The Fundamentals Of Being A Songwriter
There are many different roles to play in the music industry today. Some focus on the technology that’s driving so much change for artists, others on performance and artistry, and still others on the business drivers that make the industry work.
Between those popular roles is one that can appear to be a supporter role: the songwriter. Songwriters have the amazing job of creating the music we love by distilling our stories into melody: pitch assigned to a rhythm.
Sounds simple enough, right?
But the more we dive into songwriting, the more we see that there are a lot of different parts to this job. Creative, collaborative, business, legal – a lot goes into this role. To tackle just a few basic points today, let’s ask some fundamental questions – what is a songwriter’s job? What do songwriters need to think about? And how can we continue to learn more about it?
Down the rabbit hole we go...
What’s the job, really?
A songwriter’s job begins with an impulse: I want to express a feeling or idea in a song. After that, it splits off into several branches. Let’s start with the obvious first steps: identifying a feeling or an idea, then writing out lyrics and a melody that expresses it. Sounds simple enough!
But then the songwriter starts to think about next steps: are you going to write and arrange the beat yourself? What’s that arrangement going to be - 808s? Moog bass? Juno synth lines? Who will work on production on this with you? Your brother? Your manager? Are you on lead vocals? And those are just creative questions!
After that? Matters like marketing, advertising, promotion, copyright, and other business elements come into play. Each songwriter does things a bit differently, so each business aspect of their work could be an active part of the songwriting process. So while the root of the role is creative, a songwriter has to keep many things in mind when creating music. And many people. Making great music is a team effort, so surround yourself with people that you trust and who deliver consistently.
What do songwriters need to think about?
With so much surrounding the work, it’s a good idea for songwriters to always be learning and educating themselves. Reading about different writing techniques, experimenting with new production methods, collaborating, and understanding aspects of adjacent roles to work better with them, are all things to keep in mind and practice whenever possible.
Because while the end goal can seem simple (write a song), a lot of thought goes into post-production execution, like who is your target market? What are the current trends in music in your genre? Does your music sound like other chart-topping artists? Do you even want it to? Is there music from a different time that resonates more with you that you can borrow from and modernize in an interesting way? Who do you need to collaborate with that has a different skill set than you, so that you can make the song the best it can be? And so on.
Songwriters have to think about emotion and story, music theory and writing technique, music history, social climate and cultural context, business and marketing, and oh right, remember to be original and creative, all while living on Ramen and working at an Apple Store.
So what does all this mean?
As a songwriter, there’s a lot to bear in mind. It’s very demanding, and multi-disciplinary. But don’t let it overwhelm you! Considering all these different factors during your process is a lot to take on but it’s for your benefit – your music will be better and more impactful if you practice these skills long-term. Not only are you capable of doing it, but you will bring a unique quality to it because of your own perspectives and experiences.
We are lucky to live in a time when there are so many resources available to us including books, YouTube tutorials, podcasts, documentaries, workshops, and more. These are resources you can use to help yourself and others along the way – like so many creative endeavours, it often involves collaboration with other people, which is why professionalism, mutual respect, and humility are also very important things to remember. We are all learning, making mistakes, trying again, and striving to reach new levels of creativity and success.
What can I do to get there?
We’re living in a time with many more resources available to songwriters than ever before. But considering how many videos pop up in any YouTube search, it can feel a bit like drinking out of a fire hydrant. So where do we go? I’ve been reminded by professionals with decades of experience under their belts of how important it is to return to basics, and never think that you’re above it. So much of what we do as creatives relies on fundamentals, so if you’re feeling lost go back to the basics. Seeing where you started is a great place to remind yourself of where your spark for writing came from.
What those fundamentals are and how to use them is a whole other blog post, so let’s keep things simple and local: what’s going on in your city? Are there any events, workshops, or services you can access in your community? Often there are things going on that we don’t even realize are happening so it’s always good to search for those things first.
For example, next month on Friday, August 9th, Sandbox Studios will be hosting a songwriters’ panel featuring several professionals in the music industry with varying skill sets and experience. They are coming together to share their valuable knowledge and insight with you, and want to give you the opportunity to ask them your own questions. It will be a free event, so bring a friend and be prepared to listen, ask questions, and learn!
See you there.
DISCLAIMER: All of the photos used in this blog post are free stock images from www.unsplash.com. They are not representations of the actual facilities, equipment, or persons at Sandbox Studios.