Get really good at what you do as there are not enough really good people out there.


It is very fashionable to talk about how much "talent" there is out there.  Just have a listen to the music people put on  then you may form a view that talent is actually thin on the ground and talented people with a commercially viable product are very rare indeed.  

I went to a music industry conference some years ago and one of the presenters said: "I am sorry to say this but 90% of you suck."  Perhaps his assessment is correct (remember I am a musician too).  Which leads me to ask myself how do I know if I know if I suck and how can I get better?

In April 1996, in an interview with Guitar World, when asked about how he went from playing his first open A chord to playing "Eruption", Eddie Van Halen replied:

“Practice.  I used to sit on the edge of my bed with a six-pack of Schlitz Malt talls. My brother would go out at 7pm to party and get laid, and when he'd come back at 3am, I would still be sitting in the same place, playing guitar. I did that for years — I still do that." 


Once you have written and recorded a piece of music it is very difficult to be objective about it.  You need some feedback from people who really know music like a professional musician.  Someone who knows enough music that they can pick you have used chords from another key in your new song or the guitar is out of tune as you play further up the neck (bridge not properly adjusted.) or the vocal is flat or the melody changes too much in the different verses or the words don't sing right because syllables with stresses are falling on the weak beats.

Friends and family don't tend to be honest with you.  They are always too polite to say things like "The songs sux and you are singing out to tune."  but that may be exactly what you need.  Rather than ask "What do you think of my songs?" - especially to the recording engineer who has just taken $1,500 from you to record your band.  Ask questions like:  "How could we have done it better?"  or  "Have you got any suggestions for us to do it better next time?"

If a person does tell you it sux don't take it personally, thank them for their honesty and ask them where the weaknesses are.  Then listen to them.  What they say might be wrong (for example telling you that you are flat when you are actually singing a melody to a modal scale) but it is their PERCEPTION that is important.  You have asked for their help and they are trying to help you.

A&R managers from record companies will rarely give honest feedback as the have been burned too often by people getting aggressive over the slightest criticism.  Everyone just ends up getting the same bland rejection letter:  "...thankyou for your submission ... not looking for this type of music at this time ... best of luck in the future."

The real positive feedback you should look for.


  1. Improve you song writing.  
  2. Improve your ear.
  3. Get the whole band to sing well.

Boring songs that don't have enough variation in them or too many notes and chords from the wrong key.  

How good is your ear?  Can you work out the solos of all your favourite artists?  Can you hear all the chord changes accurately?  Give your ear a tune up with Auralia ear training software.  A good investment.

Many acts are vocally weak.  With bands, all too often, the only person singing is the singer.  Listen to your favourite acts.  How many voices are there singing at once?  How often do they sing harmonies?  What are the harmonies? 

Listen to what is on the radio.  It is not all 4 chord plodders and listen to what the rhythm section is doing.  Now listen to the vocals - what is the difference between you and them?  List all the instruments used in a song you like.

As in aspiring independent musician or as an established artist with a major label deal, one of the most important things you can do is improve your song writing abilities.

How do you improve your song writing abilities?

  1. Practice effectively.  Write lots of songs and get quality feedback on your work.
  2. Study song writing and music theory. 

Those two evil twins again!  Study and practice.  They haunt my life in everything from programming to maths to bass playing to producing records.  Don't tell me that study and practice (with quality feed back) will make me good at song writing too!

If you have what it takes you should have a thirst for the knowledge and skills to be gained from the study and practice.  If it is all too hard then perhaps you don't have the "fire in your belly"  to go the distance?  Someone who really has it will be excited that they can learn new lyrical mechanisms and to write better melodies.


Study the classic, style defining songs of your musical style.  Things like lyrical structure and rhymes, what types of scales and chords are used, the types of rhythms, song structures etc.  If you have a really good ear and great musical instincts then that is all you need to do as you will intuitively know what will work.  Paul McCartney would be an example of this type of songwriter.  Unfortunately not all of us have the ear of Paul McCartney so we have to do some more formal study.

Learn music theory.  Learn the theory of Harmony, scales and chord construction.  There are whole University Degrees available on Composition and arrangement so there is much to learn.  You could do a short course in Composition and arrangement at the Sydney Conservatorium Community Open Program.   You might want to try to get a Conservatorium qualified teacher to provide private lessons in arrangement and composition.  There are well educated people making things happen from behind the scenes.  Michael Jackson's producer, Quincy Jones, studied orchestration at a Conservatorium in Paris.

When you write a song try to record it with some sort of multi-track recorder so you can hear it and play it for other people.


Here is a small range of book resources that you may find useful.  But there are heaps of others.  Just click on the picture for more information.


How you go about studying song writing and music is a really big subject and I can't do it justice in a few paragraphs.  There are 2 big points to take here:

With study and practice you can write MUCH BETTER songs and this will give a major boost to your music career.


I value your feedback.  Please send me your comments to:


Copyright 2008, 2010  Mark Ellis