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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.