Golda is an Americana singer/songwriter/bassist from Astoria, NYC. She’s graciously written this post specifically for SongFancy songwriters who are struggling to stay creative while working a day job. Her advice is the absolute best. Thanks for the post, Golda! To check out her music, social media and more, go to wwww.thatgolda.com.
In an ideal world, I would wake up every morning after a full night’s rest, drape a silky robe around myself and smile at bird warbling happily on a branch outside my window, as I calmly contemplated a day of songwriting and playing music.
I love to imagine this ideal songwriting day but it usually flits away as soon as I awaken to a blaring alarm clock and the thought of all I have to get done TODAY.
Like most of you reading this, I’m a songwriter with a day job. Or, in my case, a lawyer who tries to fit in some songwriting and music playing into an already packed workweek.
Being a songwriter with a day job is not easy, but I believe you can make it work (and keep your day job). And you don’t need even one ideal day. You just need your regular, average, hectic day.
So here are my top 5 tips for making it work even when you have a lot going on!
1. Make Time When You’re Most Creative
For a long time I had a special workday songwriting ritual. I would wake up a little early, get dressed and go to my local bagel place with my journal in hand. Getting my morning bagel and coffee was quick and I’d write while I ate breakfast. Sometimes I’d just free write in my journal, sometimes I’d bring a half written song and commit to writing another verse or two, sometimes I’d listen over and over to a melody I’d recorded (see #4) until the right words (or any words) started to come to me.
It felt good starting the day having worked on a little bit of a song, and then I felt ready to get on the subway and head to work.
Mornings may not be the best time for you, but take a moment to objectively look at your day and think about where you could fit in even 10 or 15 minutes of writing time. Maybe it’s late at night, or on a lunch break, or maybe there’s a time that you often end up scrolling through social media, feeling anxious about not writing anymore. It doesn’t have to be every day, but planning for it (and making it an enjoyable ritual) can help.
For a little inspiration, here’s a song that I wrote nearly entirely at the bagel place!
2. Google Docs Is Your New Best Friend
Google docs is amazing for keeping track of lyrics, song ideas, etc.
If I’ve gotten my bagel/writing time in the morning, I try to get a few minutes of a lunch break to type any song lyrics that I wrote that morning into a google doc. (I like to write first on paper, type it up, and then hand mark it to revise it, but everyone’s different.) Later that night, if I can find time, I’ll take out my instrument and start playing around with the melody, figuring out chords etc., and I’ll note that again in the google doc. If all goes well the next morning, I’ll print it and revise it by hand at the bagel place or on a little lunch break or make some changes on the subway right in google docs on my phone.
I like using google docs because things can get pretty jumbled in my journal. I have various folders for songs I’m working on, finished songs, song snippets etc. And I can revise them on my computer, tablet, or even my phone and I’ll always have the latest version available to me. I never lose a great lyric or an interesting turn of phrase, and I can quickly send a finished or unfinished song to collaborators. (I should note, this wouldn’t be great for musical notation, but it works for keeping track of lyrics and chords in a microsoft word type of document.)
3. Bathrooms Are For Recording Melodies
As songwriters, sometimes the songs just come to us when we least expect them. And I’ve found that the worst thing I can tell myself is, “I don’t need to record that, I’ll remember it!” because literally twenty minutes later it will have evaporated into the ether from which it came.
I know some of you have an excellent knowledge of music theory and notation and can probably jot down a few notes on paper to remember a melody, but, unfortunately, not all of us have that skill. And that’s where your smartphone and a few seconds in your office bathroom will come in handy.
There are lots of great apps for recording nowadays, but you really don’t need anything fancy for this. I use a free app called voice record.
Here’s what you do: (a) find a bathroom (it helps if it’s a private bathroom or no one else is there, but whatevs) and (b) sing your melody into the phone. You can do this pretty quietly if you hold the phone close to your mouth.
Save that melody using something that will remind you of what it is, like “90s sounding melody” or “melody for that song about the Bronx Zoo” or whatever. You may not even know what it’s for, but a few months later you might write some lyrics that will be perfect for it.
4. Be Kind To Yourself
This is the kind of advice that we all probably need all of the time. It’s very easy to be hard on yourself, to find fault with the fact that you’re not writing enough or doing enough for your music career and still have this day job that maybe you don’t like so much. It’s really easy to do that to yourself. It’s much harder to be kind.
But I challenge you to be kind to yourself when it comes to your songwriting. Be kind to yourself if you haven’t written anything in while. Be kind to yourself if you feel like everything you write lately is crap. Be kind to yourself if you promised yourself 15 minutes to write and never found the time.
One way to be kind to yourself is to celebrate every small success. Celebrate that you took 5 minutes and wrote one line that you’re excited about it. Celebrate that you made it to your own personal “bagel place” even if you didn’t write more than a half page free write. Celebrate every song you finish, ever chorus that gives you chills, every time a friend tells you that song you wrote had meaning for them.
If songwriting is your passion, you are worthy of it. Being kind will help you come back to songwriting when the moment is right.
5. Your Day Job Is A Songwriting Gift
You know what most people have? Day jobs.
Most people aren’t flying around in private jets, sipping Cristal from diamond-encrusted champagne flutes. They’re taking public transportation or getting stuck in traffic on the way to jobs they don’t really like. They’re taking care of kids. They’re taking care of elderly relatives. They’re looking forward to the holidays or dreading the holidays (or both). They’re worried about the political situation. They’re hoping to get a raise. They’re hoping their boss quits and someone reasonable takes over. They’re worried that this job they already hate is going to be outsourced, and then where will they be?
I’m not saying all that to depress you, but having a day job makes you a lot like the people who want to listen to your songs. From your own, current vantage point, you can write about the things that affect lots and lots of people. You can write songs about things that affect people’s real lives.
People know the pain of having a day job even if they don’t have aspirations for something completely different. You can be their songwriter, right here and now.
Want to write more songs? Feeling like you could use a little creative accountability? Save your seat for the next 5 in 5 Song Challenge and write 5 songs in 5 days with a group of SongFancy songwriters!