"Are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced? Well, I have."--Jimi Hendrix
One of the only good things about getting older is you learn things. Sometimes the hard way. The only good thing about learning things the hard way is those are the lessons you remember best.
Actually, another good thing about learning things the hard way is those lessons are the ones you really know. It's nice to be able to smile at theoreticians.
Mastering a craft is a matter of learning the techniques of that craft and putting it to use. It seems in any area there are people who know facts about something--and there are people who have actually done it. When you combine the two you have experience.
In terms of songwriting there are many experts. They can tell you what is it.
There are also people who have done it--sometimes they can tell you how they do it--but often it is an intuitive process they may not even understand. But they have experience.
I tell my students to go out and play their songs live. It is hard. It is scary. It is normal to get nervous.
But getting immediate, honest audience feedback is experience--experience you will not get from any book or expert.
Now many time theories do turn out to be correct when applied to a practical experience. But not always in the way you might expect. As a wise man once said--"In theory, theory and practice are the same, but in practice, they are not."
I wrote The Little Black Book of Songwriting from my personal experience. I have a history of writing and performing in the business over many years. Trial and error, failure and success.
I have listened to a lot of songs at TAXI over a long period of time. I hear the common mistakes people make in the process of songwriting and dealing with the music business--many of the same mistakes I made.
Many times the lessons of experience are simple.
Some people say you learn more from your failures than you do from your success. I'm not so sure. You learn how to fail from failure--the best you can learn (hopefully) is--"Don't do that again." That's something.
The test is to learn what you did right in your success and build on that. In order to do something right though, you have to first do something, and get good at it.
As I mentioned in a recent article here, one of the biggest problems I see new writers deal with is just writing something--anything.
I have also talked about writing something other people actually care about--life is too short for bad songs.
Another thing I tell students is that the time you spend polishing your work--condensing it, making it more clear, making it more understandable, making it better--is very valuable. It is important. It saves the time and effort of the listener in trying to enjoy it, or just figure it out. Listeners appreciate that--whether they realize it or not. A listener can relax into a song when they sense it is focused and well crafted.
I realized another thing the other day when speaking to a songwriting class. My experience at TAXI--my knowledge of the sheer volume of material that is submitted every day, is a sobering reminder.
That is not a theory. I know from experience that in order to be heard, in order to even be considered, a song needs to be the best you can make it.
But how do you get your material to that magic threshold?
Experience tells me that it is an inexact science. But I have done it. And it wasn't a quick, easy process I learned from a "how-to" list.
I have learned through experience a lot of things that bring a song closer. And I can explain them sometimes in a way other people understand.
And I learned the hard way--through experience.
The same way available to you.
Anyone who tries to sell you a fast, easy way to do something difficult is probably selling snake oil (look it up).
There is no easy way to really learn any craft--you have to do it. And doing it badly is better than not doing it at all--and learning from your mistakes is better than not learning at all--and learning from your success is tricky because as soon as you learn one thing right you begin to realize how much you don't know and the process starts all over.
And that is when it gets really interesting. That is why it is called a "process" and not a "finish."
As Jimi said: "Have you ever been experienced? Well, I have."