Songwriter’s notebook: Perfection is the enemy of good

Perfection is the enemy of good. Perfection is the enemy of good. Repeat it and repeat it.

It’s not that creatives don’t strive for greatness; it’s just that many of us nitpick our own work to the point that our quantity of production is minimal with no tangible improvement in quality. Some of the time, production for the sake of production is tantamount to a repetition that gets us closer to the significant improvement we desire.

As a songwriter, I try to be prolific. I try to churn out the tunes.

Sometimes, I go about a song as if it were a long-term project. Heck, I have one song that I’ve dummy-titled “Joy” that I’ve been sitting on musically for five or six years, waiting for the perfectly open day when I could devote all of it to its lyrics.

If you’re waiting for the perfect time, for anything, you’ll be waiting forever.

Trust.

Sometimes, I knock it out super fast, knowing that the music and subject matter isn’t so much “throw away” but that it’s not in the realm of something I consider seriously to be good. Truth be told, some of the times, however, I end up with my best work when I don’t think about it so much.

Take last Saturday when I decided I was going to conceive both the music for a new song and its lyrics in a three-hour window, whatever it took to accomplish. That type of setup can be too much pressure on some days, and I end up on the couch watching baseball or surfing the interwebs.

What I do is start pounding the keys. I typically start with something funky and see if a brave new c-jazz or Steely Dan-esque progression emerges. Barring that, I find myself rerouted toward something that’s more yacht rock or 80s pop. I’ll go back and forth and forth and back until a riff and a melody emerges.

If one doesn’t after 20-30 minutes, I get up from the bench and do something. Sit on the porch. Read a book. Mow the yard. Run a mile. Eat. Maybe not eat; I don’t like to be all belchy before I record.

Periodically, I force myself to go basic on the progressions and focus on 1-4-5 type of songs. Keeping things to three chords can force a meandering brain like mine to keep things simple enough that I can focus on developing a melody.

That’s what I did this weekend with my new song, “Wandering, Wandering Me (The Container Store Song).”

Although it’s not technically 1-4-5 (it’s 1-6-4-5, I believe — F to Dm to Bb to C in the verse), it’s still super simple. In terms of inspiration, I was trying to channel a little bit of Glen Campbell or Jerry Jeff Walker, especially in the chorus. It might not surprise you to know that I loved Glen Campbell, but it might shock you to know how much I love Jerry Jeff Walker, especially this song, which lyrically was kind of an inspiration for this song.

Musically, it’s quite different.

The title for the tune just started coming to me, “Wandering, Wandering Me.” I don’t know where it came from. I think I was THINKING about Warren Zevon and “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me” when I was riffing with the chords. However, I liked the title, and as my process goes, I rolled with it.

And then I get to writing lyrics.

I had an afternoon appointment to make, so I needed to boogie and get words to paper. My process is pretty simple. I start rhyming and see how the story develops. It’s as if I don’t even know what I’m going to write when I do, searching instead for interesting phrasing or well-crafted rhymes.

Once I get a verse, I immediately get to a chorus, even foregoing a pre-chorus until a second- or third-take.

At this point, you know kind of what the story is about, and if you’re feeling traditional, you try to develop that story. Advance the story is what my far-more-experienced songwriter friends call it.

However, I don’t let curve balls or crazy ideas throw me. In this case, I was writing about the week after Mom had died and the trips I took back-and-forth to Henryetta. There was no Texas. It was a metaphor (or just an excuse to mention the great Lone Star State). In the third verse, I talked about wanting to settle down, which I’m presently doing (details soon), while at once maintaining my freedom.

In my case, that mostly means freedom to create (content creation, songwriting) and freedom to “Ryan.” Ryaning is the name I give to the process of me taking a whole day to work on projects of interest to me, which typically includes household errands, cleaning and organization. So, I wrote my truth and then faced a conundrum.

How do I explain, “How to write some songs and organize?”

Does he mean organize such as in a union or as in a community organizer? Is he an activist?

That’s where I threw in the line about The Container Store.

And just like that, I’ve explained what was an extraordinarily satisfying afternoon of songwriting, fighting the urge to review and edit and take months to produce a piece of content. Truly, if somebody came along and said, “Great concept. Would you mind hooking up with a co-writer for some collaboration?” then I’d do that in a heartbeat.

Yet the sooner that you finish one song, you can get to the next.

I don’t necessarily apply this to all pursuits, and it’s definitely not an excuse for sloppiness. But I find that striving for perfection is just a recipe to quash production.

Strive for good. There is no perfect. Check out my new song, “Wandering, Wandering Me” and read the lyrics, below. You can find more from me at youtube.com/ryanweltonmusic

“Wandering, Wandering Me”
Copyright 2018, Ryan Welton

Verse:
I have a hard time trying to stay in one place
One day I’m here then I’m gone with no trace
Though it might be hard to swallow
I do not want to be followed
It’s just wandering, wandering me

I like to take the back roads Into small country towns
One minute I’m your neighbor then I’m never around
If you think it’s cause I’m flaky
You can take me at my word
It’s just wandering wandering me

Chorus:
Baby, I remember Tulsa, Oklahoma
Summer nights of harmless fun
Then I packed my bags and drove to Texas
With the sun
Put a lot of miles on
Never took a day off
Saddle up, and there I’d go
And there’s not a single minute
Hardly even seconds
I’m not missing you so

Verse:
It’s mostly human nature as I know it to be
I wanna settle down, but I want to be free
Free to write some songs and organize
But end my day deep in your eyes
It’s wandering wandering me

 

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