Unless you're a paid jingle writer or a pop producer, there's no need to write a song every week.
John Brownell, songwriter for the Missoula rock band Protest Kids, has finished one before racking out each Wednesday since Dec. 31.
While the often-quoted theory that mastery requires 10,000 hours of practice can seem so daunting you might not start a new endeavor, this project encourages different ways of thinking.
His "Song A Week Thingy," as he calls it, is a musical New Year's Resolution that forces fast creativity, working past roadblocks and minimizing any second-guessing.
"Part of it is convincing myself that the creative process is valid in itself. It doesn't require necessarily any big end point or anything. It's worth it just to make something regardless of where it ends up or how you're going to use it," he said.
The strict deadline means that notions of perfection need to be discarded. Instead, you're working close to the initial creative spark, or giving up ideas of flawlessness entirely to meet a deadline.
He said the largest lesson is to "keep moving forward even when you're stuck" or the project seems pointless, or he doesn't like the song.
"I'm starting to feel like that's a necessary thing to get past when you're doing something quickly, and new," he said.
Each week, he's reached a point where he thinks he might finally not finish something. (From the outset, he's given himself some parameters. The goal is a full song with lyrics, but he can make an instrumental, or rework an older song, or write short.)
After posting, he might go to bed feeling generally discouraged, or that the song was too rushed. Within a few days, he can hear the song with fresh ears again. He's marked four of them for his band.
Count among them the first week's song, "Happens Every Time," a fast-paced rock song that's actually about creative self-doubt. ("I don't need to make any more resolutions/I just need to find some paper and a pen/And start over again.") Another song, "Hidden Hand," admires and questions the weirdness of the structure of the world, something of a recurring theme for Brownell. "I’m not gonna think about it anymore/Just want to watch and mystify/the skies/reflected in my eyes/While the hidden hand hides from me."
Brownell was a songwriter for the cult Missoula rock band Oblio Joes, which had catchy enough songs to inspire singalongs before they broke up in the 2000s. He continued playing with other bands, but after he co-founded the tech company Submittable, the time he could dedicate to music was truncated.
Since he recently shifted into a consultant role, he wanted a way to dedicate more time to creative projects. He knows that resolutions are abandoned. However, if he posted the songs online he'd feel more accountable, internally and externally. All of them go on his Facebook page, his Bandcamp page, and his own website, repeatandfade.net.
Not long after he started, he found SongAWeek on Reddit, where writers of all genres were doing the same thing. The thread also suggests themes to work with, which could be a subject or a recording technique, but he doesn't always use them.
They share ideas, advice and feedback as they work their way through the year.
"It's hard to keep up, and so sometimes that encouragement is exactly what you need," he said.
He's gotten a few Flaming Lips comparisons and in general is sticking to a power-pop informed sound with harmony vocals. Despite the potential and the temptation, he hasn't made kooky, experimental songs a la "The White Album."
Nor has he avoided the labor-intensive route: His home-studio productions are outfitted with harmony vocals, guitars, synthesizers, bass and drums, many of which he programmed in DAW recording software. (Programming the drums "always feels like this mindless, pointless task" but he gets many questions online about who his percussionist is.)
He hasn't yet done a song solo acoustic, feeling that the spareness of the format sets the bar very high. (He's considering it.)
He's released a very limited edition of lathe-cut vinyl with the songs, thinking of it as an ultra-rare and quirky collectible.
For now, he's carrying on with a completely fresh approach to how he writes lyrics and chord progressions.
"I could imagine this could work for anybody who's trying to do anything creative," he said. "I think the biggest part has been coming up with something that feels a little bit impossible, and making myself publicly responsible for getting stuff done."