"If everything has been written, what can you write about?"
This question gets asked a lot, especially after a two hour critique session, where I;'ve been forced to say to a client, "Yeah, I've heard it before." Cause most of the time, I have.
Songwriting as been around hundreds of years, and over the past hundred or so, has increased expotentially each day. With about a BILLION songs a month, going up to the Internet, it is increasingly difficult to find ANY WAY to write SOMETHING DIFFERENT! There is really nothing "new under the sun" so what to do?
The trick is to SAY THE SAME THING YET DIFFERENTLY. And this comes into the "DETAILS!" Even though the "devil lives there", there are ups and down sides to everything. I add a different component to my own songwriting and I bring this into my teaching. I DON'T DO NEGATIVE. There is just so much anger, bitterness, depression (have you looked around lately?) I just can't bring myself to add to the pile.
And songwriters will instinctively go negative first and foremost. We have plenty to be down and depressed about. We can't hold jobs, relationships and if you are writing what you know, and seeing in the world, it's pretty easy to find that out there.
But if EVERYBODY IS DOING THE SAME THING, you are already starting out from a weak position if you are a writer or artist, trying to stand out in a business with millions. So what to do, as my friend Jimbeau Hinson says "STOP SWIMMING IN THE RIVER OF BITTERNESS!!!"
Everything has potential to have two sides to it and they dont always have to be bad. As a writer in Nashville, you hear a phrase all the time, "UP TEMPO AND POSITIVE." I find that actually to be more "MID TEMPO AND NOT NEGATIVE" but you find most songs, particularly radio songs, a little more up beat and positive than the average amateur writer or less experienced one.
Go to an average writers night or open mic and the first thing you want to do is get the silverwear off the tables so people don't slit their wrists. Sounds like a self therapy convention. Helpful to the writer maybe, but how many therapy sessions would you pay to attend? So what to do?
WRITE REALITY .And find the "TWIST. " Here's how I recently did it:
Recently I had and18 year old female artist/writer and her Father in one of my sessions. I was telling her that the best songs come from real life. Something that recently might have happened to spur something. And you have to really pay attention because it may pop out of nowhere. I got the two of them talking about their lives and anything recent that might have happened. They started talking about a day trip that she and her younger brother and another friend had made during last summer. They had started out going to a water theme park about two hours from their house outside of Chicago. One the way, their car started smoking, and they pulled into a truck stop. They would end up being stuck there for about 5 hours while help arrived from their Grandfather and a wrecker. Everything went wrong, from miscommunication on directions, to not being able to diagnose what was wrong, etc. But along the way the three kids were able to laugh, hang out and actually had a pretty good time observing life. They were in a fairly safe area, and just got to people watch. And then she said it. "IT WAS MY BEST WORST DAY EVER".
That was the key. By taking down notes on the day, the conversations, and the element that while it was a difficult day, they actually all had a good time and got closer as friends and family. The song basically wrote itself as she talked about how the day progressed. And since I had listened to her other songs and knew what she was comfortable playing on guitar, keys, chords, melodies, I was able to construct something built around her style. It all worked out fine.
Usually if you'll just get a conversation going, you can find the song. Songs are musical conversations. And if you can look for "the twist" and deliver something that most people never thought of, you can take a "sad song and make it better." (I always meant to write that!)
At any rate, you have to work a little harder, but it is worth it when someone hears it and says "WOW! The same thing happened to me and I never thought to look at it like that! I'd like to hear more of your songs!"
That's when it all pays off.
Hope you are all doing well. Have a safe holiday season and happy writing!