Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Write a Bad Song

Of all the wonderful gifts I've received from my wife over the years, one of the best was songwriting lessons from the Milwaukee roots rock treasure John Sieger. Who is John Sieger? Mr. Sieger writes catchy tunes that serve as the backbone of what makes the Milwaukee music scene unique. He's partnered with Paul Cebar, rubs elbows Bodeans, and - OMG! - is friends with one of my personal music heroes: Robbie Fulks! I implore you to visit John Sieger's MySpace page at

Anyway, John's songwriting wisdom runs deep and he gave one of the best pieces of advice ever. Seriously. On day #1 of our songwriting class, he gave an assignment. The assignment? Write a bad song. "What?!" said I. "You haven't taught me anything yet! How am I supposed to write a song??" He followed with "Just start and don't stop. You'll see."

He was right. Before that assignment I'd start writing with the intent that I was going to pen the best song ever. Remember "Yesterday" or "Stairway to Heaven"? Yeah, those weren't good enough; mine was going to be better - or, at least, that was the initial intention. But then I discovered it was hard - real hard. So I gave up. After 10 years, how many songs did I write? None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

John's point was that you've got to start somewhere. Plow through one - it may not be great or good. Hell, it's probably going to be terrible, but at least you started becoming a songwriter. You can work on it from there. I suppose it's like a sculptor with a mound of clay - at first the nose on your Thinker looks suspiciously like a fist, but you can keep pinching and squeezing until it resembles a nose. And while you're turning that fist into a nose, you're learning.

After writing my first bad song, I couldn't wait to write the next one. The fire was lit. I understood what he meant! I took something that had never existed before and brought it to life! It was so cool. I  wound up writing 5, maybe 6, songs during the classes - every one successively better than the one prior. One of them I'm actually quite proud of. Once I get the chorus the way I want it, I'll probably sing it out loud, but it's not quite ready for prime time.

The lesson here doesn't only apply to budding songwriters, but to all disciplines. Do not stop yourself! Let it flow and just get started. This can be applied to so much: artistic endeavors, fitness goals, education, cooking - anything! Once you start, you'll be anxious and ready to take yourself farther. I have done this with my profession and fitness (running), and with very mixed success - singing.

To satisfy your curiosity, here are the lyrics to my bad first song. It is sports themed because the last thing I heard before starting was a sports report about an athlete being day-to-day. It was probably Ben Sheets.

Title: Aren't We All Day to Day?

Aren't we all day to day?
Aren't we all day to day?

Verse 1:
The star power forward
or the football champ,
the wealthy first baseman
with the deep leg cramp.

Starting QB
or the 3rd-string guard,
the pitching ace
with the healing arm


Verse 2:
The fast wide receiver
or the sporting chap,
the boxing contender
with the smarting back.

The first-round free agent
or goal defender,
the bullpen whiz
with an elbow tender.


This phrase has been stolen
by the sporting few
but even broken hearts
take mending too.



  1. What a wise teacher. I love this thought. Write a bad song... It's so relevant to everything we do. We are afraid to try something we haven't done yet because we might not be any good at -- forgetting that doing things is how we get better at them! We're afraid to go somewhere because we don't know anyone -- forgetting that it's exactly how you GET to know people. I will carry this advice with me. Thanks for sharing.

  2. PS. I want to hear you perform this song (maybe you did at the #pushmike party? I'm sure it's not bad at all!

  3. Time to break this song out at a jam session!

  4. This totally makes sense. And I agree with @Bananza. So applicable to different aspects of our lives. Thanks for sharing!