Should every instrumentalist become a songwriter?

 

 

It may seem quite simple but I originally just assumed that people tend to label themselves as either an instrumentalist OR a songwriter.

Then I realised that on my LinkedIn profile (along with other social profiles), I don’t state what kind of musician I am (I’ve changed this since realising!)…

Technically, I guess I’m actually both. I played the drums and piano before I started writing songs, then I picked up what I now consider to be my weapon-of-choice!… The guitar.

I wanted to figure out where I shifted from being an instrumentalist to being a songwriter.

Why it is that people actually write songs and not simply play instruments.

 

 

Playing Instruments is fun, isn’t it!

You can spend countless hours, unavailable to the rest of the world, playing your instrument of choice. That much is clear. Then, why do people take it one step further and begin to compose pieces of music? What kind of person does it take in order for this development to occur?

 

Do you have to be confident?

 

I don’t see why, because you don’t necessarily need to showcase your music to anybody.

There’s nothing in the rule book that requires a songwriter to share their creations with anybody.

Most of the people I’ve been in music classes with seem to eventually go that extra step though; at the very least, playing their songs to a small group of peers or pulling out their keyboards at family functions.

Let me clear this up first. I don’t believe that being a songwriter makes you any more creative than if you simply play an instrument. The two options are merely “available”.

Some musicians avoid writing music but they seem happy enough to play an instrument.

Going back to what I mentioned earlier, I don’t see why it would be due to a lack of confidence as they don’t need to showcase their songs. Just like they don’t need to make people aware that they even play an instrument.

This can work the other way around too… A lot of songwriters don’t even need to know how to pick up an instrument, so why would they? Could it genuinely be as simple as “some people weren’t born to write songs”…???

 

I refused to think that this is the case. So I did a bit of digging!

 

 

First, I took a trip down good old memory lane to try and pick out any old personality traits that I wasn’t aware of around the time I started writing songs.

A few things caught my attention almost immediately.

I was about 13 when I wrote my first song. I was with my dad (who also plays guitar, he bought me my first one). He gave me a few chords to play with. He said “make a verse out of these chords” so I did.

I was quite a little bright spark too so I knew that the chord progression was basically revolving around A Minor.

I recalled another song that I’d been learning, called “Dreams” by Van Halen, which involved an [F – G – Am] section. These chords sounded pretty cool to me in this order, back then… so I used these chords for a chorus! Went back to my dad and said “Hey! check this out!…”

 

So from this, I can obviously say that I had a supporting figure in my life, who boosted my creativity (my dad) and that I was actively engaged with the idea of songwriting. There was no shyness. I was just a 13 year old kid with a plan!

 

A little further down the line, when I was about 15, my dad bought himself a 4-track recorder (My god, I sound old as f*ck).

I used that 4 track recorder at every opportunity! It became my favourite thing to do. Record some drums on his electric kit, play some random chords that I thought sounded cool and add some bass.

Around the same time, I was actually in my first “proper” relationship.

You know the kind. Where you kiss n stuff.

I remember the feeling I got when I was in that new, first-time-experience romance… and I used a lot of those feelings when I picked up a guitar, to try to replicate something that vaguely reflected how I felt.

Relationship ends – Jake writes sad songs…. Eureka!

 

I think you’ve got the idea. So my dad bought some resources which allowed me to find further avenues of creativity. I was able to improvise over my own backing tracks. THEN came the obvious inspiration. Those strong feelings for someone else that makes you reach further and go that extra mile.

 

 

Could these highlighted points be the difference between me being just a guitarist and becoming the songwriter I am today?

Would I have gone into songwriting without my dad and his equipment, or the inspiration of my teenage romance, so early in my progress as a musician?

 

Let me know what you think. Share your story in the comments, I’d love to hear it.

 

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Alternative Reasons

 

Would some people start songwriting due to a need for attention?

Well, some might… to begin with. I’ll explain what I mean by that.

Songwriters could be their biggest idols on social sites like Instagram or Facebook… and nothing screams “look at me” more than somebody posting a video of themselves on social media, right?

Well, on the flip-side of that coin, musicians market themselves using these platforms so it’s more through necessity than attention-seeking.

For someone who is a viewer (or a loyal follower) of these videos and perhaps not yet a musician, identifying these videos as simply “a musician marketing their music” probably isn’t what they’re thinking at all. They’re probably more likely to just think “wow! that’s cool, I wanna do that!”. So even if that person then writes a songs and seeks attention from other people on social media, they’ll realise pretty quickly that those types of videos are vital in attracting a loyal following.

 

Do creative cover versions count?

Yes and no.

I’m often let down by the ideology of a small section of the songwriting community. The point that they try to prove is that cover-bands, or people who only play cover versions of songs, are somehow less creative than songwriters.

What an utterly ridiculous crock of shit!

(that’s slang for “pile of poo” by the way)

There is no such thing as “totally unique” in the music industry any more.

Instrumentalists either learn how to play their instruments by taking inspiration from other people or they are 100% self-taught. Either way, whatever the result, it’s been done before.

Songwriters learn how to write songs by listening to other people’s songs and editing them to make something new. There are a limited amount of tempos, chords and chord sequences in the world of music… so what are the odds that they will pick something that hasn’t already been done?…

The techniques are all copied from people before them. The only way they can look different is by editing those techniques very slightly, if possible, or using those techniques in different ways than the people before them.

This is exactly the same as covering somebody else’s song. It’s obviously been done before… but you’re putting your stamp on it. You’re altering it in a way that makes it yours. It’s a creative process.

Whether it’s altering the tempo, rhythm or the instruments used… you will have gone through a very similar process to that of a songwriter. You’ve taken inspiration and you’ve moulded it into something that suites you.

Never let anybody tell you otherwise. This is a very big topic for me and it’s an opinion I feel very strongly about. As you can probably see!

Cover artists are just as much “a creative” as their songwriting counterparts.

With that being said. I don’t believe it’s a form of songwriting.

The word songwriting assumes that you’ve actually written the whole piece of music, from the chord sequences, to the tempo, to the lyrics… and so on.

So therefore, I would say cover versions could eventually lead to someone writing their own music, but does not count as songwriting.

 

Skill development

I do get the impression that some people start songwriting with the intention of gaining another skill.

It’s a pretty simple reason but it’s a valid one. Becoming a better all-round musician is never a bad thing.

Developing a skill like songwriting can open a lot of doors for you as a musician. I try to encourage it because there are a lot of hurdles to get past in order for songwriting to become a fluent skill. Not to mention the psychological hurdles, such as understanding that not everyone will like your music.

Quick Tip - What Inspires People To Write Songs

 

To read more about the psychology behind songwriting. Take a look at my recent blog… “Asking Band Members For Help With Songwriting”.