I have a love-hate relationship with songwriting. (The photo to the left is not a stock photo. It is part of a lyric I worked on yesterday containing a few decent lines and many more scribbled-out lines.)
I’m getting this out of my system today for two reasons: 1) I hope I’m not the only one, and; 2) I hope other struggling songwriters who are reading this know you’re not the only one. (Or there’s this 3rd bonus: Those of you who know me will finally understand why I’m half-insane.)
I LOVE the way songwriting combines my two favorite mediums in the world – words and music – to give voice to life’s nearly-inexpressible mysteries. I love playing with words, meter and rhyme. I love when just the right tune gels with the right idea. It’s magical. Correction. It’s miraculous. I love singing good songs, hearing good songs and studying good songs.
I HATE the angst that comes with honing this craft (which, for me, has taken 20 years and I still feel like a kindergartener). I know a great song to hear it and I’ve written a handful of decent ones (in-between a couple hundred mediocre or downright lame ones). And what really drives me nuts is… I’m a professional writer at my day job! Why does this craft make me so crazy? Sure, it’s more intimate and raw than writing copy other people read on-camera, or factual articles for magazines or websites, but seriously, nothing brings more terror than letting someone in on my latest song idea.
And while it’s terrifying to share my latest songs, I also hate that no one cares. (See? Insane!) I refuse to be that person everyone hates to see coming because I might be trying to plug some mediocre song I just couldn’t resist writing for my own self-aggrandizement. I made a solemn commitment to myself a few years ago to be a “no-selfish-agenda” kind of girl, so I’m not going to throw CDs at people or lock someone in my car so they can hear my latest idea. To me, it cheapens the beauty of a potentially great song to stuff it down someone’s throat (particularly since I work with artists and want to use the utmost integrity and professionalism in those relationships).
I REALLY love the process. The flow of words and ideas and that sense of “Ahhh! I said it!” that follows actually finishing a song (which happens far more rarely than I’d like to admit because they never reach “good enough” status in my mind).
I love to co-write. Yet loathe the awkward scenario of getting into a co-writing session that I immediately know isn’t going to work and having to use the famous break-up line, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
I hate being disappointed. I have written a few songs people loved (oodles more that have never been seen or heard) and I’ve written a song that got recorded…and even aired on TV. Yet somehow two things keep happening: I either get ripped off or forgotten. One artist got “convenient amnesia” after recording my idea (and basing an entire tour on that idea). So after several years I have finally given up ever seeing a nickel of those royalties. And, of course, every songwriter has heard, “Wow, that’s a great idea. I’d like to record that,” only to find later you didn’t make the cut. This craft just comes with disappointment and I hate it. But that’s the deal.
I love reading about songwriting and I’ve attended enough songwriting workshops that I could almost teach a session. I got an A in Music Theory. I even love the hours of pouring over an idea. But the economy of time spent vs. results seems ridiculous to me when I stop and think too hard about it.
I’ve thrown in the towel so many times, it’s embarrassing. A rough ballpark would be between 20 and 25-gazillion times I have promised myself through tears that I would never waste another valuable moment of life on this good-for-nothing hobby.
But here’s the thing. After all the ups and downs, disappointments and lost sleep, the truth is: I can’t give up. For whatever maddening reason, I can’t stop an idea from bouncing around in my brain at the most inconvenient times, robbing me of sleep until I write it down. No matter how hard I try to dispense with this mind-melting form of expression, I will probably always express certain ideas in the form of a song. I will not stop just because the two decades I’ve spent doing it haven’t yielded one blasted penny (or even a measly “thank you”).
During my most recent season of “giving up again” my really smart friend and occasional co-writer, Scott Naylor, sent me the following link. What Ira Glass says in the following video keeps me from breaking up with songwriting. After all, the next one I write might actually live up to the standard in my mind. Then again, it might be awful. But I’ll keep doing it because I can’t stop. I just don’t have a choice, apparently.
Here is Ira Glass with the most helpful songwriting lesson I’ve heard in a while:
Are there other songwriters or creative types out there who experience this angst? Please tell me I’m not the only one.