Ever since I was fourteen and I started writing songs seriously, I have had this songwriting motto: never be afraid to write crap.
It may not be refined, but it has served me well for three reasons:
1. Crappy songs can be hilarious.
Sometimes it’s good to write crap purely for the entertainment value.
Whenever I need a good laugh, I listen to the file on my computer called “Fifth Grade Hits.” It’s a recording of a bunch of pop songs I wrote when I was 11. They are full of words that I pulled out of a rhyme dictionary and used without fully understanding the meanings. They have a very silly and cheesy pop/country fusion sound. Also, most of them are about romantic relationships, which I only knew about through the songs of Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys, and other pop stars of the late 90’s. The lyrics make this fact painfully obvious.
(Maybe someday I’ll post some Fifth Grade Hits for your amusement … would you rather hear “I Can’t Love You,” “How It’s Gotta Be,” or “No More Playing?” Let me know in the comments!)
2. Your crappy songs teach you what not to do.
I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t by writing bad songs.
For example, once I wrote a song called “Running in the Rain” that was so bad it wasn’t even funny. It’s so embarrassing that I’ve never played it for anyone and I probably never will. But it’s a good thing I wrote it. Now I know what the dopiest melody in the world sounds like, and that I should never again arrange notes in a similar pattern. Now I know that lines like “Damn it … I love you, don’t love her!” are so humiliating to sing that they shouldn’t even be considered when writing a song. Now I know to stay away from clichéd love metaphors and tired rhyme schemes.
So write bad songs. Then, really listen to them, think about what specifically makes them so bad, and never do those things again.
3. Writing crap helps eliminate your writer’s block
Every songwriter does battle with writer’s block at some point. You might have trouble coming up with an idea. Or maybe you have an idea, but you can’t figure out how to get the first little bits of it on the paper. Or maybe you’ve written half of a song, but can’t figure out how to finish it.
When I find myself in any of these situations, I sit down with my songwriting notebook and write whatever lines come into my head. I don’t censor myself, I just try to get ideas on the page. Most of what comes out of this process is crap: awkward phrases, sentences about topics I have no interest in singing about, sometimes even complete songs that are just really bad.
But after a few hours, I always come up with something useful. Sometimes it’s just a topic, a song title, or a clever line that I develop later. But more often than not, I end up writing a complete song that’s actually really good.
So there you have it: three reasons to follow my songwriting motto.
Thanks for reading! And remember, the added bonus of my songwriting motto is that it can be applied to any kind of writing. I love hearing from you, so don’t let the fear of writing crap stop you from leaving a comment!