Dear Artists: You Gotta be Brave

It was a very bad song lyric.

Most of the time, my songwriting stems from pure emotion. Anger, anxiety, shame, and confusion are frequent songwriting partners. Sometimes these emotions offer lucidity and power. Other times, they’re just plain stupid.

Sometimes, my lyrics come off as preachy. Other times, they come off as immature. And sometimes they feel powerful, universal, and get stuck in the heads of strangers.

The other night I finished writing a song, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it. “It feels like Adele meets Sia,” I said to my bandmates. They disagreed – they liked it more than I did. But I still rolled it around in my head, sang it quiet, sang it loud, sang it ten different ways.

When there’s a lyric I want to whisper instead of sing out loud, I know it’s a bad lyric. It was such a crappy lyric that I’m even too embarrassed to share on this blog. But trust me friends, it was whiny and preachy and just not good. I whispered the lyric – I knew something else had to take it’s place.

But I went ahead and recorded the rough draft of the song and let my bandmates, friends, and husband all listen to it.

My husband can always be counted upon to say out loud what I already know. “That one line,” he said, “I really think you should replace that with something.”

I burned with embarrassment. I knew it was. Why did I allow myself to record it? Why did I allow other people to hear the song when I knew that one lyric was so glaringly bad?

You have to share before you’re ready.

Whether you’re a book writer, artist, or musician, sometimes you have to share your work before it’s done. Shitty first drafts, rough outlines, hummed out lyrics, broken guitar loops, are all part of the process.

If I only shared completed songs with my community, they wouldn’t hear many songs, and my songs wouldn’t get completed nearly as quickly. My bandmates and friends help me finish songs. They provide invaluable feedback. They tell me when something’s not working, and they tell me when I’m not giving myself enough credit.

Balling up the Paper

Sometimes, your art isn’t good enough to live up to your standards. That’s okay. Not every song I write makes it to the stage. The artist must know when to scrap a sketch. The writer must know when to ball up a chapter and throw it across the room.

I’ve often thought:

“Why did I WRITE that?”

“I should have known better to ever sing that line.”

“I should have a fancier piano part, this is feeling really elementary.”

But sometimes, the simple song is the best one. And sometimes, you have to write the bad lyrics to get to the gems.

The More Material You Create, The Better.

I have to remind myself to go easy on my sensitive little soul artist. After all, I’m doing the best I can. People won’t remember that shitty lyric once I change it. They won’t think about my mistakes as much as I do.

I have to remember: the more art I create, the more good art I create.

I have to remember: in order to create a large volume of work, I have to allow some flops.

It doesn’t mean I have to publish the flops. It doesn’t mean they have to leave my studio. I’m never going to have a “Rebecca’s Greatest Flops” collection (although that might end up being too hilarious to pass up.)

Laughing At Your Art

Yes, that lyric was bad. And isn’t it funny how bad some lyrics can be? When I feel the burn of embarrassment, all I have to think of is Elton John’s Fern Gully days, and I’m reminded that even the greatest fall to the deep depths of scary sea creature art.

Be brave, my artist friends. Good art is brave. Don’t be afraid of your voice.