Can Anyone Be A Songwriter? Can Anyone Learn to Write Songs?
A Brief Beginners Guide to Becoming a Lyricist
Over 8 million musicians have their music published on streaming sites like Spotify. And that’s just the people who have finished a song and uploaded it; there are surely millions of more people who play music everyday but may have never released a song. Do you have a dream of writing your own songs and sharing them with your friends? Your family? The world? Many people dream of learning a skill like songwriting, but never follow through because they think “I just wasn’t born with it” or “I could never be that good at it”.
I want to dispel any negative thinking you may have about the skills of songwriting and music production and assure you that your dream may be closer than it appears.
- Can Anyone Be A Songwriter? Can Anyone Learn to Write Songs?
Can Anyone Be a Songwriter?
Absolutely! Anybody regardless of age or skill level can write songs. Songwriters are not born, they are taught. If you are capable of reading, writing, and repeating a habit every day then you are capable of becoming a lyricist. Full stop. Songwriting may be an art form, but it’s an art form developed through consistent practice.
It’s easy for a fan to watch an artist (musician, painter, singer, whatever!) create their works and feel like they were just born with it. But let me tell you: nobody leaves the womb with a working knowledge of poetic meter. It takes several years of practice for a person to become skilled at any craft, and songwriting is no different. And to be honest, modern pop music does not require the highest skill level for lyrics—I’m not trying to insult anyone, pop songs are just written intentionally simple to appeal to larger audiences. Regardless of the genre you’re most interested in, anybody who puts in the practice can craft lyrics.
What Are the Odds I Get Famous or Signed to a Label?
Okay, so maybe you want to write songs because you’ve got the Hollywood lights twinkling in your eyes…or dollar bills flashing across your retina. No hate, it’s an honest dream. But what are the chances you can actually break out and be a top-level artist?
If we’re talking about billboard-topping stardom, the odds of getting famous are low. About 0.2% of artists on Spotify make a living off of streams. The odds of getting signed to a major label is less than 1% as well, and getting signed to a deal is no guarantee that you will become a top-billed artist on their roster. But it’s not all doom and gloom, because you don’t actually need a major label to go viral anymore; you don’t need a million fans to make money from your music, and you don’t even need to go mainstream to build a sustainable fanbase.
In the year 2020 alone, over five million digital albums were sold on Bandcamp; on top of that, almost two million physical albums were sold as well. That’s not revenue going to major label artists in Hollywood, those are numbers for independent musicians and underground labels. The internet has made it easier than ever before to connect musicians with music-lovers in just about any genre.
How Many Independent Artists Reach the Billboard Charts?
The number of independent artists reaching the Billboard charts is also increasing. Within the last year (Summer 2021-2022), 14.25% of all songs appearing on the Billboard Top 40 charts were released by an independent label or self-released by the artists themselves. I pulled this data from an analysis I conducted for another article, where I surveyed the statistics of 400 Billboard Top-40 songs over a 12-month period (the other article was about popular song topics and only included topics from 200 of those 400 songs, but I gathered extra data on 400 tracks overall while I was at it).
That means more than a tenth of all hit songs these days are being made without the help or intervention of a major label. With the help of grassroots social media campaigns and viral short videos, indie songwriters and musicians are gaining a foothold in the mainstream charts.
Do I Need A Label to Make Money As a Songwriter?
You definitely do not need a record label deal to make money in music. Frankly, big label contracts are not advantageous for musicians anymore: if you’re signed to a label, you may only get 5-15% of the royalties for your music sales, but if you operated as an independent musician you could keep 70-80% of your royalties. You also don’t need a song to go viral and become a hit single either. People still operate under the false assumption that you can only make money from music if you have mass market appeal, but that is a fallacy predating the internet age.
In reality, you do not need mass market appeal to generate profits in music. We live in the world of Web 2.0 where social influence and niche markets are king! The reason most musicians never “succeed” in music is because they fail to understand niche markets and they don’t know how to run a business. As a result, they instead try to pitch their songs to the mass market and get lost in a sea of people all trying to yell the loudest over each other.
The 5 Essential Steps to Being a Songwriter
With all of that in mind, let’s talk about the actual songwriting. I have personally identified 5 specific steps any person can take to hone their lyrical skills. For the full breakdown, please check out my article on the topic. But to summarize the five steps, they are:
- Read as much as you can
- Write at least once a day
- Listen to the flow of other people’s lyrics
- Cheat by using writing aids
- Practice every day at the same time each day
How Long Does It Take to Get Good At Songwriting?
There’s no exact time frame I can point to you and say “by this specific time, you will be an expert lyricist” because every human brain is different. We all learn in different ways, have varying levels of memory, absorb varying amounts of knowledge, and spend different amounts of time practicing.
So how long does it generally take to get good at songwriting? I’d say 3-5 Years is the average time to gain proficiency as a songwriter. And by proficiency I mean competent enough for others to notice you’ve gotten good at it. I don’t mean expert level or ultimate mastery. I’ve drawn those numbers from two sources of information:
- Anecdotal evidence from other writers and my own experience learning various creative skills, especially lyrics.
- The Helsinki Bus State Theory: this theory suggests that you should stick to a job or art skill for at least three years because it will take that long to see a noticeable improvement in your work.
Many people erroneously conclude that they must spend 10 years or 10,000 hours on a skill to be good at it, but those numbers are a misnomer. The 10,000 hour “rule” is not a rule at all, but an observation made by researchers when they looked at the time music students spent practicing the violin for professional concert performance. Songwriting is nowhere near as rigorous as playing violin in a professional orchestra. Likewise, concert-level mastery is not the same as proficiency.
Good songwriters are not born that way, they learn to pen meaningful and relatable lyrics through consistent practice and deliberate study. As long as you’re capable of reading and writing in your given language, it’s likely you can become a proficient songwriter if you spend enough time building your skills.
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