The Biggest Secret To Becoming A Great Songwriter

Laurel and Hardy shhh

If you want to be good at anything, the first thing you need to do is master the craft. One of the greatest things about writing songs is that you have access to everything you need all around you in massive abundance in order to do this.


To really learn this craft you have to become a master of it. The first thing you should learn about writing songs is how to have an outer body experience.

Let me explain:


On a daily basis you should be teaching yourself to step outside of your body and start listening to all of the music around you with different ears – not YOUR discerning ears, but the ears of a songwriter. You need to accept it all. Metal, rock, pop, classical, jive, jazz, acapella, folk, hip-hop, Bollywood musicals, church music, synagogue music, boring elevator muzak, offensive grunge … everything. It is all around us all the time but we choose to tune out a lot of it.


Generally, people are quite close-minded about the music they expose themselves to, which is totally fine … for THEM. They can pick and choose what they listen to. You, as a songwriter, must not.


Johnny Depp with Marilyn Manson

It’s a common mistake with musicians and bands everywhere. They tend to listen only to the music that they like and either ignore/dismiss everything that doesn’t fit in to their personal taste. These are the musicians whose music tends to lack real musical depth and where you’ll find that the songwriting is usually lacking or “same-y.” Or worse still, derivative.


If you read interviews with the great songwriters, doesn’t it always surprise you to find out what THEY are currently listening to? Paul McCartney is listening to Snoop Dogg and Marilyn Manson is listening to Nina Simone! Kurt Cobain’s favourite artists were the Bay City Rollers!


This is because they have respect for the ‘song.’ And this is one of the most important parts of developing as a songwriter. In fact, this is the single most powerful secret to becoming a great songwriter.


By learning to respect songs – and not just the songs that you like, or the artists you love, or the genre you think is cool – you can turn yourself into a true songwriter.


Every single song you listen to can teach you something about your craft. You may hate Britney Spears, but behind her is a team of the most expensive and successful songwriters in the world, so even if you don’t like the music, surely you must be able to learn something from them about writing songs, however small (or a lot!); from structure to melodies, from how chords fit together to the journey of a song, it’s all there in the open for you to study.


Never think that a song is irrelevant to your craft. Once you open your mind to this idea, your songwriting DNA will begin to soak up so many new things, not only every day, but every minute of every day.  Maybe something is playing on the supermarket PA system while you are buying milk? What is it? Why does it sound like that? What are the instruments doing? What is the melody doing?


Become a sponge. Become an absorber. If you only listen to the albums that you love, you are missing out on 90% of your craft. You can be sure that whoever is writing songs that you love, was listening to a lot of other music before being able to write those songs.


Start getting angry when you hear lazy songwriting, get inspired when you hear genius songwriting, be amazed when you find how the simplest melody or the simplest line from the most unexpected artist can be so effective.


Believe it or not, if you can do this, your songwriting universe will expand exponentially and your songwriting career will have just gotten deadly serious.


Please feel free to post a comment down below! I would love to hear from you.

Until next time, good luck writing songs!






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12 Responses to “The Biggest Secret To Becoming A Great Songwriter”

  1. Adam says:

    So true… Been learning songs from all sorts of artists… Birdy, Justin Bieber, Macy Gray, exposing myself to various techniques and progressions to learn more… It really does open your mind!

    • Jon Savage says:

      That’s awesome, Adam.
      For me it was one of the best ways to NEVER EVER experience writer’s block because there is a constant stream of inspiration all the time. And most importantly, it keeps you RELEVANT!

      Thanks for the message.

  2. marc says:

    I discovered a band called menomena brilliant!!!, and i really enjoy the songwriting on the Last Arctic monkeys

    awesome lyrics!!

  3. Paul Jorgensen says:

    Good article and very true! Another thing that canbe rather fun to do is to find some tabs of the latest pop/rock/hip hop etc songs, sit down with your guitar and mess around to come up with an ‘original’ cover. Its also a great way if you are starting out to learn chord progressions in different genres or to realise how elementary/basic songwriting can be to produce a catchy pop song. Another thing I find interesting in this process is that you can hear how songs have been layered with synths or percussion that make that song stand out, even though it might be a simple Am F C G progression, all the little extras that have been added make it more intricate than it appears.

  4. Jonathan King says:

    Morning Jon

    Love the blog… Can you maybe give me advice on writing good lyrics.. I come up with some of the coolest guitar licks but battle to get lyrics to match the calibre. Please if you have time could you send me a mail to advising me on how to write lyrics..

    Thanks alot.


    • Jon Savage says:

      Hi Jonathan

      Thanks so much for the comment.
      Writing lyrics is it’s own animal and I seem to be getting more and more requests about it.
      Firstly go back and read last week’s blog written by Adriaan Brand (ex-Springbox Nude Girls) – it’s VERY interesting.
      Also i’m building up to a blog post tackling exactly that!

      In addition I may be able to help even more… I’m about to announce a couple of events in the next few days that you should look out for. Plus some online tutorials. If you are a subscriber to this blog, you should get a mail from me in the next couple of days!

      Thanks for taking the time to write

  5. Andrew Kay says:

    Great article and so totally agree with you Jon, sometimes my friends are amazed when I tell them what I’m listening to, which includes a tremendous amount of cheesy stuff, but once you open yourself to other genres, the musical experience become4s so much richer, and who’s to say what’s cool and what isn’t, especially in the post-modern realm of online wonders such as Youtube etc. Mastering the craft is only the beginning though, songs need to be promoted and sold, and that, for me, is the hard part. The opportunities are numerous online, but it’s the same for everyone out there, and the attention span of one’s audience is kind of miniscule. Breaking songs with a great video is the way to go, but I still believe a great song is for listening, and if it’s truly great, it will last.

    Good luck with your endeavours, you’ve got a great thing going!

  6. Mel Stevens says:

    Been doing it with my playing for years Jon. Have always made a point of learning all genres, which is why today I can play rock, pop, dance, and by that I mean Rhumba, samba, chacha, jazz, blues. So I totally agree with you and it makes perfect sense to be the same when it comes to songwriting. Keep up your good work brother and remember, you cant back pedal on us now. We would all miss you too much. haha. Hope you had a super weekend boet.
    PS. Totally agree with Andrew Kay, its not the writing of the songs thats a huge problem. Its getting past all the clicks and red tape, that go’s with getting the bloody things published and of course preventing the theft of your song by others who take your glory, for themselves. And of course not being in JHB, makes it many times harder for any composer.

  7. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have no taste, no specific taste that is. I started writing with a power-pop band, was then roped in to write for an early Grunge band, have an impressive collection of musicals, just finished an album of Strauss melodies and go to the opera a few times a year. The successes came from Europop.

    Although it can all be very different, it’s all music.

  8. Rene C says:

    I can agree with you up to a certain point, this would give you more ideas, better said it would educate you on different techniques and patterns. I guess the Beatles were a product of the old great bands, but I still would tell to people to satisfy the natural desire every listener has which is listening to new things, investing your time in creating new things will make you a brilliant songwriter. I’m certain quality is a must and high quality on tunes at the very least can be found on every hit. God bless you.

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