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Q&A: How do I get past negativity? Do you think songwriting ability is something you have or don't
By Mary Dawson - 07/23/2002 - 12:12 PM EDT

I read your articles and felt that you could give some valued input to some of my questions. I am seventeen and love music, not in the conventional sense; I love to listen, for instance, I really love it. I love it so much and I know this sounds soft, but it physically hurts me to think I am no good at it. I love theory, music history, performing, everything to do with music I soak up and relish, but I have in the past been put down and been made to feel worthless and as a result, I feel my music is rubbish. I feel now like I have a mental block or that I am scared to write because I feel worthless. Regardless of what I feel or am told, I will do it anyway because I love it so much and it is the only thing that satisfies me. Do you have any general advice on how I can forget these negative feelings that I feel will harm my creativity? Should I just go for it anyway? Do you personally think that you either have it or you don't or can a certain amount be learned? When you are in a slump how do you get out of it? and finally how do you write (your songwriting process) and how did you get started? Where did your inclination come from? Thank-you for your response and time, --Jenny

Hi Jenny:

Thanks so much for your email. I'm glad that the articles have been of help to you. It sounds as if you are a very creative and very motivated young lady with lots of potential.

I'm sorry that you have had the experience of being "put down" and made to feel worthless as far as your music is concerned. However, I guess rejection is as much a part of the Music Business as melody and lyrics. Writers who do not develop a pretty "thick skin" when it comes to negative criticism, will usually burn out and quit long before their potential is realized. That is why I feel it is necessary to know your craft so well that you yourself know if your songs are good or not. I always try to keep an open mind to other people's opinion of my songs because they may have thought of something or heard something I didn't. But I also know enough about the craft of songwriting to know whether or not their comments are constructive -- whether or not those comments warrant my taking the time to re-write.

When you are confronted with negative comments and feelings of worthlessness, you should immediately dive into the craft of songwriting again. Read a great book on songwriting or on a particular songwriter you admire. Listen to some great songs by top-notch songwriters -- and then write something yourself. It's kind of like getting back on the horse after he has bucked you off. Horseriding experts know that if you let yourself be overcome by fear after you have been thrown by the horse, you will probably never get back on. The only remedy is to get back in the saddle with all your fears and start riding NOW.

I do think that most experienced songwriters have an intuitive sense of whether or not they "have it" as a songwriter. They know if what they are writing is up to standard or not. They know enough about the CRAFT of songwriting to know if their songs are well-written or not. The trouble is that a lot of inexperienced songwriters also "feel" that they "have it" but it is simply an emotional response -- it is not a knowledgeable and educated opinion. You must MASTER the elements of songcrafting technique.....lyric structure, cadence, rhyme scheme, melody writing, hook placement order to know if your songs really measure up.

Again, my suggestion to you is to really immerse yourself in the craft of songwriting. Read books...go to great songs and songwriters...join your local songwriters association. Set your goal to
become not "as good as" other songwriters -- but "better than" the best you hear. If you know your craft and you are writing consistently KILLER songs, you WILL know it. You will also know when someone makes a suggestion that is worth considering.

You asked about my songwriting process. I really don't have a specific "process" that I always follow. In fact, I try to "change things up" quite often just to keep myself from falling into a rut. I usually start
with the GREAT IDEA which is the essence of any great song -- a subject that is universal and a melody that is memorable. Sometimes I write the complete lyric first and then write the music to enhance and highlight the message of the lyric. Sometimes I write all the music first and then set the lyrics to the melody. Sometimes I collaborate with other songwriters who give me a completed melody to set lyrics to....or I may give the musician a lyric to set to music.

Finally, you asked me how I got started. I started writing songs as a little kid with my dad at our family piano. My dad was a songwriter himself and would get me to compose melodies to his harmonies. I guess
these experiences just "programmed my hard drive" to become a songwriter myself. I have always done it -- it's as much a part of me as breathing -- and I always will do it, because this is how I have learned to express my heart.

I wish you all the best. Whatever you do....keep moving forward. Don't EVER quit! Listen to comments from others with attention and appreciation, but don't feel as if you have to take every suggestion that comes your way.

Please stay in touch. -- Mary Dawson

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