When I seriously started writing ( I don’t include those teenage and 20 something years that are so naturally self -indulgent!) all of my songs were either my diary in song or friends’ stories. I thought that by knowing my subject matter really well, I would write profound and meaningful songs. Looking at them now, they seem to be full of angst and self pity and I am slightly embarrassed by their indulgence. Friends started worrying that they would get a song about them if they ticked me off. That was not a good sign.
So gradually I started writing about other things. Subjects that had nothing to do with me. Made-up scenarios. Books I had read. The only autobiographical elements are now in the happy songs. Maybe it’s because I am older and happier or maybe it’s because I now write so many songs that I don’t have time for self-indulgence. Who knows. And writing a Song of the Week -means that there is no time for diary songs, unless you lead a really dramatic life!
But as I was pondering all this I came across this article – An Easy Way to Increase Creativity, which totally explained my output and quality of my work and it seems that further away I am from my subject matter, the more creative I can be with it.
After all, it isn’t all about me is it?
In all my years of songwriting (which are many) and listening to other songwriters I have discovered a great song can write itself. Let me explain…
I have written a lot of songs and write more often as I get older. I would never presume to have written great songs but I have noticed that the songs that catch people’s attention or move them are the ones that I don’t really remember writing. It’s like they kind of wrote themselves. I am not in any way religious but I feel that my subconscious is doing the work for me. It’s like I finish a song and then think ‘how the heck did that happen’. I have a song for the Relay for Life, which gets a lot of attention and when people ask me about the lyrics, I really have no idea how they came to be. And I’m not a flake (or on drugs)… honest!
There is the songwriting school of thought that says that a great song takes many hours of writing, re-writing, altering and re-writing some more. But after watching an interview with Paul MacCartney talking about waking up one morning and having ‘Yesterday’ in his head and being convinced that it was an existing song, I came to conclusion that great songs happen while writing other songs. ‘Yesterday’ has got to be one of the greatest songs ever written.
So my goal of writing and recording a song a week (which I am now in week 18) has forced me to write lots. I try to be a few weeks ahead to allow for illness and vacation and have found that my best songs happen out of nowhere while trying to write other songs. I am not averse to hard work, in fact I love it, I just believe that if I write enough songs then a few of them will be good and maybe one day I will have a great one!
In conclusion, rather than spend a month writing and shaping one song, I would rather write twenty songs and get one good one because I learn from every one that I write, especially the bad ones!
How do you write songs?