I’ve written songs on and off from a pretty young age. Or I should say I’ve partially written songs. I almost never finish them, because halfway through or so I become hypercritical and decide I hate everything. There will usually be one part of the song that feels right, that actually says what I want to say and how I want to say it, while the rest doesn’t seem to measure up. When I do finish a song, that’s sort of the end of the road. I almost never share what I’ve written with anyone else.
For these reasons I was immediately hesitant when our final project was assigned that included the option to write an original song. I knew I could compile a playlist easily enough, but for me that felt like taking the easy way out. I’m pretty fond of expressing my opinion, and writing a song about a current social issue seemed like a great way to do that. If I could get it done. I was suddenly determined to finish a damn song, one I knew other people would get to see.
And so it began. The complete and total lack of any creative inspiration. I had no idea where to start, or even what I wanted my topic to be! Luckily, I remembered that on my phone I’d kept a few recordings of lines to songs that had popped into my head, but never been developed beyond that. I decided to listen back through them and see if anything sparked. There very first one I listened to was the lines, “Danger, Danger/I look it in the eye/ sometimes I get to wonderin’ why I’m not afraid to die.” I had forgotten all about them, but suddenly I could clearly see the direction I wanted to go.
Those lines became the basis for my chorus, which I was able to finish not long after. Then once again I was stumped. By now I knew that I wanted to tackle the issue of alcoholism, but I still wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to address it from. After thinking about it for probably too long, I decided I wanted the song to be written from the female perspective of someone who acknowledges she has a problem, if only vaguely, but at this point doesn’t believe she can change. While I didn’t want the song to be a cry into your Ben & Jerry’s type, I still wanted to convey some sense of sadness behind the wildness of the narrator’s life. I wanted to show that even though she tries to make it seem like she wouldn’t want things any other way, it’s more that she’s resigned herself to the pain.
Once that decision was made the song flowed pretty easily. Faster than any song I’ve written before. Even so, once it was done I still questioned/am questioning every line. The thought of other people reading what I have written, something that I care about, well it’s kind of terrifying. It’s a very vulnerable position to be in having others be able to judge something that comes from a personal place. I have such respect for the artists who do it all the time. Ultimately, I think it’s that vulnerability that can make music so unifying and beautiful.
3 Responses to Songwriting Is No Easy Task
Liz, I understand what you mean when you say its difficult to write a song. You put so much time and effort into creating something that’s original and sounds good only to find out that it actually sounds like crap. One has to be “in the moment” and really feel it in order to have a nice finished product. It also doesn’t help that songwriting is so subjective. Your words can mean something totally different to someone else. I am a song writer as well, although not a great one, i aspire to reach a level of confidence to be able to write compelling songs and perform them myself. I feel you, Liz!
Thanks, Elizabeth, for your post. This is the first time that I have asked students to write songs, and I appreciated the glimpse into your process. I agree that the song you ultimately wrote is very strong. Next question: When are you going to move to Nashville to write songs for country stars?
Liz, I decided to go way back to look at posts from previous classes so sorry this is random, but I enjoyed this post! I have tried so many times to write songs and for some reason it is just so hard! I always have a good idea, but then its hard to get that idea on paper. I have probably started writing songs 100 times but I have never gotten further than a chorus without giving up. It gives me so much appreciation for the people who can actually write a song and people actual like it! Great post!