All songwriters want to become better songwriters, right? And if you don’t necessarily have time to write all the time, you need to make the most out of your writing time.
You can become a better songwriter doing the things you already do—namely, listening to music. You just have to listen to your music intentionally to become a better songwriter.
How to study your favorite songs
The difference between listening to your favorite songs and studying your favorite songs is very subtle. Instead of just enjoying the song, try to notice things about the song that makes you enjoy it.
- Do you enjoy the beat/rhythm more or the melody?
- Which vocal tones do you enjoy? What about them do you like?
- Is there an instrument that you prefer across genres?
- Do you prefer major (happy/upbeat) or minor (melancholic/slower) songs?
- Are you picky about sound quality? What level of quality do you need?
- Do you have arrangement preferences?
I really struggle listening to music where the lyrics are bland, rude, or annoying. There are so many songs that I would like because musically they fit into my enjoyment, but because of the lyrics, I could never listen for long.
I also can’t stand the vocal twang in country music. Musically, I don’t hate the musicality of the songs in country music, but the accent stabs my soul so I can’t enjoy it.
After you’ve been studying some of your favorite songs, start trying to notice the things that are in common between them. Whether it’s genre-related, lyrically-related, musically related, or even a tonal preference, there is a reason you enjoy the music you do as much as you do.
Studying time-efficiently is as simple as paying attention as you listen. You keep track of the things you notice as you notice them more and more, which eventually will add up to showing you the underlying things you enjoy about music.
I’ve got time to study my craft
If you have time, grab a paper and pen and intentionally listen to a playlist of songs. Listen to each song and take notes. Then, look at the notes of each song and see where the commonalities occur.
Do the same with albums. I have about 10 albums where I love every song on the album, and there’s a reason for that. My reason is usually that all of the songs stand alone beautifully but play together diversely. Find out what your reason is!
Take note of what you do like, what you don’t like, what song you think you could listen to a thousand times and never get tired of, what song you enjoy now but don’t think has that longevity, what songs are more mainstream and what songs are less mainstream and why they are enjoyed less or more by different audiences.
Do the same with albums! Is there an album that you listened to when you were younger that you’re still happily listening to you now? Go back and re-listen to the albums that you used to love. Why don’t you love them anymore?
Writing everything down gives you a more solid understanding of the things in music that make your heart happy.
Why should you study your favorite songs?
Finding the reason you enjoy the music you listen to will help you write music that you enjoy listening to.
Writing more songs will allow you to do the same thing—the more you write, the more you will find a) what you do well and b) what you enjoy.
However, coming into songwriting already knowing what you enjoy in music allows you to focus on learning to do the things that you enjoy well. You can get better at the things you actually enjoy about music rather than just writing, writing, writing, and then finally coming to understand exactly what it is you love.
And that’s what efficiency is about when it comes to writing! Most of us simply don’t have time to write endlessly. That means we have to use our time effectively.
I mentioned that lyrics are super important to me. This means that when I write songs with lyrics, I make sure I am super pleased with the lyrics before I ever sing a note into a microphone. And half the time, I just ditch words altogether because I am more likely to enjoy it later if I don’t have an off lyric spoiling the song for me.
I also love builds. Not necessarily drops or breakdowns, but builds. Therefore, I practice writing builds because they’re fun for me and I really enjoy them. I will also play with writing drops and breakdowns in order to teach myself how to make my builds most effective for the songs.
Since you already listen to music for fun, put it to work. Kill two birds with one stone; become a better musician as you allow music to make you a better person. Save your time writing and make the writing that you do something that you are proud of every time.
What do you think—how and why would you study your favorite songs? Do you think it’s worth studying songs that you don’t enjoy as well? What kinds of things have you learned writing vs listening to music? Share in the comments!