Song-A-Day April (Update #1)
Two weeks ago, I wrote about why I had made a spur-of-the-moment decision to write a song every day for the month of April. Since then, I’ve written eight songs, and I will have written two more by the time this is published. They may not be my eight best songs, but even so, I’ve written about as much in the last eight days as I did in the previous eight months.
I told a lot of people about this idea – partly because I was excited about the project, and partly because I figured that the more people I told about it, the more I would feel that I couldn’t back out. Three of my friends and fellow songwriters ended up deciding to join me. (In the last few days I’ve heard from two more songwriters that my article inspired them to do the song-a-day challenge too, and I apologize to all of these people for dragging them into my madness!) The four of us created a Facebook chat thread which we mostly use to complain and commiserate, as well as a shared Google Drive folder and a set of rules for the project, which I’ll list here:
- Every day during the month of April, we all have to upload a lyric sheet and a recording of a new original song to the Google Drive folder.
- If we don’t, we have until noon the next day to catch up. If, at noon, we still haven’t sent a song, we owe $5 for each day the song is late to a shared PayPal account that we call the Shame Fund. The $5 doesn’t replace the song; you still have to write it! We will most likely pick a charitable cause to donate the money to at the end of the month.
- We are allowed to request that the others not listen to the song we send in if it’s really hideously bad, but we still have to send something.
- The song can include some pre-existing material (that chorus you’ve had lying around with no verses, all of those half-baked lyric ideas in your Notes app) but it has to include a significant amount of material you wrote that day.
- In general, the song should have a couple of sections (at the very least, two verses or a verse and a chorus), but we can be flexible on what constitutes "a song.” If it’s 11:58 p.m. and your song is late and you can’t bear the thought of paying $5, you can improvise something into your phone for two minutes and that can count. But don’t do that every day.
- If, by some miracle, you end up writing two songs in one day, you don’t get to take the next day off. The point of the project isn’t to write thirty songs; the point is to write something every day.
- This is the most important rule: It doesn’t have to be a great song, or even a good song. It just has to be a song.
I’ve had to remind myself of that last rule numerous times, usually when it’s midnight (or later) and I’m hunched over my guitar or my notebook, scrawling lyrics that feel inspired one minute, trite and cliché the next. The point of this project isn’t to write an album, an enduring hit, a magnum opus. The point of the project is to force ourselves to continuously create something, anything, and not worry about whether it’s perfect.
It’s also an exercise in vulnerability, which is something I did not expect or plan for. I initially conceived of this Song-A-Day April idea as a solitary exercise. I had a romanticized vision of myself staying up all night in my third-floor bedroom, in the enduring image of the artist alone in an attic, feverishly working on their craftwith no regard for the outside world. Of course, I’ve been writing the songs on my own, so there’s been a touch of that, but on the whole I’m immeasurably glad to have some teammates in this endeavor. We’ve all been listening to each other’s songs, offering encouragement and suggestions (when solicited).
I’ve had moments where I felt nervous to share the day’s song, but I share it anyway because those are the rules. I’ve never been able to write opaque, impressionistic lyrics – you can usually tell what my songs are about. That level of vulnerability can be scary sometimes, especially when I’m not even sure I like the song, and I suspect my friends will be able to say “Ah, yes, this is about that ex-boyfriend.” But when I dig through the Google Drive folder to listen to the songs my friends have shared, I’m always pleasantly surprised by what I find. Hearing other musicians’ first drafts is a reminder that most songs don’t leap out fully formed, and that doesn’t always matter. When a song has good bones, you can hear them, even if the song is a bit rough around the edges. That classic phrase “you’re your own worst critic” is not just a cliché – it’s true. I judge my own songs so much more harshly than I would ever judge a friend’s song, and while it’s good to hold oneself to a high standard, it’s also good to let go of that from time to time.
Paradoxically, though, I’ve actually liked a lot of what I’ve written so far. I’m sure I’ll be writing some absolute garbage by Day 20 or so, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my own output. In retrospect, part of me did see this coming. I decided to do this project because I knew I had some good songs rattling around in my head, and I just needed to give myself permission to let them out.