I used to be a lousy lyricist…maybe I had nothing to say, maybe I just let that part of my songwriting go, maybe I was just plain lazy! It was something I swept aside in my frenzy to write great music, especially when I was in my 20’s. I was impatient to finish…ever feel that way? These days, I have an endless supply of patience, but I digress…
When you get to the point of looking at the first draft of a song is when your weakness becomes most apparent. What is it that you’re skipping over in order to get the darn thing written? You know yourself better than anyone else, and this is when you have to be the most honest. When I say to be honest with yourself, I don’t mean that you need to be hyper-critical, just that you have to come face-to-face with the part of the song that isn’t “there” yet. This is the part of the song that will stand out to those who spend hours and hours listening to amateur songwriting, the people in the business. You can bet that they’ll pinpoint your weak point instantly!! You can’t hide it!
This weakness in your songwriting may take some time to strengthen, so be prepared! You essentially have several choices:
1. You can spend the time necessary to develop your skill in this area…for instance, because of my weak lyrics, I did a lot of reading and worked at writing a journal over a long time. When I would write in my journal, every now and then I’d come up with a line or phrase that stood out…that was the beginning of knowing I had my own point of view to express. If music is your weakness, push your envelope! Get out there and learn something…take a guitar class, learn some theory or join a choir and get a feel for how melodies and harmonies work together. There are endless possibilities.
2. You can skip the learning part and get yourself a co-writer. Find someone who has the skills you are missing…maybe they will be missing what you have! It isn’t easy at first to find someone suitable, but there are many, many songwriters out there who co-write. On Jeff Mallet’s site Lyricist.com you’ll find a huge list of songwriters broken down into lots of categories, including location.
3. If songwriting is your hobby, as opposed to a career pursuit, you have the luxury of time and little pressure 🙂 You may not be driven to change anything about the way you write, but even hobbyists like the idea of improving on the craft! Most of the books you’ll see on songwriting are primarily geared towards commercial writing, but there is a great book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron which focuses mostly on the creative side of yourself that you may find very helpful. It deals with “recovering your creative self” and although it doesn’t speak specifically about songwriting, I’ve heard many songwriters recommending it highly. If you are interested in other songwriting books, check out the Muse’s Muse for a whole list of ’em!
4. “Time…is on your side, yes it is…”…but for a great period of time in my songwriting “life” when I wasn’t focusing on improving it, I didn’t! There is no magic formula or pill. If you wanted to play better golf, you would probably consider taking lessons, or practicing as often as possible, maybe on a driving range…in other words you would focus in on your game and give it the time it deserved. The same is true of anything, including songwriting. When I focused in on my weaknesses, I learned to write better songs. Simple as that.
You will probably always feel more comfortable with one aspect of your writing, the part that comes naturally…it’s easy to ignore the rest when it’s too much “work” to fix it. But if you’re interested in getting your songs heard by others…it’s something you can’t ignore anymore!
If you are considering sending your demos out to publishers…here are some problems that relate to production that you may not have considered (some I’ve heard and been guilty of from time to time myself). Seriously think about going to a professional studio to do a decent production on the song.
1. If you are a great keyboardist, vocalist, etc., etc., but you can’t program drums worth a damn…THAT’S exactly what the publisher is going to hear first…those lousy drums! Don’t you dare think you can hide them 🙂
2. Vocal buried in the mix…it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I’ve heard publishers, etc., say this, songwriters STILL forget that the lyrics are half the song and if they can’t hear ’em, they won’t listen any further!
3. Self-indulgent solo leads…come on, maybe your favourite part of recording is putting down that nice over-effected guitar lead that you just can’t play enough of…but that’s when the machine is going to get turned off. I’ve had demos sent to me when the songwriter raved about his guitar part, as if the song itself had very little to do with it!
4. Bad tempo shifts – I hate over-quantification, don’t get me wrong…there’s nothing that beats a “real” feel or groove in a song. But it’s got to be tight, it has to feel solid tempo-wise. Even if you’re just playing a simple keyboard or guitar and vocal, keep it on time!
5. Forgot to tune – oh, there’s no excuse for this one! Tune all of your instruments first…new strings on guitars if you can, don’t give somebody another reason to hit the “stop” button!
6. Lo-o-o-o-o-ng Intros – are for performing songwriters who can get away with it…if you’re pitching, don’t bother with much of an intro, get to the song as soon as you can! Equally true with long extros…nobody’s going to be listening that far into the song anyway!
7. And last but not least – REAL fancy production, but weak song. Let me tell you right now, you can’t hide a lousy song with great production. Somebody’s going to see that one right away. Make sure your song is “there” first before you even THINK of anything else!
Well, as I said, you are as strong as your weakest part…as soon as you figure out what that weak part is, you’ve got it made!