Pay attention to your thoughts in your happiest moments. Image: Eva Via Music
Last week, I walked off stage after a short set of mostly originals, including I Love This Coffee Mug, which is about love in the sand dunes, I Think About You When I'm Diving, which is about falling in love so hard, I think about the guy when I'm under 60 feet of water, and 3 Girls (But Only 2 Beers in the Car), which is about an epic mountain bike ride.
As I was packing up my music stuff, a man in the audience walked up to me and joked, "Your songs are all so sad! Don't you ever play anything happy?"
The joke being, for those who are not familiar with my music, that all of the songs I played that night were ridiculously happy, to the point that people joke I sound like a Disney princess.
The truth is, I do sometimes write tremendously sad, dark tunes.
And I write a lot of music that is based not on personal experience, but social science research and social commentary.
Yet the vast majority of my music is over-the-top happy.
Another songwriter asked this week, "How do you write happy? I've been writing music for 30 years, and literally everything I've written is sad."
So I thought about it for a second, and here's what I came up with.
It's much harder for most people to write happy for a number of reasons.
First, we are all our own worst critics, and when you're writing sad, the risk is being boring or cliche.
When you're writing happy, the risk is being cheesy, and people tend to be much more self-conscious of that.
So the first thing you need to do is learn to care less what people think about you -- but, also, to OWN it. Some of my songs are very cheesy, and it WORKS, because I'm self-aware enough to see and acknowledge this. Cheesy is okay when you're self-aware about it. Then cheesy is a feature, not a bug.
In fact, in Year-Round Valentine, I verbally recognize that I am being silly, over-the-top, and subjective -- but that it's okay to feel that way when you're in love.
The other thing is, when you're sad, you're more likely to be sitting around ruminating about your feelings. When you're happy, you're much more likely to be out skateboarding and boating and having fun with the person who makes you so happy.
Which makes it a lot harder to write a song about being happy.
The reason I am able to write so many happy songs, I've realized, is that in those magical, fun, happy moments, I'm in tune with thoughts in the moment. Things pop into my head while I'm out being happy, and I seize them.
Grab it. Hold onto it. Repeat it over and over in your head or make a voice memo so it's still there later when you have time to sit down and write.
For example, here's the story behind I Think About You Underwater.
I was diving in Bonaire recently.... and I started thinking about a guy. This had NEVER happened to me before. Scuba diving is one of the most immersive experiences imaginable -- both because you're under several atmospheres of water, and because I've never thought about anything while I was diving except for diving. I think about THAT fish. I think about THAT turtle. I think about THAT reef. Scuba is better than meditation.
I was 60 feet underwater and I couldn't get Brian out of my head, and I thought, "I should tell him. I should tell him I thought about him while I was diving, because that's like the greatest compliment a scuba diver could possibly give anyone."
With that, I started thinking about the hook ("Way down, I think about you underwater / Way down, daydreaming underneath the sea / Way down, I think about you when I'm diving, Like you're swimming right here next to me"), and I liked it!
I liked it SO much, and I knew I was going to forget it if I didn't do something, so I turned my GoPro around and bubble-sang the tune into the camera.
That night, I wrote the verses, and it instantly became one of my favorite songs -- and it turned out so ridiculously happy, it almost sounds like a kids' song.
I Think About You Underwater, live!..... with two musicians who'd never heard the song before! :P
Here's another example:
Last year, I met a guy. It was explosive and amazing, and we both kinda felt like we loved each other... even though we'd also only known each other a few days. Obviously we couldn't say, "I love you," so we kept Freudian slipping. "I love this coffee mug!" "I love this spoon!" "I love these socks!"
We both knew what was happening, and we were both enjoying our time together tremendously. Every time one of us said we loved something trivial and stupid, I'd think, "There's something there. There's something there. There's a song there."
So after I left the Indiana Dunes, I started writing I Love This Coffee Mug in my head on the drive to Indianapolis.
Feels Like a Lot, I wrote when I was driving a guy home from a day of surfing and our arms bumped on the arm rest. It was ELECTRIFYING. If I weren't mindful, that incredible moment would have just passed, but I recognized it and held onto it and wrote a song about it THAT night. It became a crowd favorite.
And, of course, there's the time I went mountain biking with a few girls, and a very unfortunate situation popped up that NO girl EVER wants to find herself in. Seeing the humor in the situation, I went home and wrote 3 Girls (But Only 2 Beers in the Car).
So, for me, in order to write happy songs, you need to do three things:
1. Get over the self-critical fear of being cheesy -- if it ends up cheesy, just be self-aware about it and OWN it.
I outright verbally acknowledge how silly I am being in Year-Round Valentine.
And whenever I play I Love This Coffee Mug, I start by telling that story about the Freudian slips in a way that's self-aware and silly, so people are excited to hear what comes next. Yes, the song is cheesy -- but people seem to love it!
2. Be mindful.
Every time you are happy, thoughts are going to pop into your head, and some of those thoughts would make an incredible song. But only if you are mindful enough to recognize when you have those thoughts -- "I love this coffee mug!" "I think about him when I'm diving!" "He's the best thing of all time!" -- and find a way to remember them for later.
3. Strike while the iron is hot.
As soon as you possibly can, sit down and start writing. If you try to write happy when you're feeling neutral, it's going to feel cheesy. If you write happy while you're still riding that high, everything will flow much more naturally.
Now go have fun with someone you love -- and when you're done, write a song about it!
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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