Dear songwriter (who struggles to write good songs)
In the first of a new regular column, the I Heart Songwriting Club founder encourages you to write, write, write
I Heart Songwriting Club is a global online community for songwriters and artists with a focus on collaboration, support and personal development. Founded by Brisbane-based singer-songwriter Francesca de Valence, the club has generated over 6000 songs for songwriters from over 12 countries.
With an International Songwriter of the Year Award (Los Angeles Music Awards) and an Australian Songwriting Award to her name, de Valence is well-placed to assist other artists with their own work. Here, in the first of a regular new column for us, she tackles the big one… how to write good songs!
who struggles to write good songs
You know what? We share the same goal. We both want to write good songs. And I’m pretty sure that’s every songwriters’ goal too.
I used to struggle to write good songs but I don’t anymore. I’ve found the solution and I’ve been using it for years and it works for me and hundreds of other songwriters. Today, I want to share it with you. But only if you want to stop struggling to write good songs.
Do you want to stop struggling?
I know what this looks like. You’ve got scraps of “golden lyric ideas” that you know are good so you hold on to them and try them out on the next song idea as if it were a missing puzzle piece. Does it fit? What if I turn it this way? Or that? Then you consult your ever-growing list of “good ideas” on your voice memos, and then try out the “golden lyrics” and hope that they fit – recycling, re-jigging, re-working ideas.
You even hear hit songwriters talk about doing this. They keep all their good ideas waiting for a time when they will work. I mean, if they’re hit songwriters they know what to do, so I should do that too, right?
But the problem this method caused me was I became the songwriter who struggled to finish ANY songs. And that was a far worse fate than writing not-so-good songs. You don’t agree? I’m curious to know if you’ve struggled to finish songs for years upon years. The reality is you literally cannot have a career as a songwriter with unfinished songs.
I JUST FINISHED THEM. EVERY SINGLE ONE.
So I set out on a quest to finish songs. Lots of songs. In fact, one song every week. And in just one hour. I would finish the shitty ideas, I would finish the weird, crazy ideas that didn’t make sense, and I would finish the ideas that I knew I’d never play live or would ever see the light of day. I just finished them. Every single one of them. I didn’t go back to my library of ideas, in fact, I abandoned all my old ideas. I can hear you gasp and grab at your chest. Those precious ideas.
But I couldn’t go back. There were thousands of old ideas and it would take me more time to go through them than it would to write and finish a new song. But what I did do was simply start and finish every single song. But you want to know how to write good songs. And I’m getting there…
Everybody knows that the more you do something the better you get at it. Well, that goes for songs too. The more songs you write the better you get at it.
When I started writing good songs in just one hour, songs that I never would have written otherwise, I really started seeing the huge benefit to all this practice. It was the practice of songwriting that resulted in good songs. It was because I was writing a lot of songs, that I was writing good songs.
When I would sit down and force myself to finish a song every week, my brain was triggered to struggle past the self-judgement, self-criticism, self-doubt and just complete, and that very process resulted in me doing things I’d never done before. I was writing new songs, innovative songs, different songs, fresh songs. Good songs. Even, dare I say, amazing songs. Songs that started to shape my career in an artistic direction that really excited me. I was even writing songs for others to sing.
I have been writing a song every single week in just one hour since September 2014. As I write this to you now, that’s exactly 248 finished songs in just one hour. But because I find this easy now, I write songs outside of this practice too.
I have become the songwriter I have always dreamed of being. I am living my wildest creative dreams and no longer dreaming it. So now it’s time to dream another dream. One thing I know is that the more I keep doing this, the better I get at writing songs and the better my songs get.
Do you think that after writing 250 finished songs you too would have good songs?
Picture this. There’s the songwriter who writes 10 songs a year and records an album. They labour over writing and finishing those songs. But they finish them and record them and release them. All 10 of them. Then picture the songwriter who writes 52 songs a year and records an album of 10 of these songs. They both record 10 songs, but the more practised songwriter has developed their skills and craft and artistry far more than the other songwriter.
The more songs you write the more the great songs stand out like shining gems. This has financial implications in terms of the investment in recording costs and career implications in terms of the quality of the product for the marketplace. I didn’t want to start my letter talking about this, but this is a quality vs quantity perspective. And in this instance, I’m saying that quantity results in quality.
DON’T GET PRECIOUS ABOUT PRACTICE. IT’S JUST PRACTICE.
In a society where the, “Think about it and get it right,” approach is favoured over, “Just muddle through it and do it again, perhaps we have lost sight of the lesson in simply taking action to get results. Or practice.
But don’t just take my word for it… Other songwriters who have been using my approach and writing a lot of finished songs say the same thing and some of their one-hour experiments have been nominated for ARIA awards, are synced in BBC films, and are played on international stages.
Riley, a songwriter from Victoria says, this approach, “Is like a personal trainer” for creativity and imagination and that, “means that the next time I flex my imagination, it is faster, stronger and more flexible.”
ARIA-nominated artist, Mama Kin says, “It shook me out of my writing block and taught me new ways to write. I have it to thank for most of my songs on my latest album!” And yes, that album, co-written by another songwriter who has used this method too, Tommy Spender, that album was nominated for Australia’s most prestigious artist award – the ARIA awards.
Before you go, a few final words about practice. Don’t get precious about practice. It’s just practice. Sure, have expectations and standards for what you release, but not around what you practice. Practice is there to hone skills, develop, experiment, and eventually, over time get good. Practice will always get the best results when done consistently and persistently.
Think about those three months that you spent slaving over one song to make it good. In that time you could have written 12 songs. And I bet at least one of those songs would be good. If not more. That really puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?
Do you really want to be living your wildest creative dreams? Cause if you really want this, and you really want to stop struggling, then you can live this.
Here’s to living your wildest creative dreams!
If you enjoy Francesca’s tips and want to learn more, we’re offering 20% off of your first 10-week term at I Heart Songwriting Club – just follow this link