Know Your Why to Write Your Best Songs


Sarah Spencer

Know your songwriting why, and you'll find your songwriting voice. |

You know this feeling:

  • That feeling when: You’re going about your day when all of a sudden, a great idea for a new song comes to you. And I mean, a great idea. You write it down in your notebook and work on it as soon as you can, or you hit the piano bench right away and start writing.

You also know this feeling:

  • That feeling when: Literally all the other moments of your life… when your songs aren’t great songs.

You know the difference between what feels like a great song, and what feels like an average song.

They feel different. And they may change from day to day. An idea you thought was awesome last week might sound lackluster this week.

Why is that?

You may be well acquainted with the comparison game – you’ve probably been playing it for a long time. You’re also probably familiar with the rollercoaster that we creatives tend to ride when it comes to our work.

A song idea you love can be the difference between writing a song you love, or feeling like you’re wasting your time.

When your ideas are less than inspired, it can be really hard to find to momentum to write. What’s the point in writing songs at all, if your ideas aren’t any good?

Here’s the thing.

There are two points I want to make here.

Put down your guitar for a moment and read this. Really read it.

  1. What’s good, great, and bad, is subjective. These words have different meanings for e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e.
  2. Song ideas can change. They can start out bad, then become great. And vice versa and anywhere in between.

Let’s talk about both of these things.

Great ideas vs. Good ideas vs. Bad ideas depend on who you write for and the decisions you make when writing.

If you’re just starting to write songs, or maybe you’re just starting to play your songs out, this is a CRITICAL piece of love and support I want to give to you right away.

You need to know your why. The big WHY do you write songs.

Because your why will have a lot to do with how to qualify song ideas.

Ask your self this question: Why do I write songs?

Then write down the answer.

Read your answer every day. Repeat it over and over. Print it out. Hang it on your mirror. Decorate it. Make it cute and nice to look at. This is your anthem in the face of self doubt and criticism:

Different people write songs for different reasons. Here are some examples:

  • They turn to songwriting to make sense of a difficult time
  • They want to sing and perform on stage like their favorite artists
  • They want to help people with their music
  • They want to create amazing musical experiences like the ones they’ve felt from their idols
  • They want to be rich and famous*

*This is a terrible reason to write songs and I would not recommend it for long term happiness.

Know your songwriting why, and you'll find your songwriting voice. |

So what does knowing your why have anything to do with ok vs great song ideas?

When you know why you write, you have a target to aim at when you write.

For example, if you write because you want to work out your problems and questions about the world, and you don’t care if your songs ever leave your bedroom, then you only need to be concerned with pleasing yourself. That is totally ok! If you write for you and only you, then just keep yourself happy. Easy peasy. Write songs that YOU think are great!

If you write with the hopes of being able to play the main stage at your county fair one day, then a great song for that show is going to be a lot different than a great song for your bedroom. You’re going to have to write songs that the audience will think are great. That the booker will think is great. What experience does that booker want to create for his audience at the fair, and how can you bring that experience with your music? Does your music even fit that experience?

If your bedroom songs don’t have thousands of people rocking out and holding up their beer while you headline the main stage at the rodeo, then it may not be that your songs are bad, they’re just not in front of the right people at the right time.

See what I mean?

So, before judging your songs (or letting others judge them) start here: why do you write songs?

The best part is – this is not a trick question. Whatever answer that you give is the right answer, because it will point you down a path to take.

The answer to why you write will lead you to great songs and great opportunities.

Know your songwriting why, and you'll find your songwriting voice. |

Let’s talk about the second part: Song ideas can change.

This is pretty simple so I won’t be too long winded here.

Song ideas can absolutely change from ok to great, and back again.

For example: You may have had an idea a year ago that you thought was mediocre. But you wrote it down anyway because, why not?

Now, one year later, you come across the idea again. Suddenly, you know exactly how you would write this song. And you know it’s going to be awesome.

Why is that?

That’s because you’re a better writer today than you were one year ago!

Song ideas can change.

Another way they can change:

You may bring an older song idea into a cowrite, and your cowriter may see hidden potential that you couldn’t. A cowriter can breathe new life into an old idea. You never know the brilliant take she might have on your idea.

It’s worthwhile to write down all ideas that come to you. If you feel ok about them, put them down in your hook book.

When you know your why, time and experience will help you sort out which ideas are your best ones.

When you keep your why at the foundation of your writing, you won’t lead yourself astray. Know your why and you’ll find it so much easier to write the songs you want to hear, that you’re proud of. You’ll be able to write from your unique voice, rather than writing what you think other people want to hear. And the longer you write, the easier to gets to suss out the ideas that are truly great from you.

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Sarah Spencer

Sarah Spencer is an award winning singer/songwriter based in Nashville, TN.

Born in the Sunshine State, Sarah Spencer writes vibrant, shining americana/pop music. She works in Nashville TN as a singer/songwriter, as well as a UX designer for a marketing firm.

Follow Sarah on Spotify to get her latest releases.

You can jump on her email list at or purchase her debut EP, "Freshman Year" on iTunes.