Point Blank tutor Steve Hillier has taken the time to write this breakdown of some of the problems one can come up against when trying to write a song or a piece of music.
Very insightful! Look out for part 2, coming soon…
I’ve taught composition to aspiring writers for around a decade now and discovered that most students are fantastically creative but suffer dreadfully from at least one, and usually more, of five crises. Each stands in the way of the writer’s innate creativity, slowing them down, making them depressed. But once they’re removed, or at the very least the writer learns to cope with them, anyone who cares to can write a decent song:
1. The Crisis Of The Perfectionist:
The most common problem, yet ironically it’s rarely anything to do with making great music. Many potentially outstanding writers never finish a song, release a record, video or even photographs of themselves because they’re perpetually dissatisfied with their work. They change musical direction, change lyrics, or adjust the mix in order to find a mystical magical moment when they’ll be happy. In reality, it isn’t because the work is poor, it might even be perfect! It’s because the writer is lacking confidence in themselves and their work. Those who fall into this trap will never be satisfied, and so will rarely, if ever, complete any creative work for fear of being judged negatively.
2. The Crisis Of Writer’s Block:
The idea that a writer could ever have ‘nothing to write about’ is laughable. If you’re alive (and sober) then you will have thoughts, ideas and opinions that are worth communicating. Writer’s block isn’t a lack of ideas; it’s that the writer doesn’t feel interested or excited about anything. This isn’t just a lack of excitement with their own work but a lack of excitement with anything and is more commonly known as boredom <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boredom>. Luckily, boredom can be completely avoided with hard work. Demonstrating how to avoid writer’s block forever is one of the most rewarding tasks I’ve performed as a mentor. It’s like leading a trapped animal back out into the sunlight, releasing them and watching them flourish.
3. The Crisis Of Lack Of Focus:
Our audiences are not interested in the process of creativity, the nuts and bolts behind the beats, just the results. We judge the success of a creative session by what emerges, the completed work, yet actually completing work is an insurmountable problem for many writers. The completion of a song is just not as exciting as the beginning. The starting point for any creative endeavour is inspiration, and inspiration is exhilarating, it’s exciting, it’s even a bit sexy. Writers live off the thrill of that moment of inspiration but the undisciplined shy away from the hard work that’s required to complete the task. Taking that inspiration to its conclusion, the completed work that’s worth playing to someone, is none of these things. It requires focus, patience, discipline and most of all stamina.
4. The Crisis Of Who Am I Serving?:
There’s little more tragic in the musical world than the writer who’s been blown off course by the people who advise them. They love their own music but are concerned it won’t be palatable because it doesn’t sound like The XX, or Mumford and Sons, or Swedish House Mafia. Or it’s too edgy, or not edgy enough. So the writer changes the work to sound more like these artists and less like themselves; and so the quick process of growing to hate their work begins. When you hate your work, you lose sight of what it is and can’t complete it to your satisfaction (see ‘lack of focus’ above). All great creativity in art stems from the originator satisfying their muse and no one else. The moment a songwriter writes for their audience rather than for themselves they’ve stopped being an artist and have become a scriptwriter hoping to appease other people’s whims. I don’t know any musicians who are satisfied with being a scriptwriter.
5. The Crisis Of The Originator:
The drive and ambition to create music that no one has heard before is the burden of the very unfortunate. Popular music demands that the music be familiar yet interesting. And being interesting (rather than completely original) is where creativity and entertainment lie, but this idea is lost on many novice writers. How many songs have you abandoned because they sounded a little like Ellie Goulding? Thing is, Ellie Goulding is popular because her music is great, abandoning work that’s stepped a single foot into her territory is a bit like driving to Spain from London but going round France. It can be done, but will take much longer and for what?
Abandoning work that reminds the writer of something else is a terrible habit and is is a catch 22 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_bind> situation. The more you write, the more your own voices emerges. The less you write, the more likely your work is to be derivative. Burial sounds a bit like Aphex Twin, Nirvana sounds a bit like Pixies, Stewart Lee sounds a bit like Ted Chippington. You can’t escape from the things you love, and why would you want to?
Is that really all it takes?
Every aspiring writer needs to break out of these habits, and luckily there’s not one crisis as explained above that’s impossible to break with a little direction and hard work. Most people can run a marathon if they want to, but it takes practice and solid dependable advice to complete the race. Get both of those and anyone can do it.
And here’s where the inevitable ‘yes, but…’ comes in.
The crises outlined above amount to a creative blockage, a problem with the way the writer is thinking. Once the writer has dealt with them their ideas will flow much better, creativity will occur, work will be completed and new music is the result. But removing the blockages is just as likely to let the poor ideas flood out as the good ones. The next stage is to help the writer to navigate around the rubbish ideas.
And it’s here where things get a little problematic…
Next time: How to cope with your rubbish ideas, overcome them and write an amazing song.