Despite what you may have heard, songwriting is absolutely a skill you can improve with time and practice. Having a natural knack for making music is clearly a huge advantage as a songwriter, but the truth is that a willingness to work hard, ask questions, and be willing to fail in music is arguably a bigger asset. Here are five ways to develop your skills as a songwriter:
Learn to listen to music critically
If you’re having trouble dialing in on a unique and consistent sound as a music-maker, it could be because you haven’t learned to listen to music critically. This does not mean checking out a song and deciding if you like it or not. It means listening consciously to the music and deciding what specifically about it works or doesn’t work for you. If a certain lyric makes you want to weep or roll your eyes, ask why. If a vocal melody sounds transcendent or predictable to your ears, put some real thought into why you feel the way you do. Then, decide what you take away from your listening experiences that can be applied to the ways you write your own music. This is a habit that will improve your songs in a huge way.
Write new songs and change up your songwriting process
This is an exercise that can develop your songwriting skills by showing you that different ways you can approach making music will produce dramatically different results. When one approach falls flat, keep working until you find something you know really works. It’s easy to try the same predictable way of doing things in music over and over again, but what if the way you do things isn’t creatively inspiring or wastes time logistically? Trying out different approaches will not only give you songwriting experience, but will also show you the best ways to create.
Create monthly and yearly songwriting goals
All the items on this list are helpful, but this is really the only one you absolutely have to remember. The only way to get better at songwriting is to write loads and loads of music. Spend as much time as you can writing songs, and eventually you’re probably going to write some good songs and eventually maybe even some great ones. Some musicians naturally get to this point, but it takes others lots of work to get in the habit of creating consistently. To ensure you’re writing a lot of music, try creating benchmarks for specific numbers of songs you want to write in a period of time like a week or a month. If you follow through with your goals, you’ll give yourself some much needed songwriting experience.
Take every opportunity you can to collaborate
You’ll never have the entire musical picture as just one songwriter, and this is the case even for the most successful musicians you can think of. Working with other artists is almost always a good idea if you’re inexperienced and working towards developing your skills as a songwriter. You’ll be exposed to new ways of doing things and will develop your creative talents and interpersonal skills at the same time.
Listen to old releases and nail down what you’d like to improve
To develop better music, it’s a good idea to listen back critically to the songs you’ve already released. A lot of artists cringe at their old music, especially their first few songs, but most can’t say exactly why. Figuring out the strengths and weaknesses in your old music can help you build on what’s good about your songs and avoid previous mistakes. You might decide your voice needs work or that your recordings are muddy or that your chord choices are the strongest elements of your songs. These sorts of takeaways are important, especially if you know your music could be better and aren’t sure how.
Devoting lots of time to making music is essential for developing your songwriting chops, but it’s important to note that how you spend your time is important. Employing these five strategies can help strengthen your skills and broaden your experience 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.