1. You want to express something.
2. You want to create something that others will connect with.
If you're simply wanting to express something, you can stop reading now as there is nothing I can advise you on. If you're looking to write songs that better connect with people, this article is for you.
"Expression" is great, but at its heart, it's something private. Once your thoughts have been put on paper or otherwise recorded, you've done your job. When you're only concerned with expressing yourself, you're the only one who matters and you'll be successful regardless of whether other people hear (or otherwise experience) your expression.
But if you're looking to create something that will matter to people beyond just you, you've got to keep those people in mind. Unfortunately, most "songwriters" miss this. They put their feelings ahead of everybody else's.
So I'm going to be blunt...
The #1 thing people care about when they hear a song is how it makes them feel.
They don't care about how you feel or how you were inspired to write it -- unless you've given them something to which they can relate. That means, unless they're also songwriters, they don't care about a lot of the things you may be focusing on, like chord structures, whether or not there is a bridge, etc.
As I mentioned in my book, Six-Figure Musician, the ability to see things through the eyes of another person is one of the most valuable “music business” skills you can have. Only when you really understand people and where they are coming from can you create an experience or product that directly meets their needs.
It's easy to get caught up in structure, hooks, and other "rules" of songwriting. It's also easy to get caught up in our own lives. Before you think about any of these things though, when you first sit down to write, ask yourself these questions:
- Who am I speaking to? ("Everybody" is not a good answer. Get specific.)
- What are they feeling now?
- What do they want to feel?
- How can I make #3 happen?
The only purpose of the first two is for you to get clear on who your audience is. It's the second two that are most important when it comes to writing a song that connects.
Don't assume you are your audience. Sometimes you start that way, but as life happens, people change. This is why a musician seems to have his finger on the pulse of culture one album, only to be completely disconnected from it on the next.
The "ingredients" you use today eventually won't work anymore.
What's the solution?
Work backwards when you write. Instead of thinking about things to write about, following something that worked in the past, or focusing on the technical aspects of writing a song, go to the end user and simply observe. When you can master that, great songs will write themselves.