How Long Does it Take a Songwriter to Write a Song?
Have you ever sat down to write a song and, two hours later, found yourself still struggling to finish the same verse!? How long should you sit there agonizing over rhyme schemes and word choices? How long should it take a lyricist to finish a song? Today, I’ll tackle this question and provide some tips to improve your songwriting sessions.
How Long Does a Song Take to Write?
Every lyricist is different so the best we can do is approximate a timeframe from the numerical mean. I estimate that the average songwriter takes between 10 minutes and an hour to write a single song. Those numbers are based on the average responses from songwriters polled on the internet, as well as answers that better-known lyricists have given in interviews.
However, do not let that average dictate your own writing preferences. There is really no one-size-fits-all direct answer that works every time for every person. Each of our brains and neural networks are mapped differently. Your skill level and writing style will play an important role in determining how long you’ll spend on a song. The amount of inspiration you’re experiencing will also impact the speed of your workflow.
Just as well, the more perfectionist you act towards the songwriting task, the longer you will fiddle with your words and stall on finishing—thus prolonging the time it takes to put that song away and consider it complete. I heard from some several casual songwriters that said they regularly spend up to five hours on a single song. So one person’s excessiveness is another person’s normal.
How Long Does It Take a Pro To Write A Song?
Even professional songwriters with Billboard hits do not agree on the “right” length it takes to write a song. Because, again, everyone has their own workflow and inspiration does not always hit the same way every day. But let’s look at a few well-known songwriters and see how long they usually take on their songs:
- Taylor Swift writes songs in 30 minutes or less.
- Ed Sheeran writes a song in under 2 hours.
- Noel Gallagher (of the band Oasis) writes in a few hours, with his hit song “Supersonic” taking only 10 minutes.
- Suzanne Vega wrote her hit “Luka” in 2 hours.
- Kanye West can consistently pump out a song in less than 30 minutes.
- Lady Gaga, Adele, and Bono (of U2) have all written popular songs in under 10 minutes.
This should give you an idea to start with. Keep in mind that usually when a songwriter answers this question they are referring to the process of writing the lyrics…not finishing the complete track. Going from lyrics to finished melodic work (i.e. a full demo or song recording) can take a day to a week. Often, a songwriter can get a rough demo done within an hour using just the lyrics, vocal melody, and some chords to strum along with them.
Your Pace, Your Rules
Songwriting is not a standardized procedure like operating a cash register or completing an algebraic formula. There is no “correct” length of time you need to follow for your song to be good. Just work at your own pace and remember that some songs will take longer than others. The amount of inspiration you’re feeling at the time can strongly influence how quickly lines will be thought up.
Another Approach If You’re Lyrically Lost
If you feel like you’re taking too long on a song, or you keep nitpicking a particular verse to the point of utter frustration, I suggest setting hard limits on your writing time. When a writing session is open-ended timewise, people tend to expect (psychologically and even unintentionally) the goal of the session be to writing a full song. That creates an unspoken expectation that you have not succeeded until that entire song is done…dare you say, even “perfect”. So when a verse refuses to cooperate and you’re left feeling like the job isn’t really done, it will create unresolved psychological tension. There’s an actual term for it: The Zeigarnik Effect. That unfinished feeling will just nag at you all day and—if it happens enough—it can cause an unintended association between songwriting and that anxiety. And that is a creativity-crippling subconscious barrier we don’t want.
Goal-setting for Songwriting Sessions
So instead of the goal being “to write a full song, no matter how long it takes”, make the goal instead to work on lyrics for a set amount of time. Maybe 15 minutes, maybe an hour. Whatever fits your schedule. Just make it consistent—that is, always aim for the same amount of time at the same time of day and on the same days of the week (or every day if you’ve got the space in your schedule). Set a timer if that helps: as soon as that timer ends, drop your pen and let it go psychologically. Well, jot down any extraneous ideas or notes you have for that song to come back to tomorrow (if there is a certain phrase you want to include, or a rhyme pair you want to use, make a note somewhere so you don’t have to ruminate about it all day and night).
The point of this tactic is too keep your brain from associating songwriting with that nagging, unfinished feeling. Also, scientific studies have shown that setting small goals throughout your day will release dopamine into your system and make you feel better about yourself. And even if it’s a very small victory like writing for 15 minutes every day, your brain will still associate it with a hit of dopamine—which in turn will encourage you to engage in that behavior more.
Overall, the time it takes you to write a song will be determined by several factors including your
- skill level
- thinking speed
- writing/typing speed
- perfectionism level
The average time it takes a songwriter to finish a song is 10-60 minutes. However, this does not mean a song written in 4 hours or even 4 days will be of lower quality—or of higher quality, for that matter. If you take more time to write a song, it’s neither a good or bad thing; it’s just how your brain works and that’s fine. But if the time you’re spending on any one song is causing you stress and making you feel unresolved, then setting hard limits on the time you can devote to writing each day may help.
Other Articles to Consider
If you’re interested in more learning resources on songwriting, feel free to browse my other articles: