The big arrogant statement: “You can’t learn how to write songs.” Wow! I’ve heard this said by writers at all levels who feel they’ve been given the gift of songwriting, and everyone else in the world needs to accept that they should give up. This attitude exists at all levels from professional hit writers, indie screw-the-system writers, and aspiring writers who are “tops” in their little town. But the funny thing is this statement often comes from writers who aren’t that good and could definitely learn a thing or two! Putting others down doesn’t mean you’re better! But, once again, why is songwriting different from any other art? There is a long line of famous sculptures and painters who apprenticed under masters before them. Are they less creative or inspiring than songwriters? Socrates was one of the greatest philosophers the world has ever known. A truly inspired mind. His prize student was Plato, who had his prize student, Aristotle. Three of the greatest influential minds in the history of the world. All of them believed in learning from teachers to further their art. Is there any songwriter alive at this moment who knew more than these three combined? Tiger Woods has a swing coach. Great Dancers have teachers, all of whom are inspired artists.
I encourage songwriters not to fall into the trap of thinking, “My song came in a moment of great inspiration and is therefore perfect.” Inspiration is a powerful and perfect thing for sure, but 99% of the time it’s just the push to get a song started. Later, we need to revise, edit, and sometimes, lose whole lines or sections to really bring a song home. Don’t fall into what I like to call the “Diary Trap.” We write in a journal, and it makes us feel better. We put our emotions on paper. We work through our pain just by writing it down. Many writers do this with songs. They spill their emotions out in a rush. But, just like a diary, these types of writings make us feel better, but aren’t really meant to be shown to the world. Of course, some of your greatest songs might come out of this type of writing but having that strong emotional connection with a song doesn’t necessarily mean that song is ready to be recorded or released commercially. Songs are a form of conversation between the writer and the listener, and the listener needs to be important to that writing process. You do not want the conversion to be just a one-way monologue. You need to make it the way that your listener can hear you and agree with you, otherwise they would not come back to your song to listen to it again.
It’s my song, so it should be exactly like how I want it. As a producer, when working on the songs written for other people, this irritating sentence is one of the most common things I’ve heard. Let me tell you why it is so wrong to think this way. You wrong your song. Perfect. And you are lucky enough that an artist and / or a record producer or publisher picked it up and they want to work on it. Your job is basically done here. From here it’s their job – specially the producer – to take your song as is, work on it and turn it into a hit commercial song. And when they are doing so, it is so wrong for you to jump in and stop them from making any change on your song. You should know those people are on the same team with you and everyone are going to do their best to make the song to be as successful as possible. Your expertise is to write, and their expertise is to bring the best out of what you wrote. So, just do your part and let others to do their part if you really want your song to have higher change of being successful.
Maybe it’s because, as writers, we open ourselves, our hearts, and souls to the world, and somehow, that makes us to be or to – at least – sound arrogant. We have to believe that we have something important to say, or the job would be too hard to do. But I challenge all songwriters to remember that having something of value to say doesn’t mean we have nothing to learn, or what we have to say is better than what everyone else has to say! Great art is available for all people to tap into. Not just the chosen ones. So, we should be careful of not falling into the Arrogant Songwriter Trap and concentrate on the art of songwriting instead.