In honor of twitter’s #MusicMonday, I thought I’d post my first “Songwriting Tip” blog. Honestly, I’m no expert when it comes to writing music. Half the time, I’m not even sure how I do what I do. There have been moments when I’m playing around with my keyboard and I accidentally hit a wrong note, but it sounds cool so I keep the chord and use it in a song anyway. Sometimes I come up with song ideas and lyrics while I’m driving in my car, listening to someone else’s music. Rarely is this whole songwriting process cut, dry and organized for me. In fact, I’ve found that when I sit down with an agenda, it’s actually more difficult to write. Most of my best inspirations come off the cuff, during moments when I’m least expecting it, when songwriting is the last thing on my mind and I’m reflecting hard on all of life’s messes.
So, why would someone like me post songwriting tips for the rest of the world to read, after just admitting that in reality I have no clue what I’m doing? Well, because I think that in order to become truly good at something, you have to deny your expertise, and get to a place of humility. I read a post on twitter the other day that said, “only bad writers think their work is really good.” At first, I didn’t totally agree with that. There have been moments after I’ve finished writing a song or a piece of text and said, “damn, Selwa, that was really good!” and felt in my heart that it was true. But I get what this quote is saying. If you don’t take a humble approach to your work, and you constantly believe that everything you write is great, then there’s no room for improvement, and you can’t grow as an artist.
A few days ago, I downloaded a free e-book called, 18 Months, 2 Blogs, 6 Figures. It’s basically a book about how to make money online. I started skimming through the chapters and noticed a section called “But I have to be an Expert, Bullshit.” (I don’t think I need to explain why that caught my attention.) In it, the author states:
Think of expertise not as an absolute (as in, I have to be the best in the world so that I can teach anyone), but as a continuum (I have more expertise than some people and therefore have something to teach those people.)
Right on. The word “expertise” here may be defined very broadly. For me, when it comes to songwriting, expertise is basically just experience. The more I go through life, the more stories I have to tell. And the more times I put those stories into lyrics that rhyme (or don’t), the better I get at knowing what works and what doesn’t work with regard to my creative process. (Everyone’s creative process is different, by the way.) And the better I get at writing “good” songs. (I put “good” in quotes, because like “expertise,” this word means many different things to many different people.)
Compared to those who have been to a ton of songwriting workshops and written books on the subject, I am far from an expert. But I do have enough experience to be able to offer my own tips and hope they will resonate with other writers. With that said, my first tip goes back to the beginning of this post, where I talked about approaching a work from a place of humility.
(Song)writing tip #1: Listen…
That’s how you get to be an “expert” at your craft — by listening to, learning from and engaging in healthy conversation with others who have more (or sometimes less) experience (expertise) than you. You have a certain type of know-how, based on your life experiences, that you can be proud of and that others won’t have. And vice versa — others will have something different to offer you. Criticize each other (lovingly, of course.) Learn from your mistakes. Go home. Rework. Come back and do it all over again. It sounds simple, and maybe a bit cliché, but you must be able to look at your work with a critical eye and allow others to do the same, in order for it to blossom. Just like that twitterer implied, if you’re constantly talking about how great you are, without stopping to listen, you’ll never learn and you’ll never get better. As I said at the beginning of this post, some of my best song ideas have come while driving in my car, listening to someone else’s music…
When I started this post, I had no idea what my first songwriting tip was going to be. Well, actually, I had an idea, but it just morphed into something else so I think I’ll save that tip for the next post. By reflecting and expanding on several ideas presented to me by other writers (the quotes from twitter and the e-book) — by participating in other bits of dialogue and applying them to my own craft, I was able to come up with even better advice, off the cuff, than that which I had originally planned to give. So, there you go. There’s my tip in action. I just proved to the world, and to myself, that listening and opening yourself up to the ideas of others really works.
Whoa… I think I just grew an inch.