Inspiration vs Craft in Songwriting

Hi Songwriters, 


I am pretty safe to say that all of you want to write songs that move people. I think we all have songs that have touched, and shaped our lives, and at some point the songwriting bug bit us. We decided we have something to say. Songwriting is the vehicle we have chosen to do that. 


When we first start writing songs we pick up our instrument of choice. OK, so piano players, maybe you don’t pick it up, but you know what I mean. We just let the words and music flow, and we think we just wrote a hit. Our mom’s and family think we should be on Songland, or American Idol, or maybe we should send our songs to Nashville. Then we play our song for others a little further out in our circle. Their faces and reaction tell us a different story. We sometimes get a “Nice work” or “Cool.” Then nothing. What?! Or worse yet they say, “What is that song about?” This is where your songwriter heart falls to the floor. I have been there. BEEN THERE. 


So what does this have to do with our tip this week? Well at some point you will be faced with the realization that inspiration only gets you so far, and many times it doesn’t do a very good job of telling the stories and emotions that you want to get across in your songs. You have to lean on craft. Then you have people say that craft takes emotion out of writing. They might say, “I can’t write if I am not inspired.” Fair, but how often are you inspired? Is it getting you as many songs as you want? I think if you ask most professional songwriters, they will tell you inspiration is awesome, but craft is what pays their bills. Note, I know not everyone wants to be a pro songwriter, but I think we call want to write as well as them. 


My personal thought is you need both craft and inspiration, and both feed off of each other. Have you ever heard a song that is full of emotional words, but it falls flat? How about, have you heard a song that is technically great, but says nothing? Both of these situations tells us that the mix of emotion/inspiration and craft is off balance. We should be using song craft to communicate emotions and stories to our listeners. Craft is the framework that showcases the emotions we want to share with our listeners. So what is song craft? 


Song craft is really the use of lyrical, melodic, and harmonic tools to create contrast and prosody. This includes song structure, rhyme schemes, types of rhymes, music theory, trends, etc. Study of these things, like trends is not using a “formula.” It is using proven tools that have been proven to work. How do we know they work? They are in songs that we love, whether we realize it or not. Learning to write with song craft is about learning tools to use in your writing to make YOUR writing better. It is not about writing just like someone else. Each month our songwriting workshop will give you real-life song craft tips and techniques that can help you bridge your own gaps between inspiration and making listeners connect with your songs. 


I host a monthly Songwriting Workshop the 2nd Thursday of each month at 7PM Central. Anyone is welcome. It is free. Check out the events here.

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