Are you considering starting your career as a songwriter? Here are some tips to help you get off on the right foot.
No human is an island, and this rings especially true when it comes to creating music. Musicians inspire each other all the time, whether they’re using someone else’s song as a sample or finding beauty in a specific chord structure. Whether you’re aiming to write pop songs, classical arrangements, or anything in between, you need to be constantly listening to the kinds of music that inspire you. Find a song you love. Don’t be afraid to open it up and examine every element of the piece. Look for interviews of songwriters you love and listen to them explain their process. Yours will never look exactly the same as somebody else’s, but it can help to understand what you might want to do differently next time.
Of course, inspiration doesn’t just have to come from other songwriters. Keep a journal if you don’t already, use it to find the themes and intricacies in your life that pop up the most. Write down scenes that captured you, quotes or lyrics that you can’t seem to let go of, melodies that have been stuck in your head for a week. It’ll be helpful to go back through it when you’re feeling stuck.
Songwriting is similar to poetry and prose. It’s accessible to everyone in theory, but it’s still a craft that needs to be honed. You aren’t going to become the greatest songwriter of the century without knowing your limits and setting realistic expectations for yourself.
Your overall goal may just be to share your experience with others in a form that feels comfortable to you. Maybe you genuinely do want to write a technical masterpiece. Maybe you just want to make music that sounds good. No matter what your specific end goal is, you need to set realistic expectations for yourself. You probably won’t write the next Requiem on your first try, and it’s important to be okay with that. What’s more important, however, is to stay focused and passionate. Know why you’re pursuing songwriting and what it is that you want to write about.
Learn About Good Songwriting
As songwriting is a craft, there are many different avenues you can take to improve your understanding of it. There are plenty of books written by professional songwriters that you can read in order to improve your understanding of other people’s processes. Learning how to play an instrument, or honing your skills in those that you already play, can be key in improving your songwriting skills. While some people can become successful without a strong grasp on music theory, there’s no denying that studying it can do wonders for your ability to write songs.
If you want to learn about music theory in an easy and fun way, check out our dedicated articles.
There are plenty of physical and online songwriting courses you can take as well. Musician’s Institute, a college for contemporary musicians based in Hollywood, offers their songwriting program both on campus and over the internet. You can choose to go for a full bachelor’s degree in songwriting or simply a certificate, both of which offer the full extent of MI’s services. You will learn how to write and master songs, arrange a portfolio, and have access to industry standard recording equipment for the duration of your program.
If you’re serious about songwriting, choosing to study it academically is recommended for several reasons. There are quite a few skills that can only be learned by doing them yourself. You don’t always get access to this kind of learning by doing it on your own (although it’s certainly not impossible), but these kinds of programs are often focused on those hands-on skills. You’ll also be learning from people with extensive experience in the industry, often accomplished songwriters and musicians themselves. Not only does this give you the opportunity to learn industry secrets, but you’ll be forging relationships with the kinds of people who could potentially further your career in the future.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Feedback
Overcoming the fear of rejection is crucial as a beginning songwriter. Songwriting is an artform, and opening your art up to critique can be a frightening experience, especially if you’re receiving it from people who aren’t musicians themselves. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Try to cultivate a circle of other people with whom you can share your work and hear their’s, as well. You can’t always expect someone who doesn’t work with music to understand what they’re looking for.
Sharing with other musicians guarantees that they’re going to really listen to your work and have the kind of feedback that you can put to use. Attend workshops if there are any in your area. Create relationships with the people that you meet. Not only will having your work critiqued give you more opportunity to grow, but critiquing the work of others can help you to see your own songs with a different perspective.
Tell Your Story
You’ll hear this piece of advice often, but only because it’s so important to be reminded of. Write what you know. If you want to write a song that’s passionate and true to you, it will only happen by writing within the scope of your experiences. That’s not to say that you can’t write about other things, but the most profound pieces of music come from an intimate place. Authenticity can never be mimicked.
Regardless of why or what you write, never let other people define your process or goals for you. At the end of the day, writing for yourself will give you the most satisfying results. Define what success means to you. As long as you’re setting and meeting your own personal goals, there shouldn’t be anything standing in the way of your personal fulfillment.
Musicians Institute (MI) is a College of Contemporary Music built on the idea that musicians should teach—and learn from—other musicians in a creative, supportive environment. Musicians Institute is dedicated to inspiring artistic and academic excellence while preparing students for careers in the music and entertainment industry. Our cutting-edge educational offerings provide the information, skills and expertise necessary for musicians and creative professionals to achieve their goals.