Sometimes it can feel as though songwriting is the easiest thing in the world. Seemingly effortless, it can appear almost as though the lyrics and melodic structuring came flowing from your mind like the rush of a mountain stream in spring time. I’ve experienced these moments a few times myself. Out of nowhere, inspiration strikes like lightning in a thunder storm, and within moments you somehow have a complete, fully written song sitting in front of you. These moments are glorious, and often leave us feeling accomplished and skilled as songwriters. But what about the moments where things don’t flow so simply? For every time that we’ve sat down to write and experienced a song effortlessly flow from the mind, we’ve experienced the opposing lack of flow, ten-fold. It’s a much more frequent occurrence for us to sit down to write only to get a few quality lines or phrases out and then become stuck. It’s a more common occurrence for us to struggle to find the right notes for our melody. It’s a more common occurrence for us to struggle to find our voice. These are such common occurrences that there are times when I’ve spent months working out the right way to say something. I’ll rewrite a line, then rewrite it again. Come up with a new section and scrap a previous idea. I’ll change a single word seven times before I find the right way to express what I’m looking to express. Songwriting can be a struggle, and just as with any skill, practice is a necessity if you want to improve your skill. Developing your voice and strength as a songwriter takes some time. Dedicate yourself to the process of becoming better, and to the application of the following skill builders, and within no time you’ll see an improvement in your songwriting.
- Know What You Like
The first method we employ to expand your songwriting skills is to simply learn what we like and what we don’t! Examine the work of your favorite lyricists. What makes their work special? How do they make their voice shine through their lyrics? Deconstruct your favorite songs and look for what makes them stand out lyrically. Look for phrasing or motifs you like. Look for an interesting play on words, or a repeating central phrase. What methods does the lyricist employ to create their story? How do they use imagery to sculpt a scene? How has the writer taken an everyday human experience and made it unique? It is essential to look at how the writer uses these tools and how they relate back the piece as a whole. Once you’ve thoroughly sorted out what your favorite techniques and tactics are, you must then decipher what it is you DON’T like. Listen to music you aren’t fond of. Get to know an artist that you can’t stand. Pin point exactly what it is about their work that turns you off. Knowing your likes and dislikes is equally important because not only does it give you a sense of what direction to move in, but it also gives you a clear outline of where you don’t want to stray in regard to songwriting.
- Embrace Change
One of the quickest and easiest ways for a song to die is for the songwriter to refuse to change and evolve. The most wonderful part of creation is watching how a simple idea can evolve into something grand. Failing to allow your song room to change and grow is a sure-fire way to ensure it ends up left unfinished in a note book or tossed in the trash receptacle. While we all have experienced a time when our minds produced gold, not every idea we have is a shining little nugget. Most of our ideas require a bit of polishing before it can shine it’s brightest. Don’t be afraid to switch things up. Change phrases. Move things around. Create some sort of contrast. Brainstorm. Rewrite a line. Rewrite a verse. Re-write the line again. Remove parts you like less and replace them with something fresh. Remove parts you like for something a bit more fresh. Evolution is the key to quality songwriting, and allowing things to change and grow can turn a dull and dusty idea into a shiny piece of gold.
- Dig Down Deep
The greatest strength you can have as a songwriter is the ability to share your soul through words, and to use those words to touch the soul of another. Learning to engage your emotions, and how to allow those emotions to infiltrate every part of your songwriting process is key to writing songs that get stuck in people’s hearts, as well as in their heads. Once you’ve picked a topic to write about, think about any personal experiences you’ve had with that topic. Be raw and honest as you draw inspiration from your life experiences. How did you feel? What were your senses experiencing? How did this effect your life? How does this shape you as a person? Don’t be afraid to use vivid imagery or metaphor to express and share emotion in a song. Don’t shy away from being blunt or singing about subjects that are often seen as distressing. Albeit sometimes uncomfortable, bearing your heart and allowing yourself to be vulnerable is one way you can guarantee your music will make an impact.
Together these three simple tactics can make a significant difference in our songwriting. Practicing and becoming skilled at these techniques can take some time, despite the simplicity of it. Don’t let that deter you though; putting in a little work every time we sit down to write is an easy way to ensure you’ll master these methods and see growth in your skills as a songwriter.