Unicycles seem magic. Somehow a stick with a wheel on it being used as a means of transportation seems inefficient. But it works. A good friend of mine decided to take up unicycling as a hobby (?) a year back and now regularly commutes to work on it. He wants to start a unicycle crew and roll around town clowning on those with two or more wheels.
To an outsider, unicycles seem magic. But really it doesn’t take anything more than practice and strong knee pads. It’s a skill. Sure, you can read articles on unicycling, watch youtube videos of professionals in action, or purchase “super high-quality” unicycle accessories to try and get better. But it’s a skill. You get better at unicycling by unicycling.
The same goes for songwriting.
Is it any surprise that the great songwriters of our generation have massive song catalogs? Sure, there’s trash in all vast archives, but that doesn’t matter when you create songs that become cultural touchstones.
Let’s get down and nerdy.
Think of song writing skill as a percentage of good songs, similar to a free throw percentage. Assume you’ve got a songwriting skill of 7%, meaning whenever you write a song you’ve got a 7% chance of it being “good” as determined by your audience. If you only write five songs a year, what are your chances of putting out a decent album? What if you write five songs a month? A week?
What matters is both your songwriting skill percentage AND the number of attempts you make. There are limits to how good you can make your songwriting skill through laboring over a single song, studying, or otherwise avoiding writing songs. If you want to be good at a skill, practice it! This should not be hard for musicians to understand.
And as you increase the number of songs you write, you’ll get better too. Going from five songs a year to ten songs a year gives you more practice writing, performing and editing these pieces, giving you a stronger idea of what a good song is and is not. You’ll understand your strengths and weaknesses, and how best to leverage the talent you’ve got to create a memorable piece.
If you want to write good songs, write more songs.