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From the Muse

Song Envy

Compare and despair.

The Comparison Game. I play it. Do you? We know we shouldn’t. But we’re only human.

It happens to the best of us. We hear a piece of music or a song that someone else wrote — one that’s so disarming that we stare aimlessly at a wall with an acute sense of inferiority — and tell ourselves we’ll never write anything as good.

A while back I coined an acronym for a song that does this to you: WiWi — as in, Wish I Wrote It.

When we’re under the spell (or curse) of a WiWi Song, we want desperately to claim that song as ours in exchange for the ballad we wrote the week before that has a hook we can’t remember.

Cartoon drawing showing a woman loudly crying into a handkerchief with the text in a balloon next to her saying: "BUAAAA!!!".Even though I’m pretty creatively “woke” when it comes to envy, if I’ve had writer’s block for a while I’m definitely more prone to crossing over to the dark side. We’ve all heard the expression “compare and despair.” That’s what I’m talking about.

And then, after despairing, we humans may ask for more trouble because when we’re obsessively infatuated with someone else’s song we may try to copy it. Not necessarily word for word or note for note, but the emotional tone. The imposter will always pale, though. Why? Because it wasn’t organically inspired. It was born of envy. And we simply can’t do what someone else does as good as they do it.

Conversely, it’s helpful to remember that there is something you do that nobody does better than you. An individual’s creative DNA is uniquely their own. Just like no two fingerprints are alike, or no two voices are exactly the same.

What is that thing you do, anyway? It’s not so much a style (i.e., soulful, ironic, confessional, feel-good, uplifting, heart-wrenching, nostalgic) as it is a nuance — a subtle slant within a niche. The way Bruce Springsteen can hone right in on the plight of the working man, or Julia Michaels can tap into a teenage girl’s insecurities.

Ask yourself why that gem you penned a few months back resonated so powerfully with almost everyone you played it to — the song you wrote when you weren’t trying to cop a tasty hit or stay within the boundary of an algorithm. You were probably waiting patiently for your muse that day and when she finally arrived, she brought with her your truth.

So next time you try to get inside somebody else’s heartbeat, remember: The best thing you can do for your own creative health is march to the beat of your own.

 

Here are three of my WiWi songs:

I Touch Myself” (written by Billy Steinberg, Tom Kelly,  Christina Amphlett and Mark McEntee, performed by DiVinyls)

I Can’t Make You Love Me” (written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin, performed by Bonnie Raitt)

Closest Thing To Crazy” (written by Mike Batt, performed by Katie Melua)

 

Do you have a WiWI song that’s always haunted you? Go to my Facebook Page and let me know what it is.

 

You can read a new From the Muse blog on the second Monday of every month. Check out Shelly’s other postings.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shelly Peiken has been a behind-the-scenes force in the music business for more than two decades. She is best known for penning female-empowerment anthems such as Christina Aguilera’s Number One hit “What a Girl Wants” and Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch.” Her book “Confessions of a Serial Songwriter,” a memoir that chronicles her journey from a young girl falling under the spell of magical songs to writing hits of her own, earned her a second GRAMMY nomination for Best Spoken Word Album. Shelly is a fierce advocate of creators’ rights with her grassroots organization, SONA (Songwriters of North America). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter and two cats.

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