As long as I can remember, I’ve liked music and writing. I’m an introvert at heart, but a creatively-wired person. I think somewhere along the line, probably around junior high, I discovered that I could write songs. This statement leads me to my first caveat. For those of you wanting to write songs and be successful, please know that you’ll write tons of stuff in your life: roughly 10% of which will actually turn out good and have any kind of public shelf-life. Remember that all songs you write don’t need to be out there for people either, sometimes its just the craft of writing and thinking that you do for yourself.
The first complete song that I wrote came in high school. It was called “Two Edge Night”. I had the concept, but I completely re-wrote the majority of it when my band in college was doing originals. I wrote a neat little riff on guitar, and then re-tooled the lyrics to that tune, and voila!
My favorite songwriter would have to be Dan Fogelberg, I think. He has such a knack for stories and using words to convey things in just the right times. Other influences would have to be Billy Joel, Don Henley, Springsteen, Carole King, and Jimmy Webb. As I became aware and eventually got saved as a Christian, people like Steven Curtis Chapman, Matthew Ward, and Bob Carlisle. Most recently I’ve really developed an affinity for the music of Bill and Gloria Gaither. They have written some real gems that speak to God’s Truth in some really fresh and musical ways. I’ve learned a lot in a short time from them.
In order to get good at anything you have to A) do a lot of it and B) not be afraid of failing. For me the latter was a tough pill to swallow. I’m a perfectionistic at heart, (something God is breaking me of) and I don’t like to fail at things. But it is a fact of life, especially in creative things. You will fall, and you will get rejected. Keep at it, if you believe you have a God-given talent for writing. You will have success. But don’t write solely for success, that’s a recipe for failure right there. Write from your heart. Write as an extension of your prayer life. Be willing to look yourself and life in the eye, and confront the good and the bad. All of us struggle with family issues, work, school, finances, faith, and relationships. The best songs come out a life lived well. But I didn’t need to tell you that, right? ?
Some practical things I’ve learning in my years of songwriting:
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Practice your craft. Write regularly, knowing that you won’t write a masterpiece or even anything useable at all every time you sit down. It’s the thought and the craft that counts during these times.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Analyze others’ work. What is it about Billy Joel you like? What things do they use?.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Take a poetry class. True, poetry and lyrics are not the same thing. But you’ll learn some valuable lessons about rhythm, metaphors, and economy.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Be versatile. Change up your song forms or genres from time to time. Change your point of view in your lyrics. Learn some new chords or a style that’s new to you.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ Use your resources around you: get plugged into your local scene and/or a good local church.
Songs as an act of service and submission. I think this is most important. Interestingly enough, some of my best songs have come out of collaborations. Where I’ll write a set of lyrics, and think to myself “such and such a person could really bring some neat ideas to this”. I’ll purposefully leave it unfinished, knowing that I *could* finish it myself. Then I’ll bring it to a friend or one of my church music friends locally, and sit down with them.
Learning the ebb and flow of collaboration, and how to submit to someone else’s vision is important. Remember that the music does not begin nor does it end with you. You are a channel through which it flows. There are times when I felt that God was speaking directly through me faster than I could get words on paper. That’s when creativity turns from a self-directed activity to a blessing in people’s lives. Happy writing!