The path to improvement as a songwriter is an on-going, ever-evolving process. As a craft, songwriting is highly individualistic, dictated by a host of personal characteristics. The instrument(s) you play, the genre(s) you most enjoy, and your technical and creative abilities all contribute to your approach as a musician, and differentiate you from others.
Because of this, pinpointing ways to become a better songwriter is no simple task. Your favorite elements of a progressive rock band, for instance, may not seem immediately translatable when producing pop!
There are, however, areas of interest that can prove useful in becoming a better songwriter overall.
Listen to Good Songwriting
Seems pretty straight-forward, doesn’t it? Regardless of the genre you write, filling your head with work by whom we consider the “masters” can’t hurt! Listen to The Beatles; The Rolling Stones; Led Zeppelin; Bob Dylan; Michael Jackson; ABBA!
Getting a feel for and understanding how amazing musicians structure their work and build a compelling and cohesive song is paramount to being able to do the same yourself.
After familiarizing yourself with the “greats,” studying artists in your particular genre is the logical next step. You’ll then be able to incorporate specific elements of songwriting into your own music.
Be an Honest Songwriter
In other words, write what comes to you naturally. Nothing is more of a turn off for listeners than an artist who comes across as dishonest, disinterested, or just plain phony.
Forcing yourself to write pop music “because it’s what sells” won’t make you a better artist; following your intuition and writing what you care about and actively enjoy is a much better practice.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t experiment with different or unfamiliar genres, but you certainly shouldn’t “force” anything. Be honest!
Pay Attention to Structure
Song structure is so, so important. The best songwriters take listeners on a dynamic aural journey that has you hitting “replay” instead of “skip.” If you’ve taken the first step to heart, you’ve likely already picked up a few hints on how to better structure a song.
Perhaps you’re missing a pre-chorus to build up to a massive chorus; maybe a bridge is the needed segue into the final verse or chorus. It could be that a section of the song is too long or too short.
Whatever the case may be, building a compelling song structure is what sets apart great songwriters from so-so ones. Determine the song’s journey and make sure you’ve structured it appropriately.
Share your music with those who can provide an honest critique of your work. It’s easy to become jaded by our own music, or to even go the opposite direction and fall in love with it! Having an unbiased source of feedback is essential.
Likewise, there’s arguably no better indicator of how your work is received than to perform it live. If you have the means, take your stuff to a stage. The audience will let you know what’s working and what isn’t. Take mental notes and use them to improve your songwriting.
Write with Others
Collaboration can sometimes be the best way to maximize a song’s potential. For many artists working alone is preferable, but creating with someone who shares your taste and vision is an invaluable resource. Engaging with each other during a session can steer a project in places you wouldn’t otherwise reach alone. Hopefully, of course, this is for the betterment of the song!
It’s also advisable to collaborate with songwriters whom you look up to or consider better than yourself. If possible, work with someone at a level you’d like to reach and take some of their secrets!
Practice, Practice, and More Practice
By far the most important thing you can do as a songwriter is to do it as often as possible. The only way to get better at anything is to dedicate yourself to it, ideally making it a habitual practice.
Setting aside as much time as you can each day or week to work on music is the best thing you can do to improve your craft.
It’s easy to use inspiration as an excuse to avoid sitting down and writing: “I’m just not feeling it right now.” Treating songwriting like a workout and doing it regardless of whether you feel “inspired” will ensure that you improve over time. The process is creative first and foremost, but there are underlying muscles which need to be strengthened as well!
As with most things in life, simply going for it is the best way to become a better songwriter!