Innovation sets your music apart, but be careful not to scare your audience away.
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There’s nothing worse than boring your audience. Boredom can happen for a number of different reasons. If your melodies all sit around the same pitch, or lack any kind of repetition or pattern, listeners become easily distracted. If the instrumentation you choose for your songs is all the same, the audience will start to predict what your next song will sound like, and they get bored.
And of course, if your songs sound like every other song out there with nothing to set it apart, you’ll find it hard to develop a fan base for your music.
So it would seem that innovation, both at the songwriting level as well as the production stage, is desirable for grabbing attention as a musician. But it is a sword that can cut both ways. Innovation makes your music distinctive, but it also can scare away new fans who are still trying to get a handle on your writing style.
Even the most innovative singer-songwriters and bands have to be careful not to tread too far into the realm of the unexpected. Innovation in music is best thought of as a spice – too much of it can ruin the meal.
So how much innovation is the right amount, and how do you ensure that your music is different enough from other music out there, without coming across as being unpleasant or bizarre? Here are some tips to think about as you write your next song.
- Try to avoid overuse of any one song design. Songs that constantly follow the verse-chorus-bridge format become predictable. Think of other ways to structure your music. For example, try adding an extended instrumental intro, changing tempo in the middle, or changing the ordering of song sections. You might try, for instance: Intro-chorus-chorus-verse-chorus bridge-intro… just to keep things sounding fresh.
- Try to incorporate unique instruments into your final recorded version. Try adding cello, violin, French horn, etc. These days, sampled sounds are very sophisticated, and you have great potential for doing something truly unique.
- Try adding elements such as spoken word, synthesized or real sound effects, etc., into your song’s intro. These have a powerful way of getting attention, and will set your music apart from what other songwriters in your genre are doing.
- Experiment with adding performance styles from other genres. If you write mainly pop songs, and are worried that they sound a bit common, try purposely modifying your performance style for one song, even modifying chord choices, to emulate jazz, country, bluegrass, or classical genres. You may need to seek the help of other musicians who are more used to those genres, but the end result can be very interesting and certainly unique.
- Think of ways to connect separate songs into one longer “song cycle”. The Beatles’ Abbey Road album, from “Because” to the end of the album, is a great example of this. Many of the songs are fragments – short musical ideas that never got developed into longer songs. But when joined together, they take on a new, more profound character. Joining song fragments together is a good way of developing what comes across as a unique song design.
Innovation can work against you if the listeners perceive your music as a long voyage into the unknown, with nothing familiar presenting itself. You would be surprised how small an amount of innovation can make your music sound wonderfully refreshing and new.
But as a songwriter, for every innovative element you decide to incorporate into your music, you need to think about what you can also do to add something predictable, something that will cause the audience to nod and think, “Yes, I know where this is all going.”
That kind of balance is necessary to make a song successful. You may congratulate yourself by making your songs sound original and fresh, but unless you balance it carefully, you may simply be scaring away new listeners.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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