- Tune Up!
It might sound overly simple or even ridiculous, but being diligent about tuning will actually help you hear music better. With singing, if the music is slightly out of tune, you’ll have trouble getting your pitch center, singing slightly off but not knowing why. Your brain is trying to find which instrument’s tuning to lock to. Also if you’re doing anything more advanced than power chords, different intervals can sound really bad when slightly out of tune, notoriously major and minor 3rds.
When all the instruments are in tune with each other and well intonated, the music takes on a certain power, like a sonic sledgehammer.
Also when the tuning is locked it will be easier to hear vocal and instrumental melodies. Maybe they sound better than before, or maybe there is something that now sounds really sour, so you know there’s a dissonant note that might need to be addressed. When the whole band is out of tune everything sounds like a sort of sonic mudpie and it’s difficult to tell what’s in and what’s out.
[note: one way to improve your tuning is to get a more precise tuner than the basic one you probably already have.]
- Write Daily- Then Revise!
Rome wasn’t built in a day and Old Man in the Sea wasn’t a first draft.
You’ve heard the sayings, writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,
writing is rewriting, etc.
Get yourself in the habit of writing everyday, even if it’s just an idea or melody. If you are really focused on an idea you just wrote, spend the next day crafting it into a fully-fledged song.
If you need to, come back to your song later and re-examine it. Does it still convey the original feeling you had when you wrote it? Does it still flow and make sense? Is it too wordy or can you simplify/streamline to make it more powerful/thoughtful/intense/polished?
This is the reason most professional bands and songwriters do what’s called preproduction. It’s putting down what you have in the best way you can, then revisiting it for the final record once you’ve had the chance to live with it a bit and hear any changes you might want to make before it goes on the actual record.
They are actually recording the record twice. The first rough draft, then the final copy.
[note: Make sure you record your ideas in some way or you will forget them! Most smartphones are up to the task, but there are some small digital recorders that you may want to check out if your idea output is high.]
- Seek Critique/Mentorship
We all know it can be ego bruising, but seek out critique of your work.
Many pros do this, even if it’s with a person with no musical training. Check with friends who singer/songwriters or in other bands, get their input. You don’t need to necessarily change your song to suit them, but it will give you an outside perspective. If several people are saying the same thing, like the tune drags in the verses, you should investigate what you can do about it. Which leads right into my next point…
Get a mentor of some kind if possible. A professional seasoned writer is great if you can find one. They don’t even have to be in your area, thanks to the ability to send files via the internet. Please ask the person before you send them files if it’s ok to do so. Also you might want to think of what you can do for them. Maybe you can trade some helpful skill you have in exchange for their knowledge and help, like painting, organizing, car washing… you get the idea. That is how you build a relationship instead of coming across as pushy and all-about-me. These are busy people and you want to show that you value their time and input.
- Seek Co-Writers
The go-it-alone approach works well for some but most professionals I’ve worked with have remarked that having a sounding board in the form of someone you respect and click with can be invaluable. I’ll get more into this idea with interviews later, but basically the premise is when you get stuck, your co-writer can often bring the next piece of the puzzle to the table. I know a team where one guy wrote great verses and choruses and the other guy wrote great bridges.
Sometimes your co-writer will spur you on to greatness with an idea that you thought was ready to be 86ed. Or maybe they might add the finishing touches that didn’t occur to you, like the perfect harmony in the perfect part. Trying to write lyrics can really benefit from having a sounding board, much more so than from a thesaurus.
- Play Often!
It can be small gigs or coffeehouses or even backyard parties, but you
need to hone your craft. The best way to do that is play! When you play in front of a crowd you can get instant feedback on your songs. Take note of which songs in the set get the best reaction. When you get back to rehearsal mode, start making little tweaks to the ones that didn’t go over as well. Maybe you need to streamline the arrangement? Or you might need to strengthen the chorus or add a harmony, or maybe the song is just a mess and needs to be rewritten. Refer to your mentor if you can for advice and direction when you get stuck.
These are 5 ways to improve your music now, relatively easy ones. Have you found different ways not listed here that have worked for you? Post them in the comments below!