No one wants to write bad song. No one. I have never met one single person who wakes up in the morning and mid-stretch-yawn has the thought – “today someone around here needs to conjure up some pithy lyrics for a tired melody!” This is especially true these days when it seems like any misstep ends up going viral on youtube. That said, every songwriter I know writes bad songs. It’s not just a disease that the bottom feeders get, it’s systemic! The difference between an average and master songwriter is frequency – master songwriters tend to write fewer bad song (obvious, right? I know.)
In an effort to keep the ratio a positive one, here are a couple of thoughts
Great songwriters learn from their bad songs. Now, this requires a certain amount of self awareness. I mean, you would have to realize its a bad song to begin with. Average songwriters tend to be wired in one of two directions. Either we are paralyzed with insecurity and cynicism to the point that we hate all of our work (and 99% of everyone else’s too) or we are so self absorbed that we think that everything we write is freaking genius. Both of these extremes tend to militate against growth.
This is where its really great to have some trusted friends – a “sounding board” if you will – people who can be honest without crushing that part of you that is inspired and artistic. This can be a bit tricky, because I don’t want 100% of my affirmation and reason for writing to hang upon everyone else’s opinion, but I have noticed that an honest critique to be really great for shining light on my own writing blind spots.
When I first started writing melody was a real challenge to me, and it still is. It’s just that now I know it, and I know it because my wife and a close friend pointed it out to me. Words like “boring” and “monotonous” were coming up – a sure sign of a lifeless melody. Now I write with a mind towards singable, but compelling melody.
Great writers are writers who just keep on writing. They persevere. Because inspiration has been sparked there is a drive on the inside that must be satisfied. Great writers are not discouraged by a bad song. They will rework it. They will rework it again. Then, they will move on, regardless of the the last songs outcome they continue to write. They simply must give voice to the symphony of the heart.
I once heard Kathryn Scott (author of the worship song “Hungry”) say that song-writing was like digging a well – at first muddy water comes out, but if you persevere, then eventually, the clear water will come.
Great songwriters are not deflated by a song that didn’t “turn out” or “connect with the people”. A bad song is just muddy water, unfit for drinking but a sure sign that the clear water will come. Similarly, great songwriters are not overly enamored with their work, knowing that too much splashing around with self confidence will surely stir clear waters murky again.
We’re all digging wells here – lets not be discouraged by the cloudy water, lets embrace it as a part of the process. Clear water is right behind!