The Process part 1: Becoming a Better Songwriter


When I finished writing my song The Outlaw I had been writing off and on for about ten years. I never had any real aspiration to become a musician but in that moment I saw a path. For the first time I was happy with a song and felt my lyrics and playing were on the same level. All musicians will tell you there's a moment of surprise where you're suddenly able to do something you never were before. It's kind of the "wax on, wax off" concept of The Karate Kid. One minute you're sitting on the couch and the next minute you're playing Doc Watson style bluegrass licks. (Okay maybe not quite like that ha)

In this series I'll be explaining some of these skills so you can consciously practice them. They've helped me in my writing and they can do the same for you. Whether you're just starting out or have been writing for years I'm confident there's something here for you.

In this first part of the series I've come to call The Process, I'll be discussing tips to consider before even putting pen to paper. Stay tuned friends, as we progress we'll be digging deeper into the writing and performance process!

1) Read: What is the first step to improving your skills as a writer? Reading great writing of course! It seems like common sense yet so few of us do it. Many of us have drifted away from reading because we associate it with school and work. It should be fun, there's nothing like getting lost in a great book. If you're on page fifty and it feels like work don't feel obligated to suffer through it. Don't feel like you're missing something when you're not enthralled by books everyone else seems to love. Some classics are true works of art and some are just bestsellers from sixty years ago. Read challenging things with words you don't know. Stop halfway through a paragraph, look up the word and reread the sentence so it makes sense. There's no age at which you stop improving so keep working at it! The better command you have of your chosen language the better you'll be able to express yourself in it.

2) Listen: Who are your favorite songwriters? What makes them great? Consciously or subconsciously we start out emulating our favorite artists. Everyone wants to start with their own sound and writing style but that comes later. Now here's the key, make sure you are listening to the best example of the style of writing you want to create. If you learn everything emulating someone who can't write then you can guess how good you'll be. Have you ever listened to a song and said they should have used this word instead? If you have then you're thinking like a songwriter, you should analyze every song you hear. Was it just a bad word choice, or a compromise made for sake of the flow of the song? In future posts I'll go more in depth into listening and delivery.

3) Sit: We all convince ourselves that we're so busy yet often fill our days with things that don't satisfy or benefit us. We have goals yet don't put the time in to see them to fruition. Dreams don't come true by virtue of them being dreams but little steps do add up to big things. You need to relax and be in the right mindset to write a song, you can't force these things. It may not happen in the first ten or even thirty minutes but I know you'll persevere. We have to tell our brain okay it's time to get into songwriting mode. You'll start to notice trends of what helps get you into that mode. You might say hey somehow writing was easier the other day and I wrote three great verses. Ask yourself what did you do differently the other day? Maybe you had a cup of coffee or maybe it took picking up your guitar for lyrics to come to you. I have no doubt you'll get it down and figure out the perfect formula needed for you to write songs.

4) Take your time: We've all heard interviews where a songwriter says I don't know it just came to me in fifteen minutes. The story of the ten year song isn't nearly as romantic but there's something admirable in the discipline. Every ten minutes a songwriter somewhere ruins a song that is 80% great by adding 20% filler because they didn't feel like putting the time in. (I may or may not have made this stat up) Well I'm here to tell you, put the time in if you want to be noticed! When you are releasing music into the world you are affecting your reputation.  Do you want a reputation of they occasionally put out a good song so we'll see? Or do you want your reputation to be their past material has been so good that I'm sure it's amazing? That's the kind of loyalty you build when you put the time in to make sure your writing is up to par. It's called dedication and your songs deserve it.  Taking the time to make sure a song is right is what separates the pros from the amateurs.

Thanks so much for reading this, I hope you've found it useful. If you've enjoyed this it really helps grow the community when you like, comment and share! What are some books or authors you've read who you feel you've learned from?  What are some tips that have helped improve your writing? What would you like to see me cover in future posts? Until we speak again, remember you and you alone determine how far you take this!