Do you make art as an end in itself? Does your songwriting stop at self-expression for you?
If so, then my thoughts here probably won’t apply to you. This post is all about how to improve your songwriting, with three practical ways to do so.
If songwriting is only a means of personal self expression you don’t need to actually improve.
It’s just an emotional outlet.
Nothing at all wrong with that, but if you want to write songs other people enjoy and sing, then read on….
You see, I’m an artist who firmly believes in selling out.
Yes you read that right.
I’m not saying that you should be dishonest. Please don’t try to be someone you’re not. That sucks. People will see right through you.
I’m simply saying you should go all in….
For me, going all in means including others in the process, and getting valuable feedback from them.
To do that, you need to get out of your artsy cave every now and then. You need to start getting with some people.
Don’t misread me. I’m all about those times when you need to retreat. I’m not saying you should always be a happy extrovert.
If you need to head to the hills to find some inspiration, then go for it. But please don’t stay out there too long.
Here’s what I’m getting at….
Art that makes an impact requires someone other than yourself to be impacted by it. If you want to improve in the craft of songwriting, you need to have a worldview in your creativity that includes other people.
You know what actually happens when you get out of that cave every now and then?
You’ll make better stuff.
You’ll write better songs.
You’ll begin seeing how the world around you reacts to it. And you’ll know the right things that need to improve.
That’s what this post is all about.
Here are three ways to instantly improve your songwriting.
3 WAYS TO INSTANTLY IMPROVE YOUR SONGWRITING CRAFT
SHOW YOUR FRIENDS
How often do you show your almost-finished song to someone you trust? I haven’t always been the best at this. I begin to write, simply making choices based on my internal sense of what’s good and not good.
If I’m being true to myself, I obviously start with an idea and go with my gut, but unfortunately my instincts aren’t always on their game.
This is why the insights of others are so invaluable. A trusted friend might really resonate with my idea; or they may not get it at all. If the later is the case, then it simply means that I need to step back and rethink my idea.
I’m still weighing that internal “hunch” along the way, but I’m not putting all my eggs in that basket. Sometimes I don’t take the advice, but I would be wise to get outside my emotions and think objectively.
Even if my gut is saying otherwise, I try to work with their suggestions. I tell myself that maybe there is something better, and I try out some other ideas until I feel like I’ve done all I can do.
Here’s an example:
In a recent song I wrote, I had already been through many edits and drafts when I had decided to show it to some people.
I was really happy with the bridge in particular. It felt strong to me. I showed the song to some respected guys, and you know what they suggested I change?
You guessed it.
“It didn’t connect with the rest of the song….” they said.
“It’s not necessarily bad, but the connection with your idea in the rest of your song could be stronger. By itself it’s nice, and could be a totally different song, but should it be a part of this song?”
I was ready to write them off, because I loved my bridge. I thought it was great. It was my favorite part!
As I had thought more about it, I decided to try and see if I could come up with something else. Something that “fit the rest of the song”, as they had suggested.
I tried several things and nothing seemed to stick. So I just decided to sit on it for a while and waited to see if something better would come along. I even continued playing the original bridge whenever I’d jam on the song.
Eventually, thanks to my handy Evernote Songwriting Method, there came a day when something totally just clicked. It flowed. It didn’t feel contrived or forced.
What I came up with was actually better than the first idea. Now I’m confident the song is truly done, and I’m much happier with it.
Thanks to my honest friends, I was able to take something I thought was “good” and make it “great”.
Which brings me to my second point….
EDIT AND REWRITE
I had already done this several times on this particular song, but even after I shared it with my fellow songwriters, I went back and edited even more.
This is part and parcel for writing of all kinds. Whether it’s songwriting, blog writing, or fiction writing. Working in drafts does wonders for your writing.
Someone might argue:
“But Nate! the original idea is what came from the heart!”
That’s just silly. Think about it….
Your initial expressiveness may be heartfelt and pure in its intentions but in most cases it is far from perfect in its execution.
I know I’m probably bursting bubbles all over the internet, but why would you think you’re initial stuff is the best you have?
You’re an onion.
Please stick with the metaphor for a sec….
Your top layer is covered in stuff that needs to be thrown away and forgotten about. It’s inedible. It’s in the way.
Your best stuff is deeper down, under the surface, but it takes some peeling and scraping away to get down to it.
So write, and then rewrite, and then write some more, and then rewrite that… Replace words; cut and paste; undo and redo; delete forever… Get bloody. Get brutal.
Do that until you’re convinced that it’s ready.
And now for number three….
RUN IT THROUGH THIS 10 PART CHECKLISTDOWNLOAD PDF FREE
This is simply a check list to ask yourself if you did everything you were able to do to make your song not just okay, but the best you could possibly make it.
It covers things like checking for unity and prosody, using helpful lyrical devices and so on….
This list could simply be a final filter for you to run things through; a to-do list just to double check that you looked at every angle for improving your song.
I hope you’ll find it helpful!
Watch The VideoI have a 4 part mini-course called “Set Your Song Business On Fire” where in a set of bonus lessons I cover this 10 part checklist in detail. Find out more here.
Doing these three things will insure you a have a song that is improving:
- Share your song with a few friends.
- Write several different drafts
- Run it through the checklist
Do these things, and you can be confident that you did your best to make your song the best it can be.