What's the hardest part of songwriting for YOU?

jimking

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I'll go first: Learning them! (I had to take high school Spanish I three times because I couldn't remember the vocabulary. Times tables? Forget it — literally.)

I've always envied those Brill Building types who could just write 'em up and toss 'em out there for someone else to record and perform. These days it's all up to us.

I'm celebrating because I just sang a ten-year-old song all the way through without forgetting any of it for the first time.

It's a long one, so I've been avoiding it forever. But my wife likes it, so I finally sat down last week to learn it, and after a few dozen practice sessions, I finally got through the whole thing (slowly!) without a stumble or a pause.

It'll be a few days of errors before I get it right again, but after that it'll happen more and more often, until I can get it right more often than not. By then I'll be putting some feeling in it, too, and it'll be pub-gig-ready.

So how about you? What do you struggle with? (If you don't struggle with anything, don't answer. It'll just depress the rest of us.)
For me, it's often motivation. I have song ideas in my head (especially when I'm trying to sleep!) but I don't sit down and write them. Maybe it's because I'm afraid they won't be good enough. I've written - and re-written 100 times - two songs that I'm not ashamed of. But, that's the highest praise I can give them. Sometimes, inspirations strikes and then, for awhile at least, I'm good to go. I have to tell you, though, seeing people in the audience singing along to something you're written and performed publicly only a few times does something special for your heart.
 

Linkslover

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On a late night drive once, I sketched out a plot for a Twilight Zone episode:

Young musician goes down to the crossroads at midnight, and sells his soul to the devil to become a great songwriter.

Fast forward to a demo session. The producer and engineer look bored, our protagonist is sweating bullets. The producer starts collecting his things to leave, and the engineer keys the talkback; "ya got anything else, or are we done?". The songwriter closes his eyes, whispers to himself "You can do this! Just do it!" then takes a deep breath, starts furiously strumming his guitar and just lets it all out in one final swing for the fences:

OOOOh baby baby, baby baby yeah!
Baby I love you baby baby, yeah!


He opens his eyes in horror at the inane drivel that just escaped from his mouth. He sold his soul for this?

The producer freezes on his way out the door. He looks back at the engineer, who gives him a huge grin. The producer runs back to the console and mashes the talkback- "keep going, kid!!!!"

He continues to sing the most embarrassing moon-in-june cliche' garbage imaginable, with an increasingly horrified look on his face. The producer and engineer are high-fiving each other, dancing around the control room. When the songwriter finishes, the producer hits the talkback, lets out a whoop, and yells "there's your first number one, right there!"

Our protagonist has sold his soul for the ability to create embarrassingly awful, but highly successful songs.

The screen becomes a montage of magazine covers and Billboard charts showing the protagonist's songs winning awards and hitting the top of the charts for weeks. The names of the songs are things like "Baby Baby Baby", "Ooh Baby Yeah", "I Like Food", "Dogs Are Good" and "Yeah Baby Yeah". On the magazine covers, our protagonist wears an outfit like Garth Brooks did in the '90s and has a slightly embarrassed expression on his face.

In a hotel room one stormy night, he shaves his beard, cuts his hair in the sink, and trades his Garth Brooks jacket with one of his roadies for a leather biker jacket. He heads out with an acoustic guitar, and winds up at a dimly lit coffeehouse having an open mic. He signs up for a slot under the name "Dante". When his turn comes he begins playing a poignant, well written ballad of a man who lost his way. Suddenly someone recognizes him, and the coffeehouse erupts in catcalls and boos, with the patrons mockingly shouting the inane lyrics of his hit songs at him. Our protagonist flees.

Later we see him at a recording session, overweight and disheveled, swigging a bottle of liquor and swallowing handfuls of pills. He walks up to the mic and begins slurring his way through an extremely profane song he announces as "Go F-Yourself", clearly designed to offend. At its conclusion he shouts "Howbout THAT, you bastards!" and knocks over the mic. The control room staff stare at him in shocked silence. Finally, the producer gingerly keys the mic and says "That was the most brilliant thing I've ever heard!" Our protagonist screams, stomps on his guitar and runs out of the studio. We then see him on a motorcycle doing 100, then 110, then 120, then finally screaming as he flys off a cliff.

The screen dissolves into a montage of magazine cover tributes to the greatest songwriter in history, as his final #1 single "Go F-Yourself" plays in the background.


Which is a (very) roundabout way of saying I know exactly what you mean. Every time I finish a song I think, "no, that's garbage". Maybe no one else compares me to the great writers of rock history, but those are the records I grew up with and that's the standard I apply to myself. In the '90s I watched as "grunge" gave way to "low fi" in indie circles, and although I loved Guided By Voices and thought Pavement was capable of the occasional genius song I was horrified by the attitude that it was OK to be halfassed and not really put forth much effort. In the end it's all OK though, since no one gives a crap about rock music anymore anyway.
Quit songwriting and get a job writing for TV. I want to watch that twilight zone episode.
 

teletimetx

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Funny! For some of us, the hard part is starting, for others, finishing.

I'm too impatient (and skeptical) to wait for the inspiration bus to stop here. So I do it the lazy way: just start strumming and scribbling and see where it takes me.

PS: The difference between a skeptic and a cynic: A skeptic says "This won't work." A cynic says, "Nothing will work."

Ok, thought of one more thing that might be hardest: getting useful feedback.

From my emails this morning:
F5FBC571-A145-4FD4-B52F-4C44D92950B2.jpeg


BFFE8CAF-5698-497E-B398-2FEAB00C64C2.jpeg


Which has more useful info?

I’m thinking it could be the economics of dishwashing…
 

Charlie Bernstein

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Lyrics. Everything I come up with feels ridiculous and lame.
Well, sure! I mean, think about it. What's more idiotic than making music?

If I didn't want people to hear all my lame, ridiculous sounds, I wouldn't have anything left to play for 'em!

So don't judge, just strut your stuff! If you let the inner fool cut loose, the outer fool will have a lot more fun.
 
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Patshep

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For me, I go crazy just playing song parts over and over without finishing or finalizing. Then I make 15 versions on my daw. OCD I guess a little
 

Charlie Bernstein

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This is why whenever I come up with a good idea, I warble it into the voice message app on my phone. I cribbed this from Richard Marx, who used to call his answering machine and sing ideas into it.
I just forget 'em. The way I figure it, I'll come up with something else later, when I have a guitar in my lap.
 

beyer160

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I just forget 'em. The way I figure it, I'll come up with something else later, when I have a guitar in my lap.
The way I see it though, inspiration is ephemeral. You either capture it in some way, or it's gone. Sure, you can always come up with something else later, but ideas don't grow on trees and I want to capture as many as I can. This of course leads to a phone full of 10 second clips of me yelling "WANGAWANGAWEEWEEOHYEAH!!!!" while I was driving that I can't figure out what the hell I was thinking, but sometimes it works.

The most famous example is Keith Richards waking up in the middle of the night and playing a few bars of the embryonic "Satisfaction" into a tape recorder. He came up with plenty of other cool riffs over the coming years, but if he'd rolled over and gone back to sleep we'd have never had THAT particular song.
 

Charlie Bernstein

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The way I see it though, inspiration is ephemeral. You either capture it in some way, or it's gone. Sure, you can always come up with something else later, but ideas don't grow on trees and I want to capture as many as I can.
That's certainly true for me. But it's a gloomy way to look at it. I've rarely been inspired, and I like writing songs, so I don't wait for inspiration. Life's too short, and shorter every day. I just sit down, make up songs, and work on them until they're good.

I'm no pro, but I agree with the old saying: Amateurs wait for inspiration, pros get to work.
This of course leads to a phone full of 10 second clips of me yelling "WANGAWANGAWEEWEEOHYEAH!!!!" while I was driving that I can't figure out what the hell I was thinking, but sometimes it works.
That sounds pretty entertaining all by itself. If I ever have a cell phone, I might try it.
The most famous example is Keith Richards waking up in the middle of the night and playing a few bars of the embryonic "Satisfaction" into a tape recorder. He came up with plenty of other cool riffs over the coming years, but if he'd rolled over and gone back to sleep we'd have never had THAT particular song.
Yup again. That's why there are countless mind-bogglingly great songs that have never been written: all of us go-back-to-sleepers. But that's a gloomy outlook, too. So I just enjoy the songs that have been written — including mine!
 
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beyer160

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That's certainly true for me. I've rarely been inspired. But I don't wait for inspiration. Life's too short, and shorter every day. So I just sit down, make up songs, and work on them until they're good.

I'm no pro, but I agree with the old saying: Amateurs wait for inspiration. Pros get to work.
Couldn't agree with you more, 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

However, inspiration does strike, usually when I'm far away from my music gear. I want to give myself a fighting chance to preserve that spark, so I can flesh it out later.

I've also said that if I can get my most recent band together to make a record, I'm going to compile a blooper reel of all the phone demos of the songs that I recorded while driving.
 

Charlie Bernstein

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Hardest for me is writing meaningful, non-idiotic lyrics.
See posts 126 and 127.

I start out with meaningless, idiotic lyrics, then fan them until they have some life.

For example, here's the first draft of the first verse of one of my country songs:

Yesterday I was feeling so blue.
So far away from you, what could I do?
You told me you and me were through,
but I still could not stop loving you.


Snoresville, USA, right? But after some work, I had this first and second verse, plus a perky chorus and a third verse, which I won't bore you with:

Yesterday my heart was bleeding black and blue.
A thousand miles from you, what else could it do?
The touts and the tabloids all said were were through,
but I still could not stop loving you.

I've been to Houston, and I've been to hell,
and any place is better than a cheap hotel
where the walls have ears and the beds have bugs,
and the squad car in the parking lot is dealing hard drugs. . . .


Great? Nope! Better than what I hear on the local country stations? Yup!

It's not a bad song, but there was no inspiration. There was just jotting down some highly mundane (a.k.a. meaningless, idiotic) words, then putting in the work to at least make them interesting.

But here's the important thing: For every five or ten usable songs like that one, You come up with one that's genuinely good. That's part of the work, too: getting through the dirt to hit the gold. If you don't work the dirt, you won't get to the gold.
 

Charlie Bernstein

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Couldn't agree with you more, 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

However, inspiration does strike, usually when I'm far away from my music gear. I want to give myself a fighting chance to preserve that spark, so I can flesh it out later.

I've also said that if I can get my most recent band together to make a record, I'm going to compile a blooper reel of all the phone demos of the songs that I recorded while driving.
The irony will be when the blooper reel does better than the record!
 




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