Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody

The Power and Danger of Musical Innovation

There is a reason why treating the principles of good songwriting as if they were rules is a bad idea: you might inadvertently kill a good song.

If good musical composition were guided by rules, many number 1 hits would likely have been tossed into the trash bin due to the fact that they did something innovative, something that went against what would have been conventional wisdom of their day.

There likely wouldn’t have been a “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “I Am the Walrus,” with their innovative, imaginative sound effects and structural design. And most definitely no “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Innovation requires writers (and producers, of course) not just to go out on a limb, but to create that limb, and then entice others to follow.

If you want to be successful in the music world, you can do what everyone else is doing, and you’ll likely — for a time, at least — get swept up along with the wave of success that is today’s music. You’ll be doing not just what everyone wants — you’ll be doing what everyone expects.

But if you want to be more than successful — if you want to set a new direction for yourself and grab some audience for that new direction — that requires you to be innovative. And that requires you to create a new limb on the tree, boldly striding out onto that new branch, and bringing others along with you.

It sounds exciting, but in fact it’s dangerous. Innovation will either succeed or fail. Most of the time it fails, but we rarely get to hear the failures. History filters failures as much as it filters unremarkable music so that we don’t encounter them unless we go looking for them.

But no one ever said that innovative songwriting is easy or safe. The Beatles did it the right way: with their first hits they built a loyal following by producing music that was exciting but not much different from what was going on already.

But once they started to innovate, with songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Eleanor Rigby” and most of the songs on “Sergeant Pepper “, they started their journey into unexplored territory that required unprecedented courage and imagination. And they built a huge audience for it.

There was always a danger that it wouldn’t work. But success in the arts is not for the faint of heart.

Now take a look at your own songs and ask yourself: Are you playing it safe so that you can ride the wave of today’s sound and success? Or are you doing something – anything – that sets you apart from the noise and takes your fans on a new and exciting ride?

It takes courage and resolve. And from the point of view of commercial success, it’s dangerously risky. But the potential rewards are enormous. You can be setting a new direction, not based on the perceived rules of the music industry, but on your own sense of creativity and imagination.

What are you doing in your songwriting that no one else is doing?

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Essential Secrets of Songwriting BundleAny success you have a songwriter requires writing music that’s strong, imaginative and compelling to an audience. Gary’s eBook bundle packages have been helping thousands of songwriters achieve their songwriting goals.

Posted in songwriting and tagged , , , , , , , .

One Comment

  1. Coco Chanel said, “Once you’ve dressed, and before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.”

    I’ve taken that approach to songwriting recently. I went through a song I’d written and stripped out notes from the melody. The song feels much stronger for the simplicity.

    But I can’t say it’s innovative, and anyway, this is just my much-loved hobby (I have a full time job and family). Maybe many pros do this instinctively and don’t need to pare things down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.