Don't Try to Be Cool
A few years back I was writing a song. It was based on the book “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers. The book encourages us to be fully devoted to God.
I began working on the verses and chorus, and had a cool idea. What if I wrote the verse to be in D minor, and then switched to D major for the chorus? It’s not easy to switch from major to minor while singing, and I had to practice the switch for some time until I could handle it.
Once I was confident I played it for my home church. My church is a small gathering, and they are used to me singing a chorus or half a song if that’s all I have. It is a blessing to try out new songs without fear of judgment. I made it through the song, relieved to have done it correctly.
Days later, I asked my Mom and brother what they thought of the song. My mom was her usual gracious self. She liked it, but noted that she had a hard time singing along. My brother was more direct,
“I didn’t get it.”
What’s not to get? I did a verse in minor, and the chorus in major. That’s impressive. That’s creative and challenging. It defies the 4 chord-watered-down-worship music hegemony! I should get a McArthur genius grant!
I stewed and shelved the song for a while. After my passions cooled, I started to look at the song again and noticed some flaws. I realized to my horror that the oh-so-cool verses were garbage. The lyrics were inward and vague- two “thou-shalt-not’s” of good writing. Because I was so focused on a “cool” melody I neglected the message, and laid an egg.
I picked myself up and looked again. The chorus was structurally sound. Maybe if I wrote the verses in major and focused on the story I could save the song. After a few revisions I tried it again for my home church. It worked. If you are a songwriter and have ever experienced a song that “worked” you’ll know what I’m talking about. It works when people receive it. They sing along. They stop observing and start participating. That is the reward for the songwriter.
If you are a creator, you will succumb to the “cool curse”. You will want to be different, to make your mark, or show what you can do. And then you will lay an egg. After the defensiveness and embarrassment wears away, get back to basics. Serve your audience. Remember the fundamentals of your craft. Get over yourself and have fun. You might just make something memorable.