Know and respect your process

Most of the time, songs don’t just appear – you have to write them. Even if you are so lucky/brilliant that they emerge fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, you might worry that it won’t always be so.

There are many, many ways of writing songs. For example, the process that comes naturally to me is to write a song, music and lyrics, in a single sitting on guitar. This usually takes me one to two hours and works best first thing in the morning or late at night. Others may find a different process most effective: writing lyrics first, or music first, or writing music and lyrics over a beat, or co-writing with a collaborator, or writing with a band, or collaging bits and pieces of songs on a computer, or improvising into a live mike, or any one of dozens of other options.

I really don’t think any one process is better than another, though I do think that different processes tend to produce different types of songs (more on that in the next post). I do think that finding your process and coming to understand and accept it is an important step in becoming a songwriter, and especially in continuing to write songs. The more you know about how and when you are able to write songs, the easier it will be to fit songwriting into your life. Take a very simple example – if I set aside two hours on Saturday mornings, I can write songs in that time. If I substitute four hours on Sunday afternoons, I might write half as many songs in twice as much time. But in order to save that time, I have to know when I am more likely to be able to write.

It’s also important to respect, and even have some pride in your process. If you are happy with your songs, your process is working for you. One thing I have seen in others and experienced myself is insecurity around songwriting processes. A writer who writes more slowly might feel intimidated by a more prolific songwriter. But there’s always a flipside – I write a lot of songs, and I often feel jealous of writers who seem to write more deliberately and focus more energy into a single song. I end up with throw-away songs and songs that are different versions of the same idea. It may be impossible to avoid a little process-envy, but in the end it’s important to value and respect the process that works for you.