The more I write, the more I see parallels between raising kids and writing songs…
When my first child, Matthew was born, I knew that I knew NOTHING about parenting. I had read a lot of books about it, but I had never really done it. In fact, I had never changed a diaper until he came along. As time went by, I learned a lot about parenting. In many ways, he was my teacher. I would try something with him. If it worked, I made a mental note for next time. If it didn’t, I kept trying until I figured out what did. So, if he was pitching a fit because he wanted candy at the store, I just kept trying different things until I found something that diffused the situation and calmed him down. That would be my plan of attack the next time it happened. The system worked relatively well.
Four years went by and his sister was born. This time, I was confident. I KNEW how to parent. I had been doing it for four years and he was still happy and alive. I could change diapers with the best of them. I could feed, burp, clothe, put to sleep – whatever the kids needed, I was ready. We took her home and my world came tumbling down around me. I started working my plan. She wouldn’t go to sleep, so I tried a couple of things that had always worked with Matthew. No luck. I went through my whole arsenal of tricks. Strikeouts, all of them. This kid was still crying even though a skilled, master-parent was at the helm. Time and time again, the pattern held. It didn’t take me long to realize that Abby was a COMPLETELY different person than Matthew was. Things worked with her that didn’t work with him. Things didn’t work with her that had ALWAYS worked with him. I had to come up with my own plan tailored specifically to her. It was like starting over.
Two years later, baby #3 arrives. I’m thinking, maybe it’s just that raising girls is so different from raising boys. Nope. The girl plan didn’t work with Emily. I had to start all over with her as well. Obviously I had learned things along the way, but I began to realize that I had to mold my parenting to each individual child. They needed encouragement in different ways, punishment in different ways. Love in different ways.
When I write, I’m continually having to figure out “who I need to be in the room” every single day.
Some days, I’m an editor. Some days I’m throwing out all kinds of things and a co-writer is editing me. Occasionally, I’m the one driving the melody train. It’s a continual process of figuring out who I need to be that day. And, just like I had to alter my behavior as a parent in order to best take care of each child, I have to alter my behavior in the writing room to serve the song. Different songs require me to take on different roles and to respond differently. If the lyric of the song starts to head off the path it needs to be on, I step up and try to get it back on track. If the melody starts to become too rangy for someone to sing, I step in and become the melody doctor. Sometimes I have to mediate between two co-writers. Other times, they do the same for me. I’m continually asking “what does this song need?” and trying to become that. There isn’t a formula. Nothing works every time.
In your next co-write, take a few minutes to think about who you need to be as the song progresses. Don’t apply your songwriting “formulas”. Serve the song. Don’t try to force the song to serve the process. My prediction is that you will write stronger songs AND have more fun along the way.
Write on! ~MD