Things every songwriter should know…from the pros who’ve done it.
Not every song you write will be chart-topping material. That’s the business. Get used to the fact that every song you write won’t contain the emotional values needed to qualify it as a great song. A good song can be well done, well written, and musically well constructed, but that does not always mean that it’s great. Following the suggestions listed below will help you pick the winners.
1. Accept the fact that a song rarely starts out perfect.
When the heat of inspiration cools and you take your first look at a newly finished song, you have to accept the fact that the muse rarely leaves us with perfect. With that in mind, be forgiving and try and react to the essence of the song.
If the melody or the words, or the combination of the two touch you emotionally, then you have to assume that it will also touch others, and that’s what you’re looking for. Don’t let the sense of accomplishment that comes when you’ve created a new song get in the way of honestly reacting to it emotionally. This is a mistake that most amateurs make.
2. Great songs make people feel something.
Great songs have a quality that touches the emotions. There is no formula to accomplish this, it’s either there or it isn’t. If it isn’t there, it can never be a great song. A song can evoke any number of emotional responses -what’s important is that the listener feels something. If it makes you want to get up and dance or think of a lost love, or makes you feel anything, these are the responses you’re looking for.
3. How do those around you react to your song?
The first test of course is does it make you feel something? Next, test it with those close to you. Start with your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, or friends. I favor the wife or husband’s reaction over the others. It’s been my experience that they are usually the only ones who will really tell you the truth and the truth is what you’re looking for.
4. Be willing to do whatever it takes to make it better.
Once you’ve established that the song has the necessary ingredients to be great, it’s time to take it to the next level. If that means finding a more eloquent way of expressing yourself, finding a better chord, or adapting or modifying the melody, then do it. It can be painful and frustrating at times, but well worth it. Polish that beauty until it shines and you’re in the race.
There are no guarantees in this business.
Songwriting is like art–its beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The job of the songwriter is to be objective enough to make the song as perfect as possible, but in the end, how people emotionally respond to the song is all that matters. Everyone has an opinion about what makes a song great, but I believe it comes down to something that simple.
Simple…but not always easy to do.
Without inspiration, a great song is not possible. The muse is an elusive source of inspiration and she is not always accessible. The truth is, she talks to us when she wants to talk to us. All we can do is put ourselves in the best position possible to tap into that inspiration when the opportunity presents itself. Here are 5 simple ways that will help you get connected.
1. Find an ideal place to create.
You need a place that is yours and yours only, one that is totally free of distractions. This can be a room at home or a writing room at your publisher’s. Any place is good as long as it’s a place where you will not be disturbed. Remember, when things aren’t going well, a telephone call, your kid, or anything for that matter can be a welcome distraction.
You have to learn to tough it out even if that day of writing doesn’t give you anything. Some days will deliver everything you could ask for and others will just turn out to be practice. Have the discipline to stick it out regardless of the outcome.
2. Clear the deck of any tasks, errands or responsibilities.
Do whatever has to be done of an immediate nature and let everything else wait. Now it’s time to close the door, turn off the phones, and make sure nothing will disturb you. This means no wives, no husbands, no kids, no calls. You know what distracts you, so be honest with yourself and don’t let it get in the way. Give your mind the focused time it needs to let creativity flow.
3. Do things that trigger your creative side.
Sit down and think of what you want to write. If nothing comes to mind and you play an instrument, now is the time to sit at the piano or pick up the guitar. You can play songs you’ve written, other people’s songs, or just go through a sequence of chords. While you’re doing this, open yourself to any melodies or lyrical ideas that might come to you. Sometimes working with another writer will also trigger inspiration. Whatever it takes to get you going, do it.
4. Inspiration comes when it wants to come – You have to be patient.
It’s very possible you may sit there for hours without getting anything of note. Other times, it can come quickly. Inspiration is a gift, and that is why it is not something you can turn on or off at will. The best way to access this gift is to stay open, relax, don’t let yourself be distracted, and whatever you do, don’t try too hard. It’s very possible that you may waste a day and come up empty-handed; don’t let that scare you.
5. Once you’ve tapped into inspiration, go with the flow.
Acknowledge the fact that words, chords, and melodies may be temporary, and may change during the creative process. Go with the flow, this is not the time to be a perfectionist, don’t try to arrive at the best word, chord, or melody. As you live with the song, it will change on its own. It’s important that you not allow yourself to get stuck on a rhyme, a way to express yourself, or a chord that is not quite what you want. There will be time for that later when craft and dedication to your art come into play. If you spend too much time trying to get something perfect, you may lose your connection.
Consistent Writing Habits Lead to Great Songs
If a songwriter maintains this discipline in his/her writing habits, they will write inspired songs, which are the only ones that count. When inspiration fades, it’s time to take an objective look at the song you’ve created and decide whether it’s just good or truly great. This brings up a new set of rules that we look forward to covering in the weeks to come. Don’t miss it because this phase is just as important as the inspirational phase of songwriting.