The title of this entry includes be ware not because I want to warn you of anything only in so much as for you to take ware of some of the things I am going to disseminate, starting, now!
Songwriting is a beautiful endeavor which you cannot practice and refine enough. The entire industry and art form of making music is driven by this skill and always will be. With that I begin with the newbie artist or the “amateur songwriter” or the “aspiring songwriter.”
I have listened to a great deal of bad songs in my time and I have written a great deal of bad songs in my time, I mean stinkers, and will probably write some more which are stinkers, but sometimes I am capable of escaping that and writing a thing worth listening to.
I have come into contact with some really terrible attempts at songwriting, either lyrically, musically, or all of it just combined into a jumbled up mess the prospective artist is trying to pass off as something it is most assuredly is not. Also someone, many times, might have made the mistake of telling them that the song had merit, or they were talented, or whatever, so they feel vindicated with the Intel that some attendee at the local open mic night told them they were good. In these scenarios the prospective artist, songwriter, singer songwriter or whatever, is not too willing to listen to critique or advice, because, after all, Joe Schmo nobody has validated their level of talent. I liken it to a major league hopeful being content to play in a local softball league. If your goal is bat some balls around, run the bases, and have fun, by all means that is what it is there for, but if your ultimate goal is to attempt this “thing” at some other level, then you have to ply your craft and that involves work, a great deal of it. I am not trying to be a soul crusher here but the name of the game is time applied to your craft, without it, generally one is doomed to failure or, at best, a life of mediocre songs.
I will list some things which I would consider important, some can be applied to songwriting and others could easily be branched out and applied to other skill sets necessary to become successful but by all means this list is not all inclusive.
1) Listen to yourself. Whether it is on a tape deck, digital recorder, or your laptop, listen, listen, listen.
The importance is that you have to become comfortable with your voice, your overall sound, and the things you are performing. It is a frame of reference which is an undeniable tool to getting stronger performances and material.
2) Listen to others. I have heard a couple of people actually slag on the Beatles in the last couple of months. I am not sure what they were smoking or if it was legal, or they needed mental health services, I just don’t know, but they sounded stupid doing it.
Beatles are a touchstone of songwriting which is equaled often but never bettered.
The craft they use in their lyrics, their chord structure, harmonies, just all of it, is a thing of beauty and a skill level which should always be aspired towards. There is a list of many others, here, who should always be studied, and again this list is not inclusive, just some folks who I know to be artists of the most royal caliber.
3) Flattery is the best copying.
Copying someone’s writing style, verbatim, is always a good place to start. I do not mean covering their material. You should always start their as a beginner, but when you decide to begin writing your own songs, it never hurts to take a song which you admire or love and say to yourself “I am going to write a song in this style, with my own words, maybe transpose the key, and have a go at it.” This can make for a remarkable result and sometimes something magical can happen.
Regardless of the outcome when you are using great songs or songs you love as a jumping off point you are first, basing yourself in surefire greatness, and second, you are coming from a place of true love, which is always a good thing.
4) Cut and Paste. I call this cut and paste and it stems also from number 3. Many artists hear songs from other artists and take sections or start writing something to emulate the song or are just doing it to be funny as a spoof during rehearsal and it ends up morphing into something. Sometimes something great.
I have heard others say “the chorus on this one is like so and so” which means they were influenced by it. This is by no means stealing but showing your influence in your art. Most of American music is based in this tradition and that is its beauty of taking things, many disparate, and making them something new. Just consider blues and then think of how many bands can claim that as a starting point or a reference point.
5) Have fun with it, Dang it!
If this is never fun to you, the experience of making music, then I always think a person has like three choices which should be considered: 1) Keep plugging and don’t quit. 2) Move to something else until the desire comes back 3) Quit.