Thursday, August 17, 2006

On The Sunny Side of the Street

Hiya Monty!

Well, you see, I have written quite a few songs but they all seem to be very sad and my music teacher keeps telling me that I need to write about happy things. However, I find it very difficult to find happy inspiration. Please could you give me some 'happy' ideas to write about.


Hiya Natasha,

First of all, sorry it took me so long to write back - I haven't had a chance to do any blogging stuff over the summer.

I'm not sure if I agree with your music teacher, without knowing more about you.

Your teacher might just be worried for you. If your songs are all sad, does it mean you're always sad? Could it mean you're depressed? Depression can be a serious problem, so she would be justified to worry about it.

If you are clinically depressed, forcing yourself to write happier songs won't help. But help is available. If you think you might be depressed, take an online screening test. (Here is a typical one.) If it suggests you may need help, talk to a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult about what you should do.

My personal favorite most helpful book about depression (and I'm no expert) is Learned Optimism by Dr. Martin Seligman. The book is written for adults, with information for parents. The exercises work for kids.

Most likely though, your songwriting is just something that helps you process your normal sad moments. Everyone feels sad sometimes, and we all have different ways of dealing with it. Maybe you tend to write when you're feeling down, and you just don't feel the need to write when you're happy.

Now if you write songs for your own satisfaction, there's nothing wrong with writing a bunch of sad ones. But if you hope to make a career out of songwriting, your music teacher may be right - your songs will need to appeal to a wider audience than just yourself.

True there are plenty of bands out there that do dark, down, negative stuff, and they have plenty of fans. But most hit songs are hits because they make people feel good. The one thing I hear over and over about the early Beatle's music is that it made people feel happy, and that fact is the key to why they were so insanely popular.

And even if you don't care about writing popular music, it can't hurt to push yourself to write something different whenever you're stuck in any kind of a rut. Attempting a new type of song is always a great way to learn and grow as a writer, and as a person.

So, here are some thoughts that will hopefully help you get started at writing a happy song. I'll try to include lots of different approaches, so maybe at least one will work for you...

Write When You're Happy
Like I said, maybe you only feel motivated to write when you're sad. So pay attention to your moods, and next time you feel deliriously happy about something, sing! Put that happy energy into some music. You don't have to stop what you're doing and write, just use the moment to grab some inspiration. Jot down a word or two or record a bit of melody. You can always come back to it later to see if you can turn it into a song.

Keep a Journal
It is always good writing advice to write in a journal as often as you can. Keep track of your moods. Write about what made you happy today. Keep your songwriter's ear open for a phrase that might make a good song title.

Look Back
In your journal, write about a happy memory from when you were a little kid, or a happy dream you had once. Write down all the details, then see if you can capture that moment in a song.

Listen to lots of happy or joyful music. Ask your friends and family what music makes them happy and listen to their recommendations. Put some happy music in your head, mix it around, and see what comes out when you sit down to write. "I'm Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves must be about the happiest song I can think of.

Make a list of things that make you happy. A lot of upbeat songs you hear on the radio are about romantic love, but you can write about anything. Donovan once write a happy song about his favorite shirt!

Always Look On the Bright Side of Life (Be Ironic)
That's the title to a very funny song from the Monty Python movie, The Life of Brian. The characters are facing death, but they start singing this happy bouncy tune. If you're having trouble finding something positive to say, you can write a happy song using irony. Irony happens when attitudes seem the opposite of what you would expect. Pick a topic that really brings you down, but for humorous effect, write about it from the opposite perspective, as if it should make people happy.

Get Silly
If you can't come up with a sincere topic for a happy song, try getting ridiculous. Just write a nonsense song with noises instead of actual words. (Think "Crazy Frog" for example.) Or, come up with some absurd images, like a tree that grows lollipops, or a flying guitar - both of which have been made into actual happy songs, by the way. You can brainstorm by choosing words at random from a book. Put adjectives in one column, nouns in another, and verbs in another, etc. Then put together random combinations using one word from each column. Look for an image that makes you giggle, or a combination of sounds that go well together. Have fun with it.

Get Angry
There's a whole world of emotion other than sad or happy. If you are stuck in a rut with sad songs, and happy isn't doing it for you, writing an angry song might get you moving. To me, sad says "Why does it have to be this way?" While angry says, "I'm ready to do something about it!" So try taking a sad song you've already written as a point of inspiration. Ask yourself what the situation is that makes the singer sad, and what could she do about it? Write some ideas in your journal. Then write a song about taking action. Instead of "I'm down" your song can say, "I'm not gonna let you keep me down."

Get Hopeful
Hope is another emotion that can spring from sadness. Again, start with one of your sad songs, and ask yourself what hope there could be in the situation. See if you can focus on one ray of hope and spin it into a new song of its own.

I hope I've helped!


iamnasra said...

Really just nice advise over here

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this advice- and for the entire blog. This is really helping to stir my creativity once again.