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Write a Bad Song

The Vocalist Outside the Box III

Stop letting your inner critic interfere with your flow – says Joey Elkins

We really can be our own worst critics when it comes to composing.

How many times have you written the first line of lyric, only to scrub it out a second later? This repeats itself 20 times and you are still left with…zilch.

We’re going to look at several life-giving ideas, but perhaps the first is the most important:

Don’t scrub anything out while you are creating.

The Importance of a Bad Song

Too many songwriters lose their flow by putting too much weight on that first line being “just right”.

Keep going; don’t stop the flow!

Allowing yourself to write a bad song is just as important as the totally inspired work… because a week later you might look back at it and suddenly you know what to do with it to make it great – maybe it sparks a better idea later down the track…

Finding something you like about a “bad” song allows you to inspire yourself to take it further.

Now let’s look at some other ideas that continue to help songwriters the world over:

Set The Mood
Just like you wouldn’t try to fall asleep in the middle of a party with bright lights and loud people – think about setting up your surrounding space to succeed. Often turning the lighting down, putting on some candles and even some oil or incense can help you to tune in artistically. Pick your moment. Perhaps late in the afternoon when the sun’s pouring golden light through the window, or 3 am when there’s barely a sound. Hey, you might even prefer to not be in a room at all, but sitting on the top of a hill or at the beach. Identify where and when you feel most inspired to write songs. Don’t be held hostage by trying find the “perfect” place to create – but if the place you are songwriting isn’t working – then make a change.

Imagine the topic…
Imagine the topic you want to write about unfolding in front of you like a movie and just go with it. Don’t think too much! Just keep writing what you see, even if it’s just the odd word here and there. Jot it down. Think of the odd words like pieces of a puzzle… you might not know where they belong yet, but by writing them down you’ve acknowledged they’re a choice if you need them later down the track.

Mix Up Your Method
Try to do some things in an order you haven’t tried before. If you’ve always written you lyrics first, then try doing your melody first, lyrics second and chords last. In other words, choose the process below that you haven’t yet tried:
– Melody first, lyrics second and chords last.
– Chords first, melody second, lyrics last.
– Lyrics first, melody second and chords last.
– Lyric, melody and chords all at the same time.

Turn the Lights Off
OK, here’s a real gem I use all the time! If you’re using piano or guitar to write with, turn all the lights off so that you are in pitch darkness. You mustn’t be able to see what you’re doing – you’re completely shutting out the logical side of your brain (you know, the part of your brain that says “You should play that chord after that one because that always works”). Forget whether you have any theory knowledge (in fact, you can do this without any knowledge whatsoever). Lay your hands on the keys/strings and just play any random combination of notes together at the same time.

Keep the Lights Off
If it sounds wrong, you mustn’t stop; play EVERY chord confidently like you mean it no matter whether you like the combination or not. Let your ears lead you! Strangely, I bet you’ll come across some of the most exquisite chord voicings and combinations you’ve ever played or heard before. Simply stop on a chord you like, turn the light on and either write the notes in the chord down if you know how – or remember the shape. Just one of these chords might be the very thing you needed to take your song somewhere fresh and exciting! The great thing about this technique is that you’re “feeling” your way to new possibilities and jumping out of being trapped in “what you know”.

Pretend Your Songwriting Is Someone Else’s
If I really think something I’ve made up is awful, I’ll imagine it’s not my work at all; but someone whose work I really respect. I’ll then ask myself, “If so and so had written and was singing these words and melody, would I think this was groovy?” – If the answer is yes, then I’ll leave it. That’s a great trick you can play with yourself to get some perspective on whether you’re being too hard on your work or too picky.

Perhaps you have some other tricks to share? I’d love to hear back on what your experiences of trying some of these out are… did it help?

London based vocalist, Joey Elkins, is gaining attention as a jazz, funk, soul and contemporary singer. As a child in Adelaide, Australia, she delighted her jazz musician parents and friends with her high register, a range close to six octaves and a commanding style. Joey’s first jazz recording attracted the interest of some of Australia’s finest jazz musicians and before leaving for London, Joey was already a respected and regular performer in some of Australia’s top jazz venues. Being a natural improviser and composer enables Joey to own a variety of styles. Joey is currently recording and composing original music which will be released as a CD within the coming year. Joey’s Music and Website

Useful Links

The Look of Silence

Joey’s Music

The Singer Who Dares to Listen

Feature Image – http://www.flickr.com/photos/dolmansaxlil/4487159833/ – dolmansaxlil
Piano Image – http://www.flickr.com/photos/abandonedhero/2538507707/sizes/z/in/photostream/ – Spangborn

  • Muzicmaken


    Thanks for such a great article…I hope you do more regarding songwriting. I never really thought about just writing a bad song because you’re right I/we scrub and scrub and left with nothing.I write lots and lots of songs but there are only a few that I’m really proud of..

    Thanks again


  • Villy


    Is actually a new fresh approach!

  • “Pick your moment. Perhaps late in the afternoon when the sun’s pouring golden light through the window …”

    Yes! Have you been spying on me? :-)

    That is EXACTLY my preferred condition for peak songwriting flow. One time I wrote and recorded a complete song in one day, because of that golden light through the window, and it remains one of my most favorite songs that sounds like it’s from a dark personal experience, but in fact is simply just an exercise in songwriting. I would appreciate it if you would like a listen:


    Don’t get it much often now though now that I work shifts in a studio, but when it does happen I do get very much in the songwriting mood.

    Thanks for the article, Joey!


  • Guest

    Writing is all about doing, creating comes from the inner space, this untouchabel space in us, and there is no good and bad. Inside is only silence and music growes right there. We all know this. When we start going to judge our self or our work, splitting it up in good and bad, right and wrong, we are not free any more and we simply cannot create art. Then it is better to look for a office job or writing commercials. I leave the judgement to the audience, I just write and play. Of cource if they don’t like it – and pretty often they don’t like it, they will go away, but do we have a outher chance then writing honestly what we feel?
    The question is, what should I do when she does not love me, when they don’t like me, when they don’t listen to my music? I think we are afraid of the fact that people don’t like our staff. There is no good and bad music. There is only this magic moment and if you are open to it, it comes to you, it is all about feeling…. Sometimes you feel it and sometimes not. There writers and composers they are blessed with maching the feeling of the people, but every body how would like to write has the chance to do it, and if you don’t like it make it easier. Just listenig in the right way to 1 word or 1 tone can be so beautyful… Thats the way how it is. The important is to carry on and be aware of this magic sound that already exists on this planet. And that we are blessed to be part of it. We just have to listen to it and bring it to the audience…the rest is not up to us- except if you like to be a control freak :-).

    I realy love this article and I am happy that I had the chance to read it, and of cource I am happay that I had the chance to listen to your great music you created with your piano player – I am impressed about the silence between the notes. You are such wonderful musican, I feel blessed listening to your music. I hope one day I could listen to you live.

    Thanks for sharing this article with us.

    Greetings from Berlin

  • I enjoy writing when the “Muse” grace’s me with fresh ideas to play with even if they don’t pan out. I write everything down. I have a book full of bits and pieces, and when the muse is not in a giving mood I go through this book and will find myself pulling lines together and then adding or rearranging until I have a working idea. sometimes a song. Other times just adding to the idea pile. I find ideas everywhere.

  • paul

    First of all. Joey is pretty. Second the white text is hard to read on the pale blue, so i have to drag across it all to read it.
    On Lyric writing..this is a great topic. Just plow through the weak lyrics and get the flow moving. You also might try just writing out some rhymes and phrases to get the rhythm flowing. Your mind starts working that way and then some great ideas or stories flow into it.
    Then listen to some way cool songs that don’t make a lot of sense. Cold Play’s Viva La Vida is about as logical as a dream in deep sleep. Scattered disconnected ideas. Who cares. its a cool song. I mean where do you get “Roman cavalry choirs singing?” Well anyway it rhymes with Jerusalem Bells are ringing. Also the fact that it doesn’t make a lot of logical sense causes interested people to go into it and interpret it. The mystique has some fascination about it.
    Paul McCartney said he didn’t know what people were doing trying to read deep things into a lot of the Beatles later songs. The love songs speak for themselves, but a lot of the other stuff was rambling.
    You should be careful what you write from the standpoint that if your song hits, you’re going to be singing it over and over because people want to hear it. And if you think its a stupid song THEN.. .well just sing it again.
    Didn’t the Beatles song YESTERDAY initally have the lyric “Ham and Eggs” for the lyric as they got the tune going but not the lyric?
    I’ll have to check on that.