Is it Possible to Write Too Much Music?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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  1. This post makes me feel a bit better. I’ve played instruments on and off most of my life. But about 18 months ago started writing songs (lyrics and music) and finishing some. I’m prolific with ideas and getting the base of a song done – lyrics I like, melody and harmony for most sections of the song. But… I also record and arrange my songs and that’s much slower. So when I have a new idea, like today, I kind of feel a sense of adding to an already decent stack of initial ideas… and though I only start writing something if it excites me, I feel as maybe I’ll never get to it or can’t put 100% of my focus on it as I’m trying to work on my first album, all songs that are at least a year old.

    I’m wondering if you have any suggestions or if any of your books might be applicable? The think is… arranging to me is not something I want to throw over the fence to someone else, it’s where a lot of the magic and development of the song happen for me…. So all this is a little hard!

    • Hi Alexi:

      I’ve always felt that if you’re feeling like you’re in a very creative spot, where you find it easy to come up with ideas, but songs don’t necessarily get finished, it’s better (at least for a while) to keep coming up with those great ideas, even if you don’t finish them right away. Soon enough, you’ll probably find that the creative part will start to slow down — that’d be pretty normal. When/if that happens, you’ve got a treasure trove of song ideas that you can turn your attention to, songs that you can complete and then concentrate on arranging. So for now, I’d recommend that you keep creating ideas as long as it’s working for you.

      All the best with those songwriting projects!

  2. Hi Gary,
    I have been enjoying your blog for some time now and am greatly pleased to have it arrive in my inbox. I would like to to help promote your work. Do you have a Facebook page that your posts get published to? I ask because you have an option to “Like” the post on Facebook, however, I do not see where comments accumulate (on Facebook) or how to easily share the post there, other than copying and pasting the blog post link.

    • Hi Philip:

      Thanks so much for your comment, and I’m delighted that you are enjoying the posts. I don’t have a related Facebook page at this point, but will likely do that shortly. As far as I know, if you click to “Like” a post, it will log onto your own Facebook page and register the link and “like” there.

      Thanks again, Philip, and when I have a Facebook page set up (probably within the next month or so), I’ll be sure to let you know.


      • I’m glad to hear that you are planning to expand to Facebook. Let me know if you have any questions that I may be able to answer. I have a lot of experience with video, if that ever comes up and I’m always happy to help out a fellow songwriter.

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