I’ve written 9 songs in the last two years that are all spectacular exercises in “almost.” Songwriting really does require it’s own kind of faith and persistence… because sometimes writing with everything you’ve got brings you to the threshold but not across it. And it’s hard to measure it or know why.
I can’t put my finger on the magic that makes a great song great. If someone could discover that secret, he would be the richest man on earth, and musicians from all over the world would make pilgrimages to bow at his feet and beg for even a piece of the answer.
Over the last ten years, I’ve studied songwriting intensely. I know what I like and what I don’t. I know all of the technical reasons why… but for all of my understanding of chord progressions, suspensions, modulations, and prosody (the matching of the meaning and feeling of the melody and the lyrics) I’m no closer to understanding the heart of the process… quite what it is that makes a song stand out and strike a chord in someone’s soul… what forces it into the soundtrack of someone’s life.
I know that being emotionally invested and having a gut level understanding of the subject matter plays a roll. I know that writing from the heart first and applying technique later is a step in the right direction. I know that all this study of technique, formula, and theory has made me a much better writer in the sense that my songs have more options and my toolbox is bigger. But it’s not like anything else… where the amount of deliberate practice is proportionally correlated to the quality of output.
Granted… every song I write is not going to be a Hallelujah, a Hey Jude, or a Fire and Rain. But modern music is filled to bursting with sincere homages to not quite… songs that are so close to being great, that a little more time and attention or a different approach to a singular aspect of the song might have made it into something wonderful that millions of people would not be able to live without. But instead of being incredible… it’s an almost, stuck as a tragic track eight (the one you always skip).
I don’t want to produce that kind of music. There is already plenty of it out there. I want to make an album where I can’t decide between all twelve songs for track one.
Maybe I’ve spent too much focus on technique and not enough on the heart… too much editing, not enough writing. Maybe it’s really the fate of every songwriter to write one great song for every hundred ordinary ones. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know how to make magic at will. But I’m going to try something different for a bit…
I’m going to start from square one with all of this stuff. I’m going to clear my mind of all I know and remember to the best of my ability. I’m going to find the pieces of my psyche that are universal and need to be expressed. I’m going to reach in and dig for what I’ve gone through… what I’m still going through… what all of us are going through… the human stuff – and try to get it out. I’m imagining I’m thirteen and I’ve never written a song. I’m starting with faith… yes, the kind religious people have… faith that the muse that got me this far is still hiding somewhere inside.
For all my efforts that have failed to lead to incredible output in the last two years, I still feel like I was born to do this.