Why Is Songwriting So Hard?

Sep 04, 2021

Why is songwriting so hard? Writing an entire song from a single idea isn’t a trivial process.

It can be a messy process, and sometimes it takes so much longer than you think it should. 

How could it take over a year to write a 4 minute song?

Let’s talk about 3 big reasons songwriting can be hard. 

 

Reason 1: You Don’t Have A Process

I get it, creatives want to have no rules, no process, and the purest of freedom.

But having no sense of process isn’t freedom. It’s anarchy.

If you’re expecting to jump from blank page to quality song, you’re going to be disappointed. You probably play some of the chords you know, randomly sing over it, and then get stuck. 

Or, if you don’t get stuck, you make it all the way to the end of your song and realize it’s resoundingly not good.

This is because you don’t have a process. You don’t understand what stage of the process you’re at and what the next step is. 

You don’t have a process to go from idea to more fleshed out idea, to story, to completed lyrics.

When you travel somewhere, you want to know where you are and where you need to turn, right? 

You need to have a songwriting process.

This doesn’t mean every song goes through a dogmatic list of steps. It just means that, when you aren’t sure what to do, there’s a precedent and a method to follow. 

When in doubt, go back to the process. 

Whatever processes work for you, use them.

Process frees you up to be creative rather than constricting your creativity.

 

Reason 2: You don’t know any music theory

I get it, you don’t want to learn music theory.

You think it’s purely academic knowledge, and you cite the Beatles as an example of songwriters who (allegedly) didn’t know any music theory.

Some music theory is worthless academic knowledge. A lot of other music theory isn’t crucial, but is wildly helpful. 

And then there are 4 absolutely essential pillars of music theory. 

If you don’t understand intervals, keys, chords, and chord progressions, you’re simply shooting in the dark. 

Someone who understands music theory: This song is in the key of E major, so I have E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, and D# notes available in that key. 

So, I know that playing an F in a song in E major will sound bad (in most cases) and I also know why

I also know that, in the context of E major, an A major chord is my IV chord. IV chords have a certain sound and job within the context of a key and a chord progression. 

Just knowing something is an A major chord wouldn’t tell me that information. 

Perhaps more importantly, I know why I have an A major chord and a C# minor chord and why I have the notes in the key of E major.

Meanwhile, someone who doesn’t understand theory probably has a song with E major, B major, and A minor chords and wonders why it doesn’t sound right. 

Or, maybe worse, they think “G major and C major chords sound good together”

If you’ve ever wondered “why does this note not sound right in the song” or “this chord just seems a bit off”, that’s because you don’t know these 4 pillars of music theory.

While it’s true that rules are meant to be broken, you need to know the rules to know when and why to break them.

You wouldn’t write lyrics in a language you don’t know, why would you write music in a language you don’t know?

If you want to learn the 4 pillars of music theory that every songwriter needs to know, go check out my free guide on music theory. 

 

Reason 3: You Aren’t Using The Right Tools

Instrument Tools

A craftsman makes their tools, the tools don’t make the craftsman.

But a craftsman with just a hammer is probably not going to do as well as a craftsman with all kinds of different tools. 

Because a hammer is specifically very good at hammering nails. It’s not so good at sawing wood or drilling holes. 

We need to think through our songwriting tools the same way. 

Maybe you always use the same tools for the same process, never asking if you would get a more creative result from utilizing different tools. 

Maybe you write all your songs by writing a chord progression with your guitar and then singing a melody over that. 

But, maybe you aren’t a very good guitarist yet. You only know the basic open chords and power chords. No one is asking you to shred any solos. 

But you might have played trumpet in high school. What if you wrote a melody with your trumpet first and then figured out the chord progression?

You might write a better melody with your trumpet than you would your voice. Simply because the trumpet is built for melody (unlike your guitar), and you’re a better trumpeter than you are a vocalist. 

Even if you’re better at writing vocal melodies by singing them, trying out the trumpet for melody writing might result in very different and cool results. 

The piano is going to be a strong choice for writing melodies and chords to go with them. Guitar is a strong choice for writing chords and rhythms. Flute would be a strong choice for melody writing, while ukulele would be a strong choice for chords and rhythms. 

 

Technology Tools

We live in the 21st century. This gives us a ton of options to use technology to help us write music.

For lyrics, rhymezone.com is fantastic for finding words that rhyme. If you want to rhyme “light” with something other than “night”, this is the place to go. 

I find thesaurus.com to be another massively useful tool. Specifically when I’m utilizing my iterative lyric editing process, this is a great way to level up your lyrics. 

“Good”, “Bad”, “Sad”, “Love”, and “Happy” are all examples of vague words. We’d often rather have words like “Marvelous”, “Dreadful”, “Somber”, “Cherish”, and “Delighted”. 

Thesaurus.com is the best way to level up your words from vague to vivid.

On the musical side, utilizing recording software can be a huge benefit to your songwriting. 

A songwriting difficulty can be writing a melody that matches the music you have. You might have come up with a cool guitar riff, but you find it hard to sing while playing along. 

This can make it incredibly difficult to write a melody that fits well with the riff. 

Good thing you can record the riff to your computer (or even your phone), play it on repeat, and then focus all of your energy on writing your melody. 

You can also continue to layer more instrument parts by figuring out one at a time, recording it, and continuing to build out your song. Eventually, you’ll be listening to a bunch of parts all playing together, figuring out that final piece of your arrangement. 

If you want the recording software I use, go check out Reaper. It’s completely free to use and limitation free forever, and the license is just $60. 

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