Good Songs and Likeable Songs: Is There a Difference?

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Manfred Mann - Roaring Silence - Blinded By the LightIn my opinion, the best songwriters are not overly trying to make their songs likeable. They’re simply trying to make their songs good. And for those top-level songwriters, you the listener can either come along for the ride, or miss out. The best songwriters have people who love their stuff, and those who hate it. And that’s OK for them. Bob Dylan has people who absolutely detest his music (and singing), but I doubt Bob is losing any sleep.

As you know, I talk a lot in this blog about how good songs work, and what you can do to make them better. Many of you have the dream of creating hit songs that everyone will love, and I have no problem with that dream. It’s wonderful to create music that millions of people will love to listen to.

It’s a fact that what made a song a hit in the 60s is, by and large, still the same things that make songs successful today, including proper melodic structure, good formal design, a lyric that works, and a harmonic progression that pulls it all together.

Trying to make a song good, as opposed to likeable, simply means a shift in focus. It means being true to yourself, and creating music that artistically expresses your thoughts and ideas. It means focusing on the song, not its effect on the listener.

And it means the following:

  1. Don’t worry so much if someone expresses a dislike for your music. Be courageous. If you get a bad review, don’t automatically assume that they’re right and you’re wrong. Good music can take time to make an impression. Springsteen’s “Blinded By the Light” is a timeless classic, though it was never a hit for Springsteen. It took time, and a new interpretation in the hands of Manfred Mann, for listeners to catch up.
  2. Learn to listen to your own music objectively. This isn’t easy. Try to listen to your songs as if someone else wrote them. If a song isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to tear it down and build it up again. This also takes courage.
  3. Listen to many different genres. Restricting your listening habits to just the genre you like will stunt your creative growth, and it will be almost impossible for you to create music that’s unique enough to stand out.
  4. Give your songs a message. If you really want your songs to be distinctive, it’s your message that will do it. Don’t look for the killer chord progression… it’s not there. Give your songs a killer message! The message doesn’t need to be profound, but the songs with staying power are usually ones that say something more than, “Went to a party and my girlfriend left me…”
  5. Avoid songwriting formulas. However you started your last song should not be how you start your next one. By avoiding formulas, you present yourself as someone with something important to say.


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