For those of you who are singer-songwriters (or aspire to become one), your end goal is probably to create a soulful, raw, and earth-shattering masterpiece that reflects who you are as a creative individual, weaves in poetic symbolism with captivating storytelling in a way that no other lyricists can replicate, synthesizes a variety of styles into a sound that is distinctly yours, and could potentially leave even the most abrasive of critics shaken to their core with all of their usual negative comments, which they reserve for 99% of artists, pounded into dust.
You have grand dreams, and you think that those other singer-songwriters who merely put out trite bubblegum songs with not much of a fascinating backstory to them won't make it, and even the critics agree. Now before you ride off into the sunset on your high horse and claim that you are "deeper" than other songwriters who have either gone viral or keep putting out the same unoriginal fluff that is entirely forgettable, you need to remember that complexity and comparing yourself to other people will hold you back.
And I want you to succeed and genuinely enjoy what you’re doing without being dissatisfied with others around you. I want you to master the art of songwriting and create something so damn memorable and legendary that it gives me hope for the future of music. I'm waiting to hear you bleed your story and reveal your personal revelations through a collection of songs crafted in the most poignant way possible.
So here are the five absolutely critical essentials for developing, creating, and finally mastering that masterpiece that's just waiting to burst out of your heart and soar like that rare breed of bird that sings the songs that are both familiar and unfamiliar, with your signature style.
1. Profound lyrics that are neither too pretentious, nor simplistic - on a variety of topics (and not 99% love or break-up songs)
I watch a lot of reviews by music critics, and I can say for sure that not many artists can be so "on point" with their lyrics. Some lyrics are littered with clichés that make even the most happy-go-lucky of people cringe. On the other extreme, some lyrics are full of pretentious mumbo-jumbo written in such a clunky and convoluted way that they disrupt the whole song and make people fall asleep. You need to let go of the belief that you have to be "deep" songwriter because sometimes the most profound of messages can be written with simple words phrased in a magical sort of way that only you can craft once you've developed your writing style enough. You also need to push yourself and express ideas in an original way and think beyond the limiting confines of platitudes that we've all heard before in cheesy songs (and are not too keen about hearing again). And please do not write every single song about love or breaking up. Write about social issues, your personal revelations about life, feeling enlightened for the first time, the depths of your manic depression, reflecting on your worst and best memories, encounters with spiritual forces, your obsessions with paradoxes...whatever you want as long as you write about it in a lyrical way.
2. Brutal honesty and raw emotions that can be heard in your voice
The best singer-songwriters aren't the ones who are technically perfect (you know, the ones who have perfect pitch and has a brilliant, rich operatic voices). The most distinct and memorable singer-songwriters have this raw and vulnerable quality in their voice because they sing with so much damn emotion that it makes you break down and cry along with them (or cry tears of joy, depending on the song and what it's about). These are the singer-songwriters that you think of as kindred spirits that always there for you both at the best and worst moments of your life. Evoking strong emotions within the listener is a surefire way to make you stand out and be more memorable than those who are merely good at singing.
3. Distinct melodies that instantly captivates the listener, keeps them in tune with the song, and delivers a sense of closure
There are many singer-songwriters in the world who have accomplished the art of writing lyrics and singing in a way that evokes breadth and depth of emotions. However, a lot of them have melodies that aren't very memorable and fail to stick out from the rest of the songs they've created and sound very similar to hundreds of other artists of their genre. You need to develop an ear for a good melody and ensure that the listener doesn't grow bored of the song within the first five seconds or thinks that you sound the same as other singer-songwriters. Though you don't have to be an expert in music theory, some intermediate knowledge and composing skills are essential for understanding the way a song is supposed to be structured.
4. A musical style that combines influences from a variety of genres that you like best, but rather than sounding like a jarring mishmash of everything you've heard before, it combines the nuances of each favorite genre in a delicate and seamlessly crafted way with laser-sharp and precise production
This is probably the most difficult aspect of songwriting - discovering your sound and transforming that idea of your sound in your head into something producible on music production software (and this takes time and a lot of long, sleepless nights). This is something that has to be individualized and only you can feel within you when everything you've been experimenting with finally clicks and resonates with who you truly are as a person and as an artist of illustrious mastery.
This probably most artists' least favorite part of crafting a song album, but it is absolutely critical and can make or break your musical career. A very eye-catching, aesthetically pleasing, tactful design, and distinct cover that reflects who you are as an artist is a must (because people do judge based on what you put on the cover of your CD and often choose not to buy it). And before you even create the album, you need to identify who needs to listen to what you have to say, which artist's fanbase is most likely to resonate with your story, and how you are going to deliver that story to them (social media, web design, and side projects that help them get to know who you are as an individual first and as an artist second).
By combining all of these five elements of putting together an album from start to finish, you'll be a force to be reckoned with in the music world - but if that's not what you're aiming for, you'll become a brilliantly evocative artist that is able to heal those who are hurting and want to be understood. And regardless of whether or not you achieve any measurable end results, that's got to be the most worthwhile and fulfilling accomplishment of all.