I have been working on a new song this week. It’s kind of funny how my songwriting approach changes over the years. In the beginning of my songwriting career I would get an idea and then panic, thinking that I might lose the thought and the whole song idea if I relaxed just a little. AND, fortunately, I did lose many of those early song-ideas. During those early years I wrote some great songs, songs I am still singing—I also wrote some really crappy ones, too.
My approach is different, now. I am more relaxed about the whole thing. Where, in the past, I would worry, now I understand that if I lose the idea, it probably wasn’t good enough to keep, anyway. I have an artist friend who said once that we shouldn’t think of our art as too precious to sell, and it is true for most of our ideas. If we hold all of our song-ideas in high esteem, then we allow some truly bad ideas in the same regard as the really good ones.
I often wonder at some of the Nashville songwriters who write two songs a day. They will enter a room with another writer and work on an idea until noon, then take a break, and then do the same with another writer, and another idea, in the afternoon. I have been exposed to some of this and it seems to be more formula writing than anything else. I have both co-written and written in a team, and I must admit that I do not play well with others. I just do not have a good time when I have to share.
I believe my songs are better when I write them myself. Plain and simple. With that said, let me also say that I have taken enough workshops to be able to listen to my songs with a critical ear and know when one is not working. It takes a lot of courage to tell myself that I need to junk a song. It takes a lot of courage to just trust the songwriting process and have faith that the end result will be a good song.
It is the same kind of courage that can believe in my work even when some self-proclaimed Music Industry Professional tries to shove his or her own sense of a “good song” down my artistic throat. It makes me want to shove their advise up something they have as well! There are a lot of really great songwriters writing really great songs that do not fit the cookie-cutter mold of what a good song is, who are not getting recognized for their art and their immense talent, and that is really sad.
It is sad for the Music Industry, and it is sad for the poor listener. I have a little wood shop I am setting up so I can start building some faux-Telecasters. While I was working out there last week, I turned on a modern Country Music station. It plays what my friend, Felix Thursday calls, “False Country.” You know, the crap that is a mix of current pop, ’80s and ’90s pop, hip hop, currently written and produced by the big labels, and sung by city dudes who just happen to have developed a country twang in their voices. What stood out for me was that after listening to the stuff for over an hour, it sounded like it was just one really long jam session by a mediocre Country Music jam-band. Yawn.
The courage to believe in one’s work and to hold the line with one’s style in the face of such overwhelming mediocrity, is enormous! The problem is that most of the Indie Music labels sit around and dream of ways to be just like the Big-Grown-Up-Daddy-Labels, and so risk-taking is becoming the big no-no.
The problem, as I see it, is that most true artists will settle for simply making a decent wage as long as their art can be expressed in a way that holds true to their vision of music, and most labels, with a few exceptions, Indie or otherwise, want to generate enormous fortunes and do not give a crap about either the artist or their art. I would like to be proven wrong—someone please prove me wrong!