I remember very little about the first song I wrote…I was in sixth grade, and I know it was a cheesy breakup song in A minor about my first “girlfriend” in fifth grade. I don’t think any recordings of “The Love We Shared” exist (mercifully), and it wasn’t until a year later, when my older brother started writing some lyrics with a little more meaning and purpose, that I started down the serious road of songwriting and recording.
Over the years, I progressed from 4-track demos to college studios, to professional studios, to producing in my home studio, writing and recording going hand in hand – refining a sound and showing real evidence that improvement was happening. It wasn’t until I had written and recorded between 50-60 songs that I really felt I could output at a consistent quality level. None of those “First 50” songs were ever released and they hide in my archives only for my personal nostalgia.
This gets to the heart of my point: songwriting takes time and repeated, focused effort. No single song is precious, especially in your First 50. I know the feeling, “Whoa, I wrote a song and it’s really cool, and I need to copyright it and show everyone!” It’s hard not to be precious about your baby – your special creation! But if you can put that feeling aside and write your next 5 and then see how you feel about that previous one. Then write 10 more and see if you still feel the same way. I still “throw out” about one in ten that I thought was completely great when I wrote it and demo recorded it. When I “bulk write,” like for February Album Writing Month, where my approach is to sketch lots of new ideas, only ~2 of 10 survive. Sometimes there’s a re-write opportunity or smaller edits that can take a song to the next level, but sometimes you just have to let them go! After you’ve written your songs (or while you’re in the process of writing), I can’t recommend recording them highly enough. If you make that part of your songwriting/editing process, it helps tremendously not only in refining your vision of the song, but you can actually step back and analyze it a bit. You can critique yourself a lot better. You can experiment with different grooves and approaches, then leave it for a little bit, move on to other songs, and come back with fresh ears. Over time, you are also strengthened and motivated by the real progress and growth you will clearly hear. Be patient – it takes years.
While Songwriters in Seattle offers specific classes to help move your songwriting forward as well as critique sessions and opportunities to share new songs with audiences (another great way to hear your song in a new light and get instant feedback), what we hope to help you achieve is far greater than any single event. We offer a framework for you to be motivated and supported to write more songs! This is the best way to improve your songwriting! Songwriters in Seattle is a friendly audience with like-minded people – it is a tremendous opportunity to experiment, share new ideas, then go back to the drawing board and try again. I wish I had an organization like this to accelerate my first 50!
Now, the more experienced songwriters who may be reading this could probably even expand the idea to the first 100 or more, and I couldn’t disagree – there is always room to improve. Personally, while I am proud of my earlier released albums with songs that are now permanently in the public ear, I really only continue to play a few songs from them. Not only do newer songs represent where I am now as an artist, but from my current perspective, they are just better songs. At some point, there is bound to be argument about “better” being highly subjective, but ultimately you are your best judge and as long as you can create some distance (through time and recording), you will find you are a pretty good judge. You will almost always be biased toward your new songs, no doubt about it, but I think that also represents growth as an artist and songwriter. If nothing else, I use that as a motivating factor – I know I will love my next song, it’s going to be that much better, so I want to get on with writing it! I hope you can get to that point, too, if you’re not already there.
I am far from prolific, but I make it a goal to show something new at every SiS monthly networking meeting. Professionals who are songwriting full time are writing every day – many who are in the licensing business are producing and posting something finished for their catalogs every day! Think about how that would add up and create a body of work. That is how you get to be a better songwriter. If you’re a beginner (still within your first 50), don’t worry about your copyrights (to be frank: nobody cares) and making each song perfect – it’s not going to be and that’s okay. No need to be self-deprecating about it, either, you can be proud of it – it is cool and no doubt some people will like it! Learn what you can from it and move on. Write another song. And another – get in the habit of consistently writing and recording. It’s a great habit and I bet you will find more fulfillment in creating a body of work than in trying to create singular masterpieces. I look forward to hearing your next 50!