Why You Should Write Bad Songs

I had read Rex Butters’ interview with my friend, writer/producer Wendy Waldman in in the March/April 07 edition of FolkWorks magazine and I came across a quote I thought was helpful.

“FW: How much are you writing these days?
WW: Lot, I’ve never stopped writing. I always write.
FW: You Must have a trunk full.
Yeah man. And a lot of it is really bad. People are so flattering and sweet to me, and they say” You’re such a great songwriter,” And I say “no, no, no, I’ve just never played the bad stuff for you.” I’m just a good editor. A lot of good songs you can only get to through the bad ones. Sometimes you have to write a lot of prototypes before you can get to the one you’ve been trying to get to, that might be really good, In the case of Carves New Rivers and The Walkacross, those are both 10 years old. I consider them new songs. It took me years after I wrote those songs to figure out if they were any good, to figure out of I could record them.”

More than 150 of Wendy’s songs have been recorded by artists other than herself including the Grammy winning pop hit “Save The Best For Last” sung by Vanessa Williams’ and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s classic “Fishin’ In The Dark.”

In the hundreds of interviews I’ve done with successful songwriters, I often ask them the ratio between songs they write and the real “keepers.” With successful songwriters with major credits it tends to range between 10-20 to one. Though it’s rare for pro writers to write a great song in a few minutes, I occasionally hear them say it. In an interview with hit songwriter Jude Johnstone, she mentioned one of her successful songs that she’d written in a very short time. Someone in the audience said she was glad to hear that because she did it often. I had to jump in and remind her that writers like Jude who have been writing for years, are also capable of very fast editing and those songwriting muscles are very finely tuned.

Writers — like staff writers who are very commercially oriented get very good at deciding early on if it’s a viable commercial concept. Others find that if they go ahead and start to write it, the act of writing itself takes them into tangents they wouldn’t have arrived at had they not started. Most pro writers I’ve interviewed consider anything they write will also be re-written.

So is it better to write more songs or just continue to rewrite the same ones?
I just read an article about an experiment by a ceramics teacher about this topic. In this case they gave clay to two groups of amateur potters. One group they told to just make one pot and make it the best they could. The other group they told to make as many pots as they could within the time allotted. At the end of the experiment they brought in some professionals to judge the quality of the work of both groups. They found that the best work was consistently done by the group who did several pots. They apparently learned something with each one that helped them make the next one better.

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