I've commented on songwriting as affecting people's emotions. There's a "personal expression" theory that goes a bit further, of course, and says that the purpose of songwriting is to affect your own emotions! Then there's a finer subcategory I call "personal healing" songs songs intended to make yourself feel better.
The problem I have with such songs, when they are performed or when they are presented, let's say, at a songwriting workshop for feedback, is that they do not leave the listener free to find their own relationship with the song and the singer.
There are songs that people write sitting in their living room, just to howl and waggle their fingers and have a good time. There are songs people write to work through things for themselves, just like writing in a journal. There are songs people write and share within a community of friends, where the point of the song is really how it binds that community together. There are songs that help people go through a personal healing; or place themself in trance; or sing their kids to sleep. There are songs to sing to yourself in the shower, in the car, to your dog or cat.
All these are wonderful things. It would be great if every person in the world made songs like these all through their lives, as a matter of course, as part of life. Ideally, songs would really be interwoven into every part of our lives, seamlessly, as transparent as the water that fish swim in.
But somehow, in our culture, as soon as someone has created any sort of song, for any of these reasons, there is a great temptation to head down to the local open mike and perform these songs for strangers. And sometimes this is just plain embarrassing to listeners, not even because the song is "bad" (whatever that means) but because the energetic "signature" of the song is not matched to that context of performance.
If you say this to people they will often get insulted. They will feel as if you are not honoring the validity of their songwriting process. On the contrary, I feel in these circumstances that it is they who are not honoring their own creation in the way it asks. They have not clarified their own intent. They are forcing their song into some pre-conceived narcissistic category of public performance this culture imposes on us.
If this happens in a songwriters' circle, where asking for feedback may be one of the assumed purposes of the gathering, it's even more troublesome. At least seeing a performer on stage one can clap limply. But don't ask for feedback when what you are really asking for is reassurance. Just say, "I need reassurance that it is alright for me to write and sing these songs." And a legitimate answer might be: It is great for you to write and sing any song for any reason. You are a good person, and making up songs is part of every human's heritage and birthright. But not every song has to be sung for other people as a performance.
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