Writing Songs For Others

Once upon a winters day in 2016, I was tagged in a Facebook post.

Someone was looking for a female musician to share an “empowering anthemic song” for consideration for…..something, and a friend had typed my name into the comments.

It so happened that I had just finished polishing off a feminist, punk rock version of a 1970s Paul Simon tune, so I sent it off in hopes that it might spark some interest.  Then I forgot about it.

While it wasn’t what they were ultimately looking for, it must have sparked some interest because I received an email asking what else I had, which was encouraging!  I scoured my repertoire for my most anthemic-sounding tunes and sent what I thought was most appropriate.

Fast forward a bit through a few emails and conversations and I end up with a formal request for a commissioned song.  My first ever!

My brain did two things: “Whoa,  write a song that isn’t about me or my direct experiences?  But HOW?  Will it be authentic?  Will it be cheesy as fuck?  Does this make me a sellout? Most of all, will they LIKE it?!? This is terrifying.”

Also my brain: “Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

Turns out this was one of the most gratifying songwriting exercises I’ve ever done.  Don’t get me wrong, when I write a song that ends up being the one in 1000 that actually turns out as intended, it has a particular amplitude of electricity.  However, this was a different kind of gratifying.

I’ve unpacked and re-packed this feeling in order to determine the why and how and have boiled it down to what it means (to me) to choose to write a song for others:

In choosing to write a commissioned piece, one is choosing:

  • To be in service to others (provided the service is in line with your values)
  • To practice deep listening (paying attention)
  • To send the ego on Vacation (Thank GOD)

Choosing to be in service to others – You cannot possibly sell out if your values are in alignment with the work you are being called upon to do.  This is always within your control.  How does your body feel when an opportunity comes your way?  Does your brain buzz with ideas immediately?  Does your chest hum with anticipation?  Would you do the work anyway even if you didn’t get the job, just to see if you could and just because you LOVE the idea of it?

These are all indicators that your values are in alignment with the the work.  Once that is settled, take a deep breath and trust the process.  For me, the hardest part of owning the work is to just knowing that I have already done the tough stuff.  Now all I have to do is trust and apply.

Just put the tools on the table and await instruction.

Practice deep listening – Ask ask ask ask ask alllllllll of the questions.    Ask within, ask without, ask everything you think you need to know and all of the things you also think might be obvious (hint: they aren’t).  Ask yourself what information you need to provide the product they are looking for and then ask THEM for the answers to those questions.  For instance, I assumed the folks I was writing for wanted a different kind of voice, a voice that I perceived as more powerful than my own.  When I told them I planned to hire a friend to do the vocals, they almost panicked,”What do you mean?  We want YOUR voice.  We fell in love with YOUR sound.”

OK!  This is also REALLY GOOD information.

Send the Ego on Vacation – It was at this point I had to consciously advise my ego to take a much needed vacation. “Girl, you’ve been racking up the hours!  Go have a day at the hot springs, on me.  Treat yo-self!”

In order to more deeply understand what kinds of feelings they were seeking to inspire with this song, I had to ask what could have been perceived as a question that was fishing for compliments.  I had to force myself to ask “Ok then! What is it about my voice in particular that caught your imagination?” It was deeper than just “what did you like about my voice?” (Oh, DO go on….)  It was a question designed to unearth more clues (Cool! How? Why?). If you invite the clients’ imagination into the process, you will always get more than you bargained for, which is a VERY good thing.  My ego (had she stuck around) would have covered my mouth and whispered, “Just take the damn compliment.”  Gracious, yes. But it would ultimately undermine the purpose of the work by eschewing an opportunity to know more.

The theme song was written for Story.co and follows two intrepid women on their quests to build their ideal lives.  It’s been fun to listen to them and I highly recommend subscribing to the podcast to join in on their adventures:  You can scroll to the bottom of this page to have a listen to the full song.   Hope you enjoy!

We Have a Theme Song!

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