If you’re reading this, you most likely have an interest in trying to improve your songwriting skills. I believe this is an important goal; partly what gets me motivated to write is trying to use new techniques or studying my favourite songs. I think most songwriters do enjoy learning about their craft, but unfortunately, it can come with the consequence of over-judging our material.
I didn’t realize this about myself until I started to teach songwriting. Almost every single one of my songwriting students wanted to write songs, but thought they couldn’t because they weren’t “good”. Or they would get stuck because their first songs weren’t “good”. When I sat down to write, I realized I said the same things to myself, even after writing for over a decade.
But being a “good” songwriter is the goal, isn’t it?
Perhaps not. I started to question why I wanted to be a good songwriter, which was important. I did want to learn about songwriting, but what did I get out of being a good songwriter? And most importantly, who defined whether I was a good songwriter or not?
Like most things, it might be a balancing act. I am the type of person to feel disingenuous if I tell myself that I am a great songwriter (but if that works for you, go for it!). Questioning what being good meant to me led to how it could be useful.
How wanting to be a “good” songwriter is useful:
1. You want to learn about songwriting and you seek it out. You end up connecting with other writers and sharing your love for this craft, and that is nothing short of magical.
2. You might be able to set goals more easily. Having something to aspire to means that you might feel motivated to take the steps towards it.
3. The steps towards your goals may become clearer. You can understand what it means to achieve what you are striving towards.
On the other hand, striving to be “good” and having that defined as something external (like winning an award) can be very damaging. After all, many of us write songs because we have something to say and express. Trying to be a good songwriter can cause significant roadblocks.
How wanting to be a “good” songwriter is not useful:
1. Trying to be good might actually hinder your process into writing good songs.
2. We may never feel good enough, even though that definition is always subjective.
3. When you don’t feel like you’re good enough, you might say no to opportunities that you are actually ready for. Many people choose not to co-write for this reason, even though it is amazing for our writing and our careers.
4. The more we learn, our bar for being a “good” songwriter rises as we go. We understand more of what we are aiming for, but that can still feel out of reach if we keep raising our standards of what “good” means.
Being a “good” songwriter is useful and not useful in various ways, but here lies an important question: do we have to be a good songwriter? Do you need that in your career? Today, in the age of DIY independent artists, we listen to music all the time and everyone is at different levels. Comparing songwriters can be like comparing apples and oranges.
I did have to eventually understand what I got out of songwriting and improving my skills. For me, it means that I write songs faster and more honest to myself. It means that I love (most of) my songs enough to listen to them over and over. It means that I feel proud of what I create and feel excited to share it. I don’t have to be a “good” songwriter.
Figure out what “good” means to you, if you have to. Otherwise, focus on the song itself; chances are if you love it, someone else will, too.