Hard Truths for Young Musicians: Who You Are Affects What You Write
One piece of advice to songwriters floating around the internet is to finish one song a day. Though there is some merit to that, it isn’t that one can’t complete a song but rather write one that they know they can be proud of years later. What these songwriters don’t realise is that, they can’t grow in songwriting if their internal world isn’t.
The Writing Starts in Your Mind
The famous horror fiction writer Stephen King said that “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”, but how exactly does one do that? Just as we should consistently spend time writing songs, we also need to cultivate habits that promote mindfulness.
Being present emotionally is so hard when everything is screaming at us for attention but nevertheless, it is critical that we do so. By strengthening your sense of identity, you can critically appreciate incidents happening around you when they do. This way, the material needed for the actual writing session is being harvested on a daily basis. Without doing so, it will be hard to create songs with depth.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” - Stephen King
I’ve been teaching songwriting to a recently new student. I like her songs’ vibes but somehow they seem to just miss the mark lyrically. Our hours together are mostly spent dissecting her lyrics, encouraging her to dig deep and realise what she truly wishes to communicate. I’ve found myself telling her repeatedly to not skirt around the issue and not to be afraid to “hit straight”.
For example, try writing about what really affected you today. Did someone ruin your day? Examine yourself, try to understand why you let that person trigger you. You’ll realise there’s so many layers to your own psyche and voila, so much material to work with!
There is Life Beyond Heartbreak
Nothing is as complicated, diverse, multi-faceted and yet relatable as matters of the heart, which is why so many songwriters start there. The trouble is, what else are you going to write about after that one traumatic breakup? Or worse still, would you unintentionally invite new drama into your life?
I’m not discounting your breakup and loss. It was no doubt a painful experience for you and I’m glad you’re using songwriting as part of the cathartic process. I highly encourage you to explore themes similar to romantic relationships for a start. The human condition is so much more than that.
“The Greatest Enemy” was my first attempt to switch from musing over unrequited love to disappointment and anger in other areas of my life. It was definitely more difficult to write but I knew I had to start writing about more mature subjects. There will be always be a place (and market) for songs about puppy love but at a certain age, I believe it’s simply not appropriate anymore.
Don't be more in love with how it looks
In this visual age, musicians spend just as much effort into creating their image as they do on writing their songs. I get that the packaging needs to match the product. It’s something that I need to work on improving. However, you need to remember that audiences can smell bullshit very quickly.
If you’re not convinced, check out this remark made by a girl I was dating about an up-and-comer a few years back:
“You, you are the real deal. At first I was so impressed with her songs and performance, but after sitting across from XXX for an hour, I realised she (or more likely the onstage persona she put on) is just fake.”
You might get away with overcompensating with your aesthetic for a while but you won’t be able to sustain your fan base.
Get a Life
Books and films are a great starting point to find inspiration, but they should serve as a counterpoint to your personal journey. Your songs should always reflect more of you than the book you read! Unless you’re actually the author of the book and are writing music to serve as an accompanying soundtrack, you simply wouldn’t know the subject material well enough.
So go out and take a trip that challenges you. Experience life until you see where you fit in this world and its schemes. Seek personal growth, not serve superficial #wanderlust. You might not think it makes a difference, but people will feel it.
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