RULES OF ENGAGEMENT FOR NEW SONGWRITERS!
By Mike O’Cull www.mikeocull.com
A lot of us write songs and even more of us want to. From the outside, songwriting can seem like somewhat of a dark and mysterious art form. Songwriters create sounds and feelings from what often looks like thin air and this makes aspiring writers unsure of where or how to start.
I’m not going to teach you how to write a song today but rather set you straight with some ideas about songwriting in the larger sense. The mechanics and craft of your style of writing are for you to develop. There’s no limit or boundary to the types of songs that can be written, so if Peruvian bluegrass metal is your thing, run with it. I’m here to show you how to not lose the mental game of songwriting. The last thing I want for anyone is to end up with a bunch of unfinished tunes and a bad attitude.
In that spirit, here are my basic Rules of Engagement for new songwriters. These are still the core principles that guide me. Gain these and you will be unstoppable. Miss them and risk not connecting with your audience. We don’t want that, do we? Of course we don’t. Onward into the fray!
1 – BE RUTHLESSLY AUTHENTIC!
The best thing to be is true to yourself. Write the music that turns you on. Never write anything because you feel you “should.” If you paint by numbers, so to speak, your audience will listen the same way. Work to develop your own creative voice.
2 – BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE CREATIVE!
Creative people believe in their hearts that they are creative people. This is crucial and often overlooked. Remember, if you think you can or you can’t, you’re right. To become a songwriter, simply start writing some songs. Who cares if they stink? If you don’t believe in your own creativity, you’ll never write anything.
3 – AIM TO BE MEANINGFUL , NOT SOUND MEANINGFUL!
This is a big one that is, again, often overlooked. Too many songwriters string words together that are what they think an audience wants to hear, hoping to get an instant response. Pandering, in other words. Superficial wordplay might work for a truck commercial but it won’t help build a lasting audience for your songs. Instead, write simple, deep, and true about what’s important to you and some folks out there will see themselves in your words. Greats from Johnny Cash to Chuck D to Trent Reznor understand the power of being plain spoken and direct. Give it a try before being needlessly verbose or insincere. Anyone can sling bullshit.
4 – DEVELOP BIG EARS!
Listen to and learn about as many different types of music as possible. Create an immense frame of musical reference inside yourself. Learn the music that’s historically important in your styles, especially if you are in the early years of this lifestyle. The more you know, the more you can show. It’s too easy to become incestuous if you only listen to one type of thing. Listen to a lot, mix it up, and come straight off the wall with it all. People will remember you.
5 – WRITE TO GET A REACTION!
The only way to fail in this game is to not get a reaction. Your songs have to get people’s attention. There are a million ways to do it but nothing is more important. Reactions of love or hate are equally good, as strong emotion is what we are going for. If one person absolutely hates your song, someone else will love it in equal measure. The worst possible reaction is lukewarm, like “Eh, it was alright.” Being reduced to wallpaper sucks and, if it happens too often, you may need to think about being bolder. Better to go too far than not far enough.