Songwriting Tips (and Rants) From Tyler Szalkowski of State Champs

After discussing the new State Champs EP, guitarist Tyler Szalkowski had a lot to say in way of songwriting.  He offered up some great tips and advice, complete with his quirky and fun personality, that often sent him on a passionate tangent. Here’s what he had to say to both new and established artists trying to improve their songwriting and presence in the industry.

The first piece of advice he offered may seem broad and boring, even a cop-out but he said it’s one of the most important and that is the simple idea of taking your time.

“Take your time and make sure your songs are good,” Szalkowski explained. “Truthfully, people might only give you one chance, especially starting out.”

His second tip is for bands wanting to ramp up their following and is important if you want people to actually listen to your music. But first, you must understand people are a little lazy and love convenience, so cater to that and use distribution services like CD Baby to help get your music to the most people possible.

“Be everywhere,” he said. “Because people can listen to any artist they want. And if they search you and you’re not on Apple Music, they’re not going to listen. People love convenience. I know if I open Spotify and can’t find you, I just don’t listen. You need to meet people at their level. It’s overwhelming as a new artist on how to do that, but try to use stuff like CD Baby, they do a great job at distributing music.”

Another tip in the same realm, that Szalkowski seemed intensely passionate about, was to stop like-gating things. If you have a single coming out then put it out! Don’t wait for that extra follower on Facebook to get to the milestone to release something, because the remaining listeners who were there before deserve to hear that new song just as much as the extra follower you’re waiting on. 

“Numbers don’t mean anything,” he said. “I think making obstacles to listen defeats being in a band. Share your art and stop making it a social thing.”

Moving on to more writing tips, Szalkowski shares how to make your songs varied while still adhering to a commercial sound, explaining you don’t have to be brilliant at music theory to make your song structure interesting. For State Champs they kick in nuances into each verse transition to mix up the usual A/B, verse-chorus format. 

“I think the big thing for structure after having a pop sensibility and getting into your chorus pretty quick is transitions,” he said. “They’re very powerful. People don’t mind hearing the same verse again, but if you go into it and out of it in cool way, that will serve to strengthen the song. That is what really breaks it all up.”

And for co-writing situations, if your band is going into the studio with either a session player or new producer for the first time, Szalkowski has some straight-forward advice.

“Stand your ground,” he said.

No other artist or producer is going to understand your songs or band like you, so hold strong to your vision going in and don’t be afraid to speak up if something someone else is putting down isn’t working. It’s your music, your vision. You are in control.

“Some people might not know what your band sounds like, no one will know as well as you,” he said. “You care the most so make sure you are being mindful while you’re in session with people who may have just checked you out on Spotify before they came in.”

And lastly, Szalkowski commented on lyricism and when to go for the more specific lyrics and when to go broader.  Sometimes you will choose either depending on what emotion you want to elicit, what story you are telling or how you want to connect with people and at what intensity.

“Certain personal statements might feel throw away, but that kind of swagger and sassy attitude might be good for the song,” he said when writing more specifically, which can go one of two ways. “It’s either you’re too personal and lose the listener because they have no idea what you’re saying or they listen and want to know more,” he added.

On the same token, if you want to connect with the highest volume of people through your lyrics, you have to go wide and adopt more generic phrases that are fluid and can be interpreted many ways.  If nothing else, “hooks should always be broad,” he said.

To reiterate Szalkowski’s points he suggests: Take your time, have your music available on every digital platform and use a distribution service to make it easier, release music when you have it and don’t wait to get a certain amount of followers, make sure you make the transitions from verse to verse and verse to chorus different to avoid repetitive structure, stand your ground in co-writing situations, write specific lyrics where you can but go more broad with the hooks and choruses.

You can catch some of these same tips in action on State Champs’ new Unplugged EP, released August 14, which we also talked with them about, read all about it here and check out the EP on every digital platform including Apple Music and Spotify.

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