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Following Your Heart

Everyone’s got an opinion. When it comes to your own songs, you hope everyone’s opinion is a good one. But if it isn’t, it can be discouraging.

I practically never ask people what they think of anything I’ve ever written. That’s certainly not to say that I don’t ask for help or advice. When I was a student of composition at university, I had my weekly private tutorials with composition professors, and their guidance was a crucial part of my development as a writer.

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But getting guidance is not the same thing as soliciting an opinion. The reason I don’t often ask for an opinion is that I assume that some will like the music I write, while others won’t. So soliciting opinions doesn’t actually tell me much. It’s quite possible to write music that works well, but just doesn’t get much attention or please an audience. That’s music for you.

I think the best thing you can do as a composer is to write what’s in your heart and mind, and accept the fact that some will like it and others won’t. You’ll hope that the number of people who like it outnumber the ones who don’t. You’re only human, after all.

Following your heart as a songwriter takes courage. And it also means several other things:

  1. Being objective. You need to be able to listen to your own songs and hear them the way others hear them. It’s hard, because your song is your baby, and you’re biased to support that baby. But being a good songwriter means being brutally honest with yourself, and knowing if your song has achieved what you’ve hoped it achieves.
  2. Keeping your music in perspective. Not every song will be a home run from an audience’s perspective. But not every song needs to be a home run. Sometimes your main goal with a song is simply to express some part of your innermost thoughts, not necessarily change the world. Stop trying to change the world with every song.
  3. Asking yourself ‘why?’ For every song you’ve written, you should be able to describe what it is the song is trying to say. Sometimes it’s a story. Sometimes you’re generating an emotion. Always, a song needs to present something that an audience will relate to on an emotional level. If you can’t say why you’ve written something, you may have wasted a lot of time.
  4. Always seeing the big picture. The big picture for most songwriters is a sense of fulfillment. There are days when you may need to force yourself to write, but if writing always feels like a chore, that can’t be much fun. From time to time, you need to step back and look at the kind of fulfillment you’re getting from songwriting. What can you do to generate inspiration, and find the motivation to express yourself through songwriting?
  5. Not living in a musical vacuum. Listen to great music, go to art galleries, read good books, get out to concerts. One of the best ways to find the courage to continue on as a songwriter is to take in and absorb what other artists are doing. In the arts, no one is inventing anything. Everyone is simply building on what’s come before. So knowing what’s going on, particularly in your chosen genre, is a crucial part of writing great music.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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