I started “writing songs” (I’m using that term loosely since they were garbage) in elementary school. I had an archaic recorder and a tattered Lisa Frank notebook, both of which were my best (and only) friends.
If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have an interest in songwriting. Maybe you haven’t started yet but want to try. Perhaps you’ve written a few but are struggling. Maybe you’re a seasoned pro and you’re coming here anyway, which is also cool. I want to share these 10 tips that I wish I had known earlier in my songwriting career. I believed they would have greatly helped me back then, and hopefully they will help you now!
My top advice for beginning songwriters
As always, these are my personal opinions and aren’t meant to be gospel. You may have a completely different experience and feel the opposite. That’s okay! Just use what seems helpful to you.
1). Lose the ego
This one is so important, for so many reasons. Most of the rest of these tips will only work if you complete this step first. I have a post on it here, but this step actually involves a lot of work so you’ll want to put some time into it.
2). Join a songwriting group
It’s great to get feedback from family and friends, but sharing your work with other songwriters will really help you see where you’re at in terms of structure, ideas and development. Most of these groups are very welcoming, so there’s no reason to feel intimidated! You can find groups on Facebook or your local Meetup group.
3). Join a PRO
This varies depending on what country you’re in, but if you’re in America, you’ll want to look at BMI or ASCAP. You want credit for your songs, right? If you ever hear your song on the radio without any credit or residuals coming your way, you’ll want the rights to back it up. If you don’t believe that this happens, trust me, it does.
4). Record Your Ideas
Hearing your songs played back will give you ideas on what to change and allow you to remember ideas in the future. I highly recommend keeping all ideas, no matter how bad you think they are. You’ll look back on some of your ideas and laugh, but every once in a while you’ll find something you can use for a new creation. Many successful artists keep libraries of ideas and as your library grows, so too will your talent. If you want a quick setup to record yourself, I have a post on that here.
The best way to get immediate feedback on your work is to work with someone else on the same project. You can hire a production company to do it, or collaborate with someone for free while splitting any future royalties. You’ll also learn how you collaborate, what types of partners you like working with, and what you bring to the table in terms of ideas and effort. These are all great things to know moving forward!
First, you’ll want to read books about songwriting. There are many available, but I recommend Jason Blume because I’ve had some of his books since I was a kid. You’ll also want to read books about the music industry (I recommend this one). Additionally, if you enjoy reading anyway, read a lot of books in general. The more information you take in, the more you’ll have to write about. You can also read music blogs, such as SongTown, Brent Baxter’s, or psst…you’re on mine, so feel free to have a look around!
7). Don’t Be Afraid to Suck
With the exception of Mozart, I think most people are terrible when they first start writing (and really, has anyone ever found this supposed symphony he wrote at age four? Maybe he sucked then too). This is where number 1 comes in, because your ego will want you to be amazing right out of the gate. You’ve got to write some bad songs to know what songs are good. Just like anything, it’s a process.
8). Have Some Adventures
The best songs are based on true stories. The best stories come from people who have been around the block. Go have some fun. Try a new hobby and write about it. Also, look for song ideas in seemingly mundane activities. You’ll want to get your brain to a point where it can find the ‘hook’ in any situation. Until then, live a life that is hook-worthy.
9). Carry a Notebook at all times
You can also use a phone for notes and a recorder, but when I was first starting out I had a tiny notebook I took with me everywhere. Now I use my phone because it’s one less thing I have to carry around everywhere. If you prefer hand-writing your ideas, a small notebook is a great idea. You never know when an idea will hit you, and it’s unlikely you’ll remember it if you don’t get it down right away.
10). Don’t Get Discouraged
Again, this relates to number 1 and also number 7. Your ego will make you overly sensitive to criticism (and you will absolutely be criticized as a songwriter). You might not be afraid to make mistakes, but you can easily get discouraged if you hit a rough patch of creativity or if you have several big letdowns in a row (again, these will absolutely happen as a songwriter). If songwriting is what you love to do, you’ve got to keep going. Take a break if you need to, but keep putting yourself out there and make it a regular practice. No one ever becomes a worse songwriter through practice, so the more you do it, the better you’ll be.
I hope these things help if you’re just starting out and aren’t sure what to do! Feel free to leave a comment or send me a message about your songwriting journey! I love talking shop. If you have any other tips for beginners, please feel free to let me know in the comments!