I’ve made a lot of songwriting mistakes.
Here’s how I know: I’ve been writing songs since 2005, and I think I’m nearing 100 total completed songs. And anyone who does anything for a long period of time will make mistakes.
Not only that, but I’ve had lots of professional songwriters and music critics give me feedback on my songs (or should I say bash my songs over the head), thanks to places like NSAI and SubmitHub. They pointed out my pitfalls.
So here are just three common writing mistakes I’ve made (or almost made) that we all should avoid.
Writing A Song That’s Not Authentic To You
I’m currently a member of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), and they offer lots of things to help songwriters get better. And one thing they offer are one-on-one mentoring sessions with a pro songwriter.
In one of these mentoring sessions, I asked the pro songwriter about today’s music publishing trends. He said songwriters who get signed to music publishing deals are mostly in country music (and even the number of those deals are declining).
But I don’t write country songs.
I didn’t grow up listening to country music. I grew up in a small town in western Pennsylvania where my dad was a computer nerd and a pastor and I spent most of my time reading and playing Jack Johnson songs on the guitar.
So for me to write country songs would be like putting on a mask.
I’d be writing songs that aren’t authentic to my upbringing, my personality, or the reality of my life.
Yeah, I’m not gonna do that. The songs would be terrible and people would see right through it.
In a NSAI song feedback response, the pro songwriter gave me this tip on my song “Burning Like Chicago“:
“You have such a cool title here but I see no lyric that supports it!! Be writing more to your title.”
Here are the lyrics:
My iron fails to sharpen
my guards have all been shot
and I fully deplore myself
19 years should have been enough
19 years shoul have taught me well
you would think
I’m burning like Chicago
please put me out
my crimes could fill a prison
my Good could have no worse a posture
If you and I could follow
our second intuition
we could be like a rubix cube
turn and shift ’til colors meet
fully whole and made complete
only if, only if it were
If you have a face for me just call me up
and if there is a way to fix me, fix me up
Let the rainstorm be
let it rain on me
This is what I mean by losing focus. Write to your title.
Focus on just one idea for each song and say it in a different way throughout the song.
Writing In Multiple Time Zones
Something else I accidentally do is switch time zones. Meaning I use both the past and present tense without realizing it.
Here’s something a pro songwriter said about “The End Of Tears“:
“Starting out with the ‘I died’ is a bit strange. It’s past tense but within the line it goes to present tense and then the song goes back and forth.”
Here are the lyrics:
This is the day I died, when the sky is fading away
This is the day that I have lived for all my life
I hope that I have been like the moon shining the sun
my light was not my own, my stars were just a gift
Running hurts so we will fly to escape
and when we get back home we will see
the end of tears now
I smell the creep of Death but his smell is sweet to me
after these pilgrim years we will finally see the King
It’s all come back around for the ground has found me twice
my eyes grow weaker still as I look for one last time
Stay in one time zone for the whole song.
Unless you’re writing a song like Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” where your characters pass through time within the song.