5 Books that Are Songwriter Must-Reads
As professional songwriters, we have collectively read hundreds of books on the art of songwriting. What we want to do in this article is discuss 5 of the most influential and transformative books that we personally keep coming back to as songwriters. Some of these books aren’t specifically about songwriting, but contain perspectives and content that have definitely changed our approach to songwriting.
This article is a summarised transcript of our video “5 Books Every Songwriter Must Read”. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.
#1: “Art of Fear” by David Beatles & Ted Orland
“Art of Fear” isn’t a book specific to songwriters. Instead, it’s for anyone engaged in the art making process. The introduction of this book even talks about how it’s not for the Mozarts of the world – it’s for everyone else who is entrenched in the daily toil of art making.
This book is great for helping you learn to build and sustain a life of creativity and creative art making amidst your other responsibilities. It focuses on topics such as:
- How do you maintain focus and motivation?
- How to maintain discipline?
- Self-worth and a sense of value
In short, this book helps answer the question “How do you keep going when it gets hard?”
One of the most important takeaways from this book is focusing on the process, not the outcome. Here’s an excerpt from the book below:
#2: “Songwriters on Songwriting” by Paul Zollo
Paul Zolo has done an amazing job compiling interviews he’s done with various influential artists in “Songwriters on Songwriting”. There are interviews in this book with artists such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Carol King, Joan Baez, Paul Simon, Madonna, and more.
By having so many interviews from different songwriters in the same book, we get to see how many different ways there are to write songs. This in turn allows us to understand that there is no one right way to songwriting. Thus, we’ll feel more comfortable leaning into our own songwriting process. It also gives you various other methods you could experiment with that have been shown by the artists in their interviews.
One of the real joys of reading this book is that Paul Zolo is a songwriter himself. So, when he asks questions and conducts interviews, he does so through the lens of someone who gets really technical with songwriting. In addition, since he’s spoken to so many songwriters, his capacity to synthesise and comment on the songwriting process is really unique. Below is an excerpt from the book:
#3: “How to Write One Song” by Jeff Tweedy
Many will know Jeff Tweedy as the lead singer and songwriter for Alt-rock, genre defying band Wilco. What you’ll discover in this book is that Tweedy is also very skilled at being able to communicate the nuances, details and philosophy behind the craft and process of songwriting itself. This book also does a wonderful job putting on display his deep care for helping people write songs.
Ultimately, “How to Write One Song” is a beautiful blend of philosophy, reflections on the creative process, and some very practical songwriting exercises and tips. Although there are many wonderful takeaways from this book, the main overarching theme is the idea that the process of songwriting is much more rewarding and important than inspiration. You have to take things into your own hands, instead of waiting for inspiration to fall into your lap.
Here’s an example of this through an excerpt from the book:
#4: “Writing Better Lyrica” by Pat Pattison
Pat Pattison is a professor at the Berkeley College of Music, and also a mentor and friend of mine. So, I’m well familiar with his work. In “Writing Better Lyrics”, he goes into great detail about crafting lyrics, and shows us that by making deliberate choices around how you shape your lyrics, you shape your narrative.
The key concept that Pat contributes to the world of songwriting is the idea of prosody. Prosody is a term that describes the relationship between meaning and structure in a song. He demonstrates through practical examples how things like the shape, form and structure of your lyrics can have an emotional impact on the message you’re trying to convey. Only when the meaning and structure of your lyrics actually work together can you create that extra punch.
Here’s an excerpt from “Writing Better Lyrics” where he talks about this:
This book is also jam-packed with practical exercises and tips. One of the most powerful of these exercises is object writing, otherwise known as sense writing. In short, sense-writing is an amazing technique involving 10-minutes of focused writing a day. Benefits of this include training you to tap into your senses when songwriting, and helping you express your experiences in more relatable ways.
Click here to learn all about Sense Writing – the most powerful daily 10-minute writing practice to hone your lyric-writing abilities and write your best lyrics:
#5: “Storyworthy” by Matthew Dicks
If you’re not familiar, Matthew Dicks is the author of multiple best-selling novels, a live storyteller and has probably won the most Moth Grand Slams and story slams out of anyone anywhere. In “Storyworthy”, he talks about how our lives are full of interesting things to write about. It’s just about learning to pay attention to the things that happen everyday, and turning those things into interesting and compelling stories.
Here’s how Matt describes it in “Storyworthy”:
Through reading this book, you’ll get a deep exploration of what a story really means. Matt digs deep into the structure of a compelling story, and breaks down the mechanics of commonly told stories as well. In addition, he also provides loads of tools and exercises to help you with developing ideas.
The three exercises that Matt describes in his book are as follows:
- First/ Last/ Best/ Worst
- Crash and Burn
- Homework for Life
“Homework for Life” is particularly useful because it reveals to you the counterintuitive truth that it’s not the large, epic moments in life that we make songs out of. Instead, it’s the small moments that we go through daily that we turn into songs because that’s what people relate to the most, and can connect to.
A great way to think about this is how many songwriters assume that you have to have experienced some kind of tragic loss in order to write about heartbreak. However, through “Homework for Life”, you’ll realise that there’s plenty of moments in our day-to-day life where we experience some amount of heartbreak. Through this exercise – which involves spending 2 to 3 minutes everyday reflecting on a single moment in your day – you’ll be able to notice more details in your daily life.
In turn, this helps to improve both your creative process and your quality of life.
Conclusion: 5 Books that Are Songwriter Must-Reads
So, those were the 5 books that have had a huge impact on us as songwriters. By reading these books and taking into account what they’ve taught, hopefully you’ll have a clearer idea on what your songwriting process looks like. Above all, remember that there is no one perfect method to songwriting. Incorporate what you’ve learnt, embrace your process, and eventually, you’ll find your identity as a songwriter as well.
If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now.
Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world: