Since most of us become songwriters almost by accident, the line between amateur and professional songwriter is blurry at best. Strictly speaking, a professional songwriter is someone who is not only writing songs but generating income from those songs. However, it’s been my experience that long before a songwriter’s songs begin making money, they’ve put a variety of “professional” practices in place that, in time, result in the kinds of songs that artists cut and music supervisors end up using in their films or TV shows. Below are a few songwriting tips to start you down the road to professional songwriting.
I know this sounds simple but it goes hand in hand with one of my favorite quotes which is “the way you do anything is the way you do everything.” In other words, by putting your writing times on your calendar whether you’re writing alone or co-writing and then sticking to those times, you’re setting the proper tone and showing respect for yourself and your songs. Showing up on time and ready to work is what professionals do no matter what their profession.
Many years back (so far back I used a cassette recorder) I began recording my writing sessions. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, in many sessions one co-writer or another will either sing something or suggest a lyrical idea and then promptly forget what it was. By keeping a recorder running (these days, it’s often just an app on your smartphone or laptop), you can always “rewind” and find that inspired line or melodic idea. Secondly, these recordings can also serve as proof of your ownership of the song simply by capturing the moment of creation.
For many years, I wrote my lyrics in notebooks and on scraps of paper that I kept scattered everywhere. These days, I take full advantage of the benefits of the word processing that my computer provides. Generally, this means opening up a document, blowing up the text size so it’s large enough to be looked at from across the writing room and working on the lyric that way. This not only allows quick revisions and moving words and phrases around but also allows both writers to review the latest version of the lyric at all times. It’s just a simpler, cleaner way to keep everyone on the same page…literally. There’s also the added benefit of keeping your lyrics easily emailable and backed up.
One of the surest ways to make quick, effective progress on a song is to hold off on the serious editing during the early stages of the writing process. By avoiding squeezing too hard on any one line of lyric or part of the melody, you’ll be better able to get the overall arc of the song in place. Then, you can continue to refine and refine until the song becomes a highly polished gem. By not editing too harshly – or getting too attached to anything specific – early on, you’ll be able to let the song unfold naturally and become what it’s going to become without crushing the life out of it.
Being a professional songwriter is, of course, about much more than just writing great songs; however, for the purposes of this article, I’ve chosen to focus on some of the actual songwriting techniques that professionals use to improve their writing and song output. Remember, there’s absolutely no reason not to behave like a professional songwriter right away. Don’t wait until your songs are actually worth money to act as though they already are.