make the process easier than it did pre-internet - well we’re not too sure but it’s certainly a great tool to use!
- World-famous Berklee college of music have a series of fantastic videos on songwriting led by multi-award winning songwriter Andrea Stolpe
- Freidemann Findeisen has an awesome YouTube channel which gives a real insight to how songs are written and how you can improve your songwriting skills.
- Andrew Huang creates some of our favourite videos on YouTube, quirky, interesting and informative Huang is a master at creating and writing music (oh he has 1 million subscribers too).
- Successforyoursongs.com provide an insight on their songwriting process
- The Pop Song Professor deconstructs pop songs and finds out what makes them so great
If you don't have time to read books/articles or watch footage online - don't worry. You can still absorb the best songwriting lessons via podcasts. Below are some of our favourite - which can really challenge the way you listen to music and hopefully the way you write music too.
- Georgia Train talks about how to write commercial viable music on The Reload Podcast
- The Holistic Songwriting podcast gives a real in depth approach to improving your songwriting.
- Song Exploder gets into the nitty gritty of songwriting and production. A great podcast to listen to.
- Ever wanted to know more about why you love the songs that you love. Pitch can provide more of an understanding on this.
- That One Song dissects a new song each episode - songs which have made an impact on the podcast's guests. Learn how and why a song resonates with its audience.
2 - Learn From The Pros
While it might seem a bit overwhelming when it comes to writing songs - you can take solace in the fact that even the pros find it tricky. With that in mind why not draw inspiration from the best and develop the ‘up and at ‘em’ confidence that the industry’s elite have built over the years.
With the exception of instrumental music, the lyrics of a song are arguably one of the most important part of a composition - however, lyric writing can often be the most frustrating and difficult parts of the whole songwriting process, especially for musicians who are just starting out.
There are lots of ways to get the lyrics flowing - and having a clear idea of what your song will be about is a good starting point. A strong chorus (or hook) is pretty important as this is where a lot of the weight of your song will be placed - getting this right means you have a solid foundation to drive your composition.
While the lyrics can be quite important - many would argue that the most important aspect of a modern popular song is the melody. Getting this right is seen as being more important than stitching a well-crafted collection of words together for the lyrics. A song can have spectacular lyrics but if the melody isn’t there will anyone really enjoy the song?
Experience is your ally - tap into what you felt, how you felt about it and everything that got you there. Regardless what you think, you have a story to tell - whether one of joy and ecstasy or sorrow and betrayal. Plenty of artists draw on these real-life events to spark their creativity, Ed Sheeran’s ‘Don’t’, John Mayer’s ‘Paper Doll’, Adele’s ‘Hello’ - these were all about real emotions that they were each feeling at the time of penning their respective songs.
Putting your feelings into a song you can be proud of is a good approach to find a way to connect to a piece of music.
3 - Challenge Yourself
This third point - challenge yourself - differs slightly from the previous two. While the previous two points are more about application and learning, this final point encourages you - the songwriter - to get uncomfortable, something which is equally valid & transferable to all aspects of life.
When creating goals it’s often easy enough to flake out on them - you’re a songwriter and most of the time not writing to a timeline, a budget or a deadline. Art by its very nature is subjective and unrestricted so why put pressure on yourself? If you don’t complete the song or the product in the allotted time there’s nothing lost right?
The flip-side to that is that your learning curve will be a lot steeper if you force yourself to put the time and work in. You can challenge yourself in a number of ways.
Switch It Up - Try writing music with your less preferred instrument. It’s often quite easy to retreat to the comfort-zone of the instrument you’re stronger with but challenge yourself to make music with the instrument that isn’t your forte.
Put In The Hours - Schedules, with full-time work or study can be pretty gruelling as they are but if you want to improve your songwriting and learn how to trim-the-fat efficiently then putting in the hours will get this done - arguably the quickest. Malcolm Gladwell suggests it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class in your field. That’s certainly something to think about. Don’t find the time, make the time. Commit to building on your craft even if it means you miss out on a social event or the football. Commitment = dedication.
Trial & Error - Love one of your compositions and think it’s the best thing since sliced bread? What do audiences think? Maybe it doesn’t hit as hard with them, find out why and build on that - learn what your audience likes and why they like it.
Feed Yourself - No, not with food - but with good music. Making sure you’re finding new music and maybe even genres that you don’t usually listen to could open open your eyes to something you previously missed. Maybe the cadence from a hip-hop song or the melody from a folk song could be used as inspiration for a future piece of music. The Weeknd famously said that the music he listens to has nothing to do with the R&B that he creates.
Learn To Be Uncomfortable - When our backs are to the wall you’d be surprised how creative we can get. Put yourself in hard situations, find quirky challenges for songwriting and learn how you progress. On average it takes 21-66 days to create a habit, if you’re able to condition yourself on a regular basis you’ll be flowing with creativity and know the most efficient ways that you work.
If you’re new to songwriting, most of the things in this article you may not have considered in the past. Just because you know how to play an instrument, and you know how to write on a piece of paper doesn’t mean you know how to write a song. It can be the most complex procedure or incredibly simple and straightforward. While there’s no right or wrong way of doing it, hopefully we’ve sparked your imagination and triggered ideas to help the creativity flow!
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