Songwriting students

I got an email from a high school teacher who is teaching teenagers how to write songs. He said they’re having trouble starting and asked for some advice. Here is my two cents.

I find that getting started is the hardest part, even for experienced writers. And sometimes the more you know about songwriting, music theory, the music business, etc., the tougher it can be to get started.

I approach ‘starting a song’ very differently than working on a song that’s already started. Once a song is in progress, I can put all sorts of pressure on myself to make it better, but that sort of stress is a real creativity killer in the tender, early stages of a new song.

So the first thing I do is stop taking it all so seriously. Yes, it may turn out to be a serious song. And yes, your career (or your grade) may be riding on it. But it’s counterproductive to think about that too early in the process.

So go crazy with your most wild, oddball ideas that any rational person would reject. Now is not the time to be rational. When you’re looking at a blank piece of paper, it’s time to be weird, silly, out there, gonzo, bananas and basically free to express whatever comes into your head or whatever pops out of your mouth. You can edit later. You can censor later. You can throw out 95% of it later, but that still leaves an inspired 5%.

How can you NOT think about a project seriously, especially when there’s a deadline? How do I trick myself into not thinking about it? I just say to myself “I’m writing this one for me and me only, just for the pleasure of writing it. Maybe the next song will be the one to help my career, but right now, the pressure is off.”

That way, if I write a terrible song (and 19 out of 20 of mine are terrible), it’s cool, because it wasn’t meant for anyone else but me and I can just chalk it up to practice.

Or another way to think of it: that’s one tune closer to the 1 in 20 that’s a keeper.

However, if it turns out good, then of course I don’t have to keep it to myself. I can turn on a little pressure and spend the time to work out the details, polish and refine it.

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