Successful songs aren’t just excellent. They’re distinctive.
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If you want to make it in any business (not just music), you need to be excellent at what you do, and you need to be consistently excellent. A one-off success is exciting for as long as it lasts, and then you fade again. In any business.
In songwriting, to be successful, you need to be able to write excellent music , and you need to be writing those kinds of songs consistently. Industry personnel — the ones that help determine what success is — want to see that you didn’t just fluke your way to a No. 1 hit. They want to know that you can write a more-or-less steady stream of good songs that can be worked into hits. You need to be reliably good.
To make it consistently to the top of the charts, however, requires more than excellence. It requires that your songs each have a distinctive quality — something that sets it apart from other songs in the genre — that makes it immediately identifiable and immediately interesting to others.
Talking about a song’s distinctive quality usually means talking about its hook. The hook is always going to be the aspect of a song that jumps up and gets noticed. Songs can make it without a strong, noticeable hook, as long as other aspects of the song step up and get noticed.
If you’ve been writing songs for years with not much to show for your efforts, here’s a short list of ideas:
- Something needs to stand out. Your music might be similar to someone wearing a very nice beige-coloured suit: it doesn’t matter how good the suit is, it’s hard to get attention with it. A red flower in the lapel will suddenly make you stand out from the crowd. Your songs could be missing the metaphorical red flower.
- You need to take chances. Songs that are exciting and unique require a writer that takes chances. Not everything you write will work. Not everything you write will be a hit. But you are destined to write good but unnoticeable songs if you don’t take some chances. So do innovative, rare things when you put your music together. Be daring.
- Yes, good lyrics almost always matter. If you want an audience to dig down into your songs and find even more to get excited about, it’s almost always going to come from lyrics that are strong, thoughtful, evocative and imaginative. Song topics can be trite (love, for example), but the lyrics themselves have to be top-notch and powerful in their own way.
- Good melodies are often the basis of good songs. Give an audience a good melody, and they’ve got something they can hum for the rest of the day. There’s nothing like a solid melody that’s supported by solid chords.
- Never underestimate the power of a solid hook. Your song needs a musical fragment that jumps to the forefront. It needs something that everyone remembers as soon as they hear the title even mentioned.
With each song that you finish, you need to know that you’ve done two important things:
- The structure of your music (i.e., the relationship between the melodies, chords, lyrics, and basic form) is solid; and
- You’ve given the audience something distinctive. (And always remember, distinction goes beyond excellence.)
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)