The world of songwriting can seem mystical and charged with highly intelligent people, emotionally and otherwise, who put their heads together and create songs with lasting cultural impact, sometimes pushing the boundaries of propriety, religion, and civic duty.
Singer-songwriters like Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Johnny Cash, and John Denver altered the landscape of music with their songs and arrangements. Singer-songwriters are still a huge part of the industry today, often garnering huge cult followings with their emotionally charged lyrics about love, loss, and betrayal in the modern day. Taylor Swift is now perhaps one of the most successful singer-songwriters of all time, using her love life and family as inspiration for her ten multi-platinum albums. With musics’ healing properties as well as its meaningful effects on listeners’ life stories, your songs could help someone in more ways than one.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence as a concept wasn’t clearly defined as a term until 1990, and wasn’t widely used until later, by psychologist Daniel Goleman. Of course, long before this, emotionally intelligent people were widely referred to as “charismatic”, “ charming”, and “understanding”. These people often rose to power or influence simply because of the way they treated people, whether it was genuine or not.
Many people used their ability to understand and empathize to care for others, create lasting bonds, and utilize their ability to understand for good rather than harm. I’m sure you can think of more than a few historic leaders who used this particular skill for the opposite effect on the general population.
Emotional intelligence is generally agreed to be an understanding and control of your own emotions, thoughts, and reactions to the world around you, and the ability to understand and influence the emotions, thoughts, and reactions of those around you, especially those who you are emotionally close to, like partners, spouses, and close friends.
Beginning as a Songwriter
Becoming a songwriter is as easy as setting pen to paper and as hard as climbing Everest. The simple act of writing lyrics and setting them to music makes you a songwriter, even if your songs never leave the privacy of your own house. Making a living as a songwriter is an entirely different story, and one that emotional intelligence lends itself to in more ways than one. While it’s definitely not a requirement, having emotional intelligence will favor you as you navigate the murky and convoluted world of songwriting, producing, singing, and performing. Being able to use your emotional intelligence to keep peace and be personable with people in the higher echelons of the industry will make your life infinitely easier.
As well as being emotionally intelligent, working on being a writer will also be a skill you’ll want to hone. The hardest part of writing is twofold- starting the writing, and showing the writing to others. You only have to do one at a time, which helps. Write as much as you
possibly can, and be secure in the knowledge that some of it is going to be bad! Write bad songs and use them to learn what works and what doesn’t, and turn them into better songs.
To sharpen your skills and broaden your horizons, start taking writing classes- both songwriting and regular writing. Knowledge of syntax, colloquialisms, literary references, and modern slang will all benefit you while you’re writing songs. If you know those things, you’ll be able to use them at your leisure, or avoid them if you don’t.
The same principle should apply to writing the actual notation and arrangements of your new song. Educate, educate, educate yourself! Investing in your musical education is one of the best tools you can give to yourself as a singer-songwriter- or even just a songwriter. The more you know about how instruments sound in different environments the better. Take voice lessons and piano and guitar lessons to start, as these are typically used to notate the beginning arrangements of your songs. Learning from other musicians will also teach you a lot about emotional intelligence- both in who you want to emulate as a person and who other people emulate as they interact with the world.
Learn About Your Own Emotional Intelligence
Another great weapon for you to utilize in your songwriting journey is learning as much as you can about your own emotional intelligence. Yours, like a fingerprint, is unlike anyone else’s on earth, so you can only learn from others through research, self-awareness, and by paying attention to their reactions to the world.
Therapy can be a good way to get in touch with your emotions and learn how to lean into your natural emotional intuition. Even if you’re not trying to work through trauma or learn coping mechanisms, a therapist can add a good perspective to what affects your emotions throughout your daily life, and how you can tap into that in a helpful way instead of a hindering and distracting one.
Give yourself a little time to research emotional intelligence as it pertains to you. Ask your family members what they think of their own emotional intelligence and use that information to help you identify your own strengths and weaknesses emotionally. Use science-backed research to learn about the different signs and trends of emotionally intelligent people. Lots of universities and research centers publish their findings on free forums or in easily downloadable formats online for no charge.
Writing and Emotional Intelligence
While we have agreed that high emotional intelligence is not entirely necessary to be a prolific songwriter, it must be acknowledged that it does lend itself to success in the business. Getting in touch with your own emotions and being able to acknowledge and understand them in a significant way is an ideal way to approach writing songs.
Being able to emote in your writing as well as feeling emotionally close to the lyrics will only make you a better writer and performer. In this vein, writing lyrics that seem ‘basic’ or ‘cliche’ in the grand scheme of things will look and sound more meaningful to your audience- and to yourself. Authenticity of emotion is very important to audience members-this is what separates the average listener from one who will become a die-hard fan. If they connect with your music and lyrics, they will likely feel much more connected to and invested in you.
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