The first song I ever wrote was in high school for a girl I liked. I thought if I wrote a good song she would go out with me. Turns out, I was wrong. But she was an inspiration to get me started, and I got great feedback from her friends. Fast forward 10 years and I have written over 30 songs and will be releasing a full length studio album with my band, Ross Hollow, this summer. Here are some of the concepts that have helped me the most.
Inspiration is Key
If you are not inspired by something, it’s hard to write a good song. But luckily for you, songs have been written about almost everything. There have been great songs written about: trucks, roads, coffee, airplanes, sweaters, beaches, you name it! The topic is not important, but the inspiration and craft of songwriting is. And sometimes inspiration isn’t a topic or a word at all, but a chord progression, a melody or a drum beat. Then, the music flows out of that initial inspiration. I almost always start out with a guitar riff or chord progression and then let the words and melodies flow from there.
Know Your Stuff
You know what separates a good songwriter from the bad ones? Most, if not all great songs, are written by people who have listened to great songs and who have spent time learning how to “songwrite.” The biggest stride I took in songwriting was going to my local library and finding a book called, “The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Art of Songwriting.” I went from writing mediocre songs where no one really paid attention to having people come up after a show and ask, “Hey who wrote that song you sang?” That is the biggest compliment anyone can give you starting out: thinking your song was written by someone else. That means you are doing something right, and people are starting to notice.
This is extremely important! Beginning songwriters think they have it all figured out. They go to a few open mics with their original tunes, then they book a couple real gigs. But then after a year of playing the same venue, they wonder why they are not soaring in Spotify streams. I would suggest it’s because they’re not seeking real, hard feedback on their songs. I joined a songwriting circle (4 or so songwriters getting together and playing songs and seeking feedback), and it was a great experience. They gave real constructive criticism, and I grew exponentially because of it.
You Will Know
I hate to use social media as a gauge if a song is good… But my band has released a few original songs that were not shared at all and only got a few likes. Then there were a few that were shared a dozen times and had several thousand views. Don’t ignore stats like that, use them to push those songs further. We have a song that almost always gets positive comments after a performance. Use that feedback and let those songs shine. If no one ever says anything about a song, maybe it’s time to rework it.
I hope you received some applicable tips about how to pursue songwriting as an activity of achievement. Remember, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our incredible composition teachers to inquire further! They would be more than happy to answer questions or help out in any way. Go make some great music!
- Stuart Ross Johnson, Music Instructor at Vibe Music Academy.