I saw Chelsey Coy from Single Girl/Married Girl mention something about a songwriting challenge. It seemed interesting, so I went after more information. It seemed even more interesting, so I joined. Today, I get to tell you about the 5 in 5 Song Challenge.
This challenge is sponsored by Song Fancy, a website run by Nashville based singer/songwriter Sarah Spencer. The website itself is designed to reach out to other songwriters, to help them when the obstacle of writer’s block rears its ugly head. The site says it is specifically for the “contemporary lady songwriter”, but there are no barriers to entry for this challenge. Plenty of male songwriters joined. Prior to this challenge, I had never stumbled across this website, so I can’t comment on the sense of community there, nor can I comment on the effectiveness of the songwriting tips shared. I will say however, that I think this is a fantastic idea, and very altruistic of Sarah Spencer to share ideas that have helped her to be a better songwriter with others.
What exactly is this challenge? Well, it consists of five days… and it consists of five songs. Those of us who signed up for the challenge are expected to write one song each day for five days. That seems daunting, doesn’t it? If you aren’t feeling particularly inspired, it can be hard to write one song in two weeks, let alone a song each day for a business week. The task is a little less scary than you might think, because each day comes with a song prompt.
For Monday 11 March, also known as Day 1, we were given a list of ten words. We had to use five of them in a song. For Tuesday 12 March, which was Day 2, we were given a phrase to use as a jumping-off point for the song. For Wednesday 13th March, something that we call Day 3, the prompt was phrased as a dare… a dare to complete an unspecified action… but the song had to be written from a specific point of view. On Thursday 14th March, which as you might have figured out by now, was Day 4, we were given another list of ten words... but they were ten different words than Monday's list. Finally, on Friday 15th March, which you surely realize was Day 5, we were given a specific two-word phrase to use as a song title.
Speaking personally as a songwriter, on the occasions I feel blocked, it is because I don’t have a place to start. Maybe I’m not particularly moved by anything in the moment… no recent life tragedies, no recent life victories, and a general feeling of "meh". Some days I might have something to say, but can’t exactly find the motivation to write. I found that this challenge solved both of those issues for me. Each day, here’s a new topic… something specific. Where to go with that topic, well, that’s in the hands of each songwriter. If you give 50 songwriters each a list of ten words and tell them to go write a song using five words from that list… well, you’ll get an incredible variety of styles and feeling. The same can be said of the other prompts. In addition to the topic, having the expectation up front that YOU MUST COMPLETE THE SONG TODAY really helped me to get the songs finished. Nothing like a deadline to inspire urgency…
Looking back at the challenge, I can’t say the songs I created were my best work. (This means that you probably won't be hearing them, even if you ask nicely. Ok, maybe one of them might see the light of day eventually, but not in its original form.) Normally for me, I write and re-write and re-write a song before I bother recording a home demo of it. Only the strong survive long enough to get recorded. When you are tasked with writing and recording a song each day, the ability to self-edit like that goes away. That being the case, I didn’t come up with anything that I would consider “polished”... but there are some tiny moments in each of the songs I wrote that I think I will excise and use again somewhere else. I think that having these songs be so raw and unpolished is part of the point of the challenge. The daily deadline forced me to step away from my natural tendency to immediately judge my own art, and to simply create.
In order to keep us all accountable, this challenge came with a private Facebook group. This is where we received the song prompts. This is where we shared our songs with the other writers. This is where we gave feedback. This is where we got feedback. This is a good idea, but it is only as useful as the community involved can make it. For the first couple of days, I tried to listen to every song that was posted to the community. On the first day, I think I left feedback on three of them. On the second day, I left feedback on two of them. As the challenge moves on, trying to keep up with the submissions became overwhelming for me… especially since this challenge is happening in the middle of a normal work week in my daily life, and, oh yeah, I have to step back and CREATE something each day as well. The challenge serves the two-fold purpose of (1) pushing us to write even when we might not be comfortable doing so that day, and (2) also getting us feedback from our peers. In my experience, the challenge was successful on point one, and not successful on point two. Even though it is art and a creative endeavor, a songwriter should treat it like a job and set aside specific time to work on the craft... this challenge forced me to do that. As for point two... the song I submitted for Day 2 didn’t get listened to even one time. All of the others were listened to at least once, but feedback was minimal. (Again, that's my experience. Some of the writers in the group got plenty of feedback. This may be related to genre.)
My final verdict… if you are a songwriter and you struggle with what to say or how to say it or where to start or how to get something finished… go visit the Song Fancy website and sign up for this challenge the next time it is offered. It is a great mental exercise. It will enable you to stretch out your songwriting skills in a way you might not have considered before. Most importantly, even if you don’t come out of the challenge with anything you feel like keeping or sharing, I truly think this sort of thing makes us better at our craft.