- Published Apr 23, 2013 in Music 101
- Read time: about 3 minutes
A waste of time or the most effective way to become a successful songwriter? It all depends on how you do it.
There is nothing in this world scarier than a blank piece of paper. It stares back at you from the abyss, daring you to mar its porcelain sameness with your unworthy smatterings. It messes with your mind, playing tricks on you when you’re at your most vulnerable.
This, of course, leads to a whole lot of nothing which leads to a whole lot of frustration and wasted time, turning your writing session into a black hole of well-intentioned but sorely missed creativity.
Why this technique works.
...what you should really be feeling is the freedom to create anything that comes to mind, good or bad.
The concept of producing a thousand terrible versions of anything (paintings, stories, songs, etc) has been around forever. It’s diabolically simple purpose is to help you get into the mode of producing material without judgement when you’re stuck in a rut. This, in turn, gets the creative juices flowing again and the rest, as they say, is history.
Too many aspiring artists fail in frustration because of the very human desire to edit during the creative process. Don’t get me wrong, editing must be done. But there’s a time and place for everything. Pick the wrong time and place and you produce a vicious cycle of judgement and anger when what you should really be feeling is the freedom to create anything that comes to mind, good or bad. That’s how great art begins.
How to get started.
Like any method to free your mind, it takes some effort to get started. But once you have it figured out, you’ll be able to turn it on and off at will.
The first thing to do is figure out when to use this technique. It’s not about writing all thousand songs at once, it’s about having a relief valve for the frustration that builds up when you’re in one of those “everything I do sucks” modes (we’ve all been there).
On the day you decide that you can do no right, embrace your wrongness by sitting down to write something that stinks. The definition of a terrible song is different for everyone, but you’ll know it when you see it.
Maybe for you it’s writing a b-side Justin Bieber album-filler kind of thing. Maybe it’s an alternate version of Happy Birthday. Or maybe it’s the process of setting extraordinarily bad poetry to music using only the chords Cmaj, D7 and Ebmin9. Whatever you decide, embrace the suck and let it wash over you without reservation.
How do you know if you did it right?
A successful writing session for one of your thousand terrible songs can produce many different results, all of them positive. The one I’m usually looking for is a decided unclogging of the creative tubes. What I want out of my thousand songs is a release of the frustration that builds up when I’m chasing something I can hear in my head but just can’t quite seem to make work.
Sometimes giving up control is the surest way to regain it.
What it does for you may be totally different but no less valuable. One of my favorite possible outcomes is the spark you can sometimes catch from a terrible song that leads to a genuinely good one. If the stars align just so, the law of unintended consequences can deliver a chord, melody or lyric that just jumps out when you’re not looking—one that catches your ear and becomes the catalyst for the most amazing new song you never set out to write.
Whatever comes from your 1000 terrible songs, the bottom line is this: relax, don’t judge, just let it flow and see what happens. Sometimes giving up control is the surest way to regain it.