3 Critical Keys to better songwriting
by Josh Needham
We all want to run before we can walk.
Watching my 2 year-old daughter face-plant at the excitement of a hug from a puppy causes me to simultaneously experience incredible empathy and incredible laughter. (Usually I try to engage the first before the latter!)
As a producer and songwriter, so often the way to take 2 steps forward is best achieved by taking one step back. Think of the runner on the starting line. About to launch with everything they have, but before they even take 1 step, they put one leg right back as a foundation; a platform to start everything else. A way to set themselves up for the big win.
Music is much the same, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
1) A great idea is your best coach
A lot of my songwriting begins with a single note. But a lot more of it begins before that single note is played. Often it’s sitting back, off the ‘track’, considering the ideas first and letting my imagination take over. One there’s a concept in play, think of the concept as the track; the idea as the coach. If you don’t have a clear concept, how can you expect to run in a straight line? Likewise who or what is helping you stay on target if your idea is unclear?
At a fundamental level, music is a message. As a producer we like to wrap this idea up in plenty of bells and whistles to make it shiny and pretty, but at its core, we are engaging in communication. Much like a message in a bottle. And your audience is receiving this message. How they receive it is the way the song sounds. What they read when they open the bottle? That’s the message – the very heartbeat of the song.
2) Practice releasing your imagination regularly
So are what are the limitations then? Here’s the great news - a message requires nothing except your own imagination. You can pursue guitar lessons, piano lessons or singing lessons and become wildly great, but this is a totally different mechanism to your imagination. The concept, the idea, isn’t limited by anything except your own mind. The expression of your own creativity therefore in this way means that every single human being alive has in essence, the capacity for unlimited creativity. And that doesn’t mean for a moment that everything we express is the best thing the world has ever seen – rather 99% of what I write ends up being tweaked, challenged, changed and worked on. Rather it is simply the endless possibilities, the incredible innate wonder; the ultimate expression of creativity with near infinite possibilities that drives us, that spurs us on. And we all have it, simply by being born! What an incredible gift!
3) Help people understand themselves
The question therefore shouldn’t be: How do I make my music good? (Although one can start here and get deeper.) Should I get with a great music school? How do I find a great music teacher? Really the question needs to be: What is the message I want to say? Use this as your starting point and let your natural creativity you already have inside take over from there. The absolute worst-case scenario is you write something that helps people understand you. The best-case scenario is you write something that helps people understand themselves.
It is only the beginning…
So in your ever-expanding journey towards this illusive finish line, start with the simplest part. The idea. Of course, keep pursuing your craft. Stay in singing lessons, grab that guitar book and stay consistent. But keep it simple. Let today be the day you will take the time to step back and let yourself imagine. Let your creative juices run wild. Let your natural creativity take over and be free to go where your adventurous mind wants to take you. Then talk with your music coach and figure out what your message is. Let the idea, the message guide your chords, your music, your voice. And most importantly, let yourself be open to the endless possibilities and truth that you are capable, simply by being you, and by doing this, you automatically set yourself up to run a race you can be proud of for years to come.