…And How Can You Make It Easier?
For every song you hear on the radio, there are dozens of components and sometimes hundreds of hours of work that you never see behind the scenes. Regardless of the song’s genre or perceived quality, it still need countless inputs to become a full-fledged composition: lyrics, vocals, chords, melody, counterpoint, percussion, compressors, comping, and the list goes on!
But out of all those little pieces of the big musical puzzle, which part is the hardest to get done? Today, I would like to explore the most common difficulties that songwriters face when writing and finishing a song.
- What is the Hardest Part of a Song to Write?
- What is the Hardest Section of a Song to Write?
- Factor 1: What is Your Background?
- Factor 2: What is Your Experience Level?
- Factor 3: How is Your Brain State?
- So How Can You Make it Easier?
- Other Articles to Consider
What is the Hardest Part of a Song to Write?
Like most things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. It varies based on your background, experience levels, and even your brain state (more on that later).
But, in general and for beginners, the hardest part of a song to write is usually the lyrics, followed closely by the melody. This is likely due in part to the much larger selection of words in the world compared to music notes; there are over 150,000 words in the English language alone but there are only 12 notes in music.
Mixing and Mastering
After lyrics and melody, the mixing and mastering process will usually come in as the third hardest task for songmaking. Audio production requires a completely different skill set than songwriting or composing. It’s easy to overlook but, if you are a new artist and you want to release your music to the world, you will inevitably need some editing on your tracks.
Digital distributors have requirements for audio quality when releasing tracks to streaming services like Spotify or YouTube Music. You’ll probably also find that your songs are not loud enough to match the audio levels found in more professional releases. All of this means you’ll either need to pay an engineer to mix and master your tracks or you’ll have to learn the skills yourself.
Composition and Arrangement
Lastly, for songwriters who don’t play an instrument, composing a full arrangement and picking chords can both be difficult hurdles to hop over. Of course, this depends on how full of a composition you’re after and what style of music you play. A folk song with only vocals and acoustic guitar will require far less composing than a lush symphonic pop track.
When considering beginners, I would probably rank the difficulty level of various song creation tasks as such:
- Production (mixing, comping, mastering)
The difficulty of each part in the songmaking process will also vary based on several personal factors:
- Background Knowledge: do you have previous training in music, writing, or instrument-playing?
- Experience: how long have you been doing it?
- Your Brain: how easily can you focus on a single task? Have you made a habit out of songmaking? Do you struggle to even get started?
Let’s briefly breakdown each of these factors. But first, I want to address one last question that may have brought you to this article…
What is the Hardest Section of a Song to Write?
If you asked the title question to mean “what is the hardest section of a song to write?”, then I would definitely say the chorus is the most demanding song section to pen.
That’s because the chorus is the most important lyrical element of the track; if your chorus is not catchy, then the song will probably not catch on. The most memorable part of a pop or rock song is usually the chorus; it’s the section where the fans will sing along the loudest. So to write a memorable song worthy of the charts, the chorus should receive a good bulk of your upmost attention.
Okay, let’s get back to the factors of song difficulty.
Factor 1: What is Your Background?
The more time you’ve spent doing something, the easier it gets. This is not just an adage: neuroscience backs up the fact that repetitive tasks done enough times will filter into your subconscious and become a reflex.
More so, a person who has received instruction on a topic will find it easier to do it because they have a better understanding of how and why they do it. If you’ve taken literature or writing classes in college, then you have likely performed a literary analysis or two on some poetry. If you’ve never taken a class on poetry, then there are bound to be gaps in your understanding of rhyme, meter, word choice, and the use of literary devices.
The same goes to melody writing, chord selection, and arranging: if you’ve never studied how the pros compose music, how can you know what works and what doesn’t?
But fear not, because you don’t need to spend four years in college to learn literature or composition. You just have to spend time reading about it and seeing how others do their work.
Factor 2: What is Your Experience Level?
All these aspects of background feed directly into experience level. The amount of time you’ve spent practicing something will have a direct impact on how easy and intuitive that task becomes for you. If you’ve asked the title question and come across this article, chances are that you haven’t been writing songs for very long yet.
There’s a common belief thrown around that says mastery requires 1,000 hours of practice. However, as I discussed in a previous article, that is a misconception. You don’t need 10 years of experience to be a good songwriter, it’s really more like two or three years. But even just a year or so of consistent writing can make a dramatic improvement on your skill level.
Factor 3: How is Your Brain State?
There are three main ways that your mental condition can impact the difficulty you experience in songwriting:
- Flow (or lack thereof)
In psychology there is a concept called flow state. This is a mental state where you achieve full immersion in a task and, suddenly, it doesn’t seem so hard to get the work done anymore. Have you even struggled to get interested in a book you have to read but, after getting through the first few pages, you eventually get enveloped by the story and lose track of time with your nose in the pages? That’s a flow state. It’s similar to a hypnotic state. And the same can happen when a person works on a task, such as songwriting.
But there are other mental factors that can add to your musical or lyrical difficulties. Perfectionism can subconsciously sabotage your efforts to start a task, because deep down you are scared that it won’t be good enough. I have written an article just dedicated to overcoming perfectionism when making music. Please check that out if that sounds like something you struggle with.
Lastly, stress can prevent creativity. Studies of brain patterns show that increases in stress hormones can reduce the brain’s ability to be creative. If you are under a lot of pressure to succeed in your craft, it can actually debilitate you from even starting on a song. Likewise, outside stressors like work, family, finances, or what-have-you can all impact your ability to sit down and be artistic.
So How Can You Make it Easier?
Each pain point of songwriting will have it’s own solution. So let’s dissect them briefly.
Lack of Knowledge
For difficulty caused by lack of knowledge in a subject, the best way to proceed is by simply gaining more understanding of the topic. If your biggest issue is writing lyrics, I highly recommend three tasks:
- Start reading poetry,
- Start reading about how to write poetry, and
- Start analyzing the lyrics of song you love (ask yourself what makes the song good in your opinion)
If your trouble is caused by inexperience, the only real remedy is to practice. But don’t just write more lyrics or try more melodies, make a consistent routine out of it. Set aside a specific time every week (or every day) when you will practice. Don’t create an expectation that you must complete one song every session, set your expectation that you will simply show up and give it a try. That will reduce pressure and make it easier to enter a flow state.
Lastly, difficulties caused by your brain state can require a few different fixes. To achieve flow, you need to give your full attention to the task and give yourself a clear goal for your task session. So aim to set a specific time for practicing when you won’t be interrupted. In addition, write down what the goal of the practice will be: reading a poetry workbook for 20 minutes, free-writing for 15 minutes, guitar scale exercises for 15 minutes, whatever your problem point is.
For perfectionism and stress, it’s not so easy to reprogram your brain. I know all too well that you cannot just “stop being stressed out and relax” just because someone told you to. These issues get embedded in our neural pathways, so it requires repetitive action or hypnotic suggestion to alleviate these issues. I personally have found some success using mindfulness to combat my perfectionism (you can read more about that in the article dedicated to the subject).
To recap, beginners often struggle the most with writing lyrics, composing catchy melodies, and self-producing their songs into final mixes. These difficulties usually arise from a lack of background knowledge, a lack of experience, or a brain state that is non-conducive to creative outlet.
But all of these hurdles can be jumped and overcome through intentional practice and practical goal-setting. Music may be an art, but it’s also a skilled trade. Successful songwriters are not born, they are trained. So don’t give up just yet.
Other Articles to Consider
Thanks for reading. If you found this guide helpful, here are few more articles you may like: