7 Songwriting Hacks you can use to improve your songs and songwriting results… inspired by Pareto’s Principle, the 80/20 Rule.
For songwriting with less struggle
The Pareto Principle (the 80/20 Rule), discovered by Vilfredo Pareto over a century ago, states that “Most Results Come from a Few Efforts” (paraphrased). The Pareto Principle is commonly called the 80/20 Rule because approximately 80% of the positive results come from about 20% of the effort you put in. This is an oversimplification, but it makes the point: most of your results are from only some of your efforts. The reverse is also true… much of the time and effort you put into songwriting isn’t as important as you think it is.
In this article, you’ll learn 7 Songwriting Hacks inspired by Pareto’s Principle. Keep reading if you want to maximize your songwriting efforts….
You can read research and history of Pareto’s Principle, and use it to figure out your own ways to hack your songwriting with the 80/20 Rule:
1. Align Your Priorities and Goals
Have you ever tried driving somewhere new without getting directions first?
Would you set out without checking Google Maps, asking someone or getting an address?
That’s exactly what you’re doing if you’re writing songs without getting clear on your goals!
You might “get there” eventually or you might “get somewhere else” and convince yourself it’s where you want to be….
I’d prefer to know my destination and deliberately chart a way to get there.
You can’t get where you’re going if you don’t know where it is. When you know where you want to go, you’re already halfway there!
Take 10 Minutes and Write About What You Want:
- What are your big bucket list goals?
- What do you want to do in your lifetime?
- What do you want to do in the next five years?
- What would it look like, feel like, sound like?
Now That You Have Some Goals…
The next step is to work towards them by setting your priorities and following through.
- What is an important songwriting goal you want to achieve in the next 3 months?
- What do you need to do or change to get there?
- What should you work on for the next 90 days?
Pick one thing to focus on and make it your first priority with your songwriting.
Regularly review your goal and how you’re working towards your goal.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out your songwriting goals, start with…
2. Use an Effective Songwriting Process
Does anyone really care how a song was written?
No… they just want to hear an awesome song!
The only reason to get “creative” and invent a new way to write songs is that you haven’t found an effective songwriting process that works for you.
Don’t reinvent the wheel every time you write a song. Instead of stumbling around in the dark… buy a flashlight.
Build a songwriting process that works for you. You don’t need to write every song the same way. Adjust and change your process when it helps you finish the song. Don’t start building a songwriting process from scratch every song, that’s a waste of your valuable songwriting time.
You can start with the lyrics, the melody, the chord progression. You can start with the chorus or the verse or the bridge. It doesn’t matter as long as you finish the song!
In my opinion, any songwriting process is valid if:
- It’s efficient – you don’t waste time fixing avoidable problems
- It’s decisive – you make decisions and stick with them, and
- You finish your songs.
Other than that… whatever works for you is good for you.
Now, if you’re struggling with your songwriting process I can show you an effective songwriting process in about 15 minutes. You’ll go from “I don’t know what to write about” to “I wrote that!” I’ll send you the entire process and follow up emails to make sure you make it work for you…
3. Write Consistently
Ever try exercising… you work out a few times, but nothing really changes? You know it will take more than a few times, but it’s so tempting to say “exercise doesn’t work for me” so you don’t have to do the work needed to make a difference. It’s easier to give up or make up an excuse!
Practicing is the same when you’re learning to play an instrument as when you’re learning to write songs. Regular, consistent effort is more effective than occasionally binges.
Whether you’re learning to write songs or trying to improve your songwriting, my first advice is always: write as often as possible… the more often you write, the easier it is to write!
Every professional songwriter I’ve spoken with went through a developmental phase where they wrote every day. They got to a professional songwriting level with consistent effort.
It’s easy to say “write every day,” but it’s harder to do it. Life gets in the way, everyone is already busy and it isn’t easy to change your own behaviour.
I learned an effective way to make the time to write every day and to follow through so that I do it. I wrote my system down, so if you want to learn how to:
- Drop into the flow and write on demand
- Get song ideas coming as fast as you can write them down
- Make quick decisions instead of “thinking” about them
- Keep yourself accountable and track your songwriting efforts
- Plan what to do next so you know where to start next time.
Then you need Daily Songwriting
4. Start With “Too Many” Ideas
Imagine opening your fridge, wondering what to make for supper. If you’ve only got wilted celery and coffee grounds in there, it’s time for take out again. But imagine the feast you could cook if food was overflowing and you could barely close the fridge door!
That’s how I like to write songs… with more ideas and ingredients than I can use in one song… then I get to pick only the best and save the others for another song.
The more ideas you have, the more songs you can write!
The worst songs I’ve written all had one thing in common… I went with the first idea I had, without exploring to find anything better. My best songs also had one thing in common… I came up with numerous ideas and chose the best ones throughout the entire songwriting process. Instead of fighting to slam two rhyming words into a verse, I came up with multiple options and I chose the best fit for the song.
I love to work with many song titles and pick the most promising. I come up with many rhyme choices so I don’t need to use an obvious rhyme. I list several alternatives for the key words related to the song title instead of reusing the same words and phrases throughout the song.
It’s faster to come up with many ideas and then cross out the weak ones than to struggle with a couple of ideas….
I taught myself to do this with my go to songwriting technique Brainstorming. You write ideas as fast as you can… every idea, even the bad and terrible ideas. Sometimes a bad idea (or even a series of bad ideas) will lead to a great idea. Focus on short lyric ideas, don’t try to rhyme or write lines. After you’re done, edit your ideas by circling the best ones.
You Can Write Half a Song in Less Than an Hour…
- Brainstorm song themes and titles, with practice you can create a page of choices in about 5 minutes.
- Choose the best 3 song ideas or titles
- Brainstorm ideas for each title, 5 minutes each, about 15 minutes
- Choose the most interesting song idea
- Brainstorm possible stories around that idea – 5 minutes
- Decide what what to write about in the verse, chorus, pre- chorus and bridge – 5 minutes
- Review all you best ideas from each brainstorm, circle the great ideas and rewrite them on a new page – 10 minutes
And the Major Song Decisions Can Be Made in About 45 Minutes!
- You have the story you’ll tell in the song.
- What you want to say in each song section
- Lyric fragments for each section.
You can fine tune the song and get more ideas by brainstorming: imagery, sensations, emotions, possible rhyme combinations….
This is the songwriting process I teach in the online songwriting course: the Song Starter Kit
5. Get Feedback
When you spend too much time working on a song everything gets distorted. You lose perspective.
A few years ago I was struggling with a song. The chorus just didn’t feel right and I had no idea what to do about it. I played the song in progress for my wife, she solved it for me with one sentence… “the pre-chorus sounds better than the chorus.” I switched them around and made some slight adjustments to the chord progression. 5 minutes to play the song, 5 minutes to figure out why she was right, 5 minutes to make the changes and I was practicing the fixed song. After struggling with the problem for a few days, the right advice helped me put everything into place in just a few minutes.
A little bit of outside perspective goes a long way.
Get feedback on your songs, especially before you consider them finished. When you call a song finished, it’s harder to make changes!
It can be difficult to get useful feedback. Some people have difficulty explaining their thoughts in ways that are helpful to you. Some people are blunt or even sound like trolls. Some feedback hurts, but take it like a professional… you can get valuable insights from it!
Using Songwriting Criticism Constructively is a learned skill!
6. Invest in Yourself
Figuring it out on your own isn’t the best way, it’s just the cheap way. Don’t shortchange yourself with the “I don’t have the money” excuse! I used it so after it became a reflex for me. It didn’t matter how much I needed something, my first thought was “it costs too much” followed by “I can do without” or “I can figure out how to do that on my own….”
Put the time in to practice your songwriting craft just like you did with your musical skills. Put your money where your music is and pay for the services that help your music and get your songs out there!
You’ve only got one of you, don’t rip yourself off! Pay the money, don’t cheap out on yourself. Pay for lessons, don’t use YouTube as a crutch. Sure you can learn some things, but you only get bits and pieces and you still have to figure out how to put it all together on your own. You’ll have gaps in your understanding, you’ll have technical mistakes that you won’t notice and you can only get part of the way there without an expert that understands the entire process.
Get a capable, qualified teacher that specializes in your style, that’s compatible with you and teaches in a way that makes sense to you.
What’s your time worth? Is it really worth it to spend your time when you can find a professional and pay them to make you sound like a professional?
If you’ve used “I don’t have the money” as an excuse it’s time to stop:
Write songs with other songwriters. You don’t have to be a solitary songwriting hermit, it’s a choice you’re making. Don’t fall for the solitary songwriter myth… your audience doesn’t care if you wrote it by yourself only you do. They want to hear an awesome song!
Find other songwriters and play together, have fun with songwriting and come up with something that neither of you could do alone. Find songwriters with complementary skills sets, different strengths and weaknesses that you have. If you’re weak with lyrics, find a word smith. If you have trouble with chord progressions, find a player that rocks them.
Start with an internet search for “songwriting group” + your city / state / province / area. Go meet people and talk to them in person. Most songwriting groups and gatherings welcome newcomers regardless of your experience or abilities.
You can also look for co-writing partners in FaceBook groups and through websites or online services, but the best relationships are made in person. If you’re used to writing by yourself and aren’t used to making music with others it’s time to consider putting yourself out there and making some new musical friends. Music is more fun when you play well with others!
8. Put Yourself and Your Music Out There – Bonus Hack
A song that’s 90% done and 100% released will automatically be more successful than a song that’s 100% done and 90% released….
Finish your songs and release them, it’s the only way people can hear them.
A mostly finished YouTube or FaceBook performance video might get you some comments that trigger the right ideas to help you improve the song.
And most importantly, music is meant to be shared….
Pareto Songwriting Hacks: Summary
Pareto’s Principle states that most of your positive results come from only a few of your efforts. So, find the most important things you do and double down on them and minimize your time-wasting tasks. You still have to write 100% of the song, but there are ways to write your songs with less effort and push your songwriting ahead:
- Align Your Priorities With Your Goals
- Use an Effective Songwriting Process
- Write Consistently
- Start with “Too Many Ideas”
- Get Feedback
- Invest in Yourself
- Put Yourself and Your Music Out There