By Cari Cole
Writing fresh, original lyrics is a challenge for every songwriter. You must say something very specific to be universal, but sometimes all the words coming out just sound like things you’ve heard before. And even more, an artist needs a signature song to cut through and stand out above the noise. What’s a signature song? A song that “speaks” your message in a way and who you are as an artist in a way that makes you stand out and not fit in. It is a statement song.
Here are my 5 hacks to move past writer’s block, find your deeper message and write your signature songs.
1. Your Signature Song.
What song do people remember and ask you about? You probably have one (or more!) songs that are your go-to’s. That you know people love. That you use as openers or closers to really clinch the performance. There’s something transcendent, specific, and catchy all at once about them. The relationship of the lyrics, the music, melodies, and harmonies all working in one cohesive unit. They are rare and beautiful. These are the songs you want. These are your signature songs. You want to use your signature song(s) as a benchmark for the rest of your writing. It operates on a different vibration than cliche’s that you write will. Hold yourself to that standard. How do you write them? You dig deep, you collaborate, you look for epiphanies in your life and put them under a magnifying glass, you get feedback and work with an artist developer like me who can draw your signature out of you. (Check out our Signature Songwriting Circle, where you’ll have the opportunity to work with myself and a team of songwriting experts through a series of private and group sessions. we’re just about to start our next and final run for the year!) Sometimes it’s hard to see what your signature is when you are your product.
2. Hold Your Editor Back.
Part of what holds songwriters back is going to the editor too quickly. You want to let the creativity and words flow without judgment when you are first writing. You can always go back and edit later. Don’t assume you know what the song is about beforehand. You may come up with a verse that moves it in a different direction. Whatever is coming out in the moment, let it happen. Even if you think, “Ugh, this is shaping up to be a clichéd mess!” Keep writing. Write through it.
3. Show Up.
Meet the Muse. Not every song comes out fully formed and glowing like a gift from the Universe – though we wish it would! The more frequently you write, the more you allow the muse to visit you and take over. You may have had to get that silly song out to get to what you were really trying to say. If you show up consistently, (daily!) you will begin to become an artisan and a craftsperson. Not just someone who works when they are inspired. Real artists know that inspiration meets you at the work table.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Out Instead of Fit In.
It’s easy to miss this one. We all want to be well-liked, appreciated, adored and some of us will go to great lengths to get it. But for a music artist, it can be death. Bob Dylan didn’t write his music to fit in. He wrote it because it needed to be said. He didn’t aim to please – he aimed to tell it like it is. And watch out for falling into the trap of the local scene where fitting in may be initially rewarding but could deter you from finding who you really are.
5. Join a Group or Meet with a Songwriter Friend that You Trust & Respect.
Developing a long-term relationship with a songwriter friend or a small songwriting group that you trust and respect is crucial to building on your songwriting craft. As time passes they will get to know your voice and be able to give you honest feedback about when you’ve hit on something real and important and when you were just flexing your writing muscles. Even with the perspective of your signature songs, it can be hard to trust yourself. It’s common to doubt your own writing when you’re moving forward and your writing methods are changing or you are moving in a new direction. A trusted, supportive outside perspective will help you. Finding a community of active and like-minded artists, like the one we have in SSC, who are working their craft (with the guidance of industry experts!) is so important. And don’t shy away from co-writing with professionals that are more experienced/skilled than you. This will actually help you and push you to grow faster!
Remember: your lyrics are how you communicate something to the world! Be ruthless with them, compassionate to yourself, and say something real. People want to know the true you. Give yourself the freedom to screw up & write badly so you can get to the good stuff. It’s in there. Trust me.