Further to our ‘How Many Years Does It Take To Become a Great Songwriter? (Part 1)‘ blog, we have some common behind the scenes insights to writing great songs that many people overlook.
To be a great songwriter, consider the following:
Songwriters spend years developing musical skills
Whilst not all songwriters play a musical instrument or sing, many do. Often playing an instrument is an effective way to communicate songwriting ideas. Songwriters might spend 5-10 years attending piano, guitar, singing lessons, practising each day to become proficient at expressing themselves musically. Developing these skills costs money, takes time and persistent effort. Also, you can learn these skills through lessons and classes.
Songwriters spend years developing their lyric writing skills
Songwriters want to be able to say something relatable through their songs, but the process of lyrical expression often takes years, perhaps decades, to develop. As a result, many songwriters practice and develop skills through exercises like a stream of consciousness, object writing, metaphoric linking. You can learn these skills through self-directed creative practice, songwriting books or songwriting courses.
Songwriters’ first songs are rarely good
When songwriters start writing songs, they combine the music and lyric in a creative process; the result can be awkward. Some pieces don’t form well, and the ideas that come from within the songwriter can feel confronting for the songwriter to hear back at them in a song. Again, when you’re comparing your songs with hit songs, it’s hard to not feel self-conscious and critical about what you’re writing. However, to become a great songwriter, one must move through that, which takes time and persistence.
Many keen songwriters start to realise that being creative is different to learning an instrument. Creativity is a whole other skill to learn. There is no one way to write songs. I believe that empowering a songwriter with songwriting tips and tools and a practice to create and express themselves freely is a wonderful way to help set up a vibrant, lifelong skill of creativity in a songwriter.
If you’re starting on your songwriting journey, try not to attach to your songs and commit to writing 30 finished songs before making plans for any of those pieces. That process can take many years for some songwriters (or only 30 weeks if you’re in I Heart Songwriting Club!).
Songwriters benefit from feedback to develop their songwriting skills
As most songwriters feel pretty attached to what they’re writing, it’s essential to have some objective feedback on songs.
- How is the song being received by others?
- Is the message clear?
- Is the structure in support of the song?
- Where are the hooks?
- Is there enough contrast musically and lyrically?
- Is there enough space and repetition (or too much)?
- Are the tempo and key all working in support of the song?
Working in isolation as a songwriter can be incredibly limiting to the creative development process. Songs might all sound the same; songwriters might feel like they are not getting anywhere, leading to a decline in confidence. Along with this, their momentum to keep going also suffers. However, keep going they must if they want to be a great songwriter! The feedback process can happen through a song critique service or a peer songwriting community like a writing circle or a songwriting club.
Songwriters need to write a lot of songs to start writing great songs
When you listen to a great song, do you consider that the artist wrote 100 songs to get to this one great song? Based on the research amongst I Heart Songwriting Club members, 1 or 2 out of every ten songs a songwriter writes is worth pursuing. Based on this 10-20% conversion rate, if you want to record an album of 10 great songs, you first need to create a volume of 50-100 pieces.
This also means much of what you create will never be heard. However, the point of writing that amount of songs is to have that volume to choose from while building and developing skills. This process for many songwriters can take many years, possibly a lifetime, depending on how often they show up to their practice (or you could do this in one year in I Heart Songwriting Club).
Songwriters need to write regularly and consistently
If you want to be a great songwriter, you need to write songs regularly. Not big bursts of creativity for one month, and then nothing for 11 months. Being consistent can look like writing a song each week. And no, you’re not going to write a great song every week, but that’s not the point. Songwriters in I Heart Songwriting Club show up week after week to write new songs, and as a result of this practice, many songwriters have seen a growth in the quality of their songs. Some of these songs created simply for training have entirely changed their careers for some songwriters. So whilst writing a great song is not the goal in this instance, it is the outcome of writing consistently.
Songwriters draw from real experiences when writing great songs
Songwriters draw on their experiences in life, travel, relationships, love, breakups, emotions, and more. If you’re a songwriter that isn’t experiencing a rich inner or outer life, perhaps writing about your experiences might feel limiting. You may feel like you’ve got nothing important to say. But, reading books, watching movies, interacting with a community, travelling, and having meaningful conversations; all simple, accessible experiences that can enrich any creative person’s inner and outer lives.
Sometimes being a great songwriter isn’t about a successful song
Someone who shows up to their craft week after week, year after year, and continues to develop may never have one of their great songs heard by many people. Sometimes this is beyond the control of the songwriter. There is some luck involved in the success of the song. Many a time a great song doesn’t make a great songwriter. This is a journey and often simply to be able to continue creating and sharing songs with others is the most fulfilling part of the songwriting journey.
Who determines what it takes to be a great songwriter anyway? Sometimes we think it’s a review, a price tag, a body of people. But is it? Once you get the dream review, abundant royalty streams, and people saying you’re great, does that mean you’ll be a great songwriter? Will that change how you feel about yourself as a songwriter?
I’ve talked with many hit songwriters, and many share that being able to continue writing day after day, week after week and seeing what they can create next is what they live for. Regardless, joining our Club is an effective way to improve your skill set, no matter where it may lead!