Songwriter Habit #2 – Revise Your Songs

Songwriter Habit #2 – Revise Your Songs

The media often portrays great songwriters as simply having inspiration strike them, then magically writing inspiring songs on their first try. In reality, a lot of revision is done between the song’s first draft and the version that the listener hears. Here, we’ll discuss how revising your songs is a necessary habit for great songwriters.

This article is a summarised transcript of the sixth point in our video “7 Habits of Highly Effective Songwriters’’. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

Why Should We Revise

A famous quote often repeated by many artists which was originally said by RC Bannon, is “Great songs aren’t written, they’re rewritten.”

Amazing songwriters understand that the majority of songwriting doesn’t happen from flashes of inspiration. They don’t assume that the way the song came out first is the best way. In fact, they realise that the best version of the song can only be reached through various changes and iterations.

Revising your songs gives you the chance to take them through a process of development and refinement to get them to the finish point.

If you’d like to discover more ways you could improve your songwriting, download this free PDF eBook entitled “14-Day Songwriting Challenge”:

Examples of Artists Who Revise Their Songs

  1. Neil Finn:

This genius behind Crowded House champions this concept and talks about revising his own work. He says “I’ll try as many times as they can possibly be improved on. Occasionally, that does mean that things get over-polished or overworked, but I actually think that most of the time when I’ve gone the extra mile to refashion something or re-edit or change words, it’s almost always ended up better.”

  1. Paul McCartney:

A great example of how revisions can make or break a song is Yesterday by Paul McCartney. Contrary to popular belief, the song did not come to him in a dream. The song actually came out with a jumble of lyrics such as “Scrambled eggs, oh my darling, how I love your legs”.

Only after spending a year on revising the song did he manage to create the version that we know and love today.

Conclusion: Songwriter Habit #2 – Revise Your Songs

In conclusion, great songs don’t just appear on the page magically. We don’t wake up one day, have inspiration strike us and write the next great hit of the century. Instead, disciplined songwriters take the time to revise their songs. This way, they manage to turn them into the best songs they can possibly be.

This is only one of seven habits of highly effective songwriters that we’ve listed out. Check out the full article for all 7 habits or watch the video here now.

Learn professional songwriting methods and discover strategies for collaborating with artists around the world:

Songwriter Habit #3 – Collecting Everything

Songwriter Habit #3 – Collecting Everything

We’ve all been there before: You get a sudden idea for a song, and you tell yourself that it’s alright, you’ll remember it later. But let’s be honest, most of the time, we won’t be able to accurately recall what it is later. In this article, we’ll teach you how you can collect everything and ensure that you’ll never lose an idea again.

This article is a summarised transcript of the fifth point in our video “7 Habits of Highly Effective Songwriters’’. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

What Does this Mean?

Collecting everything doesn’t so much mean that we have to record everything we see or hear. It means ensuring that we have a system in place that easily allows us to record any songwriting ideas that come to mind. Whether that’s through carrying a notepad around, recording voice notes or typing in your phone, you need to ensure that you can keep track of your inspiration somehow.

If you’d like to discover more ways you could improve your songwriting, download this free PDF eBook entitled “14-Day Songwriting Challenge”:

Examples of Artists Collecting Everything

  1. Bela Fleck:

Grammy award-winning banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck has spoken about how he used to have to tour around the world at a time where handphones didn’t exist. When he got an idea for a song, he would call his house and leave a voicemail, singing whatever idea he had in his head. Then, when he got back from tour, he’d listen to all the voicemails and jot down the ones that he liked.

This story sums up really well the sense of desperation to capture an idea that a great songwriter should have.

  1. Taylor Swift:

When you watch documentaries of Taylor Swift, you’ll notice that she always has her phone with her. In Thiago Forte’s book “Second Brain”, he talks about how she makes a habit of capturing every single idea that she has as it’s happening.

Then, she uses that as an archive that she can return to during the songwriting process. This is reminiscent of the cliché where songwriters are seen to have stacks of journals, lists of voice recordings and voice memos in their phones. The point here is that you should collect your ideas however you can, using a variety of different formats.

  1. Max Martin:

Sometimes, ideas strike you at the most inconvenient moments. However, that doesn’t mean that you should just give up on recording them. Max Martin talks about this in the making of the popular Britney Spears song, “Hit Me Baby One More Time”.

The idea for the song came to him at 1 AM, when he was already fast asleep. Instead of telling himself that he’ll do it when he wakes up, he forced himself to roll over and mumble the melodic idea into his phone. After that, he had another idea and couldn’t quite go back to sleep. So, he rolled over and recorded another voice note into his phone.

This whole situation sounds inconvenient to us, but it shows just how determined songwriters have to be when collecting ideas.

Relating this Back to Stepping Away

All of this relates back to when we talked about stepping away as being part of the songwriting process. If you haven’t read that article, you can check it out here.

It’s important to understand that stepping away is part of the songwriting process. You’re not taking a break from songwriting, you’re just moving into a different mode of the creative process. So, even when you’re out taking a walk, having a long drive or jogging, be sure that you bring with you some method to collect ideas.

Conclusion: Songwriter Habit #3 – Collecting Everything

We should remember that inspiration could strike us at any time. In order to capture that inspiration, it’s imperative that we prepare methods to record ideas no matter where we are. In this way, we can be sure that we won’t lose any of our songwriting ideas and will always have a creative archive to draw from.

This is only one of seven habits of highly effective songwriters that we’ve listed out. Check out the full article for all 7 habits or watch the video here now.

Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world:

Songwriter Habit #4 – Getting Feedback

Songwriter Habit #4 – Getting Feedback

Songwriters are often solitary creatures. Most of us like to work away at our projects, treating them as our babies and ensuring that they never reach another person’s ears till they’re complete. However, one of the most crucial habits that distinguishes highly effective songwriters from the rest is their willingness to seek and embrace feedback. In this blog post, we discuss what getting feedback means, why it matters and more.

This article is a summarised transcript of the fourth point in our video “7 Habits of Highly Effective Songwriters’’. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

What is Feedback?

It’s necessary to understand that getting feedback doesn’t mean sharing your song the week before it releases on Spotify. While that is important, that’s asking for support and not getting feedback.

Getting feedback means asking for a third party’s opinion during the process of creating your song. This gives you the chance to take their opinions onboard, and consider how you might better improve your song.

If you’d like to discover more ways you could improve your songwriting, download this free PDF eBook entitled “14-Day Songwriting Challenge”:

Examples of Artists Who Find Getting Feedback Important

  1. John Legend:

During a Hollywood Reporter Roundtable discussion, John Legend talked about how he shared a collection of songs that included his hit single “All of Me”, with a group of trusted friends and collaborators. What’s important to note here, is that at the point in time of sharing his songs, he didn’t know that he would release “All of Me” as his single.

However, when he got feedback from the people he shared them with, all of them unanimously agreed that “All of Me” was the song. In this instance, John used feedback to help him narrow down which of his songs he should focus on and develop further. He understood that a third party would be able to make a more impartial decision, since he as the songwriter was too close to the matter.

  1. Dua Lipa:

Sometimes, feedback can be given in the form of collaboration or co-writing. On a Song Explorer episode, Dua Lipa discusses the writing of her song “Levitating”. She talks about how the song was constructed working with some of her long-time collaborators in the studio bouncing ideas off each other.

This situation can be described as her receiving real-time feedback. She’s essentially taking their suggestions onboard, making changes and throwing it back to them again. Through this, we can see that collaboration, co-writing and feedback sometimes all blur the lines between each other.

  1. Sting:

In interviews, he talks about how he often starts a song by himself. Then, he takes the song draft to his band, and if they can’t make it work within 30 minutes, he scraps the idea.

You can see from this that Sting uses feedback not only as a way to develop a song, but also as a process of elimination. In this manner, he’s able to ensure that he doesn’t waste time on developing songs which might not work out. He uses feedback as a tool to help him decide.

When to Ask for Feedback

There are multiple stages throughout a song’s life where you can ask for feedback. The initial draft phase of a song is one of the best times that you can get feedback. Since the song is in its early stages, everything is still very easily changed and there are so many different directions that it could go in. By asking for feedback, you’ll be able to easily influence your song in the early stages of its life.

However, for some people, it’s too difficult for them to share a song in its first stage. This is understandable as the first stage is when things are still very raw, which would make many songwriters embarrassed of sharing. If this is the case, you could polish your song a bit more first, before using the second or third version to seek feedback from other musicians, producers or songwriters who don’t necessarily write in the same genre or style as you.

Who to Ask for Feedback

A lot of musicians aren’t sure who to ask for feedback. This is mostly due to the fact that songwriters are often solitary, and have trouble forming the right relationships to help with this process. One way to go about it, is to seek out a community of songwriters or join some songwriting groups.

An amazing example of this is our Patreon channel which we specifically set up to invite other songwriters in and give them a safe space to be able to share their songs at different phases of the writing process. We also host songwriting groups that run 4 times a year that anyone in the world can join. – click here to check that out.

Another thing that’s really important, is to identify and follow the kinds of songwriters whose music and songwriting you love. Find out who the producers on that record are, then take a chance and reach out to them, asking if it’s alright for you to get some feedback.

You should also be sure to actually go watch live music shows. These environments are great to physically meet people in, foster relationships with people and ask for the kind of feedback that you’d require as a songwriter. This might result in you having to pay people for their help. However at some point, it’s really important to hire people who have the skills and knowledge to help you take your own craft to the next level.

Conclusion: Songwriter Habit #4 – Getting Feedback

As songwriters, we need to be open-minded enough to understand that feedback is meant to be a tool to help us grow. To that end, we should actively seek out feedback to further develop our craft and ensure that we can make our songs the best versions of themselves that they can be.

This is only one of seven habits of highly effective songwriters that we’ve listed out. Check out the full article for all 7 habits or watch the video here now.

Learn professional songwriting methods and discover strategies for collaborating with artists around the world:

Songwriter Habit #5 – Stepping Away

Songwriter Habit #5 – Stepping Away

Songwriting isn’t just about writing songs. It’s about how we find inspiration and ensure that we can write not only consistently, but also regardless of whether inspiration jumps out at us or not. Here, we’ll discuss a part of that process: Stepping away.

This article is a summarised transcript of the third point in our video “7 Habits of Highly Effective Songwriters’’. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

Why Does Stepping Away Matter?

It’s important to note that the creative process is not just all about being hunched over your desk or laptop and pounding away at a line that you can’t solve. While this is important, it‘s only half of the process of songwriting.

When we step away, we allow ourselves to enter a different headspace. By taking a break, we can achieve breakthroughs and gain new perspectives that we may have never thought of before

If you’d like to discover more ways to enhance your creative process, download this free PDF eBook entitled “14-Day Songwriting Challenge”:

Examples of Artists Who Find Stepping Away Important

  1. Sting:

In an interview on the Sodajerker podcast, he says “There’s something about the binary rhythm of walking around – left, right, left, right – that opens up the creative channel. If I get stuck with a problem, I’ll go out and walk it off.”

  1. Paul Simon:

Songwriter Paul Simon is also a fan of stepping away when he’s stuck. He has said “I think it’s very calming, it’s like a Zen exercise really. The act of throwing a ball and catching a ball is so natural and calming that your mind kind of wanders. And that’s really what you want to happen. You want your mind to wander, to pick up words and phrases and fool around with them and drop them.”

  1. Tom Waits:

This prolific songwriter has also talked about how he will deliberately go for long drives as part of the creative process. He feels that by putting his brain in a completely different state of mind, it helps to create new connections between ideas that he wouldn’t have come up with sitting at a desk.

  1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:

Even classical musician Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has been quoting saying “When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone and of good cheer – say, traveling in a carriage or walking after a good meal or during during the night when I cannot sleep – it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.”

Conclusion: Songwriter Habit #5 – Stepping Away

Stepping away is a habit that is just as important for songwriters to practice, as it is for them to practice writing songs. By stepping away, you allow yourself to create connections you never would have thought existed. Thus, helping you to write songs more consistently and efficiently.

This is only one of seven habits of highly effective songwriters that we’ve listed out. Check out the full article for all 7 habits or watch the video here now.

Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world:

Songwriter Habit #6 – Thinking Like An Anthropologist

Songwriter Habit #6 – Thinking Like An Anthropologist

It’s easy for us as musicians to say that we listen to lots of music. However, what differentiates the way we listen to music from the way popular songwriters listen to music? In this blog post, we’ll discuss what we mean by thinking like an anthropologist when listening to music, and why it matters.

This article is a summarised transcript of the second point in our video “7 Habits of Highly Effective Songwriters’’. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

What is Thinking Like An Anthropologist?

In 2008, when I was given the chance to learn from John Mayer, he talked about something that stuck with me till this day. He said that on every day of the week, he listens to the Top 10 Hits. However, he doesn’t listen critically – instead he listens with curiosity and with the intent to learn from the song/ artist.

This is essentially what it means when we say to think like an anthropologist, in regards to listening to music. It means to listen to without judgement, and only with the intent to take things apart and learn. You don’t have to enjoy what you’re listening to. Instead, listen with an open mind and understand that it’s possible to learn something from anything.

If you’d like to discover more ways to enhance your creative process, download this free PDF eBook entitled “14-Day Songwriting Challenge”:

Question 1: Why Do Millions Love These Songs?

The first question that John Mayer asks himself when he listens to songs, is “Why do millions love these songs?”.

Music doesn’t just end up in the Top 10 because it’s had millions of dollars pumped into it. Rather, it’s because millions of people actually enjoy it that songs can become famous. While it’s easy to dismiss popularity as a product of mere marketing or trends, that would be a mistake.

Taking the perspective of an anthropologist allows you to think more about why these songs are loved by millions. Then, we can take what we learn and try to apply it in our own songs.

Question 2: How Can I Use These Elements in My Own Songwriting?

The second question he asks himself is “How can I use what I’ve learnt in my own songwriting?”

Learning from a song and using it in our own songwriting doesn’t necessarily mean that we should be imitating what we hear. Instead, we should be trying to understand the mechanics behind what makes these songs great. 

For example, if you enjoyed a bass riff in a song, understand why you enjoyed that bass riff. And then, maybe use a bass riff in your own songs as well, but put it through the filters of your own style and aesthetic to truly make it yours.

Remember, the key is not imitation, but emulation.

Question 3: How Would I Improve This Song?

Finally, the last question John asks himself is “If I was the producer/songwriter of this track, what would I have done differently?”

As songwriters, it’s not sufficient for us to be able to say that we just enjoy the vibe or mood of a song. We have to be able to articulate exactly why we like the song. For example, ask yourself, is it the melody, chords or lyrics that you enjoy? Then, try to articulate the mechanics behind what makes that part enjoyable to you. If you can identify and articulate what it is that you enjoy, this will enable you to then emulate it.

The next part of this is understanding that we all have something to contribute to a song, based on our own experiences and knowledge. You should try and develop the mental flexibility to listen to a song and ask how you could make it closer to what you’d imagine it to be. Not be judgmental and simply brushing it off as being a style that you’re not a fan of.

Conclusion: Songwriter Habit #6 – Thinking Like An Anthropologist

In conclusion, it’s important for us to develop a non-judgmental attitude when we listen to music. This way, we’ll be able to learn from songs and provide ourselves with a larger toolkit to draw from when songwriting. If we listen judgmentally, then we deny ourselves that chance to learn and grow as songwriters.

This is only one of seven habits of highly effective songwriters that we’ve listed out. Check out the full article for all 7 habits or watch the video here now.

Learn professional songwriting methods and discover strategies for collaborating with artists around the world:

Songwriter Habit #7 – Listening to Lots of Music

Songwriter Habit #7 – Listening to Lots of Music

As musicians, we often fall into the trap of listening to things that we’re used to. After all, the familiar is safe and comfortable. However, this is actually something that might be detrimental to your growth as a songwriter. Here, we’ll discuss why listening to lots of music is one of the traits of a highly effective songwriter.

This blog post aims to summarise the first point in our video “7 Habits of Highly Effective Songwriters’’. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

What Does this Mean?

Listening to lots of music doesn’t just mean listening to things in a large quantity – it also means listening to multiple different kinds of music. As artists, everything we consume will eventually be turned into creative fuel that we use to write songs. So, listening to a large variety of music means that we’ll have many more sources of inspiration to draw from.

A great analogy we can use is how consuming music is similar to consuming food. If you only ate a diet of fish and chips every day, that would be extremely unbalanced. Eating a variety of food leads to better cooking and tastier food.

If you’d like to discover more ways to enhance your creative process, download this free PDF eBook entitled “14-Day Songwriting Challenge”:

Examples of Artists Who Listen to Lots of Music

  1. Bruce Springsteen:

This legendary songwriter has talked a lot about how he’s in output mode when he’s making a record, and doesn’t really consume much material. However, outside of that and in between records, he tries his best to consume as much music, books and movies as he can. 

  1. Dave Grohl:

The Foo Fighter’s frontman and Nirvana drummer has mentioned how one of his top 10 albums of all time is “Yo! Bum Rush the Show” by hip-hop group Public Enemy.

  1. David Bowie:

He’s a huge fan of minimalist composer Steve Reich’s work, particularly the composer’s album entitled “Music for 18 Musicians”. In addition, he has talked about how Kendrick Lamar and other similar contemporary artists have influenced the ≥making of his 26th and final studio album, “Black Star”.

  1. Bob Dylan:

Prolific songwriter Bob Dylan said “Anyone who wants to be a songwriter should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years.”

Some other amazing examples are Lady Gaga who loves Iron Maiden, Lana Del Ray who is a huge Eminem fan, and Miley Cyrus having an obsession with Radiohead.

Conclusion: Songwriter Habit #7 – Listening to Lots of Music

As artists, it’s our job to ensure that we widen our pool of experiences to draw from, so that we can create amazing songs. To that end, we should be sure to listen to lots of music, thus, broadening our creative palette greatly.

This is only one of seven habits of highly effective songwriters that we’ve listed out. Check out the full article for all 7 habits or watch the video here now.

Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world:

What I’m listening to and why.

I got a phone call from my friend Benny the other night (Benny, who I make videos with on all things songwriting). He was very excited: “Kep! You have got to listen to the new Sam Smith song! It’s in…Phrygian!”

What the hell is Phrygian, and why is this so exciting?

Well, music nerds, Phrygian is a mode, which means it’s a scale that is not your average minor scale or major scale. This particular mode is a minor scale, yes, but it has a crucial note that gives it its own special dark sauce: it has a b2.

For a more in-depth look at Phrygian (and also the wild extra note that makes the Chorus pop), check out this video on the channel:

The b2 note in the scale makes it very dark, and also totally unique among the songs on the charts right now.

In fact, it makes it unique amongst almost all Top 100 songs from the past decade or more.

But why should we care what’s on the charts? Well, I have it on very good advice (John Mayer told me this himself…) that a very good practice as a songwriter is to listen to the Top 10 on any day, without judgments of good and bad, but instead with this question in mind:

Why do millions of people love this?

And secondly: Can I use that thing in my own way (regardless of whether I happen to ‘like’ this particular song? Which, incidentally in this case, I very much do).

The video above gives some tips in the second half about ways you can take the musical concepts that make this song a standout, and apply them to your own song, without ripping it off.

For another example of how to take a cool musical idea you hear in a song, and apply it to your own songwriting, you can check out this video from the archive, on adapting this beautiful neo-soul progression.

And for a more structured and in-depth guide to taking a music idea, and turning into a full song, with step by step tools, techniques, and strategies, check out our brand spanking new Online Mini Course: The Songwriting Process Start to Finish!


How to Successfully Network as a Songwriter—my answer to a slightly petulant question on my YouTube channel

I was recently asked a question on my YouTube channel that went something like this:

The most important part of building a career as a songwriter is building a network, establishing good contacts, and schmoozing. Could you please tell us how you did that?

I’ve actually made it significantly more polite than the question was phrased on my channel. And hey, SPOILER: My number 1 ‘schmoozing’ tip is this: be kind, curious, and polite to everyone you meet. So you know, if you want to know how to do it, start by phrasing your questions with a tone of curiosity and kindness, rather than barking demands at people you don’t know…but my issues with people’s tone-blindness aside, I think there’s something in this that is very universal to songwriters (and probably a whole lot of people) starting out in a field, or struggling to get ‘inside’.

So here, I want to give you my top tips on how to build a career as a songwriter, and how to create strong networks of people around you. This is simply my experience, and my observations of the behaviours of people who I like and respect in the industry, not the ‘science of networking’, so take what makes sense to you. I hope it helps.

#1: Make. Good. Work.

The first thing to debunk in the question above is that “the most important thing” is your network. No, it isn’t. The most important thing is that you make excellent work. In this chicken and egg scenario, there is definitely a clear cause and consequence relationship: good work leads to good connections.

There isn’t any point trying to network or ‘schmooze’ (although I’m going to rip that idea apart in a moment) if you don’t have good work behind it.

Once you have good work, building a good network is not only then helpful, but also much easier. As marketing writer and thinker Seth Godin says, the best kind of marketing (which is just shorthand for communicating to others about yourself or your product) is when you can whisper quietly to people who are interested, rather than yelling loudly at strangers who don’t care.

Seth Godin

How do you get people interested? Make. Good. Work.

If you’re struggling to build a network, it’s likely that your work isn’t at a level yet where people will naturally have an interest. You’re spending too much energy trying to yell people into your corner, and not enough actually creating work of undeniably good quality. As Steve Martin says,

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

So spend less time marketing, and more time on your craft.**

#2: Be kind, curious, and polite to everyone you meet.

While you’re busy making good work, you can practice this with everyone you meet, regardless of whether they seem like someone who can ‘make something happen for you’, or they are the person getting coffee. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a room with someone who seemed quiet and unassuming, and that very same person has become an incredibly successful musician, producer, or some other creator with a great career in music.

A spirit of curiosity, kindness, and enthusiasm, combined with being reliable (ie doing what you say you are going to do, on time, and with solid communication) is an absolutely winning combination. People (including myself, all of the time) prefer to hire someone who is nice and reliable and competent, rather than someone who is a genius and takes 2 weeks to respond to an email.

Let’s also put to permanent rest that this is ‘schmoozing’. Schmoozing implies that you are trying to get something from someone. If you change your mindset to one of trying to give, rather than get, you’ll find more success in the quality of the relationships that you form. As Austin Kleon says in “Show Your Work,”:

“Almost all of the people I look up to and try to steal from today, regardless of their profession, have built sharing into their routine. These people aren’t schmoozing at cocktail parties; they’re too busy for that. They’re cranking away in their studios, their laboratories, or their cubicles, but instead of maintaining absolute secrecy and hoarding their work, they’re open about what they’re working on, and they’re consistently posting bits and pieces of their work, their ideas, and what they’re learning online. Instead of wasting their time “networking,” they’re taking advantage of the network.”

Networking brings with it the idea that you are collecting contacts like coins. ‘Building relationships’ is much better. The idea in a relationship is reciprocity, but not necessarily transaction.

So, words matter. How you express yourself and your ideas matters (you’re a writer, right?). Be careful with your words. Let me give you an example. Here is how the asker of the question that inspired this post actually wrote their comment:

“The most important part of how you made a career as a songwriter is how you networked, used contacts, schmoozed etc. to get into the business to begin with. Tell us how you did that.”

Let me show you how this person could have phrased this that would have made me think, ‘oh this is a thoughtful person who I am willing to give my personal time to’:

“Hi Keppie! Thanks so much for all the content you’re putting on your channel, I’m learning a lot. It seems to me that building a career as a songwriter also involves not only the songs, but a lot of networking skills as well. If you have any time to answer this question, I’d love to know more about how you have approached that, and what are some tips you would give to people starting out? If not, I will continue to enjoy and support your work! Thanks again.”

That’s a message I would personally respond to. If I had time. Which I might or might not. But if I happened to, this is the one I would gravitate toward.

#3: Make yourself useful to others.

One of the most important ‘networking’ moves I have made was to start creating opportunities for others. While a student at Berklee, I started a student organisation called the Global Students Network, to give international students a chance to meet, and to gig together on campus. You know who my co-founder was? Arooj Aftab, now nominated for a 2022 Grammy as Best New Artist.


If you’re looking for gigs, think about becoming an organiser. Invite 3 other artists to perform with you, and book a venue.

Find a young filmmaker, animator, or poet, and offer to compose the music for a video.

Or, you know, start a YouTube channel, and provide information that is of use to other songwriters, or invite other people onto it and use your platform to promote other people, too. Start a podcast, and share your ideas, processes, things you’re reading and learning. Invite other people on. Create a platform that you can use to elevate and promote other people. Brian Funk recently invited me onto his podcast.

He’s built a platform and is using it to promote other people. Brian and I are now ‘networked’ (but, really, we’re now friends and colleagues, which is way more interesting and fun and valuable than ‘network’…).

Meta note: See how I am using my platform here to promote Brian's work? Coz he's lovely? And didn't even ask for me to do it? But I will, because that's how it works...

If you find yourself in the position of wanting to ask a favour of someone, see if you can figure out a way that you could make their life easier or better (in a way that is appropriate and commensurate; it would be off-puttingly one-sided and bribe-ish to offer someone to build a website for them listening to your music for 3 minutes; but would be fine to offer to do the coffee and lunch run for the chance to sit quietly in the corner of a recording session at a studio, if you get the chance to meet a producer or engineer or recording artist).

And you know what’s even better than asking a favour? Asking for nothing in return. If you like something that someone else does or creates, simply use your platforms to promote them and their work. The value of that is worth 10x whatever you might get by asking for something in return.

#4: The practical stuff.

Once you’ve got good work, and are working on the basic operating system of kindness, curiosity, and value-adding, there are things you can do to put yourself in a position where you might meet the people you want to meet (just remembering there’s no guarantees, no paved road, it’s all speculating, but as the saying goes, “the harder you work, the more luck you seem to have…”):

Play open mics. If you are a songwriter starting out, cut your teeth at local open mics. It’s where I met the people who I still consider my closest musical allies and friends 20 years later. For example, Ben Romalis, Brian Campeau, and The Green Mohair Suits.

Release work. You need to have work in the world for people to be able to discover you. Don’t expect a single song to be “the song” that’s going to launch you. Keep making work regardless of whether it gets attention. As Bayles and Orland say in ‘Art and Fear’, your audience’s concerns (whether they be total disinterest or lavish attention),

“are not your concerns (although it’s dangerously easy to adopt their attitudes.) Their job is whatever it is: to be moved by art, to be entertained by it, to make a killing off it, whatever. Your job is to learn to work on your work.”

Show up. If you are at school/college/university, go to your professors’ open office hours, with specific questions, or to show them your work, and ask for feedback—genuinely! Not secretly only wanting a pat on the back – REALLY get their feedback, and experiment with their suggestions. Then go back the next week, and show them that you followed their advice, and talk about what worked for you and what didn’t. This shows them two things: that you are dedicated to actually improving your craft, and that you are exercising your own taste and discretion about your work, not just following others’ ideas…turning up in Pat Pattison’s office on a weekly basis (with Good. Work. And a solid work ethic), was part of what put me front and center of his mind to invite me to be in the room with John Mayer for a week in 2008.

It was also what brought me to mind when a faculty position in the Songwriting Department opened up in 2010.

Have a good website. Again, make it easy for people to find you, and find out about it, and dive as deep as they want into your body of work.

Go to music and industry events. Every country has a performing rights association who very frequently will run an array of professional development seminars, panels, master classes, etc. In Australia, you can check out what’s offered by APRA/AMCOS, MusicNSW, MusicVIC etc. In the States, look out for what’s on through ASCAP and BMI.

Take a class. You can always take an online (or F2F) class to meet people, and find collaborators. I have talked about this in more detail here, and there are some links in the video notes there, too.

Make your emails personal, well-researched, and succinct. If you are emailing someone you have met, or even cold-emailing someone, make it clear in your email that you are writing specifically to them, and not sending out a generic email you have copied and pasted. An example of this might be to include info that shows you have researched them, and that there is a reason they might want to check out your music.

This is no good:

“Hey Michelle,

I’m a young songwriter looking for opportunities to get my work in front of people in the music industry. I would love for you to have a listen to these tracks, and let me know what you think.”

This is better:

“Hi Michelle,

I noticed you recently signed Pink Bottle to your label! I’ve followed their careers for a while, and my own band, The Scorpion Queens recently played on the same bill with them at The Candy Castle. The Queens have have another show coming up at The Candy Castle on June 13…”

You can see where this is going. Notice that it is clearly an email for Michelle, and no one else. It shows that there is a musical connection between a band she’s signed and my (totally fictional) band (ie a reason she might be interested), and that we are an active band, not waiting around for someone to do something for us, already playing and booking gigs, with more activity on the horizon. I would then follow up with offering to put a ticket for Michelle on the door, offering to buy her a drink, and then thanking for her time, and sending her a link to my website, and one or two of my songs.

Follow up and thank someone for their time. If you meet someone at an event who you’ve had a conversation with and they have shared their contact information with you, follow up with a short and polite email within the week. If they don’t respond to you, it’s okay to follow up once more a few weeks later. After that, let it go. Don’t hassle them. You never know when you might bump into them again, and if they happen to remember you, they will also likely remember that you were professional and tactful.

Deliver on time. Provide more than you are required to, where possible. I don’t think this needs much elaboration.

#5: Keep. Making. Good. Work.

Ninety-seven percent of people who graduate from a degree in the creative arts are not making work 3 years after they graduate. This means that all you need to do to eliminate 97% of your competition is to keep making (good) work over a longer period of time.

Honestly, this last point here is where a career as a songwriter is made. After all, what is a ‘career’ as a songwriter? What is success? Each person has to answer this question honestly for themselves, but if your only (or even main) conception of success involves fame and fortune, you are on a dark and murky quest bound almost certainly for the land of Profound Disappointment. The ‘careers’ that dominate the media (Ariana Grande, Adele, John Mayer etc) really only represent the tiniest fraction of people who are actually making careers that involve songwriting in some capacity. The flipside of this, however, is to understand that people who DO make a living as songwriters also make a living doing lots of other stuff. This describes me, and lots of songwriters I know. I write and perform my own music; I teach songwriting. The combination of these has established me as someone who can help other people make their songs better. Which has put me in the room with other artists and bands, co-writing. Continually producing work has led to other commissioned work in interesting and unexpected formats (I have a full album of original work that will be released interwoven into an audiobook published by Penguin Random House next year). Which is likely to lead to other writers interested in commissioning songwriters to collaborate on other work…etc. And even if it doesn’t, I have an idea for a musical that I plan to start writing next year…I do believe there is a mindset thing going in here: my ‘career’ is really just a string of projects that interest and excite me. Having a career, and a network, is really an offshoot of doing work that excites me, regardless of whether anyone else is giving me permission, or even giving me a hand.

And in conclusion…

So, dear reader—and dear Asker of Slightly Rude but Nevertheless Interesting Question/Demand on YouTube—networking is not the most important thing. Your love of writing songs, a determination to write better songs, the perseverance to keep doing it, a mindset of kindness and generosity, and making yourself findable, are way, way more important.

If you made it this far reading this, firstly, thank you. Secondly, you would probably enjoy (actually, I think your mind would be permanently ennobled) by reading “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon, and “Art and Fear” by Bayles and Orland.

**Footnote. I want to clarify that I am not a believer in pure meritocracy. Just because your work is good is often not enough, and very often is much harder for people who have histories and systems of oppression and marginalisation stacked against them (women, people of colour, LGBTQI+ folks, I'm shouting it out for us!). The experience of these people is often that their work needs to be even better to get the same attention. 

The 3 Things I Did This Year to Write Over 20 Songs

In this video, I share the three pillars of my creative practice that ensure I write even when not inspired, and have given me the structure to write over 20 songs this year.

Producing lots of creative work is more often about the habits, practices, and environments that we build, rather than about inspiration alone. These three practices give me the structures to stay connected to my ideas and projects, to know EXACTLY what I need to do if I am stuck on an idea or need to generate new ideas, and to ensure I have some accountability to get the work done.

More videos on my YouTube Channel, here.

Lyric Writing Masterclass March 16 2020

Can songwriting actually be taught? Can your lyrics actually improve, or are you just born Bob Dylan?

Author Ann Patchett beautifully writes: “Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?” Great writers know that while we must always “leave room for the acts of the spirit” (as Ursula K. Le Guin puts it), that there are a set of tools, techniques, strategies, methods and ways of understanding language that can systematically improve how we express whatever we want to express.

Screen Shot 2020-03-11 at 9.45.43 amIn my lyric-writing life, there are a handful of very simply and incredibly effective techniques, that once learned, made my songwriting drastically improve. Within a few years of using them, I could count John Mayer and Pat Pattison as two of my mentors, and was on the Songwriting faculty at the Berklee College of Music. It has been my life mission since learning these to pass them on to others. I hope you’ll join me on Monday as I go deeply into the first of these transformative principles of great lyric writing.

Lyric Writing Masterclass—Monday March 16 6pm (Sydney AEDT)

Sign up here.

More info here.