Free Workshop

Cultivating An Authentic Voice

how to write better songs

From personal experience it takes a long time to “sound like yourself!” A songwriter’s unique history, combination of influences, and particular obsessions-the emphasis given to one thing over another; these are the most personal aspects of a songwriter’s work. Over time this combination can reveal the writer’s authentic voice. Below are some recommendations and practices that can help.

Apart from the Art

Here are some things you can do to help develop your authentic voice while you’re not actually songwriting. A little can go a long way when you’re pressed for time and can’t devote the hours needed to flesh out a full song. Any practice that reminds you “I am a writer” can boost your confidence and prepare you for the serious work of songwriting. 

Here Are 17 Ways to Cultivate Your Authentic Voice Apart from Songwriting:

  1. Journaling
  2. Object Writing (See Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison) 
  3. Morning Pages (See The Artist Way by Julie Cameron) 
  4. Read and extract passages from books and record in a notebook. Write with a pen or pencil. 
  5. Read poetry. Memorize one poem per week.
  6. Listen to music with a critical ear for form, rhyme scheme, possible song titles, etc.
  7. Appropriate (steal) from the best, blend and refashion.
  8. Catalog your obsessions; your preferences for alliteration, assonance (words for the sake of their sounds), perfect and near rhyme, certain chord changes, and figurative language of all kinds.
  9. Who are your favorite songwriters? Why? 
  10. Develop ideas from your hook-book that can be expanded later.
  11. Write down the unique aspects of your city, town, or region. What do you like? What do you not resonate with? 
  12. Practice your instrument to discover new chords and new chord progressions; ones that you respond to.
  13. Compare core principles of songwriting to other disciplines you enjoy. How are they similar? How are they different? What is your unique twist? 
  14. Walk
  15. Spend time in solitude 
  16. Meditate
  17. Study Zen

While Songwriting

If you’re a professional songwriter, a beginner, or somewhere in between, these songwriting tips will help to keep your choices honest, and can lead to the discovery of your own way of saying things. 

Here are 17 Ways to Cultivate Your Authentic Voice While Songwriting:

  1. Avoid cliche' and over-worn images and ideas. Resistance leads to discovery, exceed your original impulses. 
  2. Discover the song in the process of writing. 
  3. Begin the moment you surprise yourself (A "fortunate confusion.”)
  4. Cowrite most often with a partner who allows you to be you; self-consciousness is the very opposite of an act of creation.
  5. Say something you can't quite support yet, and watch where it leads; knowing can be a limiting thing.
  6. Be wary of words and melodic and harmonic choices that haven't been found by the song.
  7. Avoid details that have actually happened for ones that arise out of the imperatives of the song. The imagination has little chance in the face of facts. 
  8. Your words used your way will generate your meanings.
  9. Focus on the play rather than the value of the words.
  10. When you are writing, assume that the next thing you put down is not for reasons of logic, good sense, or narrative development, but because you put it there. 
  11. Innovate within convention.
  12. Write what you know. Write where you know.
  13. Don’t imitate an imitator; pastiche begets pastiche. 
  14. Try on different masks. Embody the character in your song but don’t forget to come back to you. 
  15. Play with words rather than trying to say something original.
  16. Picture an imaginary town. What do you see? Write it down. 
  17. Are you willing to set aside your ego (this song is about...) and allow the subject to choose you? Are you confident enough to speak with an individual voice in a world of conformity, where sameness is rewarded and authenticity is discouraged?

Becoming Who You Are

It should be obvious by now that, in my view, a songwriter’s authentic voice is something earned, over time.

“After working through the ‘terrors of influence’, acknowledging the debts and using them to go their own way- “a writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”  -Thomas Mann

It takes courage to go your own way in a world (industry) that rewards sameness. A lot of lip service is paid to genius, originality, and controversy; but few gatekeepers are willing to risk their reputation on an artist that breaks the mold. 

Somewhere among all of us there is only you. The particular is universal.

Become who you are.

Trust your talent. Make the need felt that only you can provide. Create the taste by which you shall be enjoyed.”  -Emerson


About the Author

Steve Leslie is a multiple BMI Award Winner, former Adjunct Professor of Songwriting at Belmont University, Nashville, TN, and in 2013 was one of four internationally selected candidates considered for the Chair of the Songwriting Department, Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA.


Whether you're a beginner songwriter or an experienced one, we're here to help you along your journey. Check out our free resources, at the link below! 

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