Creating lots of music obviously takes work, but writing in ways that highlight your unique strengths and perspectives as a songwriter is much harder to do. If you’re new to songwriting, it can be hard to recognize your unique creative strengths. But even if you’ve been at it for years, it’s not always natural to create with your strengths at the center of your process.
As songwriters, we each bring a unique set of perspectives and musical assets to our music. But while each of us is different, there are universal strategies we can embrace to highlight our creative strengths in music creation.
Practice, practice, practice
Songwriting isn’t a “you either have it or you don’t” kind of thing for most artists. Like all other skills, making music is something we get better and better at as we practice and progress. Discovering and using your unique strengths isn’t something you can do quickly as an artist. It takes some songwriters years to truly identify and develop what they’re best at as music-makers. The time needed to go into developing strengths as a songwriter is a high cost of admission, and it’s one of the reasons why so many quit. But if you’re willing to stick it out and write lots of music over a long period of time, you’ll be doing the kind of work needed to discover and develop your best musical traits and authentic creative voice. Make as much music as you can if you’re not sure what you’re good at it in songwriting. If you do this, you’ll eventually discover your strengths and unique musical identity through practice and exploration.
Define what works about your music and what doesn’t
Your most creatively successful songs aren’t necessarily the ones that have racked up the most streams and downloads. While outside feedback can be important for helping you recognize your creative strengths, your own intuition and insights are also important. To learn to recognize and leverage your best creative traits, take an unflinching look at your music and ask what works about it and what doesn’t. Do this by listening to your previously released work and by observing your current writing process. You might find that your best assets are the ones that are the most natural to you, or that your most promising creative qualities need development to be better. Revelations like these are super important, so pay attention and take them seriously. What you learn will strengthen your creative process.
Balance risk and newness with productive habits and routines
One of the toughest things about music creation is that habits and routines usually help writers make lots of music, but relying on them too much can stifle inspiration, novelty, and excitement. To combat this and bring out your strengths, you’ll need to constantly usher risk and newness into your process. This means prioritizing experimentation and being okay when you hit dead ends while you write. Write a song on a new instrument. Experiment with super slow or fast tempos. Peel back the instrumental and production layers you’re used to working with and try writing as minimally as possible for a change. When you write as often as you can through habits and routines and bring experimentation and newness into our creative processes, you’ll have a platform for your unique strengths to shine. You don’t need to switch from hip hop to math rock to make this work. It’s about taking risks and exploring music in ways that feel authentic and challenging to you. And the thing is that we’re never done doing this as artists, whether we’re writing our first few songs or have decades of experience under our belts. You can’t make your best work by working in safe and predictable ways, so you’ll need to write in new ways to bring out and connect with your strengths.
No matter where you’re at with your musical pursuits, bringing out your strengths takes time, work, and a willingness to look at your music honestly. But if you’re willing to put in the effort and practice, you’ll be able to recognize and capitalize on your most important strengths and advantages as a songwriter.
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.