Even the most talented songwriters can’t create their best music without putting in the work. If you want to make the best music you can, you’ll need to show up to the creation process over and over again throughout your life, not just when you feel inspired to. Living a musical life happens week by week, and there’s a lot you can do each day to create the best work you can as often as possible. Adopting these weekly habits will help dramatically improve your life as a serious songwriter:
Engage with your songwriting practice as often as possible
If you want to write great music, you’ll need to write lots and lots of songs. And because it takes time to write lots and lots of songs, you’ll need to write as often as possible, not just when you feel like it. The single best thing you can do to become a better music-maker is to write music, record, and produce music every day or multiple times a week at the very least. Create a weekly music creation schedule and stick to it with the seriousness you would with a job. If you do this and are disciplined, your songwriting skills will evolve in ways you can’t imagine over the next year. You can’t succeed in songwriting without doing the work, and making the effort to show up to the process every week is one of the best ways to do that work.
Critically listen to music
If you live to create music, it’s safe to assume you love listening to it. But how often do you listen critically to the music you love? Critically listening to songs is the act of nailing down exactly why you feel specific ways about what you’re hearing. If a certain song stops you in your tracks, try asking why. Maybe it’s the way a drum beat or chord progression unfolds, or it could be a lyrical narrative you relate to. Making critical music listening a weekly habit will help you to become a more passionate and informed songwriter.
Keep a journal
Writing in a journal a couple of times a week or, ideally, every day will improve your songwriting in big ways. Not everything you write needs to be emotionally profound or deep in order to resonate with people. In fact, you could write music about nothing at all or even nonsense and it could still go on to entertain listeners. But as a musician, you shouldn’t confuse emotion with expression. Journaling allows you to get your thoughts out in ways that are helpful for unfiltered creative expression. What you write could be used for future lyrics, or your journaling might help you unlock ideas for career goals or future song themes. Write in your journal before you go to sleep or when you wake up for a month, and your music and career will be better off.
Create goals and work towards them
As a career songwriter, you probably have specific goals, like “make a living through my music,” or “find a publisher.” While big career goals are great, you should also be working towards smaller short-term goals each week. These can be things like writing and recording a specific number of demos per month, or finishing the production of a specific song in order to wrap up an album. Get as detailed as possible with these goals and you’ll see your productivity explode as a music-maker. The unsexy truth about improving your skills as a songwriter is that you need to see what you do as a job. You need to show up and work even when you don’t want to. You need ambition and vision and goals in order to succeed. This approach isn’t meant to hinder your creativity, but to unleash it.
When you start to get serious about your songwriting practice each week, your music improves and life starts to feel less frustrating as a songwriter. If you show up to the process of making music engaged, curious, and driven each week, you’re going to be rewarded in huge ways. Doing these things every week takes a lot of energy discipline, but they’re important for helping you 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.