Some reflections on my songwriting
I’m in the process of setting up a new file system and backup, and as part of that I’m moving my songwriting files and archives across to a new drive. Over the last couple of hours I’ve been enjoying looking and listening back to old stuff and some more recent stuff.
My first really productive time of songwriting was back in the first half of the naughties when I lived in Toowoomba. It was productive in the sense that I wrote a number of songs. We even sang a couple of them in our church occasionally, which upon reflection, was very gracious of them, and arguably more exposure than most them deserved! It was from this period that Jesus Precious Blood came, a song which I wrote with my mate Tim Burstow, and which was later recorded on the IBC Many Faces Many Places CD:
Realistically, this was the only ‘good’ song from that period, though there were a couple of OK ones amongst a long list of shockers.
I was still writing a bit in Sydney and attempted one or two during my London time, but somehow it faded into the background, and by the time I got to Nürnberg, I wasn’t really writing anymore.
It was, in fact, the acceptance of two songs for the aforementioned IBC CD project which reignited the songwriting itch, and once we moved to Karlsruhe, being again in a position to build up a basic home studio I started writing again.
While it’s a little bit embarrassing to see just how many stinkers I’ve written, even in the last couple of years, it’s also exciting to see just how much (I think) I’ve improved. Of course, I will probably look back at these songs in ten years and marvel at the patience of those who I made singalong!
Upon reflection, there are a couple of things which I think have been central to this growth:
This has been one of the big things I’ve been working on over the last two years in particular. It’s pretty obvious that in my older stuff I was satisfied just to fill up the right number of syllables with the idea in question. I had to learn to not just go with the first idea. I’m learning that if a line feels even just a little less that comfortable, then it’s not right. The ‘aha’ moment was when I showed someone a song I’d written and they replied with ‘Great first draft, there’s some good ideas in there’. What was initially a deflating moment really helped me see just how much re-working songs need, and I think this discipline can be heard in my most recent songs.
Particularly this year I’m already seeing the fruit of regular, disciplined writing. Just taking a little time each day to ‘write’, even if most days are uninspired and don’t result in anything, helps develop the writing muscles, and makes room for re-writing.
3. Share them live
It’s one thing to upload a demo and quite another to actually get your music team to play through a song, and even more so to ask your congregation or small group to sing it! In some ways this really just an extension of developing good editing. Some songs might well be decent songs, and internally cohesive and pleasing etc. but I’ve found it’s been helpful to ask ‘Is this song good enough to be sung alongside our other repertoire?’. For me, this is the difference between an ok song and a good song. By this measure I’d count my good songs on one hand, out of the dozens and dozens I’ve written. Of course, this needs a healthy dose of reality and humility, and is best done with the input of some trusted friends. The other side of this is that writing for a local congregation can be a really fruitful attitude.
One last thing… I remember someone tweeting a warning, a while back, about not sharing scratch demos online, because songs only get one first impression. At the time I thought ‘yeah, fair point, but I want to get feedback on my ideas!’. But really, I think I really just wanted people to say how great my ideas were, and btw, here’s a publishing contract! The thing is, not only has my songwriting improved, but also my arranging and recording, but I fear that I put so many half-baked, badly-written songs ‘out there’ that now when I want to put a rather more polished demo ‘out there’ (it would be poor form to stop putting up #TewntyFourteenProject demos half-way through!), the bad impression will cause people to ignore it. I tell myself it’s just the new Facebook algorithms…
Speaking of which, I recently put up a recording of a song we’ve done at church a couple of times, so don’t let past experience put you off (and feel free to offer that publishing contract):
No doubt, in ten years time I’ll wonder what I was thinking putting this ‘out there’!
Seriously though, I would love it if you downloaded the track and shared it on your social networks.
Really the last thing now..
Over the last 18 months I’ve been working on a little collection of songs based on the five solas of the reformation, which I think are good (so I haven’t shared them online!) and which will result in a (professionally mixed!) EP sometime in 2015. So stay tuned (i.e. subscribe via email on the top-right of the page, or follow along on twitter or facebook).