Take the Guesswork Out of Songwriting
Intuitive songwriting is fun!
It’s the best way to write songs … you find the flow and write from the heart. But…
What do if your intuition slows down and you get stuck?
What if your song is 90% done… and you realize it’s not working and you can’t figure out why?
Is it time to trash this song too?
Would you rather know what you are doing and decide what you want to accomplish before you invest time and effort in a song?
Intuitive songwriting, writing with only your intuition, can work to a point… but if it’s your only way, you are writing without planning or thinking it through.
Deliberate Songwriting is writing with intention, knowing what you want to accomplish, planning and finishing your songs!
Don’t believe anyone who tells you that planning is boring, stifles your creativity, or spoils the joy in songwriting. Figuring out some of the details in advance forces you to be more creative because you can focus your efforts to:
- Save time by avoiding frustrations, instead of trying to solve them
- Focusing your ideas to get the most out of your songs, and
- Finishing more songs because you aren’t tossing them away half way through
Once your song is finished, you can explain your song and effectively publicize your music. You will also have a plan to share it… so people will actually listen to your song! And if you want to pitch it to an artist, you will have a better idea how to get them to listen to your song.
Instead of relying entirely on your intuition, you can start thinking ahead… who is your audience and what story do you want to tell them?
Answering the following questions will focus your writing and help you become deliberate with your songwriting.
Actively answer them, that means write down your responses don’t just thinking about them (that’s the deliberate part… you are already considering many of these things on some level. You get clarity when you consciously work out the details by writing them down. You actually want to stop faking it or you’ve wouldn’t have already read this far….) It’s okay to skip a few at first, or do them in whatever order works for you. Try to get as many as you can… once you’ve done this process a few times it will only take a couple of minutes.
I put all these questions in a printable PDF to help you actually write down your answers….
The fundamental question is WIIFM?
“What’s In It For Me?” why should I listen to your song… what will I get out of it? A thrill, a cool beat, an emotional journey, a story, a new spin on a classic theme?
If you can communicate that, people will want to know more and listen to you.
This is a huge question… first lets go through some smaller questions that will help you answer it more effectively….
Who is you song for?
Know your audience, write a song that they relate to, about things they are interested in, using words and lyrics that make sense to them!
- Is this your usual audience, or a different demographic?
- Who are your audience?
- What are their likes & dislikes?
- How do they talk?
- What words and phrases do they use?
- What about their… age (range), gender, social status, type of career, stage of life, other details?
Describe your audience:
What is your song about?
- What is the big idea?
- What are the themes?
- What emotions are you writing about?
- What happens in the song, what is the plot?
Describe the song in 1-2 sentences:
What does your song mean?
- Is there a deeper meaning?
- What metaphors, similes, analogies do you use?
Describe what the song means to you:
Why is your song cool?
- What makes this song interesting?
- What emotions are you writing about?
- What do you want people to feel?
Explain what makes this song interesting, exciting or worth listening to:
Why is your song unique?
- What makes this song different from other songs about similar topics or themes?
- What is your perspective on the theme? Why is it different from other songs?
Explain the unique perspective of your song:
What does your song sound like?
Give your an audience an idea of what your song sounds like before hearing it…as much as every songwriter strives to be a unique individual, you are a product of all the music you have ever listened to… your music reflects this!
Reference tracks: a traditional mixing hack, choose some songs with a similar sound to compare your song to as you mix it. Having a sonic model to compare a work in progress to, helps you create the sound you want. It might be the sound of the drum kit, or the tone of a guitar, the quality of the lead vocals or the vibe that you are trying to create.
I choose reference tracks for writing models while I am writing a song. The connection could be the theme or subject, the sound of a song section that I want to emulate or a chord progression that I want to adapt for my own song.
Choosing reference tracks before you finish the song (whether for writing, or mixing) gives you a start to describing the song when you post it later.
Explain what the song sounds like (include specific songs &/or artists/bands):
Learn how to describe your music and your sound in words:
What is the style / genre?
Many songs can fit more than one musical style or genre…
List the possible styles and genres (include specific artists or bands):
Now let’s answer:
What’s In It For Me?
The key question to address to get anyone interested in your music (or anything else!)
In most situations, you need to capture someone’s attention before they even get to hear your music… without being able to answer “what’s in it for me” you’ve already lost your audience.
Review your previous answers and summarize the best ones…
Create a written reason for your audience to listen to your song:
To get people interested in your music through better descriptions, try
What type of song is it?
Bands, Artists, and Singer-Songwriters write and perform different types of songs. They have different goals and have different assumptions about their songs. (These three categories are one way I analyze songs, there are always exceptions!)
In a band, typically all musicians are partners, everyone has a voice in creating the music and needs to be interested in what they are performing. It can be tough to write for an established band that plays originals because they usually write their own. If you know some members you might have a way in, but it is probably better to try co-writing with the main songwriter.
Band: Musical Considerations
Band songs are often music focused (the lyrics can be secondary), insert a solo, provide riffs, and more arrangement ideas. The musicians want to know what and how to play the song… an acoustic guitar / vocal demo won’t cut it.
An artist is the leader, musicians are hired and need to be paid for what they perform. So the artist (with their manager, producer, even their entourage) has to love a song.
Artist: Musical Considerations
Make the artist sound and look good. Write to their singing strengths, songs are usually focused on the vocals. If there is an instrumental solo, keep it short. An artist who plays an instrument will showcase it in the arrangement.
A singer-songwriter is an artist that writes the majority of their songs. Some perform alone, others hire a band. A singer/songwriter is unlikely to record your song, they prefer to record their own songs. You can co-write with some singer-songwriters… present them with an interesting idea, not a completed song, so they can contribute to the creation of the song.
Singer-songwriter: Musical Considerations
Songs are more personal, and usually focus more on lyrics than the music. Often there are more words in the song that in other types of songs. Expect the songwriting to be more sophisticated. The lyrics might be more complicated, poetic or obscure.
Choose the type of song: band … artist … singer/songwriter
Who is the target performer?
Are you the best person to record this song or do you have another artist in mind?
If you are writing a song for another artist to cover, consider:
- If they write songs, your best chance for a cut is to co-write with them.
- Do they record/perform covers?
- Do they co-write with others?
- Do they know me, know who I am?
- Who do I know that knows them?
List A-level artists that could cut your song:
List local artists that could cut your song:
List contact information / ways to contact these local artists:
WIIFT? (What’s In It For Them?)
- Does the song make the artist look/feel good?
- Would the artist want to perform your song?
- If your song became a hit, would they want to perform it every night for the rest of their career?
- Is it consistent with their brand?
- What similar songs have they recorded/performed? How is your song different?
- Could this song be a different song to add to their repertoire?
Explain how cutting this song would benefit the artist:
How will they hear the song?
Whether you are planning to record yourself or pitch to another artist, your audience needs to hear your song to make it complete….
Outline your your demo plan (including studio or home studio, musicians / vocals, mixer, mastering):
For recording tips read:
Preparation and planning saves me time and helps me write better, more focused songs. Knowing my goals and having a clear idea of where I want to take a song helps me get there!
Leave a comment to help other songwriters:
What deliberate steps and planning do you use in your songwriting process?