Are You Making Your Songwriting Too Easy or Too Hard?By Jim Bruno • Category: Inspiration
This article contributed by Jim Bruno of SongClasses.com.
A common mistake that songwriters make is being too hard or too easy on themselves. Although this is often true of beginners, it happens at all levels of ability and experience. It happens to everyone to some degree or another.
A friend of mine had the pleasure of conversing with Bob Dylan after a performance at Radio City Music Hall. Bob expressed his own insecurities about his excellent song “Watching the River Flow’! I’m talking about Bob Dylan! The most lauded songwriter in modern times and even he has doubts. So don’t be overly concerned if it’s happening to you.
We all have these two “voices’ in our head. One is saying that we suck, that we’re fooling ourselves, that we couldn’t write a grocery list much less a song worth hearing. Meanwhile, some of us are prone to hearing the other “voice’, the one that’s saying we’re geniuses, that our songs will set the world on fire, and we’re already working on our Grammy acceptance speeches and choosing our clothes for the Kennedy Center Honors!
So what is it? Are we losers or winners? How can we tell? Well, it’s not easy. First we have to come to a realization of what is reasonable to expect from at this stage of our songwriting evolution. That’s not to say that we should shoot low. We have to always be pushing ourselves and raising our personal bar.
Of the two challenges mentioned above, I think the more dangerous of the two is thinking that we can’t do this, that everything we try to write is inferior, what some folks call “killing the baby in the cradle’. Why is this one more destructive than the other? It’s because if the song is never able to grow a bit, and if we’re never able to hear it, we’ll never know if it’s going to grow up from an ugly baby into and ugly adult! At least wait until it’s an ugly adolescent until you kill it! Seriously though, you have to give yourself permission to fail. I’ve been writing since the 1960s and to this day, to get five good songs I have to attempt to write twenty to thirty. It just comes with the territory.
Try this…Think about your favorite songwriter. Now listen to everything they’ve written. If they have any kind of catalog at all, you’re going to hear some clunkers in there, or at the very least, some songs will be not as good as others.
So how do you know if you have too high opinion of everything you write? Maybe it really is all that good. I mean how wrong can your mother be? This is also a trap that beginning songwriters fall into and I think that it’s also a manifestation of insecurity. That’s not to say that what you may be writing isn’t great – it may well be – but don’t fool yourself. Be willing to look at your work with a detached and critical eye. It’s always important to rewrite your work and to analyze every word in every line.
A good friend of mine, Chuck Prophet, is an excellent songwriter and a recording artist. He told me that he never quits rewriting the song until it’s actually recorded. He often goes into the studio with unfinished songs and finishes them in the course of recording. You may not need or want to go that far, but in the end it becomes a balancing act. It takes awhile to know how you can make it better. It’s not easy, but the more you learn about the art and the craft of songwriting, the easier it becomes.