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The death of Steve Jobs has everyone in a bit of a stunned state of reflection. Like other iconic individuals whose life work has affected and influenced us so deeply, the ubiquity and immortality of their life’s work and product has had the side effect of making the creator seem similarly immortal. We often witness this kind of outpouring of collective sadness with the death of popular musicians, and not usually technology leaders. But such was the impact of Steve Jobs’ vision. His death has got me thinking today about a couple of statements he made a while back, statements about computer design, but could easily be advice for songwriters.
The two quotes:
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Design in the computer world starts with the inner workings. And once you’ve got something that really works well, you get it looking good. From the user’s point of view, a computerized device can look good to the point where you almost don’t even think any more about its inner workings.
It’s a perfect analogy for good songwriting. We of course must be concerned with how the end product sounds – the “what it looks like and feels like” equivalent of designing a computer. But the “how it works” aspect is vital to its success. The inner workings. It’s why I bang on so much about song structure. Get the inner design working, and your songs have a chance.
Jobs’ second statement, about people not knowing what they want until they’re shown something, describes some of the most successful music of any genre, of any era. The Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper” album, as one example, is filled with songs the likes of which barely anyone else was even conceiving of at the time. The music just seemed to jut out from mainstream rock in a way that influenced, indeed dictated everything that came afterward.
As a songwriter, innovation isn’t just a quality that sets you apart from everyone else. It’s a requirement in the music profession. In the technology field, if you aren’t innovating, you’re following. But you can still make a tidy sum by copying the designs of successful people.
And you can in the songwriting field as well, to an extent. But who wants that?
The legacy of Steve Jobs is that to be really successful, you need to be innovative, to give people something that even they didn’t know they were looking for. And you need to design it in such a way that the beauty of the final product makes you forget all about the inner design.
It’s what great songwriters do.
It’s what anyone who’s great at anything does.
Thanks for the lesson, Steve.
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