Songwriting: It’s Just An Effing Song

I have been going through a bit of a fog in my attempt at songwriting lately so I thought I would take time to reflect on what has worked in the past and in doing so write it down for posterity. I welcome all feedback. I read and watch everything I can on songwriting like all songwriters do in an attempt to find that golden nugget of elusive wisdom that will unlock the secrets of writing great songs but alas no luck yet. I watch in awe at great songwriters, some of whom I am blessed to know, and am envious and curious as to their process. And I somewhat ashamedly admit that I sometimes take guilty pleasure when I hear a great songwriter write what I consider to be a crappy song as if it somehow validates my struggles and lesser efforts. I have even taken an online songwriting course from the Berkley College of Music. In my humble opinion, the problem with in-depth courses and books is that it is an overload of information and it is incompatible with the inner process. It is like getting advice on your golf game. Keep, your head down, left arm straight, feet shoulder width apart, club face open, etc. until you forget how to actually hit the ball. The only thing I have seemed to glean from all the studying of others is that the process is somewhat different for everyone.

There are only a few rules that I think are universal. 

First, the more you write the better you write. Write often and a lot. Merle Haggard said, “Show me someone who sings well and I’ll show you someone who sings a lot.” I think that is true for all skills, particularly writing. Second, and I have heard this from many great songwriters, never throw anything away. I have written what I have considered to be crap and gone back a year or more later and tweaked it and it turned out nice. Third, I record it as I am writing it. That way you capture the feel and emotion which is hard to convey any other way. Jimmy Webb does it so it can’t be wrong. Fourth, watch and listen. If you pay attention to what is going on around you and listen carefully to people you will encounter at least a dozen song ideas a week. I keep my phone handy to write them down. Finally stop trying to write a hit song. It is a trap. If you set your expectations on writing the next Bridge Over Troubled Water from the onset you will never finish anything. I have a saying that I keep reminding myself in my own crude way that helps me every time. I tell myself “It’s just an effing song.” You are not building a skyscraper. It will not collapse and kill thousands of people. It’s just an effing song. Write it. If it is bad, write another. And as always I could be full of shit. Let me know your thoughts.