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Why Aren't My Songs Getting Better?

Sep 04, 2021

No one likes being stuck.

Everyone wants to see progress in anything they practice.

If you’re not getting better it feels like you’re getting worse.

You might be listening to some of your older songs and thinking “Man, these are just as good as what I’m writing now”.

Or maybe you feel like you haven’t been improving as a songwriter.

Let’s talk about 3 reasons your songs aren’t getting better.


Reason 1: You Don’t Leave Your Comfort Zone

No one gets better by simply repeating what they’re already good at.

If you’re already good at shooting free throws, maybe you should practice something else. Why spend hours trying to get your free throw percentage from 90% to 92% when you could use that time to learn how to shoot 3s or dribble better?

Your goal isn’t to be good at writing ballads with strummed open guitar chords, right?

Your goal is to become a good overall songwriter.

I like to challenge myself to do at least one different or unconventional thing with each song I write.

Sometimes that’s trying a different style of instrumentation, sometimes it’s putting a new synth sound into a recording. I’ve even recorded a ceiling fan to add a certain texture to a song demo.

There are so many ways to put just one different element into your song.

You can utilize a different main instrument, different playing style, different song structure, different tempo, different key, different vocal range, and so much more.

So do some writing outside of your comfort zone. You can continue to write 50% of your songs in your comfort zones, but challenge yourself to write the other 50% outside of them.

Or pick your own numbers, that doesn’t really matter. 

Just commit to leave your comfort zone sometimes.


Reason 2: You Aren’t Spending Enough Time On Editing

You may have heard me say that “Good writing is editing”.

That’s because how you edit your song is probably responsible for about 95% of the end product.

Song ideas and drafts are cheap and overrated.

You need to take pride in the details.

It isn’t a huge deal if one word is a tad off in a novel of 500 pages.

Sometimes there are actual typos in published books that had to get through the author’s numerous edits and an editor. 

With a song, everything is packed into a 4 minute package. You have fewer than 300 words, much less 300 pages of words

If you have a throwaway 2nd verse, that’s probably about a third of your song you’ve allowed to be garbage. Can you imagine if you had 50 pages of garbage in a book you’re trying to read?

You’re probably not finishing that book. Or, if you do, you’re not remembering it fondly after you’re done.

Take pride in the details. 

Take extra time to make sure you like every phrase of your melody. Take extra time to make sure every word is as precise and vivid as possible. 

Ensure the chords supplement and enhance the tone of the melody in the best way. Make sure you don’t have an intro that feels like it drags or an ending that is accidentally anti-climactic. 

Spend more time on editing and take pride in the details.


Reason 3: You Aren’t Learning

I’ve talked before about how playing is not practicing. Just like you can mindlessly play songs you already know, you can write songs and learn very little from the process.

The best way to learn songwriting is to do it, but you also have to pay attention.

If you keep missing your free throws, you’re not going to learn to fix it by shooting more free throws. You have to analyze what’s wrong, maybe get an outside opinion, and work on the mechanics, habits, or mental hurdles that are keeping you from getting better.

So, to get better you have to actually pay attention and analyze what you’re doing.

This doesn’t mean you can’t accidentally get better. You can. 

But you’ll get much better, faster if you are intentional about it.

Similarly, it’s important to do some intentional education. You’re doing that right now reading this blog post!

So it’s important to keep learning from others, as differing perspectives and experiences can help us avoid hurdles and improve our craft faster.

You also have to be careful not to just consume knowledge, but actually absorb and then implement any new knowledge.

Because unused knowledge is useless.

Absorb knowledge from others and then put it into practice by implementing what you’ve learned in your own writing.

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