In my experience, sometimes the best advice is the simplest. To that end, I’ve put together a few no-nonsense things to consider as you make your way in the songwriting world.
Live with your songs
When you finish a new song, that excitement often leads to the desire to want to demo it right away. I get it. There’s a natural rush and enthusiasm that comes the moment you bring a new song into the world. That said, demos - especially those that are properly done - aren’t inexpensive and should be made to last a long time. So, take some time to live with your song before you invest in a demo. This could mean getting a professional critique or even simply waiting a week before sitting back down with your lyric sheet and a rough recording to give it one more set of edits. A well-written song has a long, long life so take a deep breath and make sure the song is truly done before scheduling your demo.
Don’t spread the word until you’re ready
There is a temptation to try and create a buzz around yourself and your songs in order to stand out in what can be an extremely crowded musical marketplace. It’s important to remember, though, that no amount of social media buzz can make up for a song that isn’t well-written and properly demoed. As the expression goes, you’ll only have one chance to make a first impression, so wait until you’re as confident as you can be in your work before you begin promoting your songs.
Study current song structures
Being a student of commercial songs and songwriting is never a bad thing. Paying attention to the nuts and bolts of song structure can only help, but by the time current songs are “current,” that particular trend may very well have come and gone. So, while it’s good to study current song structure, it might be best to think of it as a starting point. After that, you should consider enhancing or altering the structure of your songs instead of simply copying existing structures.
Learn to play/practice your instrument
While playing an instrument isn’t an essential requirement of being a songwriter, it can - and will - make writing and communicating your songs easier. Learning to play an instrument well enough to play at an open mic is a worthy goal. There’s nothing like performing your songs out to see how they work on a live audience. Consider playing and practicing an instrument as another weapon in your songwriting arsenal.
Get to know other songwriters
When it comes to refining your songwriting craft, there is definitely strength in numbers. Whether it’s a pool of potential co-writers or a group critique by your peers, the more you integrate yourself into your local songwriting community the better. And, of course, at its most fundamental level, it helps to know you’re not alone in your quest for songwriting success.
Don’t get discouraged
Given that there’s no such thing as a straight line to success as a songwriter, it pays to remember to be patient with yourself and the process. Like anything, your songwriting progress will ebb and flow, but if you continue to chip away at things over time, you’ll be better able to see where you need to focus your attention to move your songs, and yourself, forward. Whether this means taking an idea that has you stuck to a co-writer, or taking your song all the way apart and starting over, having the courage to keep going will pay big dividends over time. Hang in there!
There’s so much more than just writing good songs when it comes to a career in songwriting. Keeping an eye on the big picture while paying attention to small things is a delicate balancing act, but worthy of your time and attention.