songwriter - guitarist

The Rarity of the Fully-Formed Song

There’s probably nothing like the excitement you feel when you get an entire song appearing, more or less fully-formed, in your brain all at once. Forget improvising, experimenting or jamming… you just wake up, and there it is!

There are songwriters who claim to have had songs appear fully-formed in their minds. Paul McCartney’s description of how he woke up with most of “Yesterday” coming to him so easily that he assumed he’d subconsciously stolen it from someone, is exciting to contemplate.

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Because we only ever get to hear about the mega-hits that come into existence that way (no one brags about their bad songs that appeared all at once!), we might assume that the best songs are the ones that didn’t happen by improvising or jamming.

But the truth of the matter is that the fully-formed song is so rare that we’re probably OK calling it, for the most part, a myth. Even though a song might appear practically in its finished state, practically every good song needs some working and reworking to get it to its best.

Most Songwriting is Hard Work

If you find that every song you write is the product of days, weeks or even months of hard work, that sounds about right. It’s why songwriters use the word process to describe the event we call “songwriting.”

And the word process implies several things:

  1. Time.
  2. Experimentation. Trying ideas out, and tossing the bad ones.
  3. Improvising. Getting together with others and seeing where the partial ideas you’ve already written might go.

Most of the time, you hope that the process is fun. Sometimes it isn’t, and that’s fine. Getting frustrated is not an indication that you’re doing something wrong. It’s simply the by-product of trying several ideas in a row that you judge to be inadequate for the song.

Frustration can turn into writer’s block, so you need to be aware of how you’re dealing with frustration.

Songwriting is not unlike playing a game of golf. Once in a very, very long while, you might be one of the lucky few to hit a hole-in-one. That dramatic event doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve suddenly turned into the best golfer in the world. It just means you got very lucky, once.

And after that day, you realize that you’re still the golfer you always were.

The fully-formed song is probably a little more likely than a hole-in-one, but the truth is that songs that appear in your mind that way are not necessarily any better than the ones you sweat over for weeks.

When all is said and done, most songs, even the very best (perhaps especially the very best) are the results of lots of good, hard work. Good songwriting is a journey – hopefully, for you, an enjoyable one.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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