How to Develop Your Songwriting Style (Practical Tips)
Developing your songwriting style is really a lifelong process of experimentation and tweaking.
It’s likely going to change in some degree with every album because as a songwriter you probably don’t want to get stuck with all your music sounding the exact same all the time. It’s one of those processes that you want to grow and evolve with.
That being said, there are definitely some things that can help you develop your style no matter how new or experienced you might be.
To develop your songwriting style try learning other people’s songs, analyzing their music theory and production, try using other songs as templates, mesh different genres together, and collaborate with other songwriters.
Learn to play other people’s songs
It’s always a good idea to look at the artists whose songs you want to use as influences and learn to play them. You’ll notice all kinds of little details as you go and may even be surprised to find they’re simpler than you thought they were.
Some things you can take note of that will help improve your own songwriting style are things like:
- How do they structure their ideas?
- How many times do they usually repeat things?
- What kind of rhythms do they use a lot?
- What patterns do they use a lot on guitar riffs or bass lines?
- Is what they are actually playing as complicated or difficult as it sounds? Maybe, maybe not.
- How does the instrument you’re using interact with the other instruments? Is it rhythm? Lead? Ambient?
This will help you notice a lot of details because there can sometimes be a disconnect between what you think a song is like as a listener vs how it’s actually like as a performer.
Analyze the theory behind songs
This is why I do songwriting analyses on the youtube channel. By understanding the theory behind songs you’ll be able to get the sounds and moods you want when you need them in your own songs.
For example, you can look at a song you like, notice a chord change that sounds cool, and then know how to do something similar in your own songs with your own twist.
You’ll also notice moods and what theory describes it. For example, understanding and using modes will allow you to hear a mood and be like “oh yea that’s lydian” and now you know the sound you like for when you want to use it.
Most songs that are singles or become hits are actually fairly simple, so you can learn a lot from the simplest songs.
Of course, checking out the songwriting analyses on the Audiospring Music youtube channel is the easiest way to learn since I’m doing all the work and interpreting it to walk you through it.
Analyze the production of other songs
This is one of the most important parts of developing your songwriting style because production plays a HUGE role in both the songwriting process itself as well as the final track.
When I say production you might think mixing and mastering, and although that is a piece (that comes later) I really mean how the song is presented in a recording.
Things like arrangement, sound selection, ear candy, song structure, song dynamics, etc.
Consider the below:
- What instrument is the pain driver of the song and when?
- When does each instrument start and stop playing?
- How many times are the hooks repeated?
- Where is there silence?
- Are there any ambient sounds?
- What are the instruments playing, how many are there, and where are they placed in the mix? What is in the center, what is panned to the sides, what sounds are moving from side to side, how far away does each instrument sound, etc.
- How many vocal tracks can you hear in each song section?
- What frequencies in the sound spectrum are being used and by what instrument?
These things are important because it can influence the songwriting itself. If all your instruments are in the midrange at all times then there is no mixing and mastering that can help it sound good because they’ll be fighting for the same frequency range.
This means that you might have to adjust what the guitar, bass, vocals, keys, drums etc are doing so that they all layer on top of each other nicely, and aren’t fighting for the same space and frequencies. Otherwise things get lost, sound muddy, messy, etc.
You’ll also notice that when one instrument is doing something busy others will often be doing something less busy so you can appreciate the busy part.
Melodies and fills usually take place in the spaces other instruments leave open. This way they sound like they are working together.
Use other songs as a template for your own song
If you’re starting out with songwriting or you’re already experienced and trying to write with a different style then using other songs as templates for your songs can be a great approach.
The point isn’t to hardcore copy the song but rather to notice how they accomplish what they do and apply the lesson to your own song.
- If a song uses a certain common chord progression, go ahead and change the key and use it with your own melodies and lyrics on top.
- If there’s a certain beat go ahead and take the snare and kick as is and play around with the accents and fills.
- How many bars is each song section in that song? Go ahead and use the same amounts of bars and the same structure and just change the content using your own idea.
- What gear was used to record the track? If you like the snare sound go ahead and use the same one or mix and match sounds from different artists to put together your own sound.
You get the idea. This is one of the fastest ways to start writing something different and learn how to make different songwriting decisions etc.
Mesh sounds from different genres together
Experimentation is a big part of developing your style so try mixing different sounds to see what you like.
This could include using instruments from different genres such as how Santana would bring Latin percussion into his rock band, or how prog metal band Tesseract added a saxophone solo to “Embers”.
This can also mean using jazz chords for your rock band, or using disco drum beats like Dave Grohl did on Nevermind.
Collaborate with other songwriters
Working with other songwriters is one of the best ways to improve your songwriting. You will learn to see song ideas from different perspectives, learn tricks and hacks other people use, and be amazed at how someone else’s ideas can mix with yours to create something completely new that neither of you would have ever thought of alone.
There’s a saying that goes “faster alone, further together” and I think that can be true here as well. If both of you like the song then it’s likely a better song, even if it takes longer to write. Of course it helps dramatically if both writers have similar tastes in music and what they want to write.
Some quick tips for collaborating:
- Always be open to trying things out. Some musicians call this “auditioning the part”. It shows rather than tells, so that the other musicians can actually hear the idea in context, not just have it explained verbally.
- When you’re writing with someone and they have an idea, let them try it on the song, then listen to it and decide whether or not it works or doesn’t work and why.
- Knowing why you think an idea works and doesn’t work and being able to explain it is another very important skill in co-writing because it keeps the feedback focused on serving the song and allows for improvement to be made.
- Oftentimes we can get really attached to our ideas and it’s important to be able to take a step back and be objective about what is best for the song and what it asks for, rather than what we want it to be like or what we want to play.
Wrapping it up
Remember when you were in high school and you tried on a bunch of new things to see what felt like you?
Maybe you became a skateboarder for a few months, then joined the soccer team, then tried theater, etc until one day you realized you are a musician and that’s what feels most true to you.
Well finding your style as a songwriter is a lot like that. It’s a bit of an identity thing and requires you to try lots of things to see what feels authentic to you.
You’ll also have to be willing to make a lot of mistakes and try things that sound awful lol, but as you progress you will pick up certain things and your own songwriting style will develop itself.
Also, as you saw in most of the points above, imitation is one of the greatest hacks for this so pick your top influences and try learning and copying what they do with confidence and mix and match ideas and styles.
Check out this other blog post that might be helpful as well Songwriting Tips: How to choose a genre for music.
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