Notes of a Frontwoman #6: It's All in Your Head
Notes of a Frontwoman welcome you to 2023, and first of all, let me say thank you. I've received a few comments telling me you like this series and my unfiltered ramblings, and it makes me incredibly happy. Frankly, the last few months have been somewhat more challenging for me musically, so any kind of vitamin P (P for praise, not Pilsner beer) is a welcome boost. As I've written before, composing music is my lifelong love and my favourite thing in the world, but sometimes it's a struggle too. A battle with my own head.
Musicians are very confident creatures, at least in appearance and mostly on stage. Once I play live, I feel like I can do anything and I feel like a superwoman. I've got a band behind me, an audience in front of me, doing what I do best. But the creative process is a slightly different discipline, where one is alone in a private universe, which is usually a perfectly comfortable place full of glittering unicorns, singing rainbows and silky clouds, but there are days when... it is not. On those days, every silky puff and glittery unicorn in your creative universe is screaming at you that this tune is a total cliché, the riff doesn't groove as it should, and the lyrics suck... and the singing rainbow adds that even she sings better than you.
And the best of all is when you finish a song, you've completely worn yourself out, you believe in its quality and you'd send it to all music charts in a heartbeat, but then you show it to the rest of the band and they don't like it for whatever reason and reject it. What follows is a feeling of emptiness, confusion, hopelessness and doubt. If you're good enough, if you should give up, if you didn't bite off more than you could chew, if...
Of course, some dudes will tell you that the most important thing is to never have any doubts, but I think that's bullshit. To be 100% happy with oneself at all times and under all circumstances, one has to be either a narcissist, a psychopath or a Buddhist Zen master. Musicians who are capable of self-reflection must inevitably doubt their abilities and creativity at least from time to time if they want to improve. However, it is important not to bring yourself down more than your psyche is bringing you down at that moment, and if you can, take a break, flatten your feathers, take a deep breath and try again. Sometimes it takes time, but it always works out in the end.
2. Making comparisons
Why isn't this as good as... (your favourite band / the song currently topping the charts / your previous hit song)? Comparisons suck, they can drain you and make you consider a prescription for a packet of Neurol. Not comparing yourself to anyone who you think is better than you is very important for maintaining your mental health as a musician, unless the comparison works as healthy encouragement, inspiration or education.
If you don't compare yourself to others, don't worry, I'm sure someone will do it for you. For example, it's very enriching when someone writes to me (yes, this really happened) that even if I compose and play like James Hetfield, I will never be as successful as him because I am a woman. Incidentally, this particular writer found me through Notes of a Frontwoman, and since then he has sent me so many pieces of pseudo-wisdom that I'm enriched for twenty lifetimes to come. This is not to say hello and don't write to me again.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to my former "sloppism". I just used to strum a couple of chords, sing "something" into it, "somehow" polish it, and "something" came out of it. And it was fine.
Eventually, I found that the more I had prepared in advance, the better I felt in the studio, so I started to refine almost every note and every MIDI drum beat in the demo version. Sometimes I just keep polishing and polishing until I get lost in it, spend an excessive amount of time and work on one song, and then when it turns out to be a flop rather than a hit, I feel like hitting myself. In my head, with my Explorer.
Unless you only play for fun at home, there's a good chance you'll want other people to hear your songs. If that's the case, there's an even greater likelihood that you wish people like your songs.
Personally, when I write songs, I primarily need to like them myself. Because if I don't like them, why would I want anyone else to like them? And whenever we release something, I'm not really worried about negative reactions as much as I'm worried about no reactions. The disinterest and indifference are far worse, especially when you know you've put a lot of work, time, money – and most importantly, a piece of yourself – into it.
Usually, it turns out that I was worried for nothing. And it really helps to know that the band and I believe in the songs wholeheartedly and are in it together, no matter what anyone thinks or writes.
Ninety per cent of the work gets done in ten per cent of the time. However, the other ten per cent of the work then takes ninety per cent of the time. That's exactly how I've always done things, and it's probably never going to change.
I am talking about the days when the recording dates are booked, the time goes by, and while most of the album sort of almost wrote itself, the last two things somehow can't get done... they just can't... and our drummer Kajda asks me when they're going to be done, that maybe she'd like to learn them, and I try, but it doesn't work... And then one day I wake up and I have a whole song in my head and it works right away.
Just because I'm used to this process doesn't mean it's not stressful. For me and, of course, for the band. I'd love to write four songs a week and pick only the best out of a bunch of great stuff for a record and save the rest, the worse stuff, for the next record, but I'm not Lennon/McCartney (ha, and we're back to comparisons).
In addition to the things you can influence yourself, there is pressure about other things (also found under the Fear section): will everything go according to plan? Will nothing go wrong? Will the studio or any of us fail? And this could go on and on until we're unhappily hiding our heads between our knees.
... we can only hope for positive interventions from Above, respond appropriately, and always remember that nothing good comes too easily. That it is human to be clueless at times. That giving up is too easy. That at the end of all the work and sometimes even despair, there will be something to be proud of and to know that any success will be well deserved. And even if there is no success, any creative path is lined with new experience and knowledge... whether about music or ourselves. And that is perhaps the most valuable thing.
If you have found an error or typo in the article, please let us know by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.