Songwriting Excellence and Floppy-Eared Rabbits


Songwriter working at a piano keyboardI’ve written numerous times on this blog about the importance for songwriters to be consistently excellent. That means you need to be writing excellent songs, and achieving that level of excellence over and over again.

As a songwriter, you need to come to terms with what the word “excellence” really means. An allegory might help. Imagine that you’re visiting a local artisan or craft market. You see a fabric, floppy-eared rabbit, and you give it close inspection.

You see that the stitching is immaculate, the physical proportions are perfect, and it was obviously done with great care and love. In every sense of the word, you are looking at something that’s been excellently made.

But it’s a work of craft, not a work of art. It does no good to try to call it art, because art should do the following:

  1. Express something uniquely personal.
  2. Make that expression mainly an emotional one.

ad_4_2016There may be other characteristics you could name, but those two are critical to songwriting excellence.

So let’s look at the number of ways in which those two statements might apply to your songwriting:

  1. Your latest song sounds fine, but doesn’t substantially differ from other songs by other songwriters in your chosen genre.
  2. Your latest song sounds similar to other songs you’ve written.
  3. You write about things that don’t require the listener to engage on an emotional level.
  4. It’s too easy for listeners to turn your music off, or take no real notice of it.
  5. You stick too closely to an accepted image of what’s correct as you compose your songs.

In other words, you may be writing the musical equivalent of a floppy-eared rabbit. You start off by knowing what your song should sound like, and you keep honing it until you’ve reached that goal.

There is risk in good songwriting, and any song that doesn’t confront that sense of risk simply won’t build a significant audience for itself. Floppy-eared rabbits are risk-free, because there’s a preconceived image of what it should look like when it’s done. And any sense of emotional expression with a floppy-eared rabbit is minimal if not entirely missing.

Any time you write something that’s uniquely personal, it’s a risk. It’s got to sound enough like something else in the listeners’ collective experience to not sound completely irrelevant, but it also needs to step out and be an individual expression. It’s a tight-rope walk.

And any time you write something that taps into your audience’s emotions, you’re encountering a new kind of risk.

So put your pencil down, turn on your own music, and start listening. And ask yourself if you’ve just listened to something unique, something personal, and something emotional – or did you just listen to the equivalent of a floppy-eared rabbit?


Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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