I wrote a new song, and it doesn’t suck that much.
This is a huge change for me.
I usually write really, really crappy songs. Not on purpose, mind you. I always start with good intentions (“Hey, I’ll write a fun song about drinking”), but it ends up sounding like the ramblings of a heartbroken 15 year old stoner who has just read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and needs to explain the way the world really works.
I’m not exaggerating. I played one at a monastery once and all the monks broke their vows of silence to tell me to go f*ck myself.
(OK…maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But that would have been really cool, especially if they had chanted it. “Gooooo F*****************ck Yoursellllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllffffffffffffff. Aaaaaaaammmmmmmmennnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.)
The most frustrating thing is that even as I’m writing these cheesy songs I recognize what I’m doing…trying WAY too hard to be profound or technically impressive.
I am neither, and should learn to embrace that.
And yet, I usually find myself a few verses in, racking my brain trying to come up with a rhyme for “existential”.
This frustration has stopped me at times from trying to write new stuff. Of course it has! Hey, if every time you looked through a hole someone poked you in the eye, eventually you’d stop looking through that hole! Even if she was really hot. And if you didn’t then the cops would come get you and the courts would make you write her a letter apologizing and stay at least 3 miles from her house and only go online to write this column.
(Miss you Wonita…)
Ok, back to the topic.
They say that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over while expecting different results. I would argue just as strongly that the definition of insanity may involve throwing feces at strangers, but to each their own I suppose.
(I mean really, if you were walking down the street and some lady just threw a big poop at you that she had just pinched off on the sidewalk, would you say “You know, if she does that again and again but expects different results, then she’d be crazy”, or would you just say “Damn, that bitch is crazy!”)
But assuming that the definition of insanity is the former, then how could I think that if I wrote music the same way every time that I would eventually get a good song? Sometimes, practice doesn’t make perfect…it just makes permanent.
Sometimes, we need to shake it up.
So that’s what I did. I shook it up by NOT doing what I normally do to write a song. I didn’t grab my guitar. Instead, I grabbed a couple of pieces of paper and sat in my room writing lyrics to a tune that I had in my head. I didn’t care if they rhymed, I didn’t care if they made sense, and most of all I didn’t care if they didn’t mean anything. Hell, I wasn’t writing a Pulitzer Prize winner here, I was writing a song, for myself.
It was at that moment that I realized the fundamental error that I had made throughout all of my cheesy songwriting past: I was writing for the wrong reasons. I was writing for other people. It was all about how my music would affect my vast audience when they heard my philosophies of life woven to the simple chords of G, C, and D. (With the occasional Am chord for when I was writing about something sad….)
Really, I don’t know what some of the lines mean in the song, but I wrote them without judgment, without anticipation of audience reaction, and without over thinking.
Sometimes, it’s best to not think at all.
I like those times. I’m good at not thinking.
So, I grabbed my Playbook and recorded a voice note of me singing the melody. It was only then that I went and grabbed my guitar to see if I could play along to the new song that I wrote. Fortunately, the music ended up being just as simple as the lyrics, and before too long I was strumming my new song.
Is this song going to top the charts? No. Is it going to make me rich? No. Is it going to make my wife forget how much gas I have? Not a chance. Does any of that matter? Not really.
The only thing that matters is that I got out of my own way and allowed the creative process to happen.
So often in this column I talk about breaking through plateaus, and this is yet another way to do that – change things around.
If you always use 440 tuning, perhaps try a drop D, or go even further and play with an open G, like Keith Richards. (D-G-D-G-B-D from low to high). It doesn’t matter what you do, and whether it’s your playing or songwriting that needs a shot in the arm, just start to change it up, and good things will happen.
Before long, you too will be playing a new ditty.