Ah, the world of songwriting. Versatile and rewarding. Colorful and full of wonder, this art so often also helps us better understand ourselves and the world around us. In this article, musikwissen.com asks: Why do you want to be a songwriter? There are those who have noticed that there is a certain talent and therefore aspire to a career as a songwriter. And the others who are already musicians, but are tired of reproducing the songs of others. Or those who make music and write songs themselves but think that sound knowledge can contribute to the quality of their songs.
In this article we’ll show you why it’s worth becoming a songwriter. And if you’re looking for tips and tricks, you’ll find top tips in our songwriting category.
A song is communication
Whatever it is, the world of songwriting is one that couldn’t be more beautiful. Because the songwriter has the opportunity to express his thoughts in a unique way. In our fast paced times, where you are doing one thing and already thinking of the next. In which many a person feels bad about taking time for themselves for once. And even to use free time to listen to audiobooks or otherwise be sprinkled, the commitment to take time, to go into oneself and let one’s thoughts reflect is worth its weight in gold.
Think of all the situations you had planned out in your mind. For example, you wanted to apologize to someone or finally confess your love openly. Countless times you had spoken the exact wording in your thoughts. You had developed a little head cinema in which you were the director.
Songwriters create musical worlds
Let’s take the following romantic mind game. And assume that you are a man. Your girlfriend, so dearly loved by you, arrived and got out of her car. In that summer night, which you have imagined in your thoughts. You took her to the idyllic, lonely lake, got into a boat. Of course, there were roses, wine and a candle in it. Then you rowed into the middle of the lake, crickets were chirping, the stars were twinkling, the evening was warm. So you knelt down, took her hand, looked into her eye and asked, “Will you be my wife?”. How romantic!
In reality, she’s late, you don’t even know how to row, and you realize very quickly that it’s quite muscular. The evening is cloudy and reasonably cold. Your girlfriend has had a long day and would much rather spend her evening in front of the TV than to perform this slimy theater with you here. Instead of crickets, only a few teenagers are chirping, emptying a crate of beer nearby. And in the pitiful attempt to kneel down in the boat in the middle of the lake, you capsize it.
Songwriting offers the opportunity to tell stories
Sure, this was a worst-case scenario with a touch of humor. But the world is not as we like to imagine it in our minds. Often we lack the necessary courage in the corresponding situation to repeat the sentences we have spoken so often in our thoughts in reality.
And just as often we wait for the right situation and it just doesn’t come. Or we are interrupted in the middle of our sentence by the other person. And of course there are also the situations in which she immediately reacts completely strangely and not at all in such a way, as hoped and planned by us in our innumerable dreams. And why? Because we are not the director of the world out there.
There we are only an actor. An actor, so to speak. And even if we play the leading role in our own lives, we are at best supporting actors for other people. Mostly, however, even only unimportant extras. Let’s think about how much the death of Michael Jackson or Amy Winehouse would have affected us if our pet had died.
Yes, for most people the focus of their pity would have shifted in their own favor if they had been in bed with the flu that day. Because if we are honest, even a relatively minor problem that occurs in our own lives practically always has a higher significance than the problems – even the death – of strangers to us in this world. Sad, but true.
With songs you can tell stories
So our communication always takes place on the stage of life. The stage in which everyone believes to play the leading role. And on which all others are only supporting actors and extras for him. The director does not exist. The direction is at best the result of the interaction of all those egocentric actors. Our communication therefore always depends on many other people.
The telephone that rings at the wrong moment and abruptly interrupts our confession of love because someone else has decided to call us at exactly that particular second. Or the person who interrupts us in the middle of a long-planned sentence to tell us what happened to them while shopping today.
Not to mention the problems of comprehension. Words have different meanings and can be interpreted in different ways. A “How can I help you?” spoken by a drunken, aggressive muscleman has a different meaning than a “How can I help you?” spoken by the same muscleman when addressed as a coach at a gym the next day. But these misunderstandings are not limited to such situations alone.
Even the smallest nuances in tone, the situation, or the stress level of the person receiving the message can completely transform it. Each word should therefore ideally be carefully chosen and weighted. Checked to see if it is misleading or fits the situation. And this in milliseconds in which the communication takes place. A difficult undertaking. Or as communication scientists put it, “It’s a miracle that we understand each other at all.”
Songwriters have all the time in the world to perfect their stories
How nice it is, then, that we can all write down our thoughts and emotions at our leisure. That we can make the perfect (for us) world from our head cinema a reality at any time. And all this without million-dollar budgets for TV cameras and special effects, but (in the minimal equipment) with a pen and a white sheet of paper.
It is the song that allows us to speak freely. And gives us the time to choose our words wisely and thoughtfully, to express exactly what we want to express. To create exactly the atmosphere that clothes the words, puts them in the right perspective and makes them unmistakable.
But it is also the song that allows us to make our words sound misleading, ambiguous and disreputable. It is he who can put “candyshop” and “lollypop” in an ambiguous light and who can underline the “message between the lines” with appropriate rhythms.
To write a song means to create a piece of art
More than anything else, by writing a song we create a work. Something that will remain with the world long after we are gone. Of course, not every song will remain an evergreen forever, like the works of a Beethoven, Haydn, Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson. But something will remain.
Imagine your grandchild finding your song in the attic. Or one of your songs makes it into the sales charts and in 100 or 200 years someone writes his doctoral thesis about the past and hears your song in the archives. Imagine it’s a song about the pains of love and our prospective doctor is just unhappily in love. Maybe he will cry? Maybe the song will become his new favorite and even experience a revival?
As spun as it all sounds, your song is more than just the stringing together of words and notes into a new, grand whole. Your song is the expression of yourself. It is your contribution to mankind. Your contribution to the culture of this world. It doesn’t matter if the title is Da-Da-Da or Nutcracker Suite.
How many people have consoled their lovesickness with “Without You” by Pete Ham and Tom Evans (later sung by Nielson or Maria Carey, among others)? How many times has the disco hit “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang caused people to get up from their chairs and dance on the dance floor? What is the number of couples who have met through this dance, in this place, to this song? And how many marriages or children have resulted?
How many people has “Get on Your Feet” written by John DeFaria, Clay Ostwald & Jorge Casasvon-sung by Gloria Gaynor- persuaded to keep going in hard times and make their dream a reality after all? And how many of them made the breakthrough as a result and ultimately made it to a lot of money, fame or reputation? All of these are possible outcomes that just one song can trigger. A single song can change the world.
From language to emotion
Once your songwriting skills get past the stage of, “Hey pretty doll // I’ll make you some soup,” you’ll notice how much songwriting shapes you. You’ll see things that you never would have noticed before. You become the observer. Sometimes the protagonist, while you observe yourself. You perceive the world very differently and by the time you really take your skills to the top league, you will have gotten to know yourself very well.
Your musical skills will most likely increase. Just as your knowledge of the music market will improve over time and research. Your lyrical skills will also improve. But most of all, you will suddenly find yourself in situations that want to tie your emotions to words. You’ll notice on the streetcar the nervous teenager who’s all dressed up because he’s about to go on his first date. Or on the plane, you’ll notice the guy who seems to be calmly reading his book but whose sweaty fingers betray his excitement and anxiety.
You’ll also pay attention to the little things. Noticing your partner’s breathing, seeing the sparkle in children’s eyes under the Christmas tree. Or feel the weight on the hunched shoulders of the old lady with the cane. And you will know how to link all this. To words. You will get to know the language you write in very well.
Songwriters play with language and music
And you will notice that you can not only see a laugh. You can also grab it or steal it. You can catch it or throw it to someone. You can hold it, wish for it or sell it. Of course, you can also pose it, fake it, or counterfeit it.
It doesn’t have to be cheerful. It can also be sexy. Or snarky. Dirty. Hot. Desirable. Loving. Tender. Compassionate. Challenging. Cold. Warm. Penetrating. Innocent. … Once you recognize the possibilities and are willing, with a little work, to look for ways to make the words you use vivid, you can’t help but enjoy the juggling of language.
Songwriting makes you the director of a scene. The painter and juggler of a language. And an observer and analyst of people and situations. All this leaves its mark on you, of course. You will be able to express yourself in real life in a more versatile way. Know how to play with words. You will be able to formulate your thoughts much more precisely in words. Blur when you feel it’s necessary and then be on point when you want to be or when the situation calls for it.
By observing situations, your knowledge of human nature will improve. You will learn to interpret people, think about what is going on inside them and strengthen your empathy and social skills. And last but not least, you will be better able to interpret the gray lump of different emotions for which we humans have found so few words, better than ever before. And if that’s all that songwriting brings you, all that effort would have been worth it. But there is something else that songwriting can bring you. Money and fame …
Money and fame
The hype in modern pop music focuses on the performing artists. First and foremost, the singers. They are the ones who appear in the youth magazines. The ones who always have to have a friendly grin and are so coveted by all the fans. However, with all the fame all the notoriety comes a negative side to the performing artists here too …
Being a normal person yesterday and suddenly being a star today has destroyed many a person. Suddenly you can no longer leave the house unobserved. You are even stopped by the store detectives while shopping, because they want an autograph from you. If you don’t leave your house looking your best, a picture will appear in the newspaper the next day. In short, you are suddenly common property.
The world thinks it has a right to know everything about you. After a while, most celebrities would probably give back their fame and exchange it for a job with the same salary and more privacy. However, that doesn’t work. The fame thing gets even worse when one’s career takes a nosedive. Because then there is suddenly a lack of money. The salary that was the original reason for taking on this whole farce is suddenly gone. What remains, however, is the interest of the public: not only the rise, but also the fall is documented and noticed by the media and people.
Pressure and drugs
But as if one didn’t already have one’s hands full with one’s fame as a pop star, now there is also the pressure. You play national and international tours and live out of a suitcase during this time. You travel in a stuffy tour bus. Some bands even sleep in it. And then it’s off: concerts and countless people who are there just because of the pop star. Fans who have paid money to get an entrance ticket, most of them also one or more CDs, and who therefore can expect full performance and a good show.
The expectation of 50,000 people on the shoulders of one (three, four or five) artist, is often too much. Stage fright before big performances and a feeling of exhaustion in combination with high stress and a high pressure of expectations lead to chronic overload. But all this can be mastered, supposedly. As a well-known star it is no problem at all to get drugs.
Pop stars have to deal with a lot of pressure
No matter which one you want. Artists who don’t feel up to the pressure turn to alcohol to an excessive degree. If even that doesn’t work anymore, cocaine comes in to lose the fear in the short term and to think you’re the greatest in the world (and thus at least live up to what the fans think of you). But what the drug gives you, it also takes away in double measure. This is where the addiction problem comes from. In addition, there is the arrogant submissiveness of a person who is genuinely convinced that he is untouchable when intoxicated with cocaine.
Reason for many breakups of successful bands. But drugs also have another disadvantage: they are damn expensive. So, if the pop star has become so arrogant and unreliable that the fall of his career is imminent, money will gradually stop coming in. However, the 1,000.00 euros per day for the drug of his choice will remain part of his life. As long as the bank still grants credits, it goes well. Tax debt and the reclaiming of the loans, however, then provide for a rude awakening: The artist is in a crisis so deep that it would probably have been better for him if he had never made his breakthrough before.
Strife, envy and stress in bands
Assuming the false promises of drugs were resisted, quarrels within the band often ensure the end of the career. After all, while a pianist needs at least 6 years of weekly lessons and several hours of home practice a day to get to a good level of skill, many singers have had their talent more or less dropped in their laps.
Singing lessons are important, to be sure, to protect the voice and train its subtleties. But even the best vocal lessons will not be able to conjure a good voice out of a terrible sounding timbre. A singer is either good or not. Now, it is usually the singer alone who gets the most of the credit. They all want the singer. They all cheer the singer. And when the singer starts to soar, he himself thinks that everything revolves around him. At any time he will be able to replace his band. By other musicians. Another guitarist has spent 10 years learning his instrument, another pianist has spent 10 years learning his instrument – and both can easily replace the original musicians.
This assumption leads to a breakup and the band is hopelessly divided and unsuccessful. After a few decades (when the money is used up), they pull themselves together for a revival, which however – oh miracle! – remains unsuccessful.
The songwriter can relax
All this does not sound very hopeful. But where was the songwriter in this structure? Unless he was a member of the band himself (which often happens, but not always), the likelihood is high that he is sitting relaxed on some beach enjoying an azure sea. For while the performing artist earns his money simply by selling CDs and playing concerts, the songwriter gets his money primarily from royalties from copyright.
Because whenever a songwriter’s song is performed somewhere (concerts – even by cover bands) or broadcast (radio, TV, movies) and whenever a blank CD or DVD burner (etc) is sold somewhere, the songwriter receives money. The singer and the band, on the other hand, do not. So it is quite possible to become a millionaire with just one very successful song, because as a songwriter you will still earn money if the song is played on the radio in 20 years (but the artist/band won’t!).
Evergreens are real cash cows
So if you write several successful songs and maybe even an evergreen like “Last Christmas” by George Michael, you have a secure source of income that won’t dry up for years and decades. And while the artist has long since been in rehab for the hundredth time, regrets his cocaine addiction because it has turned his millions in income into millions in debt, and mourns his past successes, the songwriter still earns money every time a radio station plays the song of the now unsuccessful musician or a TV report highlights the artist’s infirmity with one of “his” old hits.
At the same time, one must not forget the other advantages: As a rule, the songwriter is largely unknown. Not within the music industry, of course. But outside. No reports in the youth magazines about the songwriter. Never any reports about him. And no annoying paparazzi or crazy groupies. And what might be disappointing at first, quickly turns out to be very liberating. Because unlike the performing artist, the songwriter can go shopping at any time in any store.
Songwriter does not suffer from fame and its consequences
He can sunbathe naked on his yacht and is not subject to the danger that the life partners he meets are only after his money, because, as I said, nobody knows that. Nevertheless, he can participate in the fame, if he needs and wants it. And if he does get the urge to show off, he can always say that he is the songwriter of the song that is so famous. He can. But he doesn’t have to. Besides, he doesn’t have to appear in interviews to promote his CD and he doesn’t have to play concerts.
So he doesn’t have to travel the world like a madman in a stuffy tour bus, nor is he subjected to the stress of having to give his full performance at every gig. Excitement and stage fright are foreign words to him, which is why he also comes into less contact with drugs like cocaine, which many an artist uses to combat these symptoms, ignoring the risks.
In general, he will also meet fewer shady characters who want to rip him off in contracts. This is because the royalty levy is regulated by law and is administered by GEMA. The latter is also the reason why the songwriter has virtually no more work with it after writing his song: GEMA takes over the settlement with the rights exploiters. The songwriter receives his money and his settlement directly from GEMA (or his music publisher, if he is under contract with one). So the songwriter actually has a dream job. But what are your chances of success?
Your chances in the music market
Of course, no one knows the exact numbers and the question of your chances in the music market depends largely on how much you are willing to commit yourself. This means you have to be willing to learn. Practice, practice and practice the techniques you can learn here. And you have to write songs. Preferably one a day. And that’s not an exaggeration. Make songwriting a daily routine. At musikwissen.com, we provide the tools you need to write good songs.
But your commitment should not end there. Because – and this must not be concealed – songwriting also depends on talent. It’s not as bad as with the singer, whose voice usually just sounds good or not. But it is just so that some people can combine the lyrical vein with the musical vein better than others. On the other hand, if you listen to some successful chart breakers, you can assume that even less perfect songs get a chance at least once in a while.
So let’s assume for a moment that you have mastered the skills of a songwriter to true greatness. Is that already enough for your success? No, not quite yet. Because now it’s about the other part of your job. It’s about getting your songs out there. You have to send them to artists, to producers, to music publishers and even record companies. You have to be present at music fairs and pass on your demos. Network and do everything you can to become a songwriting brand in the music industry.
In this article, we learned how valuable a song and songwriting skills can be to us and our lives. And we learned why songwriters can live a much quieter life than pop stars and still share in earnings and fame more than enough.