You may have just as many people who hate your music as love it, but that shouldn’t bother you too much. Hoping that everyone loves what you do is unrealistic. Any time you express your thoughts, opinions and feelings in musical form, people will react; sometimes in favour of your art, and sometimes against.
The far bigger problem in the songwriting world is boredom. If your thoughts, opinions and feelings are boring the listener, you’ve got a far bigger problem than people hating what you do. You’ve missed the first and arguably most important part of making it in music: you’ve failed to get attention.
Looking for good songwriting content for your iPad, Kindle, laptop, desktop, or other PDF-reading device? Gary Ewer’s eBook Bundle, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, will show you why good songs are good, and how to apply those lessons to your own music. Get the complete bundle of 11 eBooks (including 1 free eBook) for $37. Read more..
When audiences are bored, there are at least 5 main reasons. (Possibly more, of course, but let’s keep this to the big ones.) Check out the following list, and see if you’re guilty of any:
- Your songs aren’t innovative enough. If you keep giving the audience the same-old same-old, with the same sort of design, same few chords paired up with an uninteresting melody and mundane lyric, the audience feels that they’ve heard it all before. And frankly, they have. SOLUTION: Start by finishing the following sentence each time you finish a song: “This song differs from every other song in this way: _____.” From there, look at how you start each song. Starting two songs the same way makes it more likely that you’ll end up with songs that sound the same. So try chords first, then lyrics first, then melody first… that sort of thing.
- Your songs are too innovative. In the bid to create something that hasn’t been heard before, you might be straying too far into the realm of the weird. SOLUTION: For a song to be “pleasantly innovative”, there needs to be a good dose of something predictable that the listener can hold on to. So songs with an innovative lyric will work well when other elements are rooted and strong. An example of a song that gets the balance just right is Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers”, with a strong, predictable chord progression, a mainly stepwise melody, and a catchy groove, all supporting a much more creative, innovative lyric.
- Your Production/instrumentation is bland. It doesn’t take much, but it’s great when your audience can hear something interesting instrumentally. Though it’s not specifically a songwriting issue, remember that a listener will turn away from something very quickly if it fails to generate interest. SOLUTION: Backing instrumentation needs to be carefully created to support – not upstage – the song. In other words, it’s important that the instrumentation come across as a musical partner, one that can step forward from time to time to “make a statement.” Listen to the subtle production-level decisions that were made to make Bon Iver’s “Holocene” come alive:
- Your words are too complicated. Lyrics are your most obvious communicators within your song structure. You need to use common, everyday words to get your message across. Sometimes, in the attempt to be unique or creative, you can leave your listeners feeling bored because you’ve failed to touch their heart in any meaningful way. SOLUTION: Use imagery, metaphor, alliteration, or any other poetic device, but not at the expense of communicating clear ideas.
- Your tempos are all the same. A song can communicate different emotions and ideas when it’s performed at a slower or faster tempo. When everything you do comes out to the listener at the same speed, you’ll find listeners feeling as though they’ve heard it before. SOLUTION: Never underestimate the benefit of experimenting with tempo. If your initial thoughts are to play a song quickly, look for innovation by trying it slower, and vice versa. It works because changing tempo often results in changing the way instruments are played, as well as vocal style.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
Take your songwriting to a new level of excellence with Gary’s eBook Bundle.