Brutal honesty. A painstaking (yes) consideration of each element in/of song as it’s being constructed. A hard, honest admission of one’s own priorities and what it is the draws you to the artist/s who inspired that style, sound, riff, chord progression, effects, bass line, etc., etc.. Is THIS song anywhere near as strong as the song/s that inspired it? In its present state, how does your song stand up next to theirs? Why or why not? WHAT drew you to RE-listen to that artist’s song over and over again? What elements do you expect will call listeners back to your song?
Will anybody care about this song in 30 years time? Why or why not?
To be fully blunt: unless you care about quality songwriting, don’t bother reading any further as you may be challenged in your artistic maturity.
Please know I’m not writing this to discourage anybody from composing songs or recording tunes as a hobby. I’m indeed trying to share my own thinking process about how to aim and actually hit the target: a truly well-written song.
There are thousands of books in the library nobody reads. Do you really think being an author is your calling?
With the internet and digital recording, free placement and offerings plus publicity online we have millions of songs uploaded and available to the public. Why should anyone care about your song/s??
Before I go further, in my own estimation I’ve written only a couple handfuls of truly brilliant songs. As I write, I’m 61 and wrote my first song at 13, have recorded nearly 40 full-length records and a lot of other songs, collaborated with other artists in songwriting, arranging and co-production. I have written a number of genuine clunkers including recorded and released songs, and plenty of trite, forgettable tunes, certainly parts of songs, this or that vocal, guitar part, whatever. Yes, I have taken my own advice for many years and still by technical fact or merely personal taste, gone ahead and played a song in concert or recorded it for public consumption even with its/my flaws. Don’t get me wrong, I am no Bach, surely no B.B. King nor Hendrix in the blues or rock vein and I know it!!
But HOW might we write better songs?
Here are a few tips:
So many rely on their own passion for a song or the actual part they play or sing to judge whether a song is a good one. That’s a novice mistake.
You may be a brilliant musician but a horrid songwriter… or lousy arranger of the song’s parts. A good, brutally honest, gifted songwriter or producer -may- be of help in song selection and writing for you to grow as a writer.
have benefitted from all sorts of input from close friends who are/were musicians and even non-musicians who critiqued my music, lyrics, arrangements and final mix in recording. We argued over ideas until arriving at what seemed best for the given song. We often took a fair bit of time getting there. Impatience is a major issue in great songwriting and recording. Plenty of musicians have very little of one so not much of the other.
Everything from lyrics, basic melody, rhythm section (drums, bass, basic guitar and/or keyboard) parts, actual vocal phrasing, pitch (especially considering the singer/s) and tempo are all elements of songwriting that one can and ought to consider as they are options that together make and break a song.
You may write this off as a “pop” song approach but trust me, it’s far more essential than many care to consider:
If the average person (or at least average person who loves the style it’s done in) hears your song once… ONE TIME… was anything about it (basic melody, lyric) MEMORABLE ENOUGH FOR THEM TO HUM OR SING as they walk away? How easy is it for them to forget?
Is there a melodic “hook”, a key phrase that’s repeated enough, unique enough? Is there a melody, basic riff vocally or via guitar or whatever instrument, even a chord structure that makes it fetching and memorable enough that it will move a person to want to hear that song again- or at least remember it even if they WANT to forget it?
Is your main “riff” a winner, perhaps even simple yet truly hypnotic… or so repetitive it’s a flaming bore? All this is hard to know without careful analysis.
This is where recording, even on a smartphone or some sort of cheap recording option (netbook, whatever) and listening back to the demo of the song, even taking several days or a week -away- from the song, then listening to it fresh and considering can help you and others decide if it’s worth putting out in public or not. Perhaps a more thorough re-write or arrangement or whatever will move the song from the dustbin to the playlist?
IF the song is not memorable (regardless of style), you’ve got a “filler”, a “grade D” song no matter how much YOU may love it or love the part/s YOU play on it. Is it about you or the song? What about the audience? Is it about quality of artistry or merely career choice? The work of quality song construction, editing, recording and placement may mean it’s remembered in 50 years or entirely worthy of being forgotten.
One reason much art might be deemed mediocre is that the artist in question wasn’t willing to get gut-honest with the details of analysis in songwriting and production.
Great songs are more important than technical talent, passion in performance or amazing tones in recorded production. Read that sentence again.
Feel free to argue this point but in the end, it’s the song over everything else.
This is why you must not allow your own sense of honesty to fail in assessing a song’s strengths, weaknesses and possible need for re-editing before you release it in recording or live shows.
There are certainly times “the muse” hits and we create an amazing, decades-spanning song with little effort… but those moments are rare.
I write all this to encourage the effort, the hard work great songs usually require, not to discourage anyone! We all try and fail, that’s normal in creativity. But we must not allow “work allergies” to hold us captive to any real talent we may truly have.
Stewardship of our God-given gifts is a major part of life.
Now get busy at creating- and give it your best shot! -Glenn