Writing songs is a very easy process if you don’t know what songs should sound like, which is where I feel I am at in my musical journey. I listen to songs, and I like them, but do I really know what a chord is? A key? I wrote a song a few weekends ago for a songwriting workshop I casually took, no big deal, and they asked me what artist I pictured would sing that song. I still don’t know. I can’t figure it out because the song doesn’t actually seem like a real song.
Wondering if a song I wrote is really a song is the same issue I ran into when I started writing short stories: does what I just did count? It wasn’t until a few stories in that I noticed that it did, not because I read a book about the short story structure or because I analyzed anything, but because I knew innately from reading them what a short story feels like. What I’d written felt like a story, and whether it stood up or not in terms of language and structure and characters didn’t matter. Having gone through the process of writing and enjoying writing a story was enough to let me sleep at night. Even if the feeling wasn’t there, I would probably still have slept at night, though.
Isn’t that the first step, really, to writing a song? Making sure the song is a song? I don’t mean it needs to have a bridge, or rhyme, but just that it is musical in some way that is familiar, just that it has some sort of art to it. And I can’t expect it to be any good, but if it feels creative and expressive and I had fun and surprise doing it, then that is enough for me right now in my writing. I love writing a sentence in a story that I don’t recognize. And when I sing something and play on my ukulele a series of chords that goes with that thing I just sang, that feels insanely creative and out of the limits of what I thought I could do. So that is a song. That is creativity expressed in music.
When the songwriting class asked who it was that I pictured singing the song I’d written, I really wanted to say Taylor Swift. Or I kind of wanted to have written an indie ballad or one of those build-up songs that gets louder as it goes. But I hadn’t written anything like that. I’d written a hokey song about crabs. Then I wanted to tell the group that I pictured myself singing the song, but not in public, because this is the first song I’ve ever written, so no one – not any artist alive, even myself – should be forced to sing this song, not even in the recesses of my mind. Then I sang it to them, in public, and I realized that answer was okay. I couldn’t picture a musical artist singing it because it was very much my song, a song I needed to write and sing. And I wondered how that could possibly be, that I could have just written a song that felt like me. And though I don’t really know the answer, I’m going to keep asking it, and by doing so, I’m going to keep sleeping at night.