How to become a songwriter:

I wish there was more to say. I wish this post was longer. I wish it was worth waxing poetic, or getting granular. I wish there was a secret to tell. There’s no secret.

Write.

That is all you have to do. Writing is the way through, the way out, the way of becoming. Writing is the answer. People contact me regularly, asking how to advance their careers as songwriters. One of the first questions I ask is “How many songs have you written?” Most people say eight, 15, 20, 50… If the answer is less than 150, then you’re not really trying. 

2018 Rocky Mtn Folks Festival – Songwriters in the Round – Photo by Olive & West.

According to his first autobiography, Willie Nelson had written over 2,000 songs before he wrote “Crazy.” By my count, John Prine has written over thirty, perfect, timeless songs- and he wrote almost every day, and he’s JOHN PRINE. Bob Dylan has published over 600 songs- and those are just the ones we know about. I guarantee you he’s written far more. If these artists had to show up and write, then certainly, we must too.

Songwriters write songs all the time, or at least regularly. They do not write a handful and then expect the Recording Academy to come knocking– They move on to the next batch. They write because the process calls them. They write because writing is its own reward. This might sound cliche or oversimplified. It is not. Keep writing. The other components of music-career advice are borderline irrelevant until you are writing good songs, so I would focus on that.

Other things I tend to say include: “Your best writing is ahead of you.” “Writing happens at the speed of thought.” “Do not wait for inspiration to find you – you must pursue it.” “Songwriting is like picking apples: don’t expect the trees to come to you.” I could go on, but I’d be better off taking my own advice. Please excuse me, I have a song to write. And so do you.

I look forward to hearing your next batch of tunes,

– Jackson Emmer –

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Additional resources:

On Writing – Stephen King

The Elements of Style – Strunk & White

Songwriters on Songwriting – Paul Zollo

The Working Songwriter – Joe Pug

5 Comments

  1. Good stuff and so true. As a charter member of the “dime a dozen” Americana group, I totally understand and respect what you say. At my advanced age, I would certainly like to believe my best writing is still ahead of me. Thanks for the reminder. 🎶☺️

    1. Hi Judson, I believe in you! The best writing is ahead for all of us. Is your music posted online anywhere? If so, let me know where. I’d love to hear it. – JE –

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