Let's Share Some Stories
I have written dozens of full length songs, most of which have been written in the last few years. In this post, I wanted to start a conversation about songwriting in general, starting with my own journey.
That being said, I'm just as curious how others do it as you might be towards my work. Let us learn together: post a comment below and share your process.
Advice for the First Few Songs
I've been writing music since I was 11 years old. In the beginning, they definitely sounded like an 11 year old wrote the song. What allowed this to change?
I recently watched an interview with Ed Sheeran and he said this:
"Writing songs and playing live is like turning on a tap in an old house; first you’ll get the mud and dirty water, but the more you get it out, the quicker the good water starts flowing."
Aside from the regular growing older, growing more intelligent and general maturing stuff, writing music is something that gets better with time, practice and focused reflection. At first, I think it's best to give it a shot with no boundaries. Start with a white canvas and go for it. It's simple. The more songs you write, the better they get. Let the taps run dirty for a while and then take the time to critique your work.
Time and abundance: Give yourself some time and write as many songs as you can - If you take it too seriously, you might give up. Try focusing on writing three songs instead of that big first song you've been worried about.
My advice? I say, "fuck it, write three."
They might all be bad. But, at least this way, one of them will be the best of the three. Now, you're way more likely to feel good about something you wrote. Who doesn't want to feel good? Not me, I'm looking for the best one of the three. A song a day, for a week, is another fun exercise.
Practice: Let the song mature before recording. I am always surprised how much one song can evolve over time. - Get to know your songs -
Most Importantly: Reflect and Critique - Don't self sabotage, but do compare it to other successful songs. Ask yourself, "what is my song missing that my favorite music does so well? How could this tune be better?" It's good to like your song; but in the beginning, they almost always need improvement. If it sucks, get motivated and try to figure out why. - Stay Positive -
My Road Blocks
My largest road block in the early years was this: I was always waiting for a moment of divine inspiration. In order to write a song, everything needed to be just right. I wanted a song to come knocking at some metaphysical door in the depths of my mind before I sat and wrote anything down. I believed for a long time that anything less than that type of feeling would have lead to a bad song. At that time, I wrote a song once every few months and never liked them all that much. I didn't practice songwriting enough to get good at it.
I spent literal years telling myself that songwriting couldn't be a controlled practice. Here is what I have since learned:
When I stopped trying to write the best songs, I finally started writing some decent songs.
When I stopped waiting for the perfect moment, I started writing more songs in all moments of my life.
When I stopped telling myself that I could only write sad songs, I began writing catchier songs that even I enjoy more.
Lastly, I stopped writing about my own life exclusively. Now, I'm writing about other people, my interpretation of events and anything at all that relates to a wide variety of folks. I'm always searching for a story or topic.
When you do it for money or for entertaining, songwriting can't only be a coping mechanism. Open up some doors by listening to other hearts and allowing yourself to be versatile.
*The worse thing you can do, in my experience, is put up songwriting road blocks.
More Recent Findings
The largest evolution for my music happened during a two week period at Another Recording Co. in Omaha, Nebraska.
I didn't know the tempo of my songs.
I didn't know the key they were in.
I never thought of adding spaces for other instrumentation.
I had a go-to strumming and finger picking pattern! What? Didn't know. Lol...(Easy fix, just be aware!)
I focused far too much on writing a cohesive album in its topic, that I ignored the details of each individual song.
I now think about those subjects when writing and every song having the potential for studio recording. - Practice with a click-track - A HUGE part of a great song exists in its less obvious parts, or as others have said to me, "The Bones."
My Dirty Little Secrets - How Do I Write Music?
Sometimes I think of melodies while driving. I drive a lot and lead a very music-centric life. I also repel silence naturally, even when I'm trying to enjoy it.
I write poems.
I record humming melodies.
I like writing alone. That being said, I can definitely write with other people. I just hate writing around others doing other activities. It's like reading a novel in a ball pit with children. Nope.
I don't plan on a specific song structure going in. I don't even think about that anymore. It's limiting. Different songs call for their own song structure. There are no rules, ask Bob Dylan. What I mean by that: VERSE CHORUS VERSE VERSE CHORUS BRIDGE CHORUS CHORUS or VERSE VERSE VERSE VERSE VERSE or VERSE CHORUS VERSE CHORUS VERSE CHORUS VERSE CHORUS or any variation is fine. Don't build road blocks.
I write sober or at least close to. Drunk doesn't work well for me.
I like to write at night.
I record myself blabbering while I'm writing. Just in case I accidentally say something I don't want to forget.
I listen to other great songwriters for inspiration: Bob Dylan, John Craigie, Gregory Alan Isakov, Phoebe Bridgers, Conor Oberst, The Avett Brothers, The Felice Brothers, Amy Winehouse, John Mayer, John Moreland, Iron and Wine, Death Cab for Cutie, Justin Vernon, Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Lumineers, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen. - To name a few - I reference them all for various reasons. (Don't try to reinvent the wheel at first. Listen to the folks that do it well.)
I'm scared of corny lyrics without clear intent.
I play guitar while writing.
Sometimes the melody comes first and the guitar second but not always.
Songwriting Tips and Summary
Songwriting can happen at any level of inspiration. You can control your ability to write like you can learn to meditate.
Write every song, not just great ones. No shame
Practice with a metronome eventually
Know the science behind your tune
Know the key before going to the studio
Try writing a song a week for a month or year no matter the quality
Try writing a song a day no matter the quality
Not every song has to have "verse chorus bridge" to be great
You should definitely listen to other great songwriters/producers
Switch up strumming patterns that you find comfort in. (I didn't even know I had a comfort zone until I went to the studio. Find yours)
Try writing about other things than yourself (Lumineers do it a lot)
Write to be relatable - Don't fight it. Just write with it in the back of your head
Don't think you can't write a good song. Any person can
How Do You Write Songs?
Share your tips, things you've learned and funny stories below!