Five Ways to Become a Better Songwriter

Five Ways to Become a Better Songwriter

Getting good at songwriting takes time. Plenty of time. And plenty of practice. And while the Internet is full of people promising to make this process super easy for you, the simple truth is that 90% of your growth as a songwriter comes from you sitting in a quiet room and getting on with it. It’s true: the best thing about songwriting is that it can’t be taught, only learnt. In other words, the only way to become really good at it is to teach yourself how to be the best version of the artist you are already. Still, great songwriters don’t come from nowhere. They learn from the artists who came before them. They learn from the artists who are around them today. They learn from people who are the top of their game as well as people who are going through the same challenges they are right now. Let’s talk about five great ways to learn from other songwriters at all different kinds of levels.   Get to Know More Songs As Tom Lehrer once said, “Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.” And that’s true of your songwriting brain too. In other words, your skill as a songwriter is directly proportional to the volume of songs you know, that you can draw from (i.e. steal from) in your own work. Because while there are plenty of places, like this website, where you can pick up songwriting techniques in theory, those techniques make a lot more sense when you see them in use first-hand in the songs...
I Am an Idiot (and So Are You)

I Am an Idiot (and So Are You)

I am an idiot. For every time I’ve known the answer, there are three when I didn’t. For every time I’ve asked a smart question, there are four when I had to ask a dumb one. For every time I’ve been confident in a decision I’ve made, there’s been seven when I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve made big mistakes. I’ve told myself I’m crazy, I’m stupid, I have no right to do that, say that or ask that out on a date. I’ve been told “No”, “Um, no”, “Hell no”, “NO, PLEASE DON’T ASK ME AGAIN”. And yet, I’m still here. I am an idiot, and yet I’m still here. I am an idiot, and yet I’ve learned so much. I am an idiot, and yet I’m weirdly cool with that. I have a masters degree, a successful online business, an international career as a songwriter, and yet I still think I am an idiot. I have done so much, and yet I still keep asking dumb questions and making mistakes and being told “Hell no”. Because I am an idiot. And because I always will be. And one thing I, an idiot, have learned along the way is that the trick to true confidence isn’t knowing all the answers and doing everything right and being comfortable with your successes. It’s being comfortable with not knowing the answers and making mistakes and having big failures once in a while. Because in this thing called “living a life worth living” those things are going to happen, to everyone. (Because yes, you are an...
Great Songs Aren’t Written, They’re Rewritten

Great Songs Aren’t Written, They’re Rewritten

Songs aren’t written, they’re rewritten. PRETTY MUCH EVERY SONGWRITER EVER It’s a cliché but it’s true. Lots of art that looks like it was easy to make was not easy to make. Lots of songs that sound like they came out in one go, perfectly formed did not come out in one go, perfectly formed. Songs aren’t written, they’re rewritten. “Sure” you’ll tell me. “But what about Paul McCartney writing the melody to ‘Yesterday’ instantaneously in a dream!? That song became the third most-performed song of the Twentieth Century SO HE MUST HAVE DONE SOMETHING RIGHT!!” And sure. It happens. Sometimes. (Especially when you’ve been writing songs for ten or twenty years.) But that’s not the full ‘Yesterday’ story: maybe the melody came to Paul McCartney in a dream, but the rest of the song didn’t come so fast. The first draft of the song had the dummy lyric: “Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs…” (Seriously.) It took a lot of thinking before the snappy one-word title ‘Yesterday’ fell into place. Then it took a ton of persuading to convince McCartney that adding a string quartet to the song – it’d never been done before – was a good idea. And this is the ordinary, everyday reality for most songwriting: it often comes out slowly, and it often takes a ton of different tries to get right. This is what people call drafting. This is what people call rewriting. This is what some people call “HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TRY WRITING THE SECOND VERSE BEFORE IT F**KING WORKS?!?”.     Because catchy half-truths aside –...
Embrace the Maybe

Embrace the Maybe

Songwriting is a world of maybe. Maybe if I write this… Maybe if I hit up that co-writer… Maybe if I submit to that competition… Maybe if I try write in a different style… Maybe if I take a chance on that crazy idea… Too many people try to exist in a world of certainty. x = y. Effort = Reward. This action = This consequence. The trouble is, that’s not our world – in general, but especially in songwriting. Maybe if a butterfly flaps its wings in Australia it’ll cause a hurricane in Haiti. Maybe if that sick dude gets on that plane it’ll cause a global pandemic. Maybe if you write that song, something amazing will come of it. If not, maybe next time. It’s tempting (and reassuring) to live in a world of black and white. Where simple acts like ripping up a trade deal or building a wall seem like simple solutions to all our problems. But that’s not our world. Our world is complicated. Our world has lots of interconnected parts. Nobody can ever predict everything, ever with total certainty. Everybody is ultimately just winging it. I get it. We know more than we’ve ever known. We have access to more information than we’ve ever had. People are better and better at making predictions about the weather, the stock market, a presidential election in South America than they’ve ever been. But a prediction is not a guarantee. A map is not the territory. A method is not a rule.     Don’t be seduced into thinking anyone, ever has it all figured out. Actually, flat...
Think Today’s Music Sucks? Here’s What You Do About It.

Think Today’s Music Sucks? Here’s What You Do About It.

If you’ve ever said “But today’s music sucks”, you wouldn’t be the first and you won’t be the last. There are basically two ways of looking at this. One: maybe you’re right. Maybe music today is far more about image and marketing than music. Maybe music today is more about bitches and hoes than interesting melodies and meaningful lyrics. Maybe music today is dominated by people who know how to market themselves more than people who know how to write good songs. Maybe record companies care about little more than their bottom line any more. Maybe YouTube attention spans, streaming services gutting artists’ revenues, and the shocking fact that only 12% of the entire music industry’s revenue in 2017 went to the artists mean one simple thing: the best way to survive as a songwriter today is to write dumb, inane music that appeals to the widest audience in the most superficial way. Maybe. Maybe you’re right. Or two: maybe you’re wrong. Maybe you’re not looking at this fairly. Maybe you’re comparing every single song in the charts today to the tiny handful of greatest songs from the 80s and 90s we remember today. Hell, maybe you’re only looking at chart music and ignoring the literally tens of thousands of great tracks being made around the world that aren’t being released by major artists on major labels. And maybe you’re focusing on the music you hate or don’t understand when there are plenty of great major artists today – like Adele, or Shawn Mendes, or (yes) Paul McCartney – who manage to maintain a great public image while releasing inventive,...
What to Look for in a Songwriting Coach or Mentor

What to Look for in a Songwriting Coach or Mentor

Sometimes the best way to learn is to go it alone. Sometimes the best way to learn is with help and guidance. Songwriting, as it turns out, is best learned with a mixture of the two. Let’s talk about why.   Do You Need to Work with a Songwriting Coach? It’s a question I get asked a lot as a songwriting coach, and a good one: is working with a songwriting coach essential? And the short answer to this deeply existential question (for me, at least) is no. It’s definitely not essential. But a longer answer is no, but it’s definitely a great way to make great progress with your writing. With the right mentor you’ll make much better progress than you would alone. With the right mentor what might take you months to figure out one your own, you might figure out in a session or two with your coach. And sure, that old saying is true: songwriting can’t be taught, only learned. But an experienced and skilled coach is going to help you learn all that stuff faster and more efficiently. They’re won’t let you avoid making the mistakes that all songwriters make early on – they’re just going to help you make them faster and make sure you learn good lessons from them. See, if you didn’t know already, making mistakes is the way you really master something. You’ve probably heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s ’10,000 Hours Rule’ – that says the trick to mastering anything is 10,000 hours of practice. Well, let me expand on that with Ed Bell’s lesser-known ’10,000 Mistakes Rule’ – that says...

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