the sound of your own voice, outside your head
September 16, 2012 4:02 AM   Subscribe

Singers: how did you get over feeling so exposed singing your own lyrics?

I'm singing in a band for the first time! Yay! We're doing all originals, and when I auditioned I just freestyled all the lyrics and that felt fine. When we work on new stuff and I just make it up off the top of my head - no problem. Usually I enjoy writing poetry etc for myself (no one else reads it), but when I sit down at home and compose lyrics to the songs we have, the inner critic goes into overdrive, and when I go to sing them at practice, wow, it seems kind of confronting having your thoughts and feelings so exposed in front of other people - even though this is kind of exactly what I want because being authentic, expressing myself, letting people get to know the real me and having the guts to be myself in the face of potential criticism are things I really value - plus singing is super fun. Putting myself out there feels really weird... but I really want to keep doing it. Any tips/advice from you guys who've been here before?
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The more you perform, the easier this will get. That's really all there is to it.
posted by Specklet at 4:16 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could try recording some of your songs, even if they're only rough versions, and put them on your ipod. Then they become a bunch of favourite songs that you love to sing along with, and as you get that much more familiar and comfortable with them it frees you up to really work on the subtleties of your performance.
posted by nomis at 4:29 AM on September 16, 2012

You must let go of your insecurities - they only weigh you down.

It sounds to me that your inner critic has grown too strong; you should chop it down to size.

Trust your friends to tell you when your singing is bad, and trust them to tell you when it is good.
posted by DemographicLanguage at 4:33 AM on September 16, 2012

Just my personal experience, but I think you're completely correct that writing authentic lyrics can mean as much to a song's success as a good hook.

One trick to be authentic but not so exposed is to write the lyrics in the second person instead of the first.

That way, the song is about somebody else, except that somebody is actually you and only you'll know it.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:02 AM on September 16, 2012

It may help you to realise this is all much more immediate to you than it is to anyone else in the band or the room or whatever. Other people are probably not applying the same degree of scrutiny you are, nor are they using the lyrics as a prism through which to peer into your personal soul. People in the audience additionally have no way of knowing if the lyrics coming out of your mouth are autobiographical or not, and they have a lot of other things to do besides wonder.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:26 AM on September 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Play in front of friends wih just a guitar first, if you're not the guitarist have them come along. You'll get used to your voice too.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:45 AM on September 16, 2012

It might help to reframe how you're thinking about this--you're not singing about yourself, you're singing about feelings all of us have had. We fall in love with songs because of how they make us feel, not because of how we think they make the songwriter feel.

Billy McCarthy of We Are Augustines, who writes deeply autobiographical material and has discussed in interviews how he can feel emotionally exhausted after a show where he feels he was laying out his diary, has shared that he is likewise amazed and humbled that these deeply autobiographical songs make personal meaning to his fans completely different from the intent.

I think music listeners listen to hear themselves, and fall in love with bands and songwriters they feel speak to them, somehow; the feeling and the experience of good music is wrought because of a basic authenticity. It might help you, too, to realize that whatever it is you're writing about or what it is that you feel about the material, if you let it be authentic then the majority of your audience will so deeply relate that the song will belong to them, not you. For me, bad music is music that fails to acknowledge that transfer of ownership or isn't about any authentic experience.

After all, people say "they're playing my(our) song" not "they're playing that singer-songwriter's song who's obviously had a lot of bad relationships."
posted by rumposinc at 5:57 AM on September 16, 2012

Not a complete or direct answer, and even though I still struggling even more than you seem to with this issue, Livingston Taylor's book on stagecraft helped a lot and would e an interesting and beneficial read for someone who wasn't even remotely involved in performance or art.
posted by cmoj at 8:11 AM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

1. People don't always put all the pieces together. I had a bandmate look at me after we rehearsed one of my songs, one day - about three years after we'd started playing, okay, and this would be the person most exposed to the lyrics of this song - and say, I just got what that song is about.

2. Music is communication. Write what you want to communicate.

3. Discomfort is good. That's how things grow.

4. Mask your point when necessary. Metaphor, third person, or however you want to. There are a lot of ways to write good lyrics. Clear, directness can be great. But lyrics that seem to paint a picture without really saying anything specific can be terrific as well. Note, though, that both forms approaches suck when done poorly.

Good luck!
posted by entropone at 8:56 AM on September 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Experimenting is fine; you can't know what you like until you try it. Personally, I am super duper perfectionist about my stuff, and over the years I have gotten so I can tell when I am particularly proud of a lyric or not. But while all my end products are not all things I think are super, I am satisfied with 99% of them in their final form before I let them out of the gate. It is way easier for you to 'sell' your singing when you feel strongly about them. When I hear song lyrics that make me cringe, they are certainly not words I want anyone to hear me singing. (Although if you sing like Michael Stipe on the early REM stuff where he mumbles alot, or you have your vocals buried in loud guitars a la the early Smashing Pumpkins, this may all be moot).

If you feel like you worked really hard on your lyrics and you like them, that is the #1 thing that matters if you are the only person in control of your lyrics. You will feel confident about singing them then. Everyone else can frak off. If you're writing for somebody else, as a group, or strictly for $$, this will probably vary.
posted by bitterkitten at 1:14 PM on September 16, 2012

Pretend to yourself that you're playing incredible songs that you just had to cover written by a good friend. Do him/her good.

Also remember that, honestly, most people don't really listen to lyrics, at least not in any sort of analytical way.

Finally, if you can figure out how, just sort of disassociate. Not in the pathological kind of way-- just in a way that temporarily leaves your ego behind and lets you be in the moment.
posted by threeants at 1:53 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also meant to add that it's totally ok to feel nervous about exposing yourself, and be an awesome singer-songwriter, all at the same time. Think Cat Power or Kurt Cobain. Perhaps embrace it and figure out a way to make it compelling instead of distracting.
posted by threeants at 1:56 PM on September 16, 2012

There's also a thing where a song is about how you felt about something at the time, but might not be the way you feel in general, and that's okay. The mature, rational response to a thing might not make a good song. So there's no need to let your song define your feelings about a situation. A song can be about a moment, and moments are fleeting.
posted by chrchr at 10:50 PM on September 16, 2012

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