Rule #1 of Great Songwriting

Rule #1 of Great SongwritingBe-a-Good-Songwriter

I have rebelled against RULES most of my life. And I know that you, being a creative songwriter, are probably not so big on rules either. When I am teaching the sometimes elusive craft of songwriting, I generally like to teach more in terms of flexible guidelines, and helpful suggestions, than to ever use the term “rule.” However, this is one songwriting guideline that I suggest ALL songwriters commit to memory as a RULE.

Rule #1 of Great Songwriting: Your new song is only a “ROUGH DRAFT!”

I have seen way too many songwriters spend merely a few hours writing a new song, start rehearsing it with their band, and then perform it live a month or two later, having never altered, edited, modified, or improved a single word, note, chord, or rhythm! And when asking why I will often get some pretty funny responses, such as: “The song was ‘inspired’ in the moment, therefore I cannot change anything.” But the reality usually has more to do with the songwriter knowing very little about songwriting as a craft, and the techniques that could transform their songs from mediocre drafts into magnificent masterpieces!

There are three problems with this. One, if you ever get the chance to work with a professional producer, it could cost you a fortune in the amount of time he will want to spend editing your song before it will be ready to be recorded. Two, your songs will probably never make it to a professional producer, publisher, or record label, due to the fact that the songs will retain an unfinished quality to them. And three, it will be difficult to keep fans interested in your songs when they could be ten times better with a little editing.

Occasionally you will get lucky and write an amazing and complete song in one sitting, if you do a lot of writing. But occasionally people who buy lottery tickets on a regular basis will win some money as well. They will be certain to make money if they work for it though, just as you will be certain to write better and better songs if you put in the work learning the craft of songwriting rather than relying only on inspiration.

I don’t mean to imply that anyone reading this is an amateur, you are probably a great writer, but if you normally skip the most important part of the songwriting process, the editing, then you are missing the fullest potential of your songs.

Professional Songwriters will sometimes spend the same amount of time as amateurs with the initial writing phase, but they will think of it as a Rough Draft. Then, over the next few weeks or months, they will continually come back to the songs that had potential and build them into marketable songs, using the techniques of the trade.

Which brings us to the real issue here. One of the main reasons why so many songwriters just fly by the seat of their pants, and never take time to learn the techniques that professional songwriters use on a daily basis is that it can be very difficult information to find. Most songwriters are not even aware that songwriting can be taught and learned. And in actuality, the secrets of great songwriting have been closely guarded among music industry insiders ever since the industry became such a big money maker.

That is one of the main reasons why I have created Songwriting Planet and developed online songwriting courses, to level the playing field, and give you the tools and techniques necessary to weave your rough drafts into the best songs they can be.

So from now on, think of every a new song you complete as only a rough draft, and take some time to learn songwriting techniques, so that you will know what to look for when editing your song to take it to a much higher level. You will be AMAZED at the difference it will make.


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  • Glen

    I wrote a song a few month’s ago and submitted it to a recording company in Nashville and they recorded it. But your right editing makes a big difference, I must of edited mine several times because it was either to long, or it just didn’t sound right. Now they want to record another one I wrote.

    • Kevin Thomas

      Glen, that sounds like a great success. And yes, it is important to edit every component of your song before you send it anywhere. Kevin

  • Iliya Patev

    Great post Kevin!

    I find that my songs always change over time and when I play them to different people (or with different bands).

    I think the best thing one can do with a song is to give it time. And then have the tools at hand, of course.

    Pat Pattison likes to say that there are no rules, only tools, and there is a song in there. Well, he concedes there is one rule, and although different from yours, it boils down to a similar idea – use the tools to an end.

    What I relate to the most in your post is rebelling against rules and the difficulty of even bringing rules up in teaching a creative art.

    What I like to tell my students is that they only need to learn the “rules” to be able to break them better – with purpose and at will, rather than blindly.

    Judging by your analogy with the lottery, I think you would agree…

    • Kevin Thomas

      Great points Iliya, and yes, I remember Pat’s 1 rule was Prosody, which he extended the dictionary definition to apply to songwriting and mean that all components of the song need to work together well, which is a pretty good rule.

  • Maryqueen

    very helpful. I write songs but sometimes the songs tends to overwhelm me because I’m trying to make every line as good and captivating as possible. I’ll use this.

    • Kevin Thomas

      Mary, good point, yes, sometimes one can get too analytical trying to improve a song, but usually the danger is in not doing enough rewriting and editing, and not knowing the techniques that can be used to improve a song.

  • JohnG

    I’ve been writing songs for years and I still alter ones I made up from the beginning. Sometimes they just don’t quite have that catchiness and I play them again and sometimes the answer just comes to me. Change a chord or remove a verse. Whatever works.

  • MartyFingus

    Yes Kevin outstanding advice that you just need to apply to become Outstanding.

  • Joan Garth

    Information appreciated

  • Glen Holland

    I wrote a song and had to make several change’s. I’m glad I did, a recording company in Nashville recorded it and it sound’s great. Just waiting for it to be pitched to a record label now.

  • Janice Jemison

    Awesome advice ! I really needed to hear this. I want to learn how to write songs correctly. Great to hear this information.

  • Donnalese

    I do this as well. When I write songs “in the moment” everything Makes so much sence but, there’s always a little editing to be done. Nothing wrong with improving what u have. Might be a word, a sentence that could be better. I love song writing! It’s like a sense of release. And writing to beats OMG! Some beats the connection u feel is mind blowing! Anyways good advice!

  • Amy

    I actually proof read my songs and been times where I will change a word or sentence. I do take time and come back to that song. There been few songs where I had one idea for it but ran with an completely different idea of the idea or change the title of the song as well.

  • Robert Markham

    Great advice. I write, play and record my own music and I do follow what you’re saying. Although at times I edit, edit, edit to the point that I find what I had originally written plus just a few simnple tweeks, seems to work for me.

    • Kevin Thomas

      That’s great Robert, and sometimes you might find that it was those few simple tweeks that turned it into a much better song. Kevin

  • jeff

    Very interesting concept.


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