Encourage Yourself to Songwriting Success

(Without Gaining Weight or Going on Meds!)

And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. 1 Samuel 30:6

(NOTE: I originally wrote this post for my songwriter coaching clients, but I left it as is to encourage anyone desiring to encourage themselves as songwriters.)

I guess it’s because we start our week with a coaching group on Monday nights, but I always start thinking about our songwriting clients on Sunday afternoon. It’s quite predictable that sometime post-lunch and pre-nap, my mind will start drifting towards the week to come and I’ll find my heart sending love and prayers out to my current and past clients. I actually start seeing your faces in my mind and hearing snippets of your songs in my ears, smiling to myself as I remember your struggles and progress. It’s an absolute joy to serve you.

Then, despite my sleepy eyes, I’ll think of something I really want to say to each of you and I’ll have to pull out the laptop and type out a little post for you, just like this one. The nap can wait a few more minutes, right?

So, today, I want to exhort you guys to learn how to encourage yourselves.

Truth is, coaching is about encouraging other people. To encourage is to “give courage.” We all need a little extra courage sometimes, so our coaching calls are aimed at helping you make as much out of the online training as possible, as well as to zero in on what’s working for you and what’s not. A lot of time I find myself just trying to boost your belief in yourself and your talent. You are talented. God has called you. You have strengths to be honed and weaknesses to be identified and worked around, sure, but you have to believe it the most. I can’t believe in your dream more than you do.

One of the greatest keys to anyone’s success is the ability to encourage themselves, or, to give themselves courage when courage is nowhere to be found. Songwriting requires as much courage, if not more, as anything else. You’re not only trying to write a great song, but you’re going to put it out for people to hear and judge. Songs aren’t written to be hidden, but to be heard. This is risky stuff. You start asking yourself, “What if no one likes it? What if I’m not really talented? What if I can’t figure out how to use imagery or write great melodies? How will I then live?!”

Courage, for the songwriter, is a non-negotiable. #writebettersongsnow Click To Tweet

Any successful art form is a blend of skill and mindset. There are plenty of talented artists who never make it anywhere because they lack the courage and the tenacity to pursue their place. There are also plenty of tenacious people who never gain the real skills they need and thus continue to foist very mediocre songs on the world (just cruise Youtube for proof). But the combination of talent, skill, and courage are unbeatable.

But what do you do when you’re unhappy with a critique? Seriously – what do you do? Do you sulk? Pout? Get mad? Quit? Get depressed? Feel despondent? Eat more to dull the pain of rejection? None of that helps, believe me. I’ve tried it all and none of it makes the song better. Only a quality decision to get back up and go at it again ever makes songs mature. This is easier for some than for others, admittedly, depending on your propensity for self-pity. Mine is pretty high and a lot of my personal development has been spent on losing the victim attitude and taking full responsibility for my own growth.

Three Ways to Write “Power Hooks” for Your Songs

(While Adding Emotion, Originality, and Memorability)

Truth is, the success of your song is based entirely on the strength, originality, emotion, and memorability of your primary idea as expressed in the “hook.”

Sounds easy enough, but most songwriters struggle to come up with original hooks that pack the kind of punch they need to stand out from a million other songs. If you look at the most popular songs in any genre, the “hook” is what makes the song work the way it does and connect with listeners in a bigger way than average songs.

But how does that really happen and how can you make sure your hooks are the “power hooks” you want to have working for you? I think it comes down to a few key principles you can start using right away in your songs.

First, be sure you know what a HOOK really is.

A hook is what captures the imagination and ears of your audience. #writebettersongsnow Click To Tweet

Just like the fishing hook, you’re angling for the listener’s interest and imagination with your concise idea and words/melodies you construct to express it. And remember, you’re competing with a lot of noise to gain the attention of a listener. If your idea isn’t very strong, your hook won’t be strong, either. People talk about “ear worms” when a certain phrase or melody is on REPEAT in their heads and that’s exactly the kind of bait you want to use.  I caught an ear worm recently with the worship song Ever Be (Strand, Greely, Wilson, Heiligenthal), which is repetitive enough, but I guess that was better than Happy Birthday or Jimmy Cracked Corn, right?

If your hook is just like a million others, it’s probably not a “power hook” and you need to up the originality of the phrase and idea itself. Consider these classic hooks and take a minute to think about why they’re so powerful.

Stop in the Name of Love (Eddie Holland – recorded by Diana Ross, 1965)

Crazy (Willie Nelson – recorded by Patsy Cline, 1962)

I Can’t Make You Love Me (Reid/Shamblin – recorded by Bonnie Raitt, 1991)

Don’t Stop Believin’ (Perry/Cain – recorded by Journey, 1981)

Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone (Newton/Tomlin – recorded by Chris Tomlin, 2007)

How Great Is Our God (Tomlin, Cash, Reeves – recorded by Chris Tomlin, 2004)

… and many, many more

You would do yourself a huge songwriting favor to make sure you believe you have a super-strong hook before ever sitting down to write. Ask yourself if this hook is close to others that have already been written. Is the idea fresh or dated? What’s the essence of the idea and could it be crafted better to stand out and attract attention?