Top Songwriting Tips from 2023

Posted in The Weekly on December 12, 2023

Below are excerpts from some of my articles that have garnered the strongest feedback in the past year. To read the articles in their entirety click on the links.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned About the Songwriting Business

It took me eleven years to quit my day job and earn my living as a songwriter. That was more than thirty years ago. An additional five years passed before my music generated enough income for me to buy a house and a fancy car. I have earned my living from my writing ever since then. These are some of the things I’ve learned that might have brought me to my goal years faster.

Write Songs That Have an Outlet

For years, I wrote songs that I would now categorize as singer/songwriter, folk, or Americana songs. I was certain my songs were better than most of the hits I heard on the radio. So, I was frustrated and perplexed when time after time, publishers failed to sign my self-proclaimed masterpieces.

I did not take into account that publishers are in business. To keep their gigs, they need songs that generate money; songs that sound like radio hits; songs they believe they can place with artists who do not write their material; songs that open the door to setting up collaborations between their writers and successful artists and/or record producers. Publishers might also seek songs they believe they can license for placement in television shows and films.

The songs I was writing might have worked well if my goal had been to be a recording artist releasing my own material. But I wanted other artists to record my songs.

I needed to study and emulate the structures, melodies, chord changes, grooves, and productions that were propelling songs to the top of the charts, if that is where I wanted to be. When I began delivering the kinds of songs that publishers believed they could place, I began signing contracts and getting my songs recorded—instead of complaining that no one was recognizing my talent.

Get Feedback Before Investing in a Recording

To the layman, a great demo can easily be mistaken for a great song. Catchy licks, awesome vocals, a hot band, and a well-engineered recording can evoke effusive praise from family and friends. But almost all of the songs produced by pro writers and submitted by music publishers have demo recordings that include these elements; they are the industry standard.

Professionals, such as music publishers, producers, and record label executives assess the underlying song. No amount of embellishment can overcome a weak lyric or a melody that fails to stick in listeners’ brains.

It seems that the more time and money we spend on a demo, and the better it sounds, the less likely we are to acknowledge the song’s weaknesses—or revise it. Why spend considerable time and money only to be told that a song would benefit from some serious surgery?

We need a great demo and a great song to rise above the competition. The time to seek professional feedback is before investing time and money in a demo recording.

Produce Better Demos

When I screened songs as a production coordinator and an A & R assistant, in most instances, the overwhelming volume of songs I needed to review made it impossible for me to envision how a song might sound if the demo had been produced differently. It either sounded like a hit—or it didn’t.

To give my songs the best chance of rising above the competition, my demos needed to demo-nstrate the potential of my songs. While in many cases, it was sufficient to produce slow songs with only a guitar or a keyboard and vocal, songs that relied on a groove needed to be more fully produced.

At my songwriting workshops, over the years I have shared demos of songs that went on to become hits. In the vast majority of cases, those demos clearly laid out the road map for the producer and artist to follow.

Have a Marketing Plan Before Recording

I can’t count how many aspiring recording artists I’ve taught who have invested tens of thousands of dollars to produce albums—only to find those recordings gathering dust. Before spending money to produce recordings, cover artwork, and videos, formulate a plan for promoting the product. This might include scheduling a tour, during which you will sell product at your shows; media promotion, such as newspaper articles and local television and radio appearances; and a strategy for getting your music “discovered” on social media platforms such as YouTube, and on playlists.

Producing awesome music is crucial—but it is not enough.

Seek the Right Collaborators

There is no way to predict with whom that elusive chemistry will emerge. Of course, I needed to work with writers who brought out the best in me creatively. But it was also important to work with writers who could contribute to getting the songs recorded. In some instances, these were recording artists or record producers. In other cases, these writers were signed to well-connected publishers.

Writing with a recording artist, producer, or someone else “inside” a project can certainly provide an edge. The same is true for writing with a writer signed to a successful publishing company. But these advantages won’t be enough to get you across the finish line unless the pairing results in a very strong song. Ideally, we will find collaborators who tick off both the creative and business boxes.

The Power of Hybrids

I’ve often heard music publishers, A&R reps, recording artists and record producers say, “Bring me something new—something fresh.” When they make this request, I am relatively certain they are not seeking an entirely new genre of music. They are looking for music that pushes the creative envelope while remaining consistent with current popular formats.

One of the best ways to create something “new” is to combine elements of multiple existing styles. A look back reveals that the hybridization of genres has resulted in countless iconic recordings and new sub-genres.

Jazz evolved as a hybrid of spiritual, blues, R&B, and other genres. Similarly, country music blended elements of folk with Appalachian fiddle music. Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s hybrid of spiritual music, blues, and R&B in the 1940s is often cited as a precursor to rock and roll. Elvis combined his Mississippi country roots with gospel and R & B music to create his “new” style of music.

Pop, R&B, rock, rap, reggae, dancehall, folk, country, Appalachian, reggaeton, heavy metal, jazz, gospel, disco, EDM, and punk are among the genres of music that have been combined with other styles to create hybrids that sound fresh and new. It’s likely that the next “new” thing will be a hybrid of two or more existing genres.

10 Ways to Wake Up Your Muse

Few songwriters can access their creativity like turning on a faucet. But there are actions we can take that are conducive to getting our creative juices flowing. Let’s look at some ways to kick our imaginations into high gear.

Attend a Live Performance

During my first year in Nashville, I could be found at the famed Bluebird Café four or five nights each week. The Bluebird’s signature “Writers in the Round” shows featured successful songwriters playing stripped down versions of their hits and other original songs. Hearing the melodies and lyrics written by these exceptional craftsmen was a masterclass in hit songwriting. But in addition to the entertainment and educational value, attending these concerts provided an added perk for me. Invariably, song ideas would pour out of me during the shows. I scribbled these titles, concepts, and lyric phrases onto napkins, scraps of paper, and ATM receipts.

Take a Drive

In one instance when I was tasked with creating the topline (melody and lyrics) to an existing music track, I drove around a parking lot at a shopping mall that was closed, listening to the track over and over until the melody & lyric revealed itself. Few activities get my creative juices flowing more than driving.

Switch Your Mode of Writing

If you typically write lyrics while typing them into a computer, try writing with pen and paper—or vice versa. If you are a multi-instrumentalist, switch the instrument you use when writing. For example, if you usually accompany yourself on guitar when you write, try using a keyboard, or write acapella—with no instrument at all.

Any approach that is different from the way we typically write can stir up our creative juices.

Write in a Coffeeshop

Many writers report that the buzz and the chatter in a café helps them to focus on their task. They also appreciate being free of the distractions they encounter at home.

According to J.K. Rawlings, author of the Harry Potter books, “It’s no secret that the best place to write, in my opinion, is in a café. You don’t have to make your own coffee, you don’t have to feel like you’re in solitary confinement and if you have writers block, you can get up and walk to the next café while giving your batteries time to recharge and brain time to think.”

T.S. Elliott, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald are among those who also frequently wrote in coffee shops.

Take a Break

Many of the strongest elements in my songs popped into my mind during a bathroom break or a walk down the hall to get coffee. In many instances, I took those breaks because I felt frustrated at being unable to find the elusive magical line of lyric or special musical moment I sought. When I stopped trying to force the creativity it simply appeared.

Go for a Walk

Whether I’m stepping to the rhythm of a big city or taking a gentle stroll while immersing in a natural setting, walking often opens my mind and allows melodies and lyrics to bubble to the surface. In some instances, these melodies keep time with the pace of my stride, as if I were stepping to a beat. Some writers find that jogging produces a similar effect.

I can’t count how many melodies, lyrics, or titles have come to me while I was walking in New York City’s Central Park, at Nashville’s Radnor Lake, and on my favorite Kauai walking path. Find those places that spark your creativity.

Visit an Art Museum

It might seem as if viewing paintings and other visual works of art would have little connection to writing music and lyrics. But there have been many times when the act of basking in the beauty of a Renoir or Van Gogh masterpiece has opened the door to a melody or lyric. Creativity begets creativity.

Take a Shower

When I asked my songwriter Facebook friends what sparked their creativity, I was surprised at the high number who reported that many of their best ideas have come while taking a shower.

Set a Timer

One way to create a space in which our muses can safely appear is by setting a timer for five, ten, or fifteen minutes and limiting our writing to that amount of time. There is only one rule: no internal critics are permitted to comment during this time. As long as I allow words or music to come out of me—and do not allow the naysayers in my head to deter me—I have done the exercise perfectly.

Sometimes, I get strong ideas during these “safe” periods and before I know it, an hour or more has passed and I am still writing. But knowing that my session is time-ended—and that my work will not be criticized—puts out the welcome mat for my muse.

Read a Book or Watch a Movie

A well-written novel or movie script is sure to include strong dialogue, compelling relationships, imagery, detail, and challenges for characters to overcome. Many of the issues and emotions expressed in books and movies lend themselves to songs.

When I step away from my own writing and enter a fictional world, I am being moved by the tools other creators use to engage their audiences. Next thing I know, my muse says, “Hey, you can do that!” and I’m back to work.

When we remove the pressure and stop insisting that we be brilliant on demand, we give our muses a chance to do what they are meant to do—inspire us. We cannot switch on our creativity like flicking on a light. But there are actions we can take to encourage our muse to emerge. Try some of these and find what works for you.

The #1 Mistake Artists and Writers Make

The toughest critiques I do when I teach my workshops are those that require my telling the writers and artists that they have written a perfectly crafted song; that there is nothing wrong and nothing to fix. I tell them to pat themselves on the back because few writers will ever master the craft so successfully. Then comes the hard part, when I say that there is nothing “wow”—no elements that would compel a decision-maker to choose this song or performance over the equally well-crafted competition.

The advise that follows is my prescription for those who are writing good songs – but not exceptional ones. Let the song marinate for several days; then revisit it. This will provide a window through which you can experience your work with more objectivity. Print a copy of the lyric and review it one line at a time, asking if you have used the tools and techniques listed below that can help separate the “good” songs from the “wow” ones.

  • Have I grabbed attention with an opening line that makes this song jump out of the pile and rise above the competition?
  • Have I included lines unique enough to make a music publisher say, “I have to represent this?”
  • Is this song built on a concept that is so fresh it would compel an artist to bump his or her own song to include yours?
  • If my hope is that my audience will understand the lyric, have I communicated in a way that will allow the listeners to grasp the meaning that I intended? Or are the lyrics so abstract and obscure that only I know what they mean?

Now, it’s time to put our melody under a proverbial microscope by asking:

  • Have I differentiated my song’s sections by giving them rhythms that vary from each other—or do the verses sound similar to the pre-choruses (if applicable); and do the verses and choruses employ significantly different rhythms from each other?
  • If verses are wordy with lots of syllables, we can announce the arrival of our chorus by using fewer words and long, held-out notes, such as half notes or whole notes. Similarly, a verse comprised of few words and legato, elongated notes might best be followed by a more rhythmic chorus that includes more words, accompanied by quarter notes or eight notes. If there is a bridge this should also introduce melodic elements that vary from the song’s other sections.
  • Have I used higher or lower notes in my chorus than those in the verses to make my chorus jump out?
  • Have I included a signature lick—an instantly recognizable instrumental hook that is heard during the song’s intro, as well as throughout the song?
  • Have I included what I define as a magic moment in my book 6 Steps to Songwriting Success (Billboard Books/Penguin Random House)—an unexpected chord or note—that propels the song to a next level?
  • Have I used a groove that sets my song apart?

It can be tough to objectively assess whether we have written a memorable, exceptional melody. We have heard our melody repeatedly and it is likely seared in our brain. Getting trusted professional feedback can help determine whether our melody is as fresh and memorable as we would hope.

If you are a recording artist you can also ask:

  • Have I showcased and amplified a unique element of my vocal that will make it instantly identifiable?
  • Is my song consistent with—and supporting—the identity I hope to project?
  • Does my production and choice of instrumentation set my song and my recording apart from the competition?
  • Playing it safe can be the most dangerous thing to do. By asking ourselves some tough questions, getting trusted feedback, pushing the creative envelope, and staying open to revision, we can create songs and recordings that go beyond “good” and “perfectly crafted” to WOW!

The Most Important Part of Persistence

We’ve all heard stories of songs that took decades to find their homes and their places atop the music charts. We’ve also heard tales of songwriters and recording artists whose journeys to success spanned years—even decades.
Persistence is critical.

Sometimes we simply need more time for our lucky stars to line up; for the right opportunity to present itself; for the time and the marketplace to be right. But in some instances, we might need to examine and revise the music we are creating and actions we are taking to attain our goals. Making the same mistakes over and over is unlikely to lead to different results.

We need to find the balance between believing in ourselves—and acknowledging that our work might need to be honed, polished, revised. Get professional feedback about what is working— and what is not. See if there are comments that resonate when you receive critiques. Learn from the lessons in each disappointment and rejection. If multiple trusted sources suggest there are problems with your work, explore what you might be doing that is holding you back.

Even if your music has all the right elements to make it a hit, it is unlikely that a music business executive will knock on your door. Assess whether you might need to change your approach to the business side of the music business. Are you networking? Availing yourself of multiple resources to promote your music? Putting yourself in places where decision-makers can hear your music?

Keep persevering and remember that even though you might not be where you hope to be in your musical career, it does not mean you cannot get there. But … it might mean you need to reevaluate your work—and the actions you are taking—to give your work its best shot.

How to Get Your Music on Playlists: Demystifying the Process

When I started teaching workshops for aspiring recording artists and songwriters more than 30 years ago, signing with a major record label was the only way for artists to reach a wide audience. The landscape changed when streaming became a viable way to get music heard. Now, anyone with a smart phone or a computer can record their own music and video, and thanks to platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, and Spotify, they can make their music available to listeners throughout the world.

Spotify, the leading streaming service, has more than 80 million tracks available from an estimated 11 million artists. But with more than 100,000 songs typically being uploaded to digital service providers every day, how can you lead listeners to your music?

A key component to being “found” is to have your music included on respected and widely followed playlists. Spotify creates approximately 3,000 playlists, and it is estimated that its most popular one, Today’s Top Hits, has more than 33 million followers. Almost every imaginable style of music has one or more playlists on which it might fit.

There are primarily three major types of playlists. Algorithmic playlists are created by computer software. Editorial playlists are curated by streaming services’ music experts and genre specialists. These playlists are categorized by musical genre or by the mood(s) they evoke. This allows listeners to seek out new music that has been deemed worthy by experts in the styles the listeners prefer. For additional information about Spotify’s editorial playlists, click here.

Listener playlists are created by users and are their own personal recommendations. Those who create playlists are referred to as curators. Individuals who compile playlists—and garner followings—are sometimes referred to as influencers.

With more than 1 billion monthly users, TikTok has propelled songs by unknown artists into the Billboard Hot 100 and Spotify Viral 50. So how do you get more exposure for your music on TikTok?

TikTok influencers are individuals who have cultivated an audience that looks to them for recommendations of music and videos. Having them promote your music can be career-changing, but it can be difficult to locate contact information for playlist curators and influencers.

For a monthly fee, MICCO provides its members with a listing of more than 7,000 music industry influencers. They provide contact information for influencers and playlist curators for streaming platforms including Spotify, TikTok, YouTube, Apple Music, Tidal, Pandora, Deezer, and Google Play.

Indie Bible sells e-books such as the Indie Spotify Bible, which provides contact information for curators of more than 5,400 playlists. Their Apple Music Bible provides contact information for the decision-makers at more than 3,500 Apple Music playlists. Similarly, their Indie YouTube Bible provides contact information for more than 3,500 playlist curators, categorized by genre. These publications do the research; the artists do the leg work of pitching their material.

Artists can submit material to Spotify for Artists to pitch their songs for possible inclusion in Spotify’s editorial playlists. There is no fee for this. Spotify Radio creates a 50-song playlist made up of personalized recommendations it thinks you will like based on a song or artist you state you like.

Spotify Mixes are 50-song playlists, similar to Spotify Radio, but are customized for each listener based on his or her listening history and active feedback.

A track’s Popularity Score is based on positive feedback signals received by the algorithm. These include high numbers of streams in a short amount of time; repeat listens from the same listeners; a high ratio of the song being saved by listeners; having many users add the song to their own playlists; and having a listener follow the artist or listen to other songs by that artist after hearing this one.

Whether we engage the services of a company that promotes and distributes music to streaming platforms, or take the DIY approach, those who approach this diligently and methodically—and have music with the potential to connect with listeners—will likely find their work on playlists.

Rise, a company that helps artists grow their fanbase on multiple platforms is offering readers 15% off (with code “BMI15”) for any single campaign for Spotify, TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram.

How Many Songs Should You Write


A quota refers to the minimum delivery requirements specified in an exclusive song publishing agreement. In many cases, the minimum is not defined as the number of songs written, but the number that are recorded and released.

In Nashville, you might simply have a requirement to deliver a specified number of songs, regardless of whether those songs have been commercially released. In this scenario, a writer fulfills his or her commitment by turning in whatever number has been contractually agreed upon. My contract required fifteen songs.

The number of songs is typically defined by those for which the writer is the sole writer. A writer with one 50/50 collaborator would need to deliver thirty songs to fulfill a fifteen-song quota. If all songs were the result of three-way collaborations, forty-five songs would need to be delivered to satisfy a fifteen-song requirement.

Quality Versus Quantity

We do not get paid per song, except in the rarest of instances. Songwriters’ and publishers’ incomes are derived from songs that generate performance and mechanical royalties, and licensing fees.

The “spaghetti against the wall” approach, writing tremendous numbers of songs and hoping some of them find homes, is preferred by some writers. For many of these writers much of their reward comes from the satisfaction derived from the process of writing; placing their songs is a bonus. Other writers craft songs slowly and methodically, placing every word and note under microscope, and rewriting multiple times.

Some composers create instrumental cues intended solely for synchronization licensing. They might write and produce ten or more musical pieces a day and have catalogs consisting of thousands of compositions. Of course, these pieces can be produced faster than those that require lyrics and vocals.

Few publishers would be disappointed with a writer who delivers only a handful of songs per year if those songs top the chart or are recorded by superstar artists. One GRAMMY-deserving song is likely to bring more success than 1,000 “good” songs.

So … how many songs should you write? The answer is whatever number supports your writing style—and achieves your songwriting goals.

I hope these tips will help you achieve your songwriting goals. I’m wishing you hits and happiness in the coming year!

Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His latest book, Happy Tails—Life Lessons from Rescued Cats and Kittens (SPS/Blue Mountain Arts) combines his love of photography and cats. Jason’s songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. A guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, he has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. To receive a free video, “3 Things You MUST Do for Success” and weekly tips to enhance creativity click on Join Songwriting With Jason Blume on Facebook for free events and song critiques. For information about his workshops, recorded lessons, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit

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