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Why Songwriting Matters As A Vocalist & Why Lessons Can Help

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“The music business is the emotion business.” These were the very first words out of my professor’s mouth during Music Business 101 and I still remember them over a decade later. He continued by saying,

“It is the song that makes the difference. Give the best singer the worst song and people will not see the full potential of the singer. Give a mediocre singer an incredible song and watch as a star is born.”

The music business is the emotion business. Not to manipulate people’s emotions, but to resonate with people’s emotions. Not to exploit people’s emotions, but to engage with them.

I remember being in high school when Taylor Swift first entered the scene and watching many of my friends become mega-fans seemingly overnight. At the time, I didn’t understand the hype (don’t worry, I do now), but I was curious as to why they all seemed so passionate about her music. So, I began to ask around, and unanimously each and every one of them said something along the lines of, “It’s not that she has the best voice, it’s that she writes all of her own music and she sings the things we’re feeling.”

“She sings the things we’re feeling.” It wasn’t the voice alone that moved them, it was the things the voice communicated that moved them.

One amazing talent the world almost missed out on is the incredible, Shania Twain. Shania’s first record was released in 1993 and garnered almost no attention. Shania’s career almost ended there, but thank God someone heard enough potential in her (because vocals do matter!) and had the wisdom to know it wasn’t the voice, but the songs and what the songs evoked (or failed to evoke) that was the issue. Two years later Shania released her second record, full of songs that exuded strength, sass, and female empowerment like, Any Man Of Mine, Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under, No One Needs To Know Right Now, and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, here are a few reasons why I feel songwriting is of the utmost importance for vocalists and artists…

1. Songwriting sets the stage for the vocalist. What do I mean by this? It is the lyric that informs the emotion, which in turn informs the vocal performance.

The best vocalists are not those who are technically proficient, but those who are technically proficient and emotionally aware. Singing is not just hitting the right notes, but how you hit the notes and why you hit the notes. Songwriting helps you find the “why” of the song.

If you think about it, we all know this, we just don’t know that we know this. If you’ve ever watched a singing competition (ie: American Idol, The Voice, X Factor, etc.) you have undoubtedly seen a season where the best singer of the season got voted off way too early, and oftentimes it had to do with song choice, not the vocal performance.

2. Songwriting reveals the artist to the audience. As previously mentioned, reality television is full of instances where the best voice did not win, but the most relatable contestant did. Songwriting allows you to share your heart and your story with your audience in a way where they feel connected to you, increasing the likelihood that they stick around as a fan and tell their friends about you.

3. Songwriting improves your musicianship and relationship with your band. When you write a song, you really get to know the song, and oftentimes you find that you don’t just think about your vocals, but the arrangement. Conversely, as vocalists, we have a tendency to become a little self-absorbed and only think about our part of the song and forget about all the underlying instrumentation. The more aware we are of what’s happening with the instruments, the more we understand how the vocal line fits with the chord progression, arrangement, etc, and therefore, we understand where and when we can ad-lib or riff effectively. Writing the music we sing improves our awareness.

4. Songwriting empowers you as a performer. We’ve already discussed how lyric informs emotion and emotion informs vocal performance, but beyond just vocal performance, songwriting has the ability to improve your stage presence.

Songwriting, like singing, performing, and music in general, can be scary! You’re putting your heart out there for other people to hear. When we get vulnerable and work through our insecurity in the writing room we often gain the courage to perform more boldly and honestly as well, and in my experience, people respond to authenticity.

5. Songwriting is like getting a tailor-fitted suit made just for you. Nobody knows your voice better than you (except maybe your vocal coach…), so you know what works for your voice and what doesn’t. Having a hard time finding a song that suits your voice in the way you want it to? Then write to your strengths as a vocalist! Having a hard time finding a song that says the things you want to say? Then write the song that says those things!

6. Songwriting can be very lucrative for the artist. Without getting too deep into the music business side of things, it’s important to know that when an artist releases a song (or songs), they do not get to keep 100% of the song’s profits. Income from a song gets split a variety of different ways depending on the artist and the deal the artist may or may not have. There’s the artist’s share, the publisher’s share, the songwriter’s share, etc…

So, logically, if you write your own music you create another stream of income for yourself. You don’t just get paid as an artist, you get paid as a songwriter. Not only that, but if another artist picks up a song that you wrote (ie: “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton and later recorded by Whitney Houston) you can receive a whole second wave of income through the re-release of the song. You don’t just get paid when you sing the song, but when others do as well!

Songwriting royalties are lifelong, so as long as you’re living, and even after you die, the song has potential to make you and your inheritors money.

7. Songwriting is fun! Sure, it can be a little scary or intimidating on the front end, but once you make the decision to simply try and have your first “breakthrough moment” where you write a lyric you like, or a melody that gets caught in your head, or finish your first song, you’ll be hooked and have a new hobby for life!

At the end of the day, songwriting is both fun and a possible career-maker for a singer, but it also can be a bit intimidating, and that’s where songwriting lessons come in.

Songwriting lessons are primarily comprised of four different components:

  1. Teaching and instruction
  2. Songwriting
  3. Co-writing
  4. Homework and practice

Lessons often begin with a time of instruction and training followed by a time of hands on practice with your coach. This time with your coach often looks like a co-writing session, where it’s not just you writing on your own, but working with your coach to write a song. This is an invaluable process because songwriting can be done as a solitary experience, but it becomes a whole new endeavor when you choose to write with another person.

At the end of each session your coach will give you some exercises and homework to work on throughout the week, including some personal songwriting that you will be able to show your coach the following session for feedback, help, and celebration!

If you’re looking to “level-up” as a singer and musician, I can think of no better way than to try your hand at writing with the help of a coach.

Book a lesson with Mateo, Call (615) 917-0990