Last year I was watching Ed Sheeran talk about his upcoming album X and he was asked if he had any advice for musicians who were just starting out. While explaining his writing process and the 10 000 hour rule, he said something that made me re-evaluate the way I have approached songwriting ever since.
He said that writing songs is like turning on an old faucet. At first, only rust and junk comes out, but the longer you leave it running and the more water that comes out, the cleaner it gets.
This can be applied to songwriting (and pretty much any other skill-based talent). In order to write a great song, you need to write many, many awful ones first.
This sounds easy, right? I can write a bad song. I’ll be winning awards in no time! But as easy as it sounds, it’s even easier to become unmotivated and stop writing at all. I would know – it’s been a few months since I’ve written a song at all – good or bad. So to motivate myself (and hopefully encourage one or two of you), I’ve compiled a list of tips for writing bad songs…and how to make them better.
Write a little bit every day
This is not groundbreaking advice by any means. In fact, it’s probably the first tip any songwriter will give you – but it really is that important. When you write every day you train your mind to subconsciously think of new ideas, even when you’re not writing. I always find that I get inspired more often the more I’ve been writing. A self-fulfilling prophecy. But I struggle with the motivation to actually take those few minutes a day to write some new lyrics or pick up my guitar. If you’re like me, try printing Karen Kavett’s “Don’t Break the Chain” calendar and spend 15 minutes a day writing something – anything – and crossing off each day. I’m going to be trying to spend every day in September writing for 15 minutes a day and I’ll be posting my progress on our Instagram using #SongwritingSeptember. Follow us and stay motivated by posting your progress.
Analyze your songs
As a songwriter one of the best tools in your arsenal is the ability to critique your own songs. It’s no good writing 30 bad songs if you’re not sure why they’re bad….or even worse, if they don’t help you to improve your writing. Taking the time to reflect on why a song isn’t turning out the way you hoped is imperative if you want to develop and improve your songwriting.
And once you have written enough songs to put together an album or a set list, you need to be able to objectively decide which songs to pick. I’ve heard many musicians state that when it comes to deciding which tracks make the cut, they use the “best song wins” policy – basing their decision purely on the merit of the song. It is incredibly important to be as non-biased as possible when deciding whether a song is good enough to add to your repertoire and not letting who or what the song is about influence your decision. Even if you write and create music for yourself, if you want to release a song intending for it to be heard by an audience you need to keep that audience in mind. So take a step back and analyze your songs from an outsider’s point of view.
Change up your style
Sometimes when you get to the stage where you’re consistently writing songs that you feel happy about, you reach a plateau in the process. If you feel like you’re not improving and notice a similarity in the structure of your songs, the rhyming scheme or the chords you use, it could be time to change it up! Get some new ideas by browsing through one of the songwriting websites below.
- Songwriting Scene
- Educated Songwriter
- Song Written
- American Songwriter
- The Essential Secrets of Songwriting
Learn from the Best
And for those days when you have lost all motivation, we have compiled a list of things of some things to do for inspiration:
- Go back and listen to those songs that made you want to write in the first place.
- Find that lyric that you still can’t believe someone thought up (it’s just so good – how did they think of that?!?)
- Or that melody/riff that makes you smile every time you hear it
- Watch a DVD special of your favourite musician performing live
- Read a book or watch a movie – maybe you can write a song based on a character’s situation or write from their point of view
In the end, remember that songwriting is a way for you to express yourself. And if you’re doing that – you’re already doing it right. But now we want to hear from you! Do you have any songwriting tips of your own? What do you think of Ed Sheeran’s tap analogy? What do you do when need writing inspiration? And don’t forget to share your #SongwritingSeptember pictures with us on Instagram.