I remember once reading a criticism of jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, that he made too many albums. True, Peterson made more than 200 albums, and the criticism seemed to be that if someone recorded that much, surely musical ideas would get watered down and eventually become simply ineffective.
In Peterson’s case, I don’t think there would be much validity to that worry. From the start of his career in the late 1940s, to at least the early 90s when he suffered a stroke that limited his left-hand abilities, Peterson was a pianist of immeasurable imagination and ability.
It does beg an important question, one that you hear often in the field of songwriting: Is it possible to write too much music? Surely if we are tapping into a pool of ideas whenever we compose, we must come close at times to depleting that pool, to the point where our music sounds uninspired, empty or trite.
And another way of looking at the same question is this: Isn’t it better to write fewer songs, maybe one a week, and concentrate on getting those songs really working well? Isn’t that better than writing, let’s say, a new song every day? Is the danger of emptying that pool of ideas a real one?
I don’t think that should be a worry, and I would encourage songwriters to write as much as they can, and worry less about what prolific writing does to quality, and here are some reasons why:
- The potential for good ideas is, for all intents and purposes, limitless. We keep deepening the pool of possible song ideas every time we listen to someone else’s music, have new life experiences, or collaborate with others.
- The only thing you can do with ten good songwriting ideas is to write ten good songs. In other words, if you get a sudden spate of song ideas, it’s better to get busy and write them than to put them aside and worry that you’re writing too much. You will find that there will be times in your life when you suddenly find yourself full of great ideas. That’s a wonderful feeling, and more power to you. If you’ve written more than 500 songs, the actual number has nothing to do with how good they are. Good songs can come from very small ideas.
- Many good song ideas happen at the production stage. Some of the most interesting things that happen within a song can be the result of a good producer with a good imagination. So even songs that seem ordinary can get elevated to incredible heights simply by what happens in the studio. Lennon’s “A Day In the Life” would be a good example of this.
- History shows us that many writers do their best work later, rather than earlier, in life. Certainly this is true of the classical composers. Haydn wrote more than 100 symphonies, and his later ones were monuments to the 18th century and inspired a whole new generation of composers. Songwriting, particularly in the pop music genres, is a little different, of course, and it tends to favour a young person’s world view. But skill and songwriting finesse can and will improve with age. We don’t “run out of ideas.”
- Collaboration is always an option. If you think that your ideas are depleting, you’ve got the option to partner with someone who can listen to your ideas and build on them. A good, healthy collaboration can extend your songwriting years indefinitely.
There will be lots of time to polish songs and make them as good as they can be. If you find yourself writing a lot, don’t worry that you’re depleting your pool of ideas. It simply means that you’ve got a ferocious imagination, and that’s great.
In my mind, there is no such thing as writing too much music.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
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