It can be really easy to doubt yourself when you think no-one is listening. When you lose confidence in what you are doing and questioning why bother. Stop and think about all the experiences that you could have missed out on, the people you might never have met, the people you now call your friends.I think of this quite a bit, actually, as I'm plagued by self-doubt. Bandcamp and Soundcloud, the two places where our music is hosted, give us ways to analyse how many people have played our songs. And not just played; whether they've played it for a second or two, half the way through, or all the way. (Actually, it's the half plays that intrigue and worry me most. A few seconds, then deciding "it's not my cup of tea," I understand. But why would someone listen to half a song and then bail? Was the arrangement too 'samey'? Was it the opposite; they liked it at the start, but the middle eight was a bridge (ha) too far? What did I do wrong with the song?)
We have come to accept - to some extent - that people will listen to music but not necessarily buy it, and learned not to measure success in terms of breaking even (although in the long run, I can see this leading to many independent musicians simply stopping recording albums, though not necessarily ceasing to make music. More on this in another post perhaps). However, I do still have a bad habit of totting up numbers of plays of songs. Surely part of the point in writing songs is for people to hear them?
But then I start thinking, "why do I* write songs?" (For the 'how', have a look at the links to our scrapbook for each song on our album, starting here. Why we perform them is another matter, too**.)
Well, it's easier to start with reasons that some sometimes cite, but which aren't the case for me.
I don't want to make lots of money. (My really out-there dream is to one day make enough to break even and even have a little left over to put towards more recording more songs.)
I don't want to be a famous star. (I'd like us to be well-known enough on the local scene to be offered good gigs that give us the chance of selling some more CDs, and so possibly breaking even, but that's about it.)
I don't want to create some kind of universal music to which everyone can relate. (In fact, given some of our songs and their nerdy, niche references, if this was my aim, I'd be doing a VERY poor job.)
I don't decide what will make a song popular and work backwards, though it is tempting sometimes.
The songs definitely don't 'write themselves' (although the initial spark is sometimes unbidden).
Then things that I fear might be true.
Maybe I'm seeking validation.
Maybe I'm showing off.
And what I know to be true, though it sounds a little narcissistic.
I need to tell my stories, and share my ideas.
Maybe if I look at the songwriting process, that will give me some ideas too. With many of my songs, they've started off as snippets, that have come into my head almost unbidden. What's made me see them through?
I'm a completionist. (Is that a word?)
I enjoy the process of writing songs (not always).
I want to hear the finished song myself (I need to hear the finished song myself)!
But it's also important to think about what I've learned about how the songs I've written are received. When I'm writing, I have an idea in mind (e.g. Shepherds' Delight is in part a memento mori). However people don't always see that, and sometimes, they even see something else, something that I didn't put in there (the lovely chap at a gig who said it sounded like a baby's first lullaby). It's as though the songs, released, take on their own life, their own personality, they reach people in different ways. And, just like one's own child or children, a songwriter has to accept that their songs aren't necessarily going to 'take after' them. That's actually quite hard sometimes. I'll think I've written a song of nostalgic longing... someone else hears a pretty jaunt (and vice versa). So even if I was writing songs to reassure myself there were people out there with the same emotional responses as me, that I wasn't alone... I'd be on a hiding to nothing.
Once the song has been 'released' (both in the music industry sense, and figuratively), it develops ideas of its own. It is like a child.... from the moment they are born they develop their personality, and an important developmental stage is when this personality starts to develop in completely distinct ways to their parent's/s' personality, and they are able to and allowed to take pride in that difference, to be themselves. (I'm speaking from experience here as a parent, too, before you tell me to get in the sea.) Good parents encourage this, accept that their children are different people to them, and love them for the people they are, take delight in this entirely new personality, find joy in watching them develop in ways they might not have guessed. My songs - I like that they are now separate to me, I still love them, but I love watching people react to them in ways I'd never have predicted. They have a life of their own!
So why do I write songs, then? It is simple, really. I write them so I can hear them, hear how my stories sound in their voice. But I release them so I can watch how they play with everyone else. With my nearest and dearest. With YOU.
Are you a songwriter? Why do you write songs? Feel free to comment!
*Marc writes Moss & Jones songs too, of course, and one of them is on our album - it's the title track, in fact - and obviously, our arrangements are pretty collaborative. But songwriting is so individual that I can't say his reasons for writing are the same as mine.
**I don't feel I need to write about this as I think Gary Maginnis' post speaks for most of us.