Song writing. Touchy subject, I know. I get instant heartburn every time the subject comes up. What a bitch, huh? I mean, let’s think about it…
The endless heartache. The countless arguments about structures and riffs. The nervous feeling that never settles quite right in your stomach, just like you’d eaten your own puke for breakfast. The stress that hammers your nerves down to dust. The constant exposure to tension that will leave you feeling like you were trapped in a room with someone screeching their nails deep into a chalkboard. The amount of time you’re going to spend creating songs is going to make Gandhi’s bald head feel like a reflection of your insides. There will be NOTHING left.
That’s about as intimidating as staring at a Tyrannosaurus with a piece of steak in your hand, with a very thin layer of glass separating the both of you. It sets you up for a REALLY bad time.
So why is it that we feel so pressured when we write? I mean seriously, you’d think this sounds like you’re about to go on a date with <insert whoever makes you melt like butter here> (personally, I’ll go with Emma Watson). It’s like you’re hoping to make an impression, but just nervously blabbering about the first thing that comes to mind. Before you can even stop yourself, you’re talking about camel dingdong sticks looking like a crazy sack of fuck. All the other person wants is to hear about you. Yes, you want to make a good impression, but for the love of all that is awesome, just be cool and keep it together.
Progress comes in small increments.
I find the biggest mistake most bands make is taking themselves too seriously. They set their expectations way too high so that it feels like they’re shooting for the moon, but all they’re really doing is putting themselves under pressure. All you’re actually doing to yourself is saying “if I don’t get to THIS objective, I’m a fucking loser”. Sorry guys, but that’s really not the way it should be. Writing good songs does NOT have to equate to having to submit yourself to a world of pain and torture. You can write a perfectly good and sincere song and actually have fun doing it. Doesn’t that sound so much more pleasant?
Then again, why do I bother asking. We have a pretty stupid way of looking at things.
We have a tendency to romanticize the concept of the “tortured artist”. We find that there is something noble in it. We believe that somehow being troubled, drugged, or drunk off our asses makes us more in tune with our creative side. We are convinced that being closer to gut wrenching pain and soul crushing agony is a necessary component to writing “real songs”. We idolize those who go through it, and attribute their condition for their creations. I think we’ve got it all wrong. These people have managed to create their music in spite of their condition, not because of it. And sooner, rather than later, they turn up dead.
In case you didn’t know this, once you’re dead, you’re not creating anything anymore. All that potential is taken away from the world and it will never come back. There is nothing great about this outcome.
I remember being a child and creating all kinds of stuff. There were fortresses made out of cushions and blankets protecting me from evil monsters. There was jumping on monkey bars, trying not to touch the ground for fear of lava burning my feet. There was coloring completely outside the lines but not giving a single left nut about what anyone thought. I imagined and created those things because they made me happy. It was as simple as that. There were no rules or expectations. Just my imagination and I playing a happy game together. Music should also be created because it makes you happy. It shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Only what you think… and even then, there are limits…
You can keep wanking off trying to cater to your own perfectionism. You can keep trying to achieve an ideal that you’ll never really quite get to. You can keep working and reworking a song until your heart can’t take it anymore. It might seem like progress, but all you’re really doing is being stuck in the same spot. You’re not perfect; there’s no reason your songs should be either. Rather than keep drilling a hole into a wall that’s already been hit by a mortar, sometimes you just have to learn to let it go. Kind of like making a sand castle at the beach. You put your heart and soul into it. You admire it from afar until suddenly a wave sweeps it away carelessly, and you simply watch it go along with the current.
You know what the weird part is? I never minded when waves took my castles away. Instead, I watched them go with complete wonder as they left on their journey. I never worried about missing them because they were free. Sure enough, there was always a new castle just waiting to be brought to life.
Every song I’ve ever been a part of is, in some way, one of my castles. They weren’t always perfect, some I had a much harder time letting go of, but I love each and every single one of them, and am proud of what they’ve become – living entities in their own right. Put your wanking perfectionist Vaseline aside, tell your “Tortured Artist” persona to go for a walk and come back when you’re 90, and allow yourself a little more freedom. You might be amazed at the things you’ll find locked up inside that head of yours.
Something tells me there’s a lot of castles just waiting to find their way out into the sea.
Let them go, and who knows? Maybe some of them really will make it all the way to the moon.
Until next time from a fellow no-longer Wanking Perfectionist,
Nabil – The Red Zone