Friday, September 15, 2006

Songwriting is a craft

When I first started trying to write songs, I often approached it from the following perspective: “I’ll just wait until the inspiration hits me, then I’ll know what to write.” Another mantra that I often found myself repeating was: “I can only write songs when I am in a certain mood.” This sort of thinking hampered me as a songwriter, and it took many years of “dry spells” and “writer’s block” before I realized I was doing something wrong.

So, I began researching the methods used by some of the world’s best songwriters, and I found that very few of them simply sat around waiting to be inspired. In fact, the most successful realized that songwriting was something one must work at, like any craft. Thus began one of the most fertile creative periods of my life.

My new approach was to schedule time each day for songwriting. I’ve always been a night owl, so I scheduled two hours every night, usually 10 pm-12. I decided to take Friday and Saturday nights off, since I was usually gigging anyway. I treated this time as sacred, allowing nothing else to interfere with it. In fact, you might say I treated it like a job.

I learned from this experience that songwriting takes discipline, effort, and time. Here are a few more tips to make your songwriting sessions more productive:

• Treat your songwriting time like it’s a job you have to go to every day. It should not be interrupted or cancelled for any reason.
• Don’t expect to come out of every session with one or more full songs. Most of the time, you will end up with several song fragments. Don’t think of it as a waste of time, though. You will find opportunities to use those fragments down the road.
• Don’t get in a rut! If you have been writing on guitar for days and weeks at a time, switch to another instrument, such as the piano, for a while. If you’ve only been writing music, put down your guitar, pick up a pen and paper, and spend the entire session writing lyrics.
• Keep everything you come up with, even if it’s unfinished. You will find a use for them. It’s also good to keep a file of all your lyrics.
• Keep a small notepad or a miniature recorder with you during the day, so you can record song ideas when you think of them.
• Try to connect with a community of songwriters. There’s nothing like objective feedback to sharpen your songwriting skills. There are many chapters of NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) all around the country. This is a good resource.
• Even if you are going through a legitimate dry spell, keep trying! It’s the only way to break out of it.

Good luck, and happy songwriting!
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