Back in June, I discussed why I decided to give up on writing a sprawling literary masterpiece (you can read it on Medium). And now I’m here to talk about my aspiration of writing a song album and how my views of it have changed over the years.
I’ve always been a poet and I’ve played piano since the age of 5. However, I never considered merging my two passions - writing lyrical poetry and composing a melody for it - until I started becoming a huge fan of John Denver and Taylor Swift (who still are musical and lyrical influences to me today). I listened to these artists and thought I could write something very aligned with my own perspective and merge the styles of these two seemingly different (and oftentimes polar opposite) artists.
After downloading Spotify, I discovered dozens of artists that immediately clicked with me. I’m a very selective person when it comes to listening to music, and for reasons unknown, I could tell if I would end up being a huge fan of an artist or not and if an artist has the “it” factor (a very elusive combination of natural talent, a resonant message, spot-on musical arrangements that match the lyrics, and a melody that sticks with you). There wasn’t any in-betweens. Listening to more artists inspired me to write more and become a more versatile songwriter.
When I was in college, I wanted to write a song album. I even have a copy of 14 song lyrics I wrote in 2014, which was my very first attempt at writing a complete album (now that I looked over it, it wasn’t that great at all and could’ve been way better). I arranged guitar chords for those lyrics. I even got to record one song at a music studio (after setting aside a certain amount every week from my leftover lunch money). In retrospect, even when my dream of having a song album on iTunes never came to fruition, I learned how difficult putting together a full album would be if you’re not signed to a record label, especially when you’re a no-name artist who’s just starting out and has never performed live before.
Point being, the song album was a significant part of my aspirations (possibly competing for the number one spot, against my dream of writing a 1,000-page modern literary fiction novel).
But after I graduated from college, my dream of writing songs grew weaker, until I stopped doing it altogether (because of, you know, real world adult problems). I never stopped writing poetry, but the goal of writing an epic song album didn’t really excite me the way it did back in my college days.
I realize now that it might sound like I’m talking about giving up on songwriting and putting my childish dreams to rest for good.
But that’s not the case.
What I’ve given up on is the false hope of gaining thousands of followers. Of performing live. Of being the next Maggie Rogers. Of going viral. Of making millions of dollars from song album royalties alone. Of having my face in a magazine and having articles written about me. Of setting up a home recording studio and learning how to produce something that’s radio-worthy.
I still like to write lyrics. I still like to write songs. It’s an art form that I’m still passionate about. But I’ve given up on the ideas and expectations surrounding it.
I realize that I’m not a good singer. I’m not a good audio engineer. In fact, I don’t know anything about how to use audio recording equipment or how to make recordings sound like what’s on the radio (and those skills definitely can’t be acquired in a few months).
I do want to make an album this year. But it won’t be slick and polished like radio hits. It won’t have a huge marketing team behind it or a very press-worthy story to garner the attention of millions of people overnight. And that’s okay.
I want it to be something simple. Just my voice and one instrument. From my heart. Recorded on an iPhone. Something like “His Daughter” by Molly Kate Kestner.
All I want for myself is to immerse in a state of flow when I’m writing it. And fully experience the internal feeling of creative freedom and complete resonance that no external rewards can ever measure up to. I am doing it purely for personal enjoyment and even if it never gets past my bedroom, it’ll still be a worthwhile experience.
Songwriting is still a very significant part of me. It’s something that has a firm grip on my heart and can’t be easily gotten rid of. But I’ve grown and realized that all along, I love songwriting and not having a professional recording or a solid reputation doesn’t invalidate who I am as a creative individual. If I write songs, I am a songwriter. If I complete a song album after many hours of honing in on my skills to make these songs the very best they can be, I’m a genuine songwriter that has the power to it happen.
My songs may be shared. Or maybe they won’t. Both are okay. But getting it done and creating it in a way that best reflects who I am is all that matters.
If you’re going to do anything, make sure it’s purely for personal enjoyment, and you’ll undoubtedly find a way to make it happen.
That’s the mark of a true artist.