When I turned ten, I got a diary from my sort-of grandmother at the time. It was the first one I’d ever gotten. To be honest, I hadn’t thought of writing down anything personal before, not because I feared someone would find it, but because I thought I was perfectly content with keeping my thoughts to myself. I wrote in the diary here and there and quickly discovered that the year I turned ten was almost maybe the year from hell, so writing out my feelings was something I never understood could be helpful.
At one point, my dad and I got into an argument. I forget what it was about, but I remember it being pretty bad. I felt super guilty after the fact, and I had become accustomed to spilling my guilt onto the pages of my diary. This particular night, I decided it would be cool to write a song, so I wrote an awful song that I still read occasionally to this day. It genuinely sucks, but maybe for a ten-year-old it wasn’t half bad. Now, I play the guitar and piano a bit, and I’d like to think I could crank out a song if I got into the right mindset. I seriously struggle with writing songs even now, but for the few times that I come out victorious, I keep trying to write something that actually doesn’t sound like the soundtrack to warm mayonnaise.
I interviewed two individuals: one who’s in sort of the same predicament as me and one who knows how it feels to have people sing his words back to him. One is named Morgan Harrison, and the other is Memphis’ own Healy.
I asked Morgan, a senior in high school and active member of her school’s choir department, a few questions:
Reed: Alright, so…how often do you write a verse or lyric or the likes and feel that it’s super attached and compelling, then the next second instantly regret wasting ink and writing it down? In other words, when you feel like you’ve written something stupid, do you try and make it work by doing something a little different or just totally trash it?
Morgan: I never regret a lyric. There are sometimes I write something I feel on a whim that sounds poetic at the time, and then later I read it again, and it sounds cliché or lame. In those instances, though, I would never trash it. I keep everything I write because I think every thought in my head is meaningful and deserves to have a purpose…maybe later on I’ll need that lyric for something else. Maybe the meaning will arise again, or I’ll have a change of heart. Maybe I’m just a hoarder. The future is unprecedented, and a reason for whatever I wrote will come up. It’s happened on more than one occasion to me actually! And will probably continue!
R: What inspires you most to write music? This could be hearing another artist, watching a documentary, waking up from a solid nap…whatever.
M: My inspirations are a bit of what you’d expect from a person who writes songs—I feel most inspired whenever I’m alone listening to music. When I’m alone, I usually can concentrate and reflect on my past and present emotions and also events more accurately. I put on my John Mayer radio and sit by my piano. Sometimes, I’ll hear a song that speaks to me, so I try to understand the story hidden behind it—like, what does this mean to them? Has this happened to me? How can I relate? It gets the thoughts rolling, you know? Then I’ll pause my music and play around with some chords for a bit until I make a melody that I think best fits the story I’ve been pondering alone in my room. It helps that my idols’ faces are plastered on every corner of it.
R: Hahaha, okay, so to you, what is the most difficult thing to accomplish when writing a new tune?
M: The most difficult thing about writing a song, in my opinion, is clearing out all other tunes in your head. Making it original and all your own. That is a task I struggle with every time. Yes, I believe in pulling influences from other songs and artists, but if I think of their work too much, I start to have my melodies sound a little too similar to that of the artist in question. It’s so hard when all you want to do is be grouped in the same category as those you look up to, but you want to be original in your sound as well! Making a brand for your sound is challenging, but in the end, all music is unique in its own way. Many melodies will sound similar, but are any two songs the same?
That concluded the few questions with Morgan, who’s isn’t just one of us that wants to be in a super cool band that wears glittery eyeliner and owns some astute lyrics. She’s also just trying to find something that she can show others and see them like it.
Moving on, I talked with Healy, a local Memphis artist, whose music is labelled as “jazz,” if you Google it, but is totally not just your average jazz.
Reed: Okay, so, what’s the longest you’ve ever just paused on writing a song [to] let it simmer for a while before coming back and trying to finish?
Healy: One time, I wrote and recorded 80% of a song but couldn’t finish it, so I let it sit. And then a year and two months or so passed, and it finally felt right to finish it. I didn’t have the exact perspective I needed to finish it, I think, so living more life was all I could do and hope the right words were within those experiences.
R: Wow, so what makes a good song? Besides all these experiences.
H: Anything that evokes emotion.
R: Um, so finally, what advice can you give someone who’s stuck in a songwriting rut…How can they escape copying another artist, start developing their own sound, or gain major inspiration?
H: Take a break from what you’re really trying to accomplish and try something new. Sometimes when I’m having trouble finding the right words or sounds, I’ll spend a few days or weeks trying to make an instrumental track that sounds like the kind of day I had. Other times, I go on walks, watch new movies, or even travel to try and find new perspectives. I think one way to develop your own style is to write/create until you feel good about what you’re making. Imagine your literary/artistic voice is a block of ice, and each prompt or song is a chip away at the block of ice. Eventually, you write and chip away enough and you’re looking at this sculpture that is your writing style.
That concluded my interview with Healy. After chatting with both he and Morgan, I was able to see that Healy more than likely felt the same hesitation and trap that comes with being someone who’s relatively new to creating something as delicate as music.
So, ultimately, talking to both of them made me feel a heck of a lot better about my not being able to break out of the heartbreak and mushiness that comes with underdeveloped music. Maybe that kind of sentiment isn’t that underdeveloped after all. Maybe my diary song is cool (it’s not, but…). Maybe I’ll save all of my work from here on out, too. Maybe I’ve found my ice sculpture. Or maybe I’m just a hoarder.