7 Reasons You Should Have a Songwriting Process
I hate formulas and processes.
I’ve always thought they suck the life out of everything, especially music. How can an artist be truly creative when they’re selling out to the drudgery of formulas? Why confine yourself to a “process” and limit your creative potential? Formulas are terrible, right?
I used to think so. But then I started reading about my favorite songwriters and realized they all had some sort of process for churning out great tunes. I figured, “If the professionals all do this…maybe I ought to try it?” So I started crafting my own songwriting process, and I noticed an immediate difference in the quality of my work.
Here’s what I’ve learned about having a songwriting process.
1. It helps you get disciplined about writing songs. I used to drive around and look for a new “writing spot” every time I wrote a new song. And you know what happened? I spent as much time driving around the countryside as I did actually wood-shedding on new songs.Having a process means you cut the deliberation time and get down to brass tacks.
2. It makes you take ownership in being a songwriter. Your songwriting is a like a little project where you get to write your own “operations manual.” You get to decide how things are done and in what order. Taking yourself seriously enough to craft some sort of process goes a long way in boosting your songwriting confidence, not to mention your enjoyment of the craft.
3. Having a process makes it less scary to start a new song. If we’re honest, we all fear the blank page. I’ve found that processes have a way of eliminating that fear, because it erases a lot of the the “unknowns.” I already know where I'm going to find the melodies (in my phone's digital recorder files) and where I'm going to draw lyrics from (my collected stash of lyrics and Scripture.) I already know I'm going to demo it on guitar once I can play the song through without stopping. These kinds of “known” variables will give you the comfort and confidence to start a new song without the hesitation.
4. It tells you what to say “no” to. When you go to write a new song, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Not just by the blank page, but also by pages of lyrics that are so scattered and disjointed that you have no idea where to begin. Sometimes the indecision can be staggering, and can keep us from moving forward. Having a set of parameters helps you weed out creative ideas that don't fit, and stay focused on your goals.
5. You can tailor your songwriting process to lean into your strengths. Personally, I’m not a good “on the spot” songwriter. I’m jealous of friends who can sit down and hammer out a gem in a couple hours, but I’ve never been able to do that. So my songwriting process is built around a long gestation period. I collect lyrics and melodies over time and build several songs really slowly, rather than one at a time.
Whatever your strengths are, build into them. Read about other artists’ processes, use the bits that help, and forget the parts that don’t.
6. It forces you to be objective about your own work. One time I did an experiment. I took a notepad, a pen, and the discography by my favorite band, to see if there were any noticeable patterns in their music. Then I compared my own songs to the songs of my favorite band. My music usually had a verse and chorus, maybe a bridge. Their songs had at least four strong melodies every time. My songs were long- often five or six minutes. Theirs were routinely four minutes or less. I couldn't believe the differences.
When I looked at it on paper, I could see some tangible reasons that my songs were bush-league. It forced me to look at the areas I could grow as a songwriter.
7. It allows you to perfect the details of your craft. Having a songwriting process helps you prioritize. It automates certain things that otherwise you'd spend two weeks fretting over. It cuts out a lot of the time deliberating over little decisions. Some of those decisions will make themselves, and the others will fall into place in your newly refined songwriting process. It leaves room to do what you love most: write songs. And the more songs you write, the better you'll get.
Granted, true inspiration and creativity is no science. But I guarantee that if you look behind the curtain of your favorite songwriter, there are formulas to be found. Crafting your own process can push your songwriting to new levels. Excellence is in the details, and when you get comfortable within your process, you can focus on perfecting your craft.
These are just a few ways that having a songwriting process helped me become a better writer. What else should be on the list? What does your own songwriting process look like?
Nick Morrow is a worship artist and writer from Columbus, IN. He loves telling stories, pushing creative boundaries, and seeing people connect with God. He contributes to various Christian music blogs and can be found at www.nickmorrowmusic.com. He lives with his wife Melissa, two kids and a fake toy dog named “Lucy Boy.”Comment on Facebook Comment on Twitter
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