Great songs get the balance between predictable and unpredictable just right.
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It may make you glow with pride if someone listens to the songs you write, and tell you that your music sounds like Bruce Springsteen, or Justin Vernon, or some other top-level singer-songwriter. But that is, of course, a double-edged sword. If you sound too much like someone else, you can be labeled a copycat – someone lacking in uniqueness or individual style.
The problem is that if you have too much of an innovative approach to songwriting, you run the wrist of being overly weird or out-of-touch with your audience. Balance, as is true of most things in music, is vital.
All good music can be seen to be a mixture of predictable musical decisions with a bit of innovation. The bit of innovation is what makes you different from everyone else, and the predictable elements is what makes you part of the in crowd.
And again, balance is vital. Sounding too much like other music that’s out there in the market may get you pegged as lacking musical imagination. You can be accused of trying to recreate music that everyone is already listening to.
But I want to stand up and make a case for predictability in music, and offer the opinion that there are worse sins in songwriting than sounding like most of the other songs in the charts. True, individuality and personal style will be a crucial part of making your own mark on the music world. But conforming (at least to a certain degree) to the styles and compositional practices of the day has always been part of being a composer of music.
Even aficionados of Classical music will often find it difficult to hear significant differences between the music of Haydn and Mozart. They both lived at the same time, and both conformed to a similar style of composition. The differences in writing style between those two composers were minimal, and both were seen to be the greatest composers of their day. Similarity did not get them labeled as uncreative or unimaginative.
I love music that sounds unique, and I am certainly not trying to make a case against being innovative. I would sum up my thoughts on this topic by saying: the fact that your songs may sound very similar to other music being written today is not an indication of a musical problem on your part. It’s more likely to be a sign that you understand what society is listening to these days, and know how to apply that knowledge to your own compositional style.
And regarding compositional style, think of it as a herb that gets added to a meal. Everyone makes spaghetti sauce, and practically everyone will know that it’s mainly tomatoes. Beyond that, you add a few herbs and spices of your own, and suddenly that sauce becomes yours, unique and distinct.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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