What If Songwriting Was Easy?

16 posts / 0 new
Last post

I've been writing songs recently that are focused more on the process of creation than the outcome. Though the product tends to be interesting, I've found the process to be really quick and fun and interesting. This is very different than how I have approached songs in the past, which is typically with gritted teeth and anxiety. This part assumes it knows what other people want to hear and gets hung up trying to make that happen (ie. endless takes, pitch correction, catchy choruses, etc).

So what about you? Do you tend to approach songwriting with a similar stress? Or do you find songwriting to be this easy/effortless/magical thing? Maybe somewhere in between? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

@nate.gerry I'm an amateur and that is all I aspire to. Still for me it's often not easy. Sitting down to write something, anything just to get started, when everything feels like it's been done, when I don't feel like I have anything left to say, and if I did have something to say, then someone else already said it much better, often in a song I am very familiar with. So I reach into my bag of tricks and pull one out. If that does not work I reach for another one. One favorite trick is time limitation. If I give myself a year to write something, it will take a year. If I give myself an hour or two, then it gets done enough (to be a postable something in this very kind community) in an hour or two.

Except for when it is easy, when I'm just playing around with a phrase or noodling and I get a flash of an idea. Then I play what I just wrote down, even amazing myself sometimes.

The reality for me is the 'easy' part does not happen without doing the 'hard' part. The idea flashes are in reality the sprouting of seeds I have planted over the years. Both lyrical from practicing writing in various forms, and musical from playing (literally playing around sometimes) instruments, analyzing, and learning from other songwriters. The bag of tricks are different chords, fingerstyle patterns, song forms, etc. that I have developed through experimentation, listening, and learning. For me songwriting is a practice, the more I do it, the better I get at it, although I have learned I can overdo it. When it stops being fun, then I stop, for awhile. Then I do it again.

Generally very easy when i have inspiration or when I'm just messing. Can get much harder when i am told someone needs a song about xxxxx by lunchtime tomorrow. However , here it is - i work really really hard everyday researching ideas etc! Then its much easier when i sit down to write.

It's definitely a trap to start over-thinking. And it's easy to fall into the habit when you feel under pressure to produce something "good". You end up second-guessing yourself, trying to decide between different and sometimes conflicting ideas, when there's no objective reason to favor one idea over another in the first place. And that sort of creative indecision is absolutely deadly.

I find the best thing to do is to work quickly, and try not to think consciously about your creative decisions at all. Once a song is finished, you can go back after the fact and decide whether it's any good or not. And it's way easier to rework an existing, finished song than to try and improve it while you're writing it. But even so, some of the best songs you'll write will be the easiest ones -- the ones that seem to arrive fully formed from out of nowhere.

My Perspective on Songwriting
I believe you first have to enjoy songwriting, purely as a hobby and aspire personally to becoming a better songwriter. If you get into songwriting thinking it’s going to go somewhere or even a “big hit” you’re setting yourself up for a lot of frustration and disappointment. I’m not saying miracles don’t happen, they do.

At first I did study commercial songwriting (was a member of NSAI and got critiques) and what the larger audience was listening to, however realized writing to “the market” was defined by what the record labels were putting out there and what they were selling. I was told the words needed to be understood and pronounced by a third grader, otherwise it wasn’t acceptable. Excuse me, I don’t believe in dumbing down?

The reason the current market is listening to these types of songs is that’s what is promoted and a team of writers, musicians, sound engineers, glossy sexy young stars. It’s a product, soon replaced by another of the same. They’re making money, it’s a business. I’m not saying it’s not a good product, it is, but it’s a machine, that I wouldn’t want to be a part of. Years ago after Hank Williams became famous, he couldn’t even go fishing without the record companies sending an water plane to retrieve him back for some company meeting. Sign a contract and they own your life.

After some years of songwriting, I find all kinds of audiences are out there that appreciate authenticity and good music. It’s so much more fun to do it and play just for the love of it.

What is important to me is that I define my unique style and progress as a songwriter. I still have lot of mediocre songs and a few good ones, but that is true of everyone. How you approach writing better songs is as unique to yourself as a snowflake is.

The bottom line is you have to love your own songs and enjoy them with or without an audience.

Completely agree with @AndyGetch and @Belladonna. I struggled with perfection for ages, telling myself every word had to be brilliant before I could put pencil to paper. That's just not how it works! The first step was giving myself permission to write utter trash so bad it wasn't even suitable for lining a birdcage. Once I gave myself the freedom to suck, I started to get much better, mainly because I learned where the suck traps were and thus, how to avoid them. For me, much of FAWM and 50/90 has been about healing my relationship with music and reclaiming the creative process for my own enjoyment and growth. The music industry will stifle that spirit, so I have no interest in pursuing commercial production. I suppose it's all about what our individual end goal is.

it is easy to write a song. living it is the hard part.

On the surface a simple question, but scratch that surface...

I think maybe what you're really asking is how much effort are we all putting into song writing and writing songs. Anyone who is actually going for 50 is probably putting a decent amount of effort into song writing. Even if you only spend 10 minutes per song, that's over 8 hours of effort. That's different than putting effort into writing a song. If you're putting effort into writing a song, you're probably doing a lot of thinking/planning. You're probably doing some editing. You might get frustrated with the results because they aren't what you had hoped for. And then there's reading books about song writing, and engaging in forums and circles, and asking questions, and taking workshops. All of that is effort too.

For me, I put varying degrees of effort into writing each song. Some are exercises and they take a few minutes. Some are songs that I'll probably never perform again, but I still spent a couple of hours on them. Some take weeks. A couple of songs I worked on off and on for years.

Ultimately, I think quantitative effort is less important that qualitative effort, but that's really hard discipline to master in and of itself.

how many hours a day do you breathe? how many hours a day does your heart beat? your brain is an organ like your heart and your lungs. if you are a songwriter, its job is to write songs, and it doesnt take any breaks. you can decide whether or not to write down every song your brain makes. you can decide which ones to record. but once you train your brain to translate everything it processes into songs, you cannot control the flow any more than you can control the flow of blood or oxygen.

Most professional songwriter's will tell you, you are lucky if 10% of your songs are pretty good. Got to write lots of bad and mediocre ones as you learn by doing. I've seen my writing improve after about seven years of writing songs. It's just the practice of finally seeing how to do it and bring your life experiences out. You have to make it personal, unique to your life's experience. You can write about anything but somehow it relates to some little tidbit of something that happened to you. Images and visuals expressed in words, not just totally your emotions or feelings, people then interpret their lives through the song or something that happened to someone they know. Like a painting, the artist doesn't tell the viewer his emotions but the painting allows one to visualize their story. Also, like a tapestry the thread weaves throughout the song.

For me, it can be difficult, but not because of concern about what others will think. I am pretty good about not caring about that, I always focus on writing something that *I* personally think is appealing, catchy, meaningful, etc. - something that I would listen to if it wasn't mine. But then, I am kind of picky, haha, so I still end up putting pressure on myself and it can make the process tedious. But FAWM and 50/90 have helped me with this because I've had to get more comfortable with writing stuff that's mediocre -- and sometimes even bad! -- to get my numbers up. I think some people outside our community look down on sharing mediocre stuff or even calling it finished, but really it seems like you're more likely to get to greatness by putting out mediocre stuff than by carefully keeping everything inside until everyone would agree that it's great (spoiler alert: that will probably never happen!).

Yes, Amanda I totally hear you. I always strive to improve as a songwriter and look for catchy hooks, good titles, better rhymes, saying something clever and that does have it's own sort of pressure. Yes, not that I'm that concerned about what others think because even if it's good it might not be their cup of tea or preference. Whatever floats people's boats are different. But I guess sort of a higher standard just because I'm that way. Yeah, I like 50/90 because I see most people just having fun with music and songwriting and that is a breath of fresh air as they say and I let it rip just to get my numbers up also.

This is such a great thread - so much to respond to!
In the original post, @nate.gerry mentioned anxiety and stress. I see a therapist for anxiety, and songwriting might help just as much as the therapist! I do feel stress creep in when I'm recording - multiple takes sometimes frustrate me. But writing the songs for me is pretty easy.
I like what @billwhite51 wrote about how if you're a songwriter, it's one of your brain's jobs to write songs. And that extends to storytelling - it's my brain's job to tell the stories of my life, and I do it in songs. Also, I like what Bill thinks about living your songs. One reason my songs come some easily is because I'm telling these stories of my life - they have all happened to me in one way or another. Even the fantastical ones.
And I, too, write songs sometimes just to get my numbers up - but I happen to like almost all my songs. I'm just always pretty conscious during 50/90 and FAWM of keeping a certain pace to reach my goals (which are higher than 14 and 50).
So, to answer the original question - yes, songwriting comes pretty easily to me, but I've trained myself to make that happen. I tell you what's hard - figuring out what to do with all the songs that have piled up since my first FAWM in 2008!

I believe the hardest part of writing is the first draft. After that the fun begins. it's like leggos for me. How the different pieces can fit together and what needs polishing wordsmithing etc... I look at my first 50/90 as an opportunity to get 50 first drafts down and out. For me the other consideration about "doneness" is I am writing lyrics to be. Until they are put to music they really aren't done because I find myself editing after recording has begun because the music can actually shape the verse/meter and sometimes I've found it inspires new/better words for the song.

KC

You learn by the doing. You have to write many, many mediocre and even bad songs, but that's how you get better. And it does get better and that's so motivating to keep on keeping on. I enjoy the learning process of seeing how and what others write, it pushes your own boundaries.

@Belladonna hit the nail on the head for me.

The 50/90 has me writing to write and not wait for "inspiration" to magically appear! LOL What I have found is ideas and phrases start coming more often, lines, verses will start coming in "chunks", couplets... I'm writing a bunch of crap but now have something down, the first draft, and I know it's not as crappy as the super crap from last year.

It's an exercise in language and meter and rhyming... I'm a serial rhymer to my detriment. The 50/90 has been a great experience for me so far.