Writing Good Songs – The Predictability Factor

by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:

As as songwriter, you can be forgiven for fearing that your song is sounding pretty much like every other song out there. But on the other hand, predictability will sell more songs than innovation.

What attracts a listener to a song? You’ve got it: the predictability factor. Songs can start with something intriguing, something innovative, but if you don’t get to something a bit more predictable, a bit more in the listener’s comfort zone, you’re going to risk alienating that listener.

That, believe it or not, may not be a bad thing. If your aim in songwriting is to truly express yourself, and to bring your audience in one at a time, that’s completely fine. There are songwriters and bands out there that took years to bring their audience in, because they stayed true to their artistic vision. But if it’s a hit song you are trying to write, you don’t have that kind of time. You need audience now. What makes a song “good” is the combination of many factors. What makes a song a “hit” is one factor: sales.

But how do you make your song predictable without being boring, or sounding like other songs out there? Here are some tips:

  1. Be sure that your song has an identifiable hook, a unique (or almost unique) rhythm, melodic shape or chord pattern.
  2. Be sure to use at least one chord progression that has strong elements. (A strong progression is one that clearly points to one chord as the tonic (key) chord.) And then it’s nice if you can throw in a progression that might be a little less predictable as a contrast. Use the strong progression in combination with the hook.
  3. Make certain that your lyric is not too long or complicated, and speaks directly to an emotion that most listeners would identify with: love, trust, emotional confusion, etc.
  4. Listen to music from other genres. If you’re a country writer, listening to jazz may allow some of those melodic and chord shapes to permeate your music, and that will add to the innovative feel of your songs.

Predictability simply means that someone can tell what’s going to happen next. That’s not good if it happens all the time in your song. But a good dose of predictability mixed in with the innovative ideas of your song may be just the right mix to pull in the listener in a big way.

Think of this: Millions of people visit Disneyland every year. Why? Because they know that they’ll have a good time. They know what they’ll find there. “Know” translates to “predictable”. Mixed in with that will be the experiences that they don’t know at this point. But based on everything else, they’re pretty sure that it’s all going to be good. And each time they go back, they hope they encounter more and more that they haven’t come across before.

Now go back to the sentence about Disneyland, and replace “visit Disneyland” with “listen to your songs,” and read the entire paragraph.

Get it?
Want a free e-book from Gary Ewer? His suite of 5 songwriting e-books are now available at a “bundle discount” price, plus a free copy of “Chord Progression Formulas”. Click here to read more.

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