Writing music is hard. Writing lots of music is much harder. But between how insatiable audiences are for new music and the fact that the more often we write the better chance we have at creating great songs, it pays to be prolific as a songwriter. Making music takes hard and often thankless work, but it takes even more sacrifice, planning, and energy to commit to writing as often as possible. Here are three helpful tips for being prolific and productive as a songwriter:
Create extremely specific and realistic goals
Get signed, rack up millions of plays, and make boatloads of cash are not specific or realistic goals. Dreams are essential in music, and good on you if you want to become a bonafide pop star or simply want to earn a living writing original music. But if you’re intent on writing as often as possible, you’ll need to zoom in and create short-term goals that are realistic, specific, and attainable. Here are a few examples:
- Write, produce, and record 10 songs in April
- Record three new versions of my new single
- Take a 15-minute walk each day and think about inspirations for new music
These goals should be aimed at helping you to be as productive as possible, and for completing work. For many of us, it’s not enough to create goals about putting in the time to write. We also need to commit to finishing songs. More on that in a bit.
Stick to a consistent schedule––no matter what
Oh, the dreaded songwriting schedule. It just might be the exact administrative opposite of what it feels like to work on a new song you’re excited about. But the truth is that it’s often impossible to create opportunities for great ideas to happen without sticking to a schedule. If you don’t create very often, it’s more than likely that you’re writing when only you feel like it––after work, after a couple of beers, after the kids are in bed, after…see what I’m getting at? If you blocked off even just four hours a week for music creation you’d probably write far more music than you do now if your songwriting routine is sporadic. If you’re able to up that time commitment, you’ll obviously be in a position to write much more music. It’s easy to wonder why music isn’t working out for us, whether it’s not having access to opportunities or being stuck with the feeling that we’re not living up to our creative potential. The unsexy answer is almost always that we’re not devoting enough structured time to our songwriting practices. The best song ideas of your life aren’t going to grace you during the few times a year you decide to write music. They’ll come when you put the work in and make yourself available for inspiration. Fiercely adhering to a writing schedule allows you to access your best ideas and to write music as often as possible.
Commit to finishing what you start
This one is for the musicians with hard drives overflowing with unfinished demos. Finishing what you start is essential for writing lots of music. Your music will never be perfect, and if perfection is a condition for finishing songs, you’ll end up writing infrequently and will probably be unhappy a lot of the time. Finish what you start, even if you’re not thrilled with a particular idea. Doing this helps clear the way for better songs and will be a huge help in being prolific. We can’t get better as songwriters until we start to put the work in, and spending your time coming up with underdeveloped ideas will leave your writing skills underdeveloped as well. Committing to finishing every song you start will leave you with lots of completed ideas and a path for improving as a music-maker. Will you come up with some stinkers? In all likelihood, yes. But this exercise will also clear the way for your best ideas to reveal themselves over time.
We often think that there’s an inherent magic involved in making great music. This is true to a degree, but behind so much of the amazing music we hear are lifestyles carefully constructed to prioritize prolific music creation. Write and complete songs more often, and you might just make something incredible.
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.