You may be starting out on your songwriting journey and wondering what the qualities are that you need to develop to become a better songwriter. In other words, what makes a good songwriter a good songwriter?
What Makes a Good Songwriter? A good songwriter is one who is always working to improve their craft. They recognize the skills that need improvement and commit to enhancing them through education and practice. They are tuned in to their environment and are always looking to turn an idea into a song.
There are several factors that determine how successful a songwriter we will be. Some are in our control and others are not. Each one of us has our own unique level of ability and character traits. Below are my top 13 items that determine what makes a good songwriter.
If you’re not passionate about creating and crafting a great song or learning how to do it, you never will be a good songwriter. Passion for a particular subject is what gives us the desire to learn everything we can about it. A good songwriter has that inner drive to create a song that will impact people.
Those of you who are reading this article at least have an interest. I suspect you have much more than simply a passing interest. Those who won’t read much further past this section probably lack the passion to fully commit to becoming a good songwriter. Do an honest assessment of your level of passion for songwriting and decide if it’s worth your time.
Just as with anything else, becoming better at songwriting requires consistent effort. You’re not going to become a good songwriter by thinking about it here and there. Schedule a time where you can focus on the craft every day. Whether it’s writing down song ideas, learning rhyme techniques, coming up with solid hooks, or just studying lyrics to your favorite songs, do something every day that will improve your skills as a songwriter.
Even if you can only schedule 15 minutes a day, do it. It’s the habit that you acquire along the way that will help you to continually hone your craft. Think of it like eating. You don’t go very many days without eating before you need to nourish your body. You’re rather consistent in that regard, right? Take the same approach with your songwriting. Nourish your songwriting skills by working on them each and every day.
There will be times, many in fact, where you will hit a brick wall and run out of ideas for your song. Perhaps it’s a line or word that you just can’t seem to be able to come up with. You might be tempted to throw in a word that satisfies a rhyme or syllable you need to fit in that space. Here is where I implore you not to settle!
Too many songs have been sabotaged by writers forcing the effort in order to complete the song. Take your time. If you need to set it aside and start working on another one then do that. I know it can get frustrating waiting for that right fit. But when it comes you will know it, and there will be a satisfaction that comes with having been patient.
One of the key factors in what makes a good songwriter is being aware of your surroundings at all times. Being observant can produce an abundance of topics to write about or great song titles to start a song with. Listen to the conversations around you with an ear out to capture these ideas.
Whether you’re around your friends, family, watching television, listening to the radio, or whatever activities you engage in throughout your day, keep your ears tuned in. If you make a conscious effort to start doing this I promise you ideas will come. A good songwriter is an observant songwriter.
5) Good Student
A good songwriter is one who is always studying the craft. Read books, blogs, watch videos, talk to other songwriters, study the structure of hit songs, and anything else that will further your education on the topic of songwriting. I remember back in school when the last day of the year came. Walking out of those school doors for the last time until fall arrived was a great feeling.
No more classes, no more getting up early, no more studying for tests was awesome! Songwriting isn’t like school. We can’t take the summer off. For every day that you skip working on writing better songs, there are other writers out there improving their craft. If your goal is to become a professional songwriter you need to outwork your competition.
Being persistent means forging ahead with dogged determination despite all the obstacles that will block your path. Good songwriters possess unrelenting diligence in their approach to improving their songwriting skills. This is closely related to point number 2, consistency.
Whereas being consistent is doing things the same way over a period of time, persistence means remaining consistent despite all of the challenges and difficulties that will arise along the way. And they will arise. Jobs, families, tragedies, health issues, and any other thing you can imagine will become a roadblock. Just accept that fact. Deal with those when they happen, and then get back to focusing on songwriting when the time is right.
7) Has a Full Toolbox
Acquire all of the songwriting tools that you can and know how to use them. When I decided to build my own kitchen cabinets the first thing I did was my research on what tools I would need to do the job. The next thing I did was watch several videos and read books on how to actually do it. When I had the tools and knew how to use them I moved forward and accomplished the task. The kitchen turned out great and my wife was very pleased.
Of course, along the way, I made some mistakes but that is the process of learning. You have to have the tools in the first place. Learn what tools you need to become a good songwriter and apply those to your writing. Examples of tools include knowing how to come up with a hook, use alliteration, or write a verse, and how to include a bridge in your song.
8) Good Communicator
It’s one thing to be able to find a word that rhymes with another or have the right amount of syllables that fit nicely into a line of lyric. But having the skill to communicate your message to the listener in a powerful and moving way is what a good songwriter always strives to do. The old adage, “Show me, don’t tell me”, holds true in songwriting.
You need to learn to communicate by creating mental images with your words. It’s kind of like those paint by number kits that you can buy. All you do is follow the formula of picking the correct color that corresponds with the number on the canvas. Once all of the numbered areas are filled in, the image that was planned is displayed for all to see.
Well, instead of numbers, a good songwriter uses the paint by words approach. Unfortunately, there is no guide that tells you which exact words to place in the exact place. If there was, everybody would be a hit songwriter. What makes a good songwriter is learning to find ways to communicate exactly what they intend to and in a way that moves the listener at the same time.
9) Encourages Co-Writers
If you haven’t already written with a co-writer you eventually will. It is important to find another writer that you’re comfortable working with. That’s what other writers will be looking for when they evaluate you as a possible partner. The best partnerships are built on mutual respect and common interests. Being a source of encouragement is a great asset to bring to this partnership.
When one writer is dealing with frustration and hitting a roadblock the other can help lighten the load with support and understanding. You will eventually go through a spell like this and will surely appreciate that same kind of support to get you through. You won’t always agree on everything, for example, the direction that a lyric should go, but if both of you have an encouraging attitude it will help make those situations easier to deal with.
This applies to every aspect of life, not just being a good songwriter. How it applies to songwriters specifically might be when approaching a possible co-writer as described in the previous “encouragement” section (#9). Another very critical area is dealing with publishers when you reach that point. When approaching publishers just apply basic rules of decency.
Try to get to know them before you ask them to listen to your songs. You will stand a better chance of having them listen if you’re not intrusive or pushy about it. They are being bombarded with requests all the time from writers wanting their time. If they know you as someone who shows respect and interest in them as a person first, and not just someone who can give you want you want, that will go a long way.
This section shouldn’t really need to be included in this article but you’d be surprised how many songwriters don’t follow this advice. Standing out from the crowd in this respect will do you well. If you go out to a writer’s night, listen to the other writer’s songs.
If you pay attention to them while they are playing, and not talking during the performance, you will most likely have their attention when it’s time for you to play. Many of those other writers might know publishers that they can introduce you to someday. Don’t burn bridges by being a non-personable individual.
11) Treats Songwriting as a Business
Becoming a good songwriter does not just mean improving the way you craft a song. It’s also how you market it. Having the perfect song written is the first goal. The rest of your time will be learning the steps required to getting it heard by the right people. From knowing how to format your lyrics to finding a publisher to submitting them is all part of the business side of songwriting.
If you want to be a professional songwriter you need to develop the attitude of a professional. If you don’t feel like writing, do it anyway. What if you called work and told your boss that you’re not feeling like coming in for a few days? You’d probably be looking for a new job. If you owned that business you would expect your employees to show up when scheduled. Treat songwriting as your business. If you neglect it there won’t be much profit to show for it.
12) Is Teachable
Do you know anyone who has that, “it’s my way or the highway” attitude? Hopefully, you’re not one of those people. A good songwriter is always willing to accept constructive criticism of their work. Consider the source of advice and respond appropriately. If it’s from a publisher or a much more talented writer then thank them for taking the time to share their opinions.
Remember, any suggestions for your songs is not criticism of you as a person so don’t take it that way. A teachable person is one who will go far. If you are regarded as such you will attract more people in your circle of contacts. If you’re known as someone who is obstinate, prideful, or arrogant, you won’t have much of a crowd around you. At least not a crowd that can help you get to where you want to go.
13) Is Flexible
A good songwriter recognizes that a great song is not written without editing. It is unrealistic for you to expect that you will pour out the perfect phrases and melodic magic with the very first attempt. Just accept that. Always be willing to tweak a word, or a note in the melody, or the syllable count in a lyric line.
The priority is to create a great song and what makes a good songwriter is having a flexible attitude about it. This is especially important when dealing with co-writers. Two or more personalities working together to create something out of nothing will inevitably lead to some conflict. Flexibility is a valuable trait that will increase the odds of success.
These are 13 areas that answer the question of what makes a good songwriter. If you work on implementing these items and improving the ones you may be lacking in you will definitely improve your songwriting skills. You’re the only one who can decide how you will proceed. It may be beneficial to ask a trusted friend or family member for their evaluation of what they see from the outside. Their feedback may show some things that you don’t see.