On Songwriting | Musings On How To Write a Song

Equal Time?

Equal Time?

Is your every song extraordinary, every performance brilliant?

Long before the first well-meaning “other” helps you understand what you could have done better, there’s probably a voice in your own head that has already noticed many of the ways you need or want to improve.

For some of us the “inner critic” can be a helpful consultant, for there is almost always room for improvement. With the pursuits one takes most seriously, that inner voice actually becomes an essential contributor to growth and progress.

A discerning eye, a discriminating ear, an educated palate. The more you know about your craft, the more refined your distinctions become.

The ability to notice and correct flaws, to edit one’s work — to set one’s ego aside enough to be able to look at your work objectively — all are fundamental to continuous improvement.

Balance, however, is also important.

When you cook a really good meal, it is considered bad form to be the first to declare “Hey, this is really delicious!” Fair enough. No one enjoys a braggart, so we learn to keep those comments to ourselves.

But songwriting isn’t cooking. A meal comes and goes. Songs have a shelf life and want an enduring audience. Plus, there’s that external, “objective” score card by which we measure ourselves: has my song been picked up by Alison Krauss or Keith Urban? No? Then maybe it really isn’t all that great (or maybe they’ve just never had an opportunity to hear it).

If you take yourself to task nine times out of ten but do something really well on the tenth, do you pause, take a breath and let it in? Do you give equal time to savoring the good as well as attending to the “needs improvement?”

To be sure, there’s no shortage of folks who are perfectly content exactly as they are. Nothing wrong with that (as long as they don’t become too boorish, oblivious or otherwise insufferable).

But for those who take the craft of songwriting seriously enough to want to do it really well, the idea of balance is probably an important one. And given that there are way more songwriters than songs that make it to the hit parade, the ability to recognize those creations truly worthy of notice is a critical survival skill, even if it’s just to pause long enough to enjoy the sound of your own two hands clapping.

Don’t be too quick to accept whatever comes to mind just because you thought of it. Good or bad, human beings aren’t renowned for our ability to be objective with ourselves. But also don’t be so hard on yourself that you miss the joy when you reach for, and hit, the sweet spot.