Pulling your guts out and knitting them into songs

42 posts / 0 new
Last post

Is that subject clickbaity enough for ya?

I want to talk about how much of yourself you put into songs. Specifically, how much pain and misery and insanity you allow yourself to wallow in, in order to create songs.

I've gone through periods of my life where I've dived deep into unrequited love, allowed myself to become terrified about the loss of a partner or family member, or just generally pushed myself closer to the land of the Completely Bonkers, to get a song with enough emotional content to satisfy me.

Sometimes the song turns out to be "a blinder" and it becomes one of my favourites, coming with me to gigs and even making it to the studio. Other times, it just becomes a painful little well that I don't really want to climb into by playing it.

How about you?

So yesterday my boyfriend and I were having this conversation. He worries that some of my lyrics are about him. I laughed, sang "You're so Vain" - but then said yes. We have a very complex "relationship" and anyone who reads many of my songs could easily figure it out. I put all of myself into what I write. Even the ones that are not something I have experienced. I try to tell a story. So though most of what I write is based on my life, some I pull from the lives and experiences of others and I try to do it to the best of my ability.

So yesterday my boyfriend and I were having this conversation. He worries that some of my lyrics are about him. I laughed, sang "You're so Vain" - but then said yes. We have a very complex "relationship" and anyone who reads many of my songs could easily figure it out. I put all of myself into what I write. Even the ones that are not something I have experienced. I try to tell a story. So though most of what I write is based on my life, some I pull from the lives and experiences of others and I try to do it to the best of my ability.

sorry about the double post - my Internet went down and now I can't delete the duplicate

My life is Good and I am generally pretty Optimistic. Average amount of challenge and sadness and regret. So I occasionally write something sad from personal experience but I LOVE sad songs so I usually write them based on imagined situations or the real life trials of other people.

What continues to surprise me is how people always assume my sad songs are based on my personal experiences. I've been thanked for my service (even though I was never in the military.) I've had people come up to me after a performance and express their condolences for my loss (even though the tragedy I just sang about was totally imaginary!) I used to be confused about how to respond but now I just say "Thank You!"

So, Yes, I pull out guts and knit them into songs (but they're usually not my guts!)

Good topic and, indeed, good clickbait!
Back in the early '90s, I broke up with a long-time girlfriend and in my misery decided to write some songs about it. They were awful!
In the mid-90s, I wrote a few poems that turned into songs - sad, and sort of about me. Years later, I re-wrote them and made them into something OK.
In the mid-2000s, I began writing kid and family songs about my life then and as a kid, and about and for my daughter, who was ages 5-8 at that time.
Most of my songs are still about my life - no longer kid songs (although I still write a few). And because my life, like @johnstaples's life is good, my songs are usually positive.
Occasionally, I'll write a sad song, and again like John it's about someone else. I also like to write about people who are down on their luck and/or living outside society's norms but OK with it - and a few of those are from personal experience.

I think there's an unfounded assumption (at least for me) in the question. The question starts by asking "how much of yourself you put into songs," and the answer, for me, is a lot: I write about my interests, and the stories I want to tell, and my sense of humor. I feel I put quite a bit of my worldview and personality into my songs.

But the question then asks "how much pain and misery and insanity you allow yourself to wallow in." And I don't think one has to (although one certainly can) write about "pain and misery" to genuinely and honestly put oneself into one's music. Indeed, I don't write about such things at all. It's not that I don't have any pain or insanity; plainly, everyone does, though I recognize I'm relatively fortunate in the sweepstakes of life. But it's not what my muse directs me to write. In other words, it's not that I don't "allow" myself to write about pain or misery, but that it's not what happens to interest me as a songwriter, or what I personally feel compelled to write.

I have absolutely nothing against such songs, and am often riveted listening to the personal lyrics people write here (and elsewhere). But my calling -- my personal drive, my personal expression -- pushes me in a different direction. I express myself, legitimately and truly, by writing about beards, or competitive eating, or robots, or twisted Christmas songs. And that, I submit, is just as (no more and no less) genuine as singing about love or tragedy or one's own life experience or any of the infinite myriad of other topics that make up our lives and imaginations and fundamental selves.

In sum. if the question is fundamentally "how much of your personal pain do you feel comfortable putting in your songs," that's a fair and interesting and legitimate question. But if the question is truly "how much of yourself [do] you put into songs," then I object strongly to equating "putting yourself" in songs to singing about "pain and misery"! Biggrin

I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me. Sgd, Flying Tadpole.

I write mostly from my heart, soul, and past experiences - even in the most silly and random songs I write, there is an undertone of myself, past or present. While the lyrics may be metaphors or exaggerations, it's still me. As for wallowing in it - writing my music helps me release things so I don't need to wallow in it. For me, my writing is my therapy and my healing. I've written a few songs, though, that were very literal about my pain. Metaphor is a good tool to use. The challenge comes in that people don't want to hear about pain, misery, abuse, struggle or trauma - for some it triggers their own pain, for some it makes them feel guilty or uncomfortable, and some simply cannot identify with the words - they've never experienced anything similar. I try to craft my songs to be acceptable to the general public with an undertone that if anyone wants to look deeper, they can find what I'm really saying.

All my music is centered around me, I like to put little details of things that relate to day to day life for me. and overall craft music that is reflective of my personality and view of the world. I have been trying to work on my expression and really make my music seem like my world. The music only I could have made, to specific details.

For me, I guess it's my attitude and the way I take things on, themes of pain and all are not in my music. I prefer to express something that is honest and maybe at times a lil' angsty but I don't go for that stuff in my music. Sometimes that being very clear with emotions is not what I do, it's harder and honestly less enjoyable to write those kind of songs.

The emotions I want to embody in a song come from me and my life, my memory, my truth. Or, of course, the lies I tell myself. As a married middle aged guy, my actual life is not much to write about.

So I use fiction. If I saw you walking down the street, I might watch you for a second or two, and based on the expression on your face, whether you were walking fast or slow, what you were carrying or a door you went into, or anything else, I might make up a story about you. Based on that second and a half. Totally irresponsible, untrue, and baseless. If you heard the song I wrote "about" you, you might be horrified.

But it's not really about you...

Reminds me of the gem, 'Don't let the facts get in the way of the truth.' If I'm lonely, I'll write a lonely song. And I'll put a lot of myself and my emotion into the song. But rarely will it be factual. Rarely do I say 'My wife pissed me off last night and now I feel like no-one understands me.' But I might write a heartbreak song, or a funny song with a sad or tongue in cheek undertone that most people wouldn't get. Or a I'm pissed off at the world song.

Or sometimes I'll write about a situation with completely different characters. Or I'll make up a story to relay how I'm feeling or how I imagine someone else is feeling or just to explore an emotion or story.

Or sometimes, I just start writing and something comes out and when I'm done I'm like, 'WHOA!' Where the hell did that come from. And some point later I realize that it means a lot more to me or is more "about" me than I ever realized. But it wouldn't be apparent that it was particularly about me or a specific "factual" event.

And rarely, I'll write a song about my personal experiences and try to use the actual situation as the backdrop/setting. Where the people in the song should be able to tell it's about them or about a situation they were aware of. But I find it's harder to tell the truth when trying to use the 'facts.' It's much easier to relate the truth when you can play with the details to make it more vivid, or more immediate.

So how much of myself do I put into my songs? Not much. Almost all of myself. It depends on how you look at it, I guess.

I agree with @OdilonGreen. I'm not interested in wallowing in my misery. I'm interested in other things.

I'm not a confessional songwriter and I'm not really interested in pouring my "guts" into songs. There is nothing interesting about it, it adds no value at all. I almost never write one-sidedly about some other real-life person, especially my "women". I see an ethical problem of power there and it's not fair.

All my feelings are fleeting. Basically, if I was to write only from my feelings, the songs could start sad, go through all kinds of changes and end up happy. That would be one mess of a song, it would contradict itself, it wouldn't have a constant tone and style.

Even Frank Zappa had a distinct lyrical style when his music was all over the place. Smile

Instead, I try to write from my personality as a whole, from my temperament, from mental and moral qualities because they have more substance and stability. And it's really hard to check the stressed syllables if you're not calm and patient.

There should always be some feeling, a distinctive emotional "anchor" in a song. Otherwise, the song doesn't have a heart. But there should also always be some reason and intelligence for balance. A song needs a structure and logic, just like feelings. And I don't even see them as opposites at all. The best results come from seeing them as two sides of the same coin.

Or maybe it's a ball, a colorful beach ball. Or sometimes a Rubik's cube. Smile

It''s interesting, because a large majority of my songs are either personal or based upon fictional characters and it can be hard to distinguish sometimes. It's definitely leaned more personal in the last year though..

I like to write songs about my experiences with crushes that are just detailed enough to not clue people who know the person (or the person themself) in on who I'm writing about.

I dunno. I just write when a idea comes into my head, Sometimes I write a song about someone I see, though my song is built on something I imagine about them, not real life.

In my view songs are supposed to be a sort of distortion of real life, I have a muse, of sorts, but the muse in my songs stopped resembling the real life person,long ago. Sometimes I'm thinking about something, and I write a song that is based on that thing, but it rarely ends up being obviously about it.

I suspect my emotions appear in my songs a lot, but they are not that accurate a representation of them, because that's how they end up.

Uh.. often totally immersed... blood sweat and often a lot of tears. skirmishes and quick observations not as emptionally invested but ones from the heart are total investments of emotions. My family could share many stories. Also hearing and reading other songs - some trigger all sorts of emotions.

Having said what I just did - all songs are mash ups and involve different experiences or ideas or events or thoughts about people. A 'love lost' song might draw from multiple different experiences. And all contains a healthy degree of fictional characters elements and situations as well but there is a kernel of truth in nearly everything!

And FYI I am one who cries at movies, watching touching TV commercials, reading books, etc. so my heart drips off my sleeve!

@kahlo2013 you are not alone there - commercials, music, movies, you name it.

I wanted to respond to this thread, but @OdilonGreen has already said everything that I was gonna say.

The guts don't drip on the floor until I'm performing; that's where it gets twisty for me. Mostly when I use personal experiences in a song, it's been a while & they've gone sort of cold; but even if they haven't, I'm in more of an "observer" mode while writing, watching what happened for the details that matter. That helps me when I have to go down the rabbit hole.

That is basically my creative process. I do sometimes base myself in other people's stories or concepts but I think that guts it's what basically I use.

I write from and for me. It's all direct experience, feelings, past life stories, or personal reaction to problems issues and idiocies, which is where Flying Tadpole comes in. Non= FT stuff tends to the sad and melancholy because that's me too. FT tends to the rabid outgoing attack, as a response to spit in the face of stupidity, or occasionally just in desperation to squeeze a bit of fun out of the zits, boils and incipient gangrenous life surface. Or gallows humour. Inevitably, though, nothing is strictly exact, and often only true in Keats' sense of Truth=Beauty/Beauty=Truth, a doubtful bit of logic if ever there was one. But I do smile at comments like "wherever do you dredge these ideas up from?" No dredge involved, it's usually one of the bulldozers that walked over me and mine at some point. And while growing old is a crock all by itself, the bulldozers still get sent in to knock you down for a while. Not yet buried though.

i wrote so much, in younger years, of those things born of spleen and ideal. it is not really my method of late, though this one was me putting my heart out on stage, so to speak.


my painpill addled brain since the operation has not allowed me to connect image and word while i have been in recovery. and i cannot even connect them enough to comment after listening to y'all's stuff, which i have tried repeatedly. please, accept my apologies for being largely absent this summer.

I would say most of my material is born of experiences with pain and suffering, its just the most honest way for me to make a song. I write happier songs too, but they are somehow more difficult for me.

Sometimes I write my life. I call that journaling with a tune. Sometimes I create to make myself smile. Sometimes the song is to make someone else smile, but that always makes me smile. Sometimes it is so random that only the muse knows what the purpose is. Sometimes it feels inspired and sometimes just silly. A day in my brain is complicated...

For me, it's not so much about putting all of me into my music... It's about "being" all of me, all the time. That is, being as honest with myself as I am able, whether I'm watching a DVD or writing a song. Not so much in the sense of lyrical content (my life is too boring for lyrics, more or less, and the non-boring parts I don't want to write about (which is honest)), but in the emotional content of a piece. Like my piano improvisations - there are no lyrics there, but the music is still "honest" regarding me, myself. Those emotional progressions are things I have felt before, and am feeling again while recording the track.

So yeah... I just try to be honest with myself in all that I do, wherever possible, and that includes my music. So it's not so much about dredging up the crap of my life... It's more, I don't know, the crap is just there sometimes? Still honest, still "me", but not in any purposeful way beyond my general desire to be "me" at all times. Smile

I have a great friend that was amazed that I wrote so many lyrics during FAWM and 5090 - she did not understand how I could do that so quickly. Some were kind of about her and her hobbies and adventures we had had together although. So I let her look through several songs and she said "I get it now - this is just your way of writing a journal"

Well said, @cblack.

Good times, good times Music 2

How much of myself do I add to my songs? All of me or none of me. It doesn't vary by song so much as it varies by the explanation of the song.

Since I lean deep in to the improvised lyrics, even I can't interpret them until they are done. This makes the opportunity for false interpretations of my songs much higher than the correct ones.

I imagine there's still deeply personal meaning that can be pulled from even my poop-themed songs. My own personal biome of meaning, vibrant and alive.

As to the second part of the question, "how much pain and misery and insanity you allow yourself to wallow in, in order to create songs." That answer is simple: No more than 60 minutes per song.

Sometimes I do this. Sometimes I don't. I tend more toward 'silly' in general but on occasion I'll pull out a real gut-knitter.

In FAWM this year i had two very kind people offline enquire if i was Ok because I posted a fair series of pretty dark songs. Im getting pretty long in the tooth and have had a raft of experiences from losing partners, parents friends to joyous children and relationships. I have always had a fairly optimistic outlook! But i remember what those joys and pains felt like. I also observed many others pains and joys. When i started writing more regularly again my wife and i talked about this! And its a standing joke now. If she likes the message she says its about her if she doesnt must be someone else. My point is a lot if my writing is experience of my feelings and observing other peoples feelings than how i feel during writing the song. Very occasionaly its a bit closer to home! (But i dont let on which. Smile )

Um... I used to say I had a line, but I just wrote and posted a song about something that was pretty messed up that happened to me that only three people know about. So I don't know anymore.

I mix life and imagination. Last night I was working at an outdoor wedding. There was also a hurricane passing, so I've got a head full of those details. But there's no emotional connection there, yet. So I will add personal emotion so it's not just a "head" story, but has a lot of heart in it, too.

If the song is too personal, I may modify details so that it's more accessible to other people, or use metaphor to obscure the exact people involved.

My guts are hanging out so much I need surgery. :P I do often write autobiographical songs, but often it's more of an autobiographical thought that starts the song, then the muse takes over and fiction is mixed with reality to finish the song. Also songs that are actually third person, I switch to first person to make them sound more personal and feel more intimate.

Why does it go hand in hand? Pain and misery and "putting yourself" into a song? I think I put a lot of myself into my music, and yet, I put very little pain and misery. It's not that I don't suffer sometimes. Everyone does. It's just I don't have much of a memory for suffering. I remember that it happened, but I can't put myself in that mindset again. It took me a long time to start really writing, because I couldn't put misery and suffering into my music and I thought that meant I couldn't write "real" songs. So no guts IS being true to myself.

For me it depends. Most of my earlier songs are very much gut-knits. So much angst. Then I started writing really silly songs. But lately I'm finding the guts spilling out again.

My best Smile , most mediocre Fool , and worst Dash 1 songs mostly come from my feelings and experiences. Even when it appears to be about someone or something else. Its my own version of self-psychotherapy Pardon .

i dont write about myself. i write about the person who is listening.

its all in the cloud. and when it starts shining you got yourself a song.