I’m only a month away from my 23rd birthday and it hasn’t escaped my attention that I’ve been writing songs for ten years. The first proper song I wrote was when my beloved cat died the day before my 13th birthday.
That might sound slightly strange or morbid to someone who’s never thought about songwriting before, but to me it made (and still makes) perfect sense.
Songwriting – real songwriting – is about emotion. It’s about expressing how you feel at any given moment in your life. I hear pop songs on the radio that are all about being out in the club and seeing a hot girl…and yes, I suppose in a strange alternative universe, that is some kind of emotion. But for me a song has to have soul. It has to be able to breathe on its own. And most of the pop ‘songs’ that have been released in the last five years lack that entirely. Some other time I’ll go into some contemporary artists that break this trend and write brilliant music.
As a child I was always singing and making up my own songs, but I didn’t start seriously writing songs until I was 13. My 13th birthday to be exact. The day before I turned 13 my cat passed away and I took it hard. She’d been a member of our family longer than I had and I struggled to imagine my life without her around. That evening I sat at the piano and starting expressing everything I was feeling. Over the next few days I wrote a couple of songs for Sylvi (all of which were terrible, by the way) and from there I started writing about different things. And I haven’t stopped since.
Ten years have passed and I know my songwriting skills have improved a lot in that time!! I don’t write songs about dead pets anymore for a start 😛 But I always say that the best thing you can do as a writer of any sort is to write about what you know. And what you feel.
Over the years I have written about everything that moved me – from love lost and love found, to the history of slavery (which I got very worked up about at 14!). I’ve written songs with titles like ‘On My Way’, ‘Lighthouse’, ‘We’re All The Same Inside’ (a very early one there!), ‘Look Me In The Eye’ and ‘Fooling Myself’ – just to name a few! I’ve lost track of how many songs I’ve written in total, but frankly that’s become rather unimportant. I don’t write music for fame or money or just to fill ring-binders with pages. I write because it gives me satisfaction.
Often I’ll be in a situation where I can’t say the things I want to say, so I write about them instead. I can write a song as if I was singing it to a particular person…I get to say everything I wish I could say to their face, without the words ever seeing the light of day.
Writing also helps me (to quote Don Henley) to get down to the heart of the matter. It’s not unusual for me to start writing about a certain situation I’m in, a break up for example, and suddenly words come out of my mouth that I wasn’t expecting. I’ll hear them and think “Okay, wow, I didn’t know I felt that way, but yes! That’s exactly how I feel!!”. The process of writing and singing helps to unlock things in my subconscious that I hadn’t been able to access up to that moment.
During my teens I used to think music was my calling in life. That my destiny was to become a famous singer-songwriter and play my songs to vast stadiums. I used to stand in my room and pretend the hillside out my window was an arena 😛 Things are different now I’m older. I don’t feel that need for fame that I thought I felt at 15. Lesson one: just because you love something more than anything else when you’re a teen doesn’t mean it’s your calling in life!! Songwriting became a part of my identity as I grew up, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. But I realised that success isn’t always measured by how many people know the words to your songs. Success is measured by how much YOU love what you do. And how much joy and satisfaction you get from it. Even if what you do never leaves your bedroom.
So why do I write songs?
Because I love it. Because it is part of who I am. Because it helps me through my life.
And that’s pretty cool 🙂
If you’d like to listen to some of my songs, I have a few uploaded to SoundCloud here: https://soundcloud.com/rose-ottley (the audio quality on most is not great, as I’ve never managed to invest in decent recording equipment). And if you have a particular favourite, please feel free to comment with it here! I write for myself but it’s always a nice bonus when others enjoy my music too 🙂