Best Hack For Writing Hits – Songwriting Sprints

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Looking For Songwriting Tips, Try Songwriting Sprints

Add songwriting “sprints” to your list of songwriting tips.  This is a fun way to work together as a band and write hits, and nobody else is doing this right now.  You may have tried songwriting challenges, 52 songs in 52 weeks, or a song a day for however long.  Those types of drills create burnout and are not really meant for rock bands.   I’d argue that they focus on quantity and not quality.

What Is A Songwriting Sprint?

It’s a productivity hack for songwriting with the goal of writing a hit song.  I’m always preaching about leading with your best stuff (songs, videos, photos).  So hear is one idea for how to write your best song.  I’m not the first to come up with songwriting hacks, but this is new and not something I heard about or read about on a search for songwriting tips.  I searched Google and couldn’t find anything about songwriting sprints.  The idea came to me naturally while thinking about songwriting tips for one of my readers.  I’ve used sprints with teams in the workplace, and they work.

Google Knows Sprints

A year ago I read a book on team productivity written by a Google employee Jake Knapp called Sprint.

The concept was meant to help organizations work together well in teams, get creative, and actually accomplish something in a short window of time. Like five days for example.  Then recently talking with a band (shout out to Awake At Last), they mentioned that they were at their best when everybody in the band was working towards the same goal. I really identified with that statement.  Working with small and large groups is a real challenge.  It’s no wonder Google implemented it across the entire company.

A few days later, I was trying to give feedback to another one of my readers who asked me to critique one of his band’s songs.  Critiquing songs has always been tough for me.  It’s subjective and i’m looking for hits. If it’s a hit, I’ll let them know, but it rarely happens.  Rather than say, “it’s pretty good”, or “needs work”, I’d rather give some actionable advice that will help, which I did.  And as I was writing the email, I came up with songwriting sprints.

How Does a Songwriting Sprint Work?

What follows is actually taken from the actual email response I sent this reader.  This all came together in about 15 minutes.  I have experience with sprints myself applying sprints to teamwork at Sony / Century Media.  It’s a little different than how it would work in an office setting, but it works with any organization.

After a little constructive feedback to my reader about the track, here’s what I wrote.

The Steps

When you get back home and are ready to hit the rehearsal studio again try doing this exercise with the goal of getting 4 complete songs. This is meant to discipline you all to knock out quality songs and focus.  And hopefully you’ll find a single – hit – focus track, whatever you want to call it.

Over a two week period do two “5 day sprints”.

Week 1 – Monday – Friday (can be Wed – Sun, or any combination)

Monday – Songwriter(s) and vocalist sit down and discuss the 4 songs you want to write over the next 2 weeks.  Vibe, Lyrics, Tempo, dynamics, vocal dynamic, message, etc. You’re trying to write songs that grab your audience, not your musician peers.  So no crazy song structures for these 4 songs. Straight forward.  Remember you’re going for a focus track, not a deep cut.  Lyricist start writing lyrics for 4 songs on this day.  Helps if you go into it stockpiling some lyrics, or having rough thoughts.  You can outline the lyrics first too if that helps.  They don’t have to be a complete songs today, or even the next day.  But 4 sketches of the lyrics to 4 songs.  Songwriter/guitarist, do the same.  Get the basic foundation for 4 songs, riffs for verses, pre-chorus, chorus.

Tuesday – Song 1 – again, not full band, just vocalist and songwriter(s).  Get song #1 as far as you can.  Lock yourself in that room until you are happy with your work.  Lyrics need to be 70% done.  Songwriting should be 95% done.  Make sure to record it for reference.

Wednesday – Song 2 – repeat above

Thursday – Song 3 – repeat above

Friday – Song 4 – repeat above

Week 2 – Monday – Friday

Monday – Full band goes in the rehearsal space (electric/full drums).  Songwriter and vocalist express what they are trying to do with each song.  Show band the songs and everybody work out their basic parts for all 4 songs. Record this, and make sure everybody goes home with a recording.  Explain to other band members the part about writing 4 singles. These are not deep cuts.  So keep it straight forward.  No crazy bridges, long intros, long outros.  The songs still don’t have to be complete songs today.  But they will completed Tuesday through Friday.

Tuesday – Song 1 – Full band.  Get song #1 complete.  Lock yourself in that room until it’s done.  That’s why it’s called a sprint.  Lyrics need to be 100% done.  Songwriting should be 100% done.

Wednesday – Song 2 – repeat above

Thursday – Song 3 – repeat above

Friday – Song 4 – repeat above

Taking It A Step Further

You can rinse and repeat this process as many times as you want.  For example if you did this for four months (18 weeks).  Take a week off here and there so you don’t burn out.  You could compile 24 to 28 songs.  Each of your sprints can be different, and you don’t have to make them all hit focused.  Pick your lucky 13 to record, and you’ve got an album.

If you want to make a stronger impact as an unsigned band, start with your best 5 or 6 and release and EP.  The best 5 of 28 songs is going to be really good.  I’m sure you’ve seen this in every songwriting tips list.  Your band will become much stronger songwriters from this exercise.  You will be able to truly say you worked hard, and put in 10 times the effort that the competition did.  If you take this challenge, you will be in an elite group of artists that put this type of focus into their work.

Please Share

Put this into action.  Send me your feedback and let me know if it’s working for you?  I’d like to know how it goes.  If you dig this post, the best thing you could do for me is share it with other bands and songwriters.  Hit the “Share” button on the left.    Comment below.

Todd McCarty

Over the past two decades, music industry leader Todd McCarty served as GM of rock/punk indie label Fearless Records, and SVP Sales at Sony Music / Century Media. He still consults for record labels, but is actively blogging and working to educate new artists through www.heatonthestreet.com

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