OK, since we’re all artists here and open to some of the more mystical/emotional approaches to art and life, I thought I’d take a moment to emphasize the importance of being truly present – aka mindful – in your songwriting practice. While there are whole books – and philosophies – written on the the value of being in the moment and not dwelling on what’s happened in the past or what’s coming in the future, it’s equally important to apply some of those same insights to your songwriting. Here are five ways to be “present” in your life as a songwriter.

Make your listeners present in your song’s story

So often we have such a clear picture in our heads of what our song is about that we forget that our listeners don’t have all the information we do. They need to be given enough detail so that even on the first listen, they can envision your song’s story and feel like they’re connected to it in a visual and emotional way. It’s never a bad idea to remind yourself that the people hearing your song for the first time aren’t privy to what you had in mind when you wrote it until and unless you show them.

Be present when receiving a song critique

I’ve been doing song critiques for over a decade and – if I’m being totally honest – not everyone signs up for a critique to be critiqued. I think there’s a part of all of us that likes to hear what we’re doing is great and can’t be improved. While I’m not suggesting that you take every comment in a song critique to heart, I am suggesting that you sit with the comments and give them serious consideration instead of rejecting them immediately just because you don’t like what you’ve heard. Take a deep breath, consider the point of view of the person giving the critique and see if it might in some way make your song  do a better job of conveying the message you’re trying to communicate.

Use present language in your lyric

Depending on what era constituted your formative years as a music fan, there might be a tendency to use phrases or expressions that could make your songwriting come off as dated or not relevant to today’s market. The best reason to stay “conversational” in your lyric writing is that your listeners won’t be distracted by older language. Instead, they’ll simply follow your story allowing you to better communicate your song’s message.

Use the present approaches to songwriting

In the same way that your song’s language should be current, it’s always a good idea to pay attention to contemporary song structure, chords and melodies. Given that your song’s music – and in particular its melody – will be the first thing that listeners notice, you can do yourself a lot of good by making sure your musical approach is up to date. Referencing – but certainly not copying – current hits is a good way of preventing your songs from coming off as “old school” or “out of date.”

There’s no time like the present to improve your craft

A career as a songwriter is unpredictable at best. One of the first ways I’d recommend to impose at least a little order amidst the chaos is to just keep writing songs. The act of songwriting is one of the few things that is entirely up to you. You don’t have to wait for anyone to get back to you or give you permission. Improving your craft comes from working on your craft and now is as good a time as any to get to work on a new song.


So often when our songwriting careers aren’t going the way we’d like, we can get bogged down in either past regrets or fears about the future. Reminding ourselves that there’s much we can do in the moment to not only improve our songwriting craft but also move our careers forward is a great way to keep on track. Consider the above as reminders that there’s a lot that can be done right here and right now to make our songs – and our careers – better.

Good Luck!

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4 responses to “A Mindfulness Primer for Songwriters”

  1. Great article. I think being present also means being present with what the song wants to say and where it wants to go. Often we have to get out of the way, as it were. It seems strange to say but in a sense, “getting out of the way” may actually be a way to connect with your truer self, so that it’s not your ego speaking but your ultimate wisdom.

  2. Frank Aimetti says:

    I think it is tough to try and sound “current” in our writing, when much of contemporary music is devoid of rich chords or is created with “pre-fab” production. I’m also thinking that this advice is for songwriters over the age of 40 (or 50, LOL!) since it’s hard to think of younger writers creating stuff that sounds “old school” and “out of date”. Perhaps what is out there now is not stimulating creativity?

  3. ruth pappas says:

    I loved this article. I also love the Great American SongBook so I’m not concerned if my lyrics sound “current”. I’m way too old, to do that in a genuine way! I do like it, when it’s done well, for example in Miranda Lambert’s “This Ain’t Your Mama’s Broken Heart” — the line — “Hide your crazy” — would be exactly the way someone that age speaks! And it expresses the moment perfectly!

  4. Joseph Arena says:

    I think it depends on what type of music you’re planning to play. In my opinion I listen to the music first and if I like it I then listen to the lyrics to dissect and try understand what is being said.
    Very informative and I thank you for sharing.

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