Make Music For Yourself

Your songs. Recorded. For yourself.

That’s the mindset shift that helped me change songwriting from an activity filled with anxiety, shame and guilt into a wellness practice I look forward to every day.

What you are about to read is 30 years in the making. It started when I got kicked out of my band for not being good enough.

To be fair, those guys were really damn good. But little did I know, that was the beginning of a bullshit story I came to rely on to get out of finishing songs.

Like an itch you shouldn’t scratch, little bits of song ideas constantly haunted me.

  • A few words strung into a lyric with a melody that came out of nowhere.
  • Endless rhythms that took over my body. Tapping away on tables, desks and thighs.
  • Riffs and chords taking up residency in my brain and refusing to move out. Damn groove squatters.

My initial reaction was to label every idea as stupid and try to ignore them. But the ideas just wouldn’t stop. Unless.

Ah yes, unless I finished the song AND recorded it. Recording it is what gets it out of the imagination and into reality.

And that is what every song desires. It is what every songwriter needs.

  • But what if nobody listens?
  • What if they listen and think it sucks?
  • What if I think it sucks?
  • What if it really does suck?
  • You can’t make money with music.
  • There are more important things you should do with your time.

After ignoring music for too long, getting back into it, sucking so bad (that part ain’t over), looking into every way possible to make a living with music, taking too many courses, writing and pitching for sync placements that never happened and all sorts of other nonsense, I decided to do the simplest thing I could.

Give myself a break.

Take away all judgement. Remove any expectations. And make a little time every day to focus on the one voice in my head I really cared about. The creative voice begging to be made real.

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.

— John Steinbeck

That means there is only one person the song is being made for. Me.

One person. One song. Recorded.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the value of making music for no one but yourself.

The health and wellness benefits, how it impacts the people around you and yes, the potential of a song to move someone.

More importantly, I’m like most people that have a penchant for writing songs. I have a family to take care of, a day job and a hazy goal of retiring someday without living in poverty or growing bored to death.

All of this brought me to a few simple truths that help writing and recording songs become a healthy and rewarding habit – even if nobody hears them but me.

Simple Truth #1 – You Are A Songwriter

Let’s face it. If you are still reading this, you are a songwriter.

It is an important part of what makes you you. You are probably never going to stop wanting to write songs. You may succeed at suppressing the sounds in your head for some time. Even years.

But if you are the type of person who catches themselves stringing words together in a singable way, resistance is futile. So let’s figure out how to enjoy it.

Simple Truth #2 – There Are No Excuses

It’s never been easier to capture and organize ideas and turn them into good sounding tracks. Even publish the music if you choose to.

A laptop, an audio interface, a mic and headphones are all you really need to get started. Don’t let gear acquisition syndrome slow you down. 😉

Simple Truth #3 – Regret Sucks

Regret comes from unfulfilled desires. Wanting something and not doing anything about it is a guaranteed path to disappointment.

Getting good at something comes from doing it. Some people get a head start with natural talent. But everyone has to practice.

Something is learned with every attempt. With every completed track, we get a little better at:

  • Writing lyrics
  • Coming up with chord progressions and rhythms
  • Arranging songs
  • Recording, mixing and production
  • And most of all – you learn many things about yourself. Your taste, talents, creativity, your decision-making muscle and so much more.

It is an excellent habit to have.

Simple Truth #4 – Songwriting Is Healthy

There are studies that show journaling and keeping a diary help relieve anxiety and depression.

Don’t worry. Be happy.

– Bobby McFerrin

Treating songwriting like diary entries not only feeds the hungry creative in you, it also helps your subconscious figure out whatever is on your mind and going on in your life. Stuff you may not even be aware of on the surface.

Revisiting these entries years later adds a whole new dimension to the photo album of your life.

We even have the technology to store data on the internet permanently. Imagine who might be interested in hearing your voice, ideas and rhythms well in the future.

Music has a very particular way of capturing and arousing memory and emotion that is simply precious. Give them something to listen to.

Simple Truth #5 – Songwriting Is A Form Of Mindfulness

When looking for song ideas, we automatically focus more attention on:

  • Our own feelings.
  • The world around us.
  • And what it must be like for others.

This paying attention is a form of meditation. It stops the chattering monkey-mind and charges our entire being with curiosity and creativity.

It leaves no room for anxiety, jealousy or fear.

We don’t have to become monks, but I encourage you to try it yourself before your next practice session.

Find a quiet place, take some long, deep breaths for a minute or two, then sit quietly and watch your thoughts like a movie. Let the movie fade to black. Keep watching. Repeat. Allow five or ten minutes to pass.

Then slowly pick up your instrument and see what happens.

Simple Truth #6 – It’s Not Easy

It’s going to take time, effort and consistency. You have to schedule the habit and make a commitment to see it through when it gets frustrating, boring and tedious.

Most of the time just getting started is the hardest part. There are so many times I just don’t feel like creating and five minutes later I’m totally in the zone.

Can you find an hour or two a few days each week? Right after work? Before bed? Get up early? Give up some TV time?

What is stopping you from opening your calendar and blocking off time next week for songwriting and recording?

Simple Truth #7 – There’s No Such Thing As Perfect

It won’t be perfect. Creating an exact replica of the sound in your head is nearly impossible. And expecting perfection blocks happy accidents and prevents us from finishing.

Remaining open and even expecting something unplanned to emerge leads to rewarding places.

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

– Michelangelo

No doubt, Michelangelo’s vision was a big part of the result. But the marble itself also guided the work in ways that could only be seen once the carving began.

Our marble is everything we have to work with right now. Our current skills, equipment, mindset and environment.

That also means some ideas won’t make it. They just won’t fit into the thing you’re building.

Letting go of ideas you are particularly fond of is a great way to practice detachment.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll use it later.

When inspiration comes, I capture a thread of it and document it. …now I have what I call the “Infinity Shelf.” If I stopped writing new ideas today, there is enough music there for five lifetimes of songs.

– Steve Vai

With each finished song, we set a new standard for ourselves. Being honest and realistic about what that standard is right now is humbling.

It is also a form of self-respect. Meeting yourself exactly where you are is the best place to get started.

When we accept these truths we realize that a practice of songwriting is essentially a practice of discovering our complete, authentic selves.

Complete and authentic because a recorded song captures more than audio.

It subtly imprints the current culture, technology, phase of your life and all the other difficult-to-describe things that add up to equal you at this very moment of time.

So how do we do it?

How do we consistently and reliably write and record songs without going crazy or burning out?

How do we do it in a way that actually improves our lives and makes us better people?

I find myself continually coming back to three main components:

  1. Break the tasks down into bite-size parts.
  2. Schedule the doing.
  3. Be kind to yourself.

You can sign up for a free six-week outline of the bite-sized parts below.

Unless you’re working on this full-time, six weeks is an aggressive schedule. And that is intentional.

Putting a deadline on tasks forces you to make hard decisions quickly. And getting through the entire cycle quickly shows you where good-enough really is good enough. And where it is not.

My goal is simple, to get your music out of your head and into the world. To lighten your mental load and improve your songwriting and production chops at the same time.

Why? Because I beat myself up for so long and treated songwriting like a personality disorder.

Cherish your own voice.

– Rick Rubin

It wasn’t until I read that line that I started to see songwriting as a path of personal devleopment.

And just like when you hear cool new music and want to share it with your friends, I want to share this mindset with songwriters that need to hear it. Is that you?

If you’d like to read more stuff like this, sign up for the newsletter below.

And if you’re ready to get a bit more serious about honoring your music, let’s hop on a call to see if I can help.

Songs For The Future You

What’s your favorite song?

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