On my computer hard-drive, tucked away in a hidden folder, is a file called ‘Spontaneous Lyrics’. It contains the entire oeuvre of my songwriting from year 1 to around year 5, from my very first scribblings, through my ‘Political’ phase (*weeps in shame*), right up to the start of my ‘Girls-are-really-quite-attractive’ phase, which I’ve never truly left behind.
I’m now in around my 7th-8th year of songwriting, and this file is painful. Painful. Absolutely no-one in the world has ever freely looked through it. This was, for a long time, how I felt about my songwriting. My songs were my Pennywise, lurking in the gutter of my mind. No way in hell was anyone going to see those songs.
I know I’m not alone in this, either. So crippling is the fear of rejection in some songwriters that they never get off the ground. Some will noodle away in silence for decades without ever breathing a melody.
Well, let me tell you, that approach ain’t too great. For one thing, keeping a song cooped up in your own head means you can’t ever say ‘This is finished’. I’m living testament.
I finished my first song six years after I began songwriting. It was called ‘You Ain’t Alone’ (It’s my mum’s favourite, incidentally). Here’s the kicker: I only knew it was finished when my great friend, who I’d started playing all my songs to, told me it was.
I then proceeded to play it individually to every single one of my flatmates (of which there were 12) and anyone who would listen to check if he was giving me a bum steer. And he wasn’t. At least my mum doesn’t think so, anyway.
This process of ‘Finishing’ a song is not, as is commonly thought, a question of editing. Songwriters are perfectionists, and they’ll edit the song to death before they realised they were actually just as happy with the first draft.
Finishing a song is just about dragging Pennywise out of the gutter. Once it’s out, the song is no longer a secret diary entry, it’s a piece of work which exists independently of you, and it won’t feel so scary any more. I promise you: the change is remarkable.
Don’t get me wrong, it takes a lot of guts for a first-year songwriter to do it, far more than I’ve ever possessed. But here’s my advice: Do you have a best friend? Are they smarter than you? Show the song to them. They’ll give you better advice than you’d ever manage on your own.
It’s worth it. Once Pennywise is up on the pavement you see him for what he is: just a feckin’ clown.