Improve your writing by writing bad songs!


Dear Indie Girl,

The above photo was taken at Shoutfest when I was in my Junior year of high school- 2003.  I’m the one on the right.  My sister, Aubree, and I won a local competition to open up the festival.  One of the judges was Rebecca St. James’ manager.  After we won the contest, he came up to Aubree and me and told us to keep going in music, that we were good.  I was star-struck, obviously.  I LOVED Rebecca St. James and here was her manager telling me and my sister that we had talent!  I thought we had “arrived”.

After recording for about a year, we finally had a product to sell, our very own CD.  This was BIG!  By the time we got done recording the songs, I was so sick of singing them, and ready to move on with more music.  It shouldn’t take a year to record… I learned this later.  I thought I was sick of these songs because we’d played them so much… and we had, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I was sick of them because they were poorly written.  At least not until I went to school and really studied music.  For a long time I would cringe when I’d hear these songs, or look at these pictures because they made me feel inadequate as a writer/performer.  This CD was evidence that I was a flawed writer.

I carried this attitude into college.  In 2005 Aubree and I stopped playing music together as “Kelsey & Aubree” and I went to Cornerstone University to study music.  I worked hard as a music major, but I stopped writing.  When I’d try to write I’d only get frustrated because I think I was growing out of my own writing.  I was starting to sense that I needed to grow as a writer in order to continue to be satisfied with it.  But I didn’t know how to do that.

I went away to Martha’s Vineyard in the fall semester of 2007 to the Contemporary Music Center, an intense 4 month internship for songwriters, performers, students eager to learn about the music industry. That was when I was really challenged as a writer to “get up and go to work”.  To “stop waiting for inspiration”.  These hard lessons every serious writer learns.  I’m still learning these, every morning when I sit down to write and I immediately want to quit.  The best thing I learned that semester was not to be afraid to write a bad song.

George Gershwin used to write 3 songs a day.  The first two were just getting the bad songs out of the way, so he could write one truly good song.  Truth be told I feel more satisfied with my work at the end of the day having written a bad song, than on a day when I haven’t written at all.  And on the days I write a song I don’t like, I’m beginning to learn that that’s PERFECT!  That’s right where I want to be!  Why?  Because it takes writing thousands and thousands of songs to become an expert.  It takes years and years of practice to get really good at something.  And at the end of a week of writing I’ll usually have at least 2 good songs that I can work with (If I sit down everyday to write).  2 out of 5- ain’t bad!  And even if I only have 1 good song a week, those songs pile up quickly for the next album!

So, don’t be afraid to write a bad song.  In fact- write lots and lots of bad songs!  You’ll become a much better writer if you do.




How to become a writing machine

I know I'm on to something when the page is covered in scribbles!
I know I’m on to something when the page is covered in scribbles!

Dear Indie Girl,

This week I’ve felt an extra gust of wind inflate my sails.

I was taught that writers should make time to write everyday.  I believed this in theory, but was never able to bring myself to the point where I could write EVERY DAY.  And I’m still not there.

I have however, begun to solidify a morning routine creating some writing time every weekday.  In the past few weeks I’ve written a good 6 or 7 new songs and have several ideas and song starts in the archives- which is saying A LOT for me!  I was always the writer who waited for inspiration.

Thanks to my husband, who writes fantasy novels, and works RELIGIOUSLY everyday on his book, I’ve seen what benefit the practice of writing everyday can do.  So I’ve established (give or take) a system of writing that helps me crank out the tunes!

This is my system so far- in case you’re looking for a way to get yourself writing regularly.

*I write in the morning because I have a hard time switching gears once I get into “business mode”.  Business mode is for writing/answering emails, booking shows, updating the calendar on the website, writing blogs, researching new venues etc…

*I keep a schedule (always been a struggle for me, but I usually function much better this way).  James (hubby) and I wake up at 6am (ideally) and go for a walk/jog (we haven’t committed to jogging yet).  We get back about 6:30am.  I make fresh juice in my juicer and eat breakfast, hopefully done eating by 7-7:30am.  Then I do my daily Bible Study from around 7:30-8am to 10am (this varies- sometimes I have a lot of journaling I need to do so it might take a little longer). I like to use this quiet, introspective, prayerful time as a springboard into my writing.  My goal is to have a song draft finished or well on it’s way by 11:30-12pm.  From Noon on, my day to day schedule varies a lot.  But on the nights when I’m not playing a show, I try to be in bed by 10pm to read and falling asleep by 11pm (again this is an ideal situation, it doesn’t happen this seamlessly every day, but this is the basic idea).

*Most people want to know “What comes first?  The lyrics or the music?”  The answer is, both and either.  Sometimes I sit down and just come up with a chord progression that is unique and interesting, and put a hook to it (a catchy melody the song will be based on).  Sometimes I have a lyrical idea hit me, or a concept I’d like to work on.  And sometimes I am blessed with a magical moment of serendipity when it all comes together at the same time.  But, serendipity is incredibly unreliable.

*I’ve found that it really helps me to use the weekend as my time to write lyrical drafts of songs (even on the weekends when I’m away, even though that’s harder to do).  To just jot down any ideas as random or absurd as they can be, just get them on paper and work with them a bit (a good activity for a long car ride).  This way I’ll usually come up with a couple of drafts of lyrics so that on the weekdays, all I need to do is take a draft and come up with a chord progression and melody.  This seems to be a nice way to streamline the whole writing process and puts less daily pressure on me.

That’s it!  I hope this helps you set up your own writing process!  It takes a bit of time, and your process doesn’t need to be the same as mine.  Maybe you write better at night?  Maybe your day job won’t allow you to write the same time everyday?  Whatever your schedule, finding time to write regularly is key.  A friend of mine once told me, “you don’t have to be the most brilliant writer there is, you just have to be prolific.”

Keep moving forward.



Big Dreams


Dear Indie Girl,

Confession time.  I’m a freaker- outer.

Every year or two I come to a point of evaluation.  I take a good long look at my career path and say to myself, “what next?”.  This is not a bad question to ask yourself.  Sometimes it can lead to an intersection of sorts.  This is where I get stuck.  I hate traffic.

I’ve been reflecting (you may have noticed) over the last few weeks about my band, my brand etc…  Last week, I had a revelation that I shared with you.  I need to have more fun.

Well, this is an addendum.

I was thinking about how I tend to overstress myself.  I don’t really know how to not do this.  This is in fact what draws me to music and writing, because it’s a break from the stress.  It relieves stress.  It actually makes me a better critical thinker (I think).  So I was thinking about the different stages I’ve gone through since starting this music track when I was 15.

When I was in College as a music major, I think it was my first chance to be a “serious musician” (whatever that means).  So I took it seriously.  I worked my butt off.  And for the first year, I actually enjoyed it.  After that, the weight of the work began to completely overload me with anxiety.  I tried to work a part time job while being a music major and keeping up my grades.  I couldn’t do it.  I was a nervous wreck ALL THE TIME.  But I was determined.  I’m stubborn like that.  Once I choose something, I’m not gonna let go.  I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Music after 5 years with a halfway decent GPA.

I’ve been a full-time musician for 2 years now (almost exactly 2 years).  I have really enjoyed learning about performing and growing a fan base and working on projects with other musicians.  But to be honest, I take myself way too seriously.  I’m working hard, but I can easily lose sight of the forest through the trees.  I love writing music.  I love singing.  I love sharing it with people.  And if that’s all this job was, I’d be the happiest person on earth.  But that’s not how this business goes anymore.  At least not for those of us on the ground.

It’s the booking, promoting, emailing, researching, social media-ing, scheduling and networking going on behind the scenes.  By the time I get to the show and up on that stage, my energy is spent.  I don’t want this to come across like I’m just complaining all the time.  I love what I do.  And I appreciate the opportunity to do it.  It’s just these tasks are the ones that drain my energy.  Writing and singing- those things give me energy.

The real eye opener was when I thought back to the season in my life when I most enjoyed music.  There have been many experiences in music I have enjoyed throughout College and in my last 2 years as a full time musician, but I’m talking about being really excited about what I’m doing.

It was when I was 15 years old.  I had no training as a songwriter, no voice lessons (only choir, the natural desire to sing, and hours of singing for fun), no clue how the music industry functioned.  I performed with my sister, we were known as Kelsey & Aubree.  We toured around the country (mostly Michigan since we were still in high school) with our manager, Ron Moore.  I was writing so much that by the time we recorded and released our first album, Aubree and I had already written enough songs to fill another album.  I didn’t understand anything about form or structure, or “rules” in writing songs.  I was just going off of sheer intuition.  I had big dreams.  And I wasn’t afraid of them.

As I grew and matured as a songwriter, I took that foundation for granted.  I was ashamed of that music for a while because it was not as good as the music I had learned to write.  I learned all the things I had been doing “wrong” as a writer, and I thought that meant that this experience was something not to be proud of.

Now I’m 27 (in a week) years old, and I’m looking back on that girl with big dreams, some of which have come true, and I’m dreaming of being more like her.  Just writing whatever my little brain can think up and let it be a chaotic, unedited, raggedy masterpiece.

Tell me how you keep from taking yourself too seriously, and I’ll try out your suggestions.  What do you do for fun? I’ll keep you posted.  I could really use your help.  We need to stick together.