About 2 years ago, I attended a conference in Nashville designed specifically for songwriters. There was a panel that discussed a number of really good topics, but there was an “aha” moment for me when one of the panelists spoke: the simple fact of the matter is—songwriters write songs. Not just some of the time. All of the time. Songwriters live, breathe, sleep songwriting.
This is pivotal in an age where it seems like everyone does something; many artists and musicians I meet love the idea of writing, but when it comes down to it, they’ve spent very little time honing their craft. Others feel that the steps to becoming prolific in their writing are too difficult or overwhelming when it comes to songwriting. Let’s be honest: when you hear of an artist who writes a 2-300 songs in a year, it’s hard to contextualize that in a way to move in that direction. You may be just trying to complete one idea of 6 months. Maybe you feel like: how is that ever going to turn in to consistent writing?
The last few decades have seen many musicians and artists enter the world of commercial songwriting. As a standard, if you’re a commercial songwriter, that means that you are delivering at least 50-60 songs yearly to your publisher for review.
For many, that’s a seismic step, and often one that discourages many. But it’s an important step for you as a writer and artist for a number of reasons:
- Consistent songwriting hones your craft. You’re not simply writing when you feel inspired—you’re learning to write great songs on days when the well of inspiration feels like it’s dry. That galvanizes your writing so that when inspiration comes, you have the tools to write even more amazing music.
- Consistent writing helps create distance from your art (that’s a good thing in this case). Many artists feel like one of the biggest obstacles to creating is the fear of rejection: writing more songs actually lessens the pain of that all too familiar feeling. Think for a minute: if you’re sharing the one idea of your last 2 months and it gets rejected, you’re going to feel completely crushed and ask if you should be doing this music thing at all; if, however, you share the same idea in the context of 8 or 20 or 60 ideas in the last two months, it doesn’t make the stakes as high. Good ideas will be shown over time to be really good ideas, or they’ll get replaced by even better concepts for songs and writing.
- Consistent songwriting acts as a sort of night watch for your creativity. In and out of season, if you’re diligent in creating, you’ll have a vehicle for inspiration to really take hold when it comes. You won’t necessarily write the most incredible song every time you sit down to write, but you’ll be ready to capitalize on that potential when it does come.
So I’d like to give some practical tools for writers who are looking to take that next step step in getting serious about their writing. If you want to be or consider yourself a songwriter, here are some things that can jumpstart your creating:
1. Co-write. Let people in to your creative process. I’ve written some of my best songs in co-writes and it’s not (necessarily) because I’m a poor writer: creating together will always hone your craft, even with a weaker songwriter. Co-writing also blasts through those ideas that used to sit in your head or in your notebook for months and months. Share them in a co-write, and that idea will very likely be a song in the next 2 hours.
2. Schedule your writing. I heard Jason Ingram share, in a year where he had some of his most successful tracks, that he didn’t write a song that wasn’t scheduled on his calendar. If you want to write consistently, carve out the time and be tenacious about sticking to your schedule.
3. Chronicle what inspires you. If I sit down and just try to be “inspired,” I very rarely write anything good. I’m a slow processor when it comes to writing, and what that means is that I often need to get a running start with inspiration. Whether it’s moments in the shower in the morning, driving in the car, being with family or friends, have a way to record the things that inspire you. Maybe it’s a melody, a chorus, a phrase, a subject, but whatever it is, have the tools ready so that your mind doesn’t have to be what remembers it. I use my phone’s notepad and recorder for almost all the ideas I bring to co-writes. Keep your heart and ears open for those moments, and then you can come back to them later to develop them.
4. Find your writing pace. Think about this: say you choose to write a song a week for the next year. You schedule your co-writes as one a week, and you stick to it. I don’t care if you have written two songs or 200 songs before this, the reality is that in a year’s time you will have greatly increased your body of work—and your songwriting skills. You don’t have to necessarily have a sprint of 30 songs in 2 weeks to have a body of work at the end of a year. Songwriters make writing a part of their life. Do it often, and do it well.
If you’re feeling like you’re wanting to move to that next level in your craft, the reality is sometimes you just have to do it. But it’s not as difficult as you’d think. For many, artistry has become synonymous with lazy, because creatives like us generally need to forcibly develop discipline or it just doesn’t happen. This may be a moment where you’re being called out to more in your writing. The world needs what God has put in you to give, but it needs you to take it seriously enough to hone and develop it to the best it can be. Take the time today to get on a schedule to become a better writer. Write well and write often. You’ll be amazed at how fast and how far you’ve gone in just a short time.