Songwriting: Art or Science?
As a small business owner in the music industry, I wear many hats on a daily basis. I am the CEO, accountant, teacher, entertainer, marketing manager, writer, instrumentalist, and the list goes on. But, if I had to pick one thing that I most identify with, and that most sets my soul on fire, I would say that I am a “Songwriter.”
I think we can all pinpoint certain songs that have comforted us, spoken to us, or simply made us feel not alone in an experience, thought, or emotion. Hell, some songs just make us want to dance, and that is as human as it gets too! The power of song is one that I do not take lightly and one that I aspire to better understand every day of my life. This is a complex subject to articulate, because it is so personal to me, but here is my best attempt to explain some of what that process is like for me….
First of all, let’s start with why I enjoy and value writing songs. I love the process of creating something from nothing. And it’s become a comforting thought to accept that not every finished product needs to be a mind-blowing work of art for others to consume; some songs are just created for the sake of creative output or internal release, and that’s okay! This has become a process of self-acceptance for me: I am imperfect, exactly like my creations, and that is what makes them (and me!) unique and valuable.
It’s also been an interesting journey to see how some songs have become a way to connect with others on a deeper level. I’m not always the most “open book” to those around me, but I’ve found that some close to me have been able to relate with me through songs. Sometimes, we have a common experience to share with one another that gets brought to the surface by a song. Or sometimes, a song I write or that they write (for those of my friends who are also writers) reveals a piece of ourselves that we may not have willingly shared in a conversation.
I love the idea that some creations are just for me, and some creations are meant to be shared. Songs can be both self-therapy and a communal experience. It’s a never-ending, but incredibly exciting paradox!
I often get asked, “What inspires you?” or “What’s your song writing process?”
The truth is, each experience I have in life manifests itself differently. Different situations or heartbreaks inspire different creative outputs. I am influenced and moved by so many different aspects of life, and I’m so touched by so many different people and places; it’s hard for me to offer one definitive answer when asked to identify my inspiration. I often default to the seemingly disingenuous explanation of “life inspires me,” but frankly, it’s the truth.
I’ve also found that each song tends to demand a different writing approach. I will be the first to own how cliché this sounds, but truly, song writing is more about being a willing vessel than anything else. Sometimes, a melody will just come to me, and I’ll work a song around that. Other times, I’ll be playing an instrument and happen across a catchy riff or melodic line. And still other times, I have something in my gut, an emotion or thought, that is bursting to come out; I’ll simply have a need to play music until something feels right, that satisfies that internal restlessness or hunger. I have utilized a number of different approaches to this craft, and I would encourage any aspiring song writers to experiment with different methods to see which one (or ones) work best for him or her.
Songwriting is simultaneously a discipline and a creative expression.
When you begin approaching songwriting as a profession, there can certainly be some calculations in how you tackle a given assignment or project, but I don’t believe it can always fully live and breathe there. There are absolutely some recommended formulas for “hit songs,” and it can be a fun and eye-opening challenge to try to adapt to that. I strongly encourage any writers out there to push themselves to try this.
However, I also don’t think the end goal for every song we set out to create should be the goal of making a “hit.” There are many times I need to write for my own sanity, or I realize it’s been too long since I’ve written, so I need to slow down and allow space for output for the sake of regularity and maintaining those creative muscles. It’s incredibly important to keep your skills sharp, but equally important to keep your heart and mind open to new ideas and processes.
Songwriting is one of the great joys of my life, and it is something I intend to do for as long as I’m physically able. I think as humans, we all need some type of creative expression like this. If you are not a songwriter, there are still so many other creative outputs that may be a good exercise for you to try and possibly start incorporating into your regular routine. These types of disciplines are great for the mind, body, AND soul. Pen to paper is merely one expression. What will your “songwriting” be?