The Knockturnal chats with the singer-songwriter abou her new song, Worth it, and journey of creating personal stories into songs.
In the realm of journalism, we are guided to gradually ramp up the intensity in an interview. We might begin with light and easy questions; a gentle softball and warm up before the main event. We create an entry point and build an environment where your subject is ready to chat.
But this time, in conversation with songwriter Heather Youmans, the question at the forefront of my mind exploded first: when you write songs, how do you know if it should be shopped around or should be a song for yourself to release?
The question wasn’t exactly unselfish. As a songwriter with songs in my own queue, I sought guidance from someone who I knew had faced this question.
And, the question didn’t exactly come out of left field. Singer-songwriter, viral anthem singer, and performer Heather Youmans is no stranger to writing for others and creating meaningful performances. Her new single, “Worth It,” released last week, was both written and produced during our current covid climate, and offers a reflection on her relationship with her husband. Layered with strings, power vocals, and volume shifts, the song is self-described as a Martina McBride power ballad.
So, why not consider throwing it in her direction? And, what can we learn from Youman’s experience?
It came down to risk. Youmans determined that the risk fo the song not being in the world was too great a cost to leave it up to song-shop-roulette. “I couldn’t live with myself if the song didn’t see the light of day. That’s what it came down to,” Youmans shared with The Knockturnal.
A song that is an extension of your own story is an extension of you. It embodies and fills a mini musical microcosm of your own life. And in that case, you might be the right person, you might be the only person who can release it. “I knew this song needed to be mine, because it is so personal. The ups and downs, the dark times, and then coming out of it, and finding the light, and realizing that those difficult moments and those struggles that the love is 100% and completely worth it,” Youmans explained.
The couple at the center of “Worth It,” Heather and her husband, had their own circular journey written into the sands of YouTube. Youmans’ husband originally played her love interest in Heather’s single “Girl To Change Your World,” a hit on Radio Disney, back in 2011. Years later, the two met back up, and their relationship developed from there.
Songs can feel like reverse therapy sessions. Listeners hear your inner workings, your questions placed upon notes and floated in the air towards strangers. It can be a stressful realization and a vulnerable experience. One way that Youmans navigated these waters was the clear goal of her track: to help other people swimming in the same shaky waves. “The journey that I was going through and the emotions that I was feeling needed to be shared to help other couples. And that’s essentially what I want the song to do is to: reassure couples everywhere that, you know, we don’t all have it figured out and love isn’t perfect. And that’s okay, because that’s what makes it worth it.”
When a song is this personal, it comes down to the environment, collaboration and space created to allow it to develop. For Youmans and her collaborators, manifesting a place for the song to take flight was paramount. “I think the fact that they created an environment for me to be vulnerable was the most essential part of this process,” Youmans declared. Being this open is new and has taken time, Youman added. “It’s taken me years to be able to do something like this and to put myself in that vulnerable place.”
And for those of us that have not done the introspection required to pull out a personal song, don’t worry. Youmans thinks we all have the inner music ready to go. “We all have songs in us. And we just and we have a lot of life to live to get them out,” Youman reassured.
While at the time the quote wasn’t meant to be a reassurance, or an invigorating statement directed at me, I left the call with the right kind of questions. What stories have we, as songwriters, not yet told? What songs do we hold inside that we could share? What songs do I hold? What would I be most upset about never leaving the inner confines of my musical brain?
I left knowing I knew I had a mission. That song, or maybe two, inside me. There is someone special to me, one of my biggest supporters of songwriting. She is losing time to an illness and now I’m in a musical foot race.
I think about our collective musical journey and how quickly I can get my music out there for her. I set a goal. And I will allow Heather and others to keep me accountable.
It will be simultaneously painful and meaningful, and those are the best kind of journeys.
Because personal songs, the ones that are inside of us, are worth it.
Photos by Cody Burdette