by Marty Dodson
May 21, 2017
Often I see songwriters who are caught up in the trees that they can’t see the forest. They spend their time looking at the minutiae (I’ve always wanted to say that word) that they lose sight of the big picture.
For instance, in a lyric MasterClass, I spend six weeks teaching students a framework that will improve ALL of their lyrics going forward. At the end of the class, someone will say “I wish you could have critiqued these three lyrics of mine instead.” There’s nothing wrong with that sentiment, but it misses the big picture.
If you learn the proper framework and foundation for writing lyrics, you can not only improve all of your lyrics going forward, you can also go back and fix anything you wrote before you learned it. It’s sort of like the old proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
The way I see it, there are several “Big Picture” items that any songwriter should focus on, whether they are writing for fun or for commercial purposes. Here they are, in no particular order:
1) Learn the basics of lyric writing. Learn how to map a lyric and make it say precisely what you want to communicate. Understand that clear communication is the goal, not being clever. Understand that each part of a song has a job. Verse one gives characters, context and setting. The Chorus introduces a big idea or emotion. And the second verse digs deeper into the big idea with the goal of taking it farther.
2) Continue to evolve melodically. Study the musical choices made by the writers of hits in your genre of choice. Notice how the melodies change over time. Study what is working and put those ideas in your toolbox to make your own melodies better.
3) Study the reactions of people when you play your songs. Don’t include family and friends. Notice how strangers react when you play different songs. Try to understand why certain ones get more audience reaction than others. Your job as a writer is to make people feel something. If they get up and go get a drink during your song, you aren’t making them feel anything.
4) Learn to enjoy writing without worrying about the commercial success (or not) that you might enjoy. If you can learn to approach each co-write with gratitude and just enjoy the experience of creating something you love with another creative person (or by yourself), you are a winner. People who LOVE the writing experience stay in the game longer and they write better. That joy comes out in their songs. People who are desperately trying to write a hit every day burn out and quit.
Keeping those four big picture ideas in mind can help you write better AND enjoy the journey.
Write Better Songs Faster
Songwriting Success is Clay & Marty's 10-day video series that will help you level-up your songs and finish them faster. Enter your email address to get started!