Since songwriting is such an intensely personal thing for many of us, it can be hard to reach outside of ourselves to get a true perspective on our music. The kicker is that not knowing your strengths as a songwriter leaves you at a huge disadvantage when it comes to knowing which parts of your process to lean into the most. The better you can account for your strengths as a music-maker, the better music you’ll end up making. Here are four tips for accurately identifying what you’re best at in songwriting:
Define exactly what you love most about creating music
Let’s start off with the most important tip. If you aren’t hopelessly, insanely, and unapologetically passionate about what you’re doing in music, your work will suffer for it. Pinpoint what you love most about creating music, and get as specific as possible. What you discover will end up being the source that fuels your work as a songwriter. Examples range from composing beats on a DAW to writing lyrics to dreaming up vocal melodies. Passion is an absolute necessity as a starting point when it comes to identifying your strengths in music. However, transforming it into great songs takes lots of work and tenacity. Many of us fail over and over again until we finally make music that we know is good. Passion is what helps us to keep going when things feel impossible. Instead of being a songwriting strength, passion needs to be the foundation for everything we do as songwriters. Discover yours, and you’ll find your strengths.
Identify what works and what doesn’t about your released music
Critically listening back to your old music is a great thing you can do to grow as a songwriter. Create a mental checklist and catalog the stuff that stands out in your music and areas that fall flat. It’s natural to want to perpetually look forward in music to what you want to create now, but reflecting on old work is important too. It shows us where we were and ultimately where we want to go. Be specific while doing this, and try to be as honest as possible with the feedback you give yourself.
Pay attention to how fans are resonating with your work
What audiences say about your music shouldn’t completely shape your process or keep you up at night. However, this doesn’t mean that listener feedback isn’t important and useful. When fans point to the same things about your work, they’re identifying is one of your strengths as a songwriter. This sort of feedback is important because it shows you which parts of your work that you should develop and bring out the most in your writing process. It’s also important to mention that the strengths you think you have as a songwriter might not line up with what the world thinks about your music. The most obvious example that comes to mind is when a singer doesn’t like their own voice despite the fact that fans love it. Be as open and objective as possible during this process.
Get feedback from songwriters you trust and respect
Hearing what other musicians have to say about your music is an important way to take stock of your songwriting strengths. When songwriters you genuinely like and trust give you their honest opinion about your strengths as a music-maker, you get a valuable perspective that you couldn’t have found any other way. If something in your music truly moves another musician, it’s a good sign that you have real merit and promise as a songwriter. But if you’re willing to hear all the good things other songwriters have to say about your music, you also need to be ready to accept their criticisms as well.
Whether you’re writing your first couple of songs or have been at it for decades, developing your strengths as a musician is a never-ending process. It starts with exploring what we’re passionate about in music, leaning into our assets as creators, and trying over and over again to create meaningful work. We’re never done doing this, which is both a daunting and exhilarating thought.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.