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Setting Songwriting Goals You’ll Actually Achieve

When you’re creating goals to push yourself and your songwriting three common mistakes will cause you to fail… solve these 3 mistakes so you achieve and surpass your goals!
Setting Songwriting Goals You'll Actually Achieve

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When you’re creating goals to push yourself and your songwriting three common mistakes will cause you to fail… solve these 3 mistakes so you achieve and surpass your goals!

There’s an emotional rush at the start of something “new”… a new work week, a new month or a New Year. Instead of creating goals that you don’t achieve and the guilt surrounding “failure” when you don’t follow through to accomplish your goals, let’s correct three common mistakes so you set solid goals to advance your songwriting or your personal development.

There are 3 main mistakes that almost everyone makes when setting goals. Here they are, followed by solutions and then action steps so you don’t make these mistakes again!

1. It’s just talk, but no action,

2. Vague goals, and 

3. No plan to get to your goals.

Now, let’s solve those mistakes…

Panda the Border Collie napping-Songwriting Goal Setting Mistake 1-Just Talking About It

Songwriting Goal Setting Mistake 1: It’s Just Talk

It’s easy to talk about change or getting to a goal, it’s harder to follow through and create change. The first step to solve this is to write it down. You know the difference between hearing a song in your head and actually writing it down to create a finished song. While you’re working through your lyrics there are always surprises you didn’t expect and interesting discoveries along the way. It’s rarely a simple matter of dictating ideas in real time, you dig in and work through your songwriting process to achieve a finished set of lyrics that will make an emotional impact on your audience.

Writing down your goals is the first step towards achieving them. However, it’s not enough to write down some great ideas and hope that makes a difference. Think back to previous resolutions or goals that never made it past the “thinking about doing it” phase… now you know where you first went wrong. 

Every Song is an Experiment Some Experiments Fail, Cat about to pounce on a dog, songwriting meme

After you’ve read through this article, follow the action steps at the end and write down your answers to develop your first goals for 2023. You can edit and improve your goals so don’t feel you need to get everything perfectly defined and organised before starting to work towards your goals. Action is more important than “perfection”!

Two border collies sitting behind the wheel in a car-Songwriting Goal Setting Mistake 2-Vague Goals

Songwriting Goal Setting Mistake 2: Vague Goals

The more clearly you can define your goal the more likely you’ll achieve it. Deciding to “improve my physical fitness” is vague, there’s no clear picture of what that will look or feel like. “Writing better songs” doesn’t make sense unless you define what a “better song” even is. Stop creating vague and uncertain goals or you’ll never get anywhere.

There are many frameworks to create clearly defined goals. None is perfect, each has its own weaknesses so choose the one that makes the most sense to you. My favourite is S.M.A.R.T. goals because it’s a simple and self-contained framework. S.M.A.R.T. goals were first described in 1981 by George T. Doran, an entrepreneur and professor. He originally described effective goal setting in business, but this framework has also been applied to athletics and personal development.

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for: specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related. It’s been used and adapted by many, and subsequent authors have added additional letters or  changed some letters to include: attainable, relevant, and timely. When I’m defining my goals I use: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-related. Here are the details to help you create your goals.

Specific: Exactly what are you trying to achieve?

If your goal isn’t clear you can’t get there! Instead of a vague goal like: “write better songs” be more specific: “write songs I’m confident in and proud to share” or “write lyrics with vivid imagery that my audience can relate to.” Being specific is the first step to stronger goals…

For more ideas about specific songwriting skills you can improve:

https://epicsongwriting.com/start-writing-songs/

Measurable: How well did you achieve the goal?

Unless you can measure it, you won’t know if or how well you’ve achieved your goal. “Write new songs” isn’t a measurable goal, whereas “finish 3 new songs” is, you can surpass it by writing four new songs, or almost achieve it by writing 2 new songs. But quantifying your goal isn’t enough either…

Attainable: Is this something you can actually achieve? 

Some goals are easy, some impossible. The key is creating goals that are difficult but still achievable. If you come up with a huge goal that feels overwhelming, break it into smaller steps by creating intermediate goals. If you want to write enough songs for an EP, start with a big goal of writing 15 finished songs before you choose the strongest 6 songs to record. Then, create several intermediate goals: finish a new song, then write 5 songs, then 15 songs. While there’s nothing wrong with a stretch goal, a goal that feels completely impossible will be. Instead, set smaller, attainable goals that push you towards that huge goal.

Relevant: Is this goal truly important to you? 

Unless a goal is really important, you won’t reach it. Just because it’s a “good” thing to do, doesn’t mean you’ll actually do it unless it’s consistent with your big picture goals. Ensure that your goals are consistent with what you really wish to accomplish. Understanding why you’re trying to achieve a goal helps you continue working towards it, especially when you encounter obstacles or setbacks.

Time-Related: When will you complete the goal?

What happens when you have a deadline? Like most, you’ll procrastinate a little but when the deadline approaches you get a sudden burst of energy and “magically” everything comes together by the deadline. Giving yourself deadlines because they work. 

I always experience mental resistance when assigning a deadline… What if my deadline is completely unrealistic? What if I don’t make the deadline? But even when you don’t meet a deadline, you’re still ahead. If it takes you an extra week or month, so what, right? Give yourself a timeline to complete your goal, the best ones are a little uncomfortable.

Pixie the Border Collie with a giant stick in her mouth-Songwriting Goal Setting Mistake 3-No Plan

Songwriting Goal Setting Mistake 3: No Plan

So I’ve got goals, now what do I do? With clear goals, the next step is creating a plan to achieve them… this is the step that everyone skips because it isn’t fun or glamorous. Imagine telling people “I know where I want to go, but I have no idea or plan to actually get there,” yet that’s exactly what most people do with most New Year’s Resolutions… there’s a goal, but no plan.

Product Goals and Process Goals

A product goal is based on a thing, such as “finish a song” or “write an album of songs.” A process goal is the regular work you do to achieve a product goal. Most goals people choose are product goals. The next step is to decide on a process you can use to achieve your product goals.

Some examples of songwriting product goals are: write a song, write a song in a week, produce a song in my home studio and release it on Spotify.

Some examples of songwriting process goals are: work on my songwriting 3+ times a week for 30+ minutes each time, write lyrics for 10 minutes every day on my lunch break at work, write 5+ minutes per day, every day for a month.

For a detailed discussion of Product and Process Goals, including an easy framework to implement them you can read my review of 10 Minute Toughness by Dr. Jason Selk, it’s an excellent book on athletic performance that also applies to songwriting and music performance, especially improving your mental focus and reducing performance anxiety.

Other ways to work on your songwriting goals without songwriting…

Accountability: Bonus Solution

Most songwriters work on their own much of the time. It gets lonely and it’s always easier to work if you’ve got encouragement. If you’re working to achieve a goal, it’s easier to stay motivated if others are aware of your efforts because you’ll push harder to get there. You can publicly post your goal on FaceBook or keep it just between you and an accountability buddy. I’ve done projects with an accountability buddy. It was as simple as explaining what you’ll work on this week and following up with another email at the end of the week describing what I’d done in a few sentences.

Consider how you’ll keep yourself accountable, either publicly or with an accountability buddy, while working towards your goals.

Setting Songwriting Goals: Action Steps

Work through these steps and write down your answers to help you craft effective goals and a process to achieve them.

  • Brainstorm ideas for goals, write down everything even if it’s not the highest priority.
  • Decide which goals are most important for you and why they’re important.
  • Choose your best goals to work on… divide your best goals into:

1. Life Goals

2. Long Term 5-10 year goals

3. Annual Goals for 2023

4. Short Term Goals to Build towards your Annual Goals

  • Pick a goal and make it a S.M.A.R.T. Goal, keep refining it until it’s S.M.A.R.T.
  • Then refine your other annual and short term goals, keep your total number of goals reasonable for your available time to work on them!
  • Work out some process goals that will help you achieve your product goals. Adjust your processes throughout the year.
  • Go for your goals!

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Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff has taught, played and written music professionally for the last 25+ years.

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