My Secret Life As a Songwriter
In recent years, I have heard “I didn’t know that you sing!” from people in almost every context. Back in my college years, many – including me – may have thought music was the only thing I could sort of do. So how did music become my secret life?
I remember making up a simple little song in the sandbox when I was around 5 years old, excited about the pennies I found there. I remember the tune. When I was 7, I read a story that included words for a song – something about being a ‘Tumbling Tumbleweed’. I made up the melody, drew rough manuscript paper, and painstakingly wrote out the notes while sitting at the piano.
It’s not that I really strongly pursued music. Yes, I took piano lessons, and later voice lessons. I studied music theory in secondary school and college, auditioned for and joined choirs, sang in groups, eventually learned to play guitar. The only final exam I ever got 100% on was my grade 7 music theory exam. But I had many reasons for not getting serious about music.
My voice was too low to sing any of the popular music on the radio. I have asthma, and singing in smoky bars (back in that day, they were all smoky bars) might well have killed me. The songs I wrote were unusual, and would have been considered too weird by many. There were other things I wanted to do. Recording was expensive and difficult. I didn’t think I could make a living on music.
Despite the fact that I didn’t pursue music, I still wrote at least 3 songs every year. Sometimes they would tumble out all at once; sometimes I’d have an idea for a song and I worked at it. Even when I was working full time and family life got really busy, I would find ways to introduce music into what I did, and writing songs would feel therapeutic at very intense times or at times when I was underemployed – really, at any time.
Music has been good to me too. When I was in College, I developed a liking to an imaginative, attractive, and funny young lady. I wanted to let her know, but she was usually inseparable from her group of friends. There was a piano in a sitting and games room on campus, so I sat at that piano and improvised some music, hoping it would draw her over – and it worked. Although it took several more months before she agreed to go out with me, that was the beginning of that relationship. We’ve been married for more than 2 decades now.
In the meantime, things changed around me. Bars are not all smoky now – in fact, where I live, smoking is illegal in public buildings. The cost of recording is much lower, and the process is far more efficient with today’s technology. And, I don’t have to make a living by doing my music – I can treat my music as a serious hobby. My low voice and unusual lyrical styles only mean that I have a niche. People like Leonard Cohen, Tom Jones, and Johnny Cash have blazed a trail, too. The internet has made the publication and broad distribution of music of music easy, although not especially lucrative – but that’s okay with me.
So now, with over 100 sets of lyrics in my files, some complete and others just waiting for development, I am ready to make my life as a songwriter less of a secret. It doesn’t much matter to me if my music only appeals to a few – I don’t want it to sit dormant. I’ve already started putting it out there. I’m going to keep getting better, keep practicing, and keep recording music for publication and distribution. No more secrecy about my life as a songwriter.