Let me make one thing very clear… By saying that, as songwriters, we should be learning our craft by studying the songs of other songwriters, I’m not saying that you should be copying another peoples song and calling them your own.
What I am saying is that, by asking yourself what songs you like to hear and then studying those songs to define why you like them and what unique voice you can give to it is a great start towards improving your own songwriting.
Just as a painter goes through a number of drafts from rough sketches to a finished painting, we as songwriters can do the same thing with our songs.
Sometimes its good to play around with other peoples songs just to see what happens. I mean, isn’t the ultimate goal of a songwriter (or any creative person for that matter) is to find their own voice and to share that voice with the rest of the world?
One of the best ways in which a songwriter can find their own voice is through the process of imitation. Imitation is how we developed our own personalities in the first place.
As children growing up, we initially got our cues in life by copying what everybody else was doing. At this time in our lives we were doing everything for the first time.
We had no point of reference of our own to compare with back then so we had to utilise someone else’s.
We were imitating the people closest to us… Our parents.
It’s the same with songwriting. How do we know how special and unique our voices are if we don’t first compare it with others?
Ask yourself three simple questions and you’ll be well on your way to starting your own songwriting study project:
1. Who are my favourite artists/bands?
2. What are my favourite songs?
3. Which artist, band or song is popular at the moment?
With your favourite artists or bands, list the reasons why you are so attracted to them. Is it the emotional content of their songs? Is it the way they play live? Is it their philosophy on life?
By doing this you are finding out what makes you tick on an emotional level.
Your favourite songs might be from your list of artists and bands but then again they might be from others.
Songs are sometimes really funny things. They can get into your psyche and wreak complete havoc or they can allow wonderful memories to never be forgotten. The list of songs that you’ll have in front of you will be the physical and tangible benchmark of where your own songs will be based from.
By looking at what is popular at the moment you’ll have an idea as to what the listening public are tuning into right now!
Your own taste in artists, bands and songs may not be the same but it is still good to put all of your preferences aside and study what is happening now as well as what you like.
Immerse yourself in this exercise, start listening and researching lots of music and keep writing along the way.
If you play an instrument start learning your favourite songs and play them around the house. Notice the form of the song, the chords and arrangement used and the melody and how it fits with the rhythm.
If you don’t play an instrument, that’s fine. Get the lyrics and study how the words fall together to allow you to paint a picture in your mind or to follow a well told story. Sing or hum the melody and try to feel where it is going.
Does it take you on a journey or do you have to work with it to have the song make sense to you?
Once you’ve done that, write a song in the style of your favourite artist or take one of your favourite songs, write out the chords and invert them and see what happens. Play around, experiment with speed and pitch. If you have a capo for your guitar, use that.
But, no matter what happens… Don’t let your inner critic tell you that this exercise is a waste of time.
Always remember you don’t have to promote or perform every song that you write. Some songs will be a stepping stone to the next one. The song you write from this exercise today may be the first draft of another song that you might write tomorrow.
As you’re doing this you’ll discover what works for you and what doesn’t. Eventually the sum total of what works plus your own experiences and emotional triggers will be the beginnings of your own songwriting voice.
Give it a go, creativity is supposed to be fun. Let me know how you go with it
Until next time, keep on writing,
All About Songwriting