I’m sure you’ve seen videos or heard stories of big artists like Ed Sheeran, who will literally write songs with strangers on the street or live in the studio. While that’s all well and good, not everyone should hold themselves to that standard. Why, might you ask? Well, because everybody’s minds are a little bit different.
If you’re familiar at all with the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), you’ll know that the test is based on observational theories written by the famous psychologist Carl Jung. According to the theories of “cognitive functions”, there are two primary ways people form ideas: Introverted Intuition and Extraverted Intuition. Those who have introverted intuition in their stack will process new ideas in their head first, then attempt to develop that idea into reality. Those with extraverted intuition will process new ideas outside their head and develop them as they share them. Think of extraverted intuitives like the mad scientists with walls of whiteboards filled with equations and ideas.
Guys like Ed Sheeran and Jon Bellion are extraverted intuitives, so to them and people like them, writing a song on the fly is really the best way. Not too surprisingly, the music industry is skewed towards extraverted intuitives, since they tend to be better at writing lots of songs in a short period (this makes the labels more money). However, a lot of your favorite artists are probably introverted intuitives, such as Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift. So what’s the difference?
Extraverted intuitives need to process outside their heads, so they’re the stereotypical songwriting persona you see on TV and in the movies. Sitting on their bed with a guitar in their hands, singing a line and then writing it down, is the specific image that comes to mind. Typically they’ll need some sort of music to write to, such as a guitar or a recorded beat, in order to write effectively. When you see videos of an artist writing a song live in the studio or on the street, that’s usually a pretty good indicator that they’re an extraverted intuitive writer.
Introverted intuitives tend to take more time in the writing process, since they intensely process every line before writing it down. They don’t typically need a beat or any type of music to write to, since they’re pretty much just writing to whatever music is playing in their mind at the time. As such, songs written by introverted intuitives tend to have a lot of satire, “deep meanings”, and double-meanings, since every line is analyzed before being written down. When you hear stories of a writer “writing the song on a napkin” or “in the shower”, that’s usually a good indicator of an introverted intuitive writer.
Is one better than the other? Definitely not. Kendrick Lamar’s (introverted intuitive) “To Pimp A Butterfly” is considered one of the best hip hop records of all time, but Drew Taggart’s/Freddy Kennett’s/Shaun Frank’s (extraverted intuitives) “Closer” is, as of right now, the most streamed song of all time. Ed Sheeran (extraverted intuitive), at one point, had more songs on the Billboard Top 100 than some artists wrote in their entire careers. It’s just how they think and how they write.
At the end of the day, though, they’ll each have their individual struggles. If you’re an introverted intuitive like me, I tend to have a hard time working with extraverted intuitive writers, and they have a hard time working with me. As such, I have to adjust my workflow every time I work with one so we can come to an effective songwriting compromise and get work done. You’d be surprised at what can happen when collaborating with someone who writes so differently than you.
So which one are you? Hopefully I’ve given you some clues so you can figure it out. Try it both ways and see which one feels more natural.
These are not rules. If you’re an introverted intuitive, writing on the fly may still be your thing. An extraverted intuitive writer might be intensely critical and thoughtful of their songs and write in lots of complexity. That said, knowing this information may help you develop your skills as a songwriter, and hopefully lead you to writing better songs.
All that said, good songwriting still takes an immense amount of practice and dedication. Always keep practicing and writing with new people. Good luck!
As many of you know, these articles are written as part of a “brain dump” recommended by an article I read. I’ve found them very helpful, but they often contain incorrect, vague, and misleading info, since they’re written in a short period shortly after I wake up. I find them very therapeutic, but I openly admit there isn’t a ton of cognitive thought or editing going into them. Keep that in mind. And most of all, remember that there are no rules in music. These are my recommendations, but it’s your responsibility to review, ponder, act, and discover for yourself. Good luck, have fun.