The Most Important Question Songwriters Should Be Asking

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AudienceBeing successful in the songwriting industry means carefully walking a line, a line that delineates between being too creative and too predictable. It’s one of the toughest things to do. Once you’ve written a song that really works well, and gets everyone’s attention, you like to feel that you’ve found the right formula for success, and you’re tempted to duplicate the success by trying to write something similar. But success can’t be achieved that way. And in fact, as you write your next song, the most important question you must ask yourself is: How is my new song different from my last one?

And though it will feel counter-intuitive, the more successful your previous song is, the more important it is to change direction, to do something entirely different.

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It takes confidence to abandon a plan that’s resulted in a great song. But it’s crucial to your long-term success. Relying on one song’s plan to guide your next one is the best way I know to make you look unimaginative.

Each song you write needs to be written using good songwriting form and structure, regardless of what you did to achieve success in your previous ones.

Answering that important question, “How is my new song different from my last one?” becomes easier if you can answer the following questions:

  1. What is the basic form of my new song? (ABABCB? AAA? ABAB?) Don’t choose the previous song’s form!
  2. What is the basic instrumental plan for the new song (i.e., how does the instrumental treatment unfold? Does it start small and build? Does it establish a high energy level and maintain it?) Do something that differs from your previous song’s instrumental plan.
  3. Are there solos or instrumental breaks? If you’ve just done a song with an instrumental break after the second chorus, don’t do it again in this new song. Try not to duplicate the placement of solos from your previous song.
  4. What have I done to ensure that there is a sense of compositional development throughout the song that takes the listener from beginning to end? For example, if your previous song started with a guitar-based hook around which the song unfolds, choose a different kind of hook to connect your new song together.

When a song works really well, it’s not an accident. There are real, quantifiable reasons why songs work. It’s important to have the confidence as a songwriter to feel good about your successes, but then to change direction. Have confidence in yourself that you can replicate success without simply re-creating the same song over and over again.

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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  1. I’m one of this camp – sometimes so much that I write different songs for the sake of being different!

    It’s a lot of fun though: to try new approaches, styles, and orchestration (once I jumped from an upbeat four-on-the-floor groove from one song to a classic orchestra arrangement in the next). Sometimes though it’s difficult to do on a deadline, and the results could come up short of expectation. But the varying styles surely do make my listeners stay interested in my music.

    I think Dr. Luke – who wrote and produced Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” and Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” – is guilty for using the same formula for both songs 🙂

    Cheers and thanks for the article, Gary!

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