17 Songwriting Myths Explained and Debunked, with additional songwriting resources to keep you sane!
A myth is a story to explain the unknown. It’s a story that comes from a spark of truth, it seems to make sense. It’s an attempt to explain how the world works. Songwriting myths try to create order in the chaotic world of songwriting and the music industry. Some are born of ignorance, other from misunderstandings or they are outdated and no longer true….
Here are 17 broken songwriting myths, believing in any of them will hold back or stifle your songwriting.
There are other songwriting myths, these are the most common misunderstandings. There are also exceptions to every rule and some of these myths don’t apply to every level of songwriter. For example, professional songwriters have more experience than you and they can do things you can’t do (yet…)
There are more songwriting resources and references sprinkled through the transcript after the video lesson.… check them out if a particular myth has been holding back your songwriting!
Songwriting Myth #1: Songwriting Should Be Easy
Popular songs aren’t super complicated, so it seems logical that songwriting should be easy. But just because popular songs seem simple, doesn’t mean writing them is. Here’s why
First: It’s easier to imagine a finished song than to actually follow through the steps and write it.
Second: It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the endless possibilities in songwriting. You can get stuck because you’re not sure which to pick.
Third: It takes time to learn songwriting, to practice songwriting skills and it takes time to write songs.
So songwriting isn’t easy, songwriting isn’t hard, songwriting is complicated.
Songwriting Myth #2: The Myth of Instant Songs
This myth is so common, I wrote an entire article about it. I hate this myth… you hear stories of songwriters who wrote a song in 10 minutes or 30 minutes, but when you try you can’t do it. Just a little frustrating, right? While they are great stories, they’re actually the exception not the rule. Do a little digging, there are hundreds of articles that quote the same 30 popular stories. If instant songs were the standard, there’d be hundreds of thousands of these stories, not a few dozen.
A subset of this myth is the: Myth of Instant Success
We all have this dream, you write an amazing song that becomes a viral sensation. Or you post your song and somehow it gets the attention of a major artist who records it and all you have to do is sit back and wait for the royalty cheques to land into your retirement bank account. What a great story… except it’s incredibly rare! You’ve got a better chance with a lottery ticket.
Songwriting Myth #3: Songwriting is Linear
The most common songwriting mistake is thinking you should start writing the first line and work through the song to the last line in order… writing the way you’d sing it or your audience would hear it.
Songwriting, like any creative act, isn’t a straight line, it’s chaotic. It can feel random. There is a logic to it but songwriting isn’t “logical” it’s more spiral. Remember what you write first could wind up anywhere in the song. I’ve changed the order of the verses, I’ve changed the chorus to a verse. I’ve changed the music from the bridge to the chorus. It doesn’t matter, you can change what you write later.
Write a Hit and You Can Retire Songwriting Myth #4
This is thinking your only one song away from fame, fortune and a comfortable retirement. It’s believing songwriting is your key to avoiding work, or avoiding a job or avoiding building a sustainable music career.
Ever notice that the most successful songwriters and artists keep busy creating after they’ve made it big. That’s because they love what they’re doing. It’s that love that helps make them great, they aren’t in it just for the money or the possibility of a life of leisure.
We’ve all heard the phrase “one hit wonder” it’s got some nice alliteration. The stories of songwriters or artists who had only one hit often have a sad ending. Don’t become one of these sad stories.
The key to a successful career and your goal should be a reputation of being able to write quality songs with anyone at any time. That you can produce whenever it’s needed… then other songwriters will want to work with you!
Songwriting Myth #5: Someone Might Steal My Songs
Worrying about someone stealing your song lyrics or your ideas or your song title is just fear talking. It’s a natural phase that most songwriters go through when writing their first dozen songs, long before your songs are good enough to steal.
It’s also relatively rare. Of the cases I’ve heard of, it’s more often someone you know, a co-writer or producer, who registers themselves as the sole songwriter, then it turns into a dispute about who gets the songwriting royalties. But a song isn’t worth money until it’s commercially released and becomes popular. A song is worth money because of songwriting royalties. A song has to be professionally recorded, released and promoted before it’s actually worth anything. It’s not really worth anyone’s time to take a song on social media and steal it… the act of writing the song is, in some ways, the easiest part of making money with songwriting.
You’re Born With Musical Talent, Songwriting Myth #6
This is another myth that causes big problems for songwriters. The myth of songwriting talent shows up in the media, in music journalism, in everyday conversations… every time I hear that an artist or performer or songwriter is “talented” a little piece of me dies. It’s not talent, it’s practice. Beyonce, Adele, Jimi Hendrix, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart… all practiced their craft. They weren’t born that way.
Songwriters, musicians and athletes aren’t born with supernatural talents that set them apart from everyone else. There’s scientific research that confirms what musicians and athletes have always known… it’s not about natural abilities, it’s about dedicated practicing. You develop your songwriting skills by combining songwriting knowledge with practice. This is good news, you can do it too, if you’re willing to put in the work.
Songwriting Myth #7: You Can’t Teach Songwriting
This is sometimes connected to the songwriting talent myth where you need to be born with that magic. If songwriting is what you’re born with then you can’t learn it. And if you can’t learn it, nobody can teach it… But this whole line of reasoning is silly because you can learn songwriting, and it’s even faster if someone teaches you.
I teach it… but it takes a great deal of knowledge and practice, as a songwriter and a teacher to teach it properly. Some teach it better than others. Remember, songwriting is a series of skills that you can learn and be taught. It’s important to practice your skills, to put the teaching into practice. If you can learn something, you can learn it faster from the right teacher.
Songwriting Myth #8: You Need to Write 100 Bad Songs to Learn Songwriting
This is an old songwriter’s saying, there are variations in how it’s worded. Basically: the only way to learn to write excellent songs is to write 100 bad songs first. Fifty years ago this was true… you had to learn songwriting by trial and error, for example writing 100 bad songs, or by co-writing with a songwriter that knew more than you, or by analyzing great songs and emulating them.
Now you can find songwriting teachers who show you how to flatten that learning curve so you can write better songs sooner. You can study songwriting in music colleges, and universities, or in person lessons or online songwriting courses. You only have to figure out songwriting on your own, if you want to… there are other ways.
Songwriting Inspiration Will Find You: Myth #9
“I only write songs when I’m inspired” is a great way to accomplish nothing. It’s a combination of the “songwriting should be easy” myth and the false belief that if songwriting is hard or takes work you’re doing it wrong. I also call this “waiting for inspiration” it’s waiting to try instead of taking the initiative and getting to work. Inspiration comes from action, it doesn’t come from thinking about songwriting.
Waiting is actually an excuse to avoid doing anything difficult. It’s another way of saying “I don’t want to try because I could fail!” What would you tell your child if they told you they’d only do their homework if they felt “inspired”? Un huh, I thought so…
Songwriting Myth #10: Inspiration is Enough to Finish a Song
Sometimes you can rely on inspiration to write most or all of a song in a single session. Some professional songwriters rely on years of experience to help them write quickly before the initial inspiration dries up. Many songwriters, including me, write a draft and then edit it, taking more than one songwriting session to complete the final draft of an entire song.
Inspiration has an emotional component, so it’s unreliable. Develop your songwriting process so you can finish your songs even when inspiration fails. Your songwriting process is what gets songs written. It’s how you go from a brilliant flash of inspiration all the way to a finished song. Inspiration is only the first step.
Hard Work Guarantees Songwriting Success, Myth#11
Hard work doesn’t guarantee success, it only creates the opportunity for success. You can work hard on all the wrong things. If your guitar string is sharp, tightening it more breaks the string.
I prefer to work smart. Songwriting is more than just writing a great song. Once it’s written the next step is performing, recording and sharing them so people can hear your songs.
Success is more than working hard, it’s working hard on the right things at the right time… and finishing what you start!
Songwriting Myth #12: Genius Works Alone
Music is a cooperative act. It’s more fun with friends. Look, it doesn’t matter what you believe, you haven’t done anything entirely on your own. You didn’t build your guitar, you bought it. Your smartphone, you didn’t build the smartphone that you used to video your song performance and you didn’t create the social media platforms that you use to promote your music. You didn’t write the code that powers your Digital Audio Workstation.
This myth also leads you to believe that “I should do it by myself.” that if I do it all myself, the music must somehow be better. The key to music success is your audience, their opinion not yours. They care how your music makes them feel, not who or how it was created.
Perfection is a Virtue, Songwriting Myth #13
Perfectionism isn’t a positive. Writing the perfect song isn’t possible. This is actually an avoidance tactic. Trying to create the unobtainable “perfect song” is really the fear that your music isn’t good enough and that you’ll fail. Claiming that “I need to improve it even more!” can turn into never finishing it.
You can release something to the public as a work in progress, get feedback and then incorporate useful feedback into a better version… or skillfully craft most of something that nobody else hears? Which is better?
Done… whatever it sounds like, is better than “almost perfect but never finished!”
Songwriting Myth #14: There’s a “Best Way” to Write a Song
The best way to write a song is to finish it. Lyrics first, music first? Thinking or arguing about which “how” is best, is time you’re spending not writing. Your audience wants to feel, they don’t care how you wrote it.
Spoiler: This article helps you figure out YOUR best way for you to write a song…
Songwriting Tips Will Solve My Problems, Myth #15
“Songwriting tips” is the most common songwriting search term. While they can be helpful, think back to the number of songwriting tips you’ve read about or watched on YouTube… how many did you actually try? And how many of those were actually helpful?
BONUS: not included in the video lesson
While there is value in songwriting tips, they are only single links in a complicated chain of decisions necessary to write and finish a song. I prefer to focus on the songwriting process… how you find an idea and craft it into a completed song. When you have a solid songwriting process that works for you it’s time to use songwriting tips to improve your process. Until then, it’s your songwriting process that’s limiting your development as a songwriter.
So, how many times this month have you thought or looked for a quick fix so you could avoid dealing with the big problems?
Songwriting, like anything worthwhile, takes time and effort. Focus on writing the song, painting the big picture instead of trying to find a short cut. Songwriting tips and tricks don’t solve big problems. Focus on your songwriting process, instead of little tips that, let’s be honest, you usually don’t even try out…
Songwriting Myth #16: I Don’t Have Enough Time
Unless you’re a single parent with two full time jobs, this is just an excuse. How much time did you spend on social media in the past week? “I don’t have enough time” is a modern problem. It’s your priorities. You don’t want to do it enough to make the time.
You have to schedule time. I write for 5 minutes each break or lunch at work. I write at night. I write…
How many times this month have you told yourself you can’t do something because “ I don’t have the time”?
Songwriting Myth #17: I Can’t Afford It
Life is expensive. I’m not talking about spending money you don’t have, but valuable things and valuable services cost money.
How many times this month have you thought: I can’t afford to buy…?
I can’t afford to do something?
I can’t afford it?
To get to the next level, at some point you have to pay. For example, if you really want a professional quality recording you have to pay for professional recording and mastering services. Your home studio is cheaper, not better than a professional recording studio.
Remember, professionals hire professional help, so reframe musical expenses as an investment. If there’s a positive return from an investment, that is, if you save you time, or money or improve your results, then you should consider it. I’m not recommending you spend money you can’t afford or add to your debt, but at some point you have to invest in yourself or in help to get yourself to the next level.
Songwriting Myths: Summary
Myths are stories that help us make sense of the world. They usually contain a grain of truth but unquestioning belief in them without examining them and your assumptions leads to trouble. Songwriting myths lead to unrealistic expectations and misunderstanding how the world of songwriting actually works. Be informed. Correct knowledge is power…
Songwriting is a journey… enjoy the learning curve!
It’s faster to get songwriting training from someone who knows how to teach it, than endlessly questing on Google or YouTube