I’ve been spending a good amount of time in the past couple of days listening to songs for which songwriters have sent me links, asking for my thoughts on various issues and problems they’re having. It’s something I really love doing, when time permits.
To me, solving musical issues that come up in a song is tricky because every song is a one-off; you’re giving thoughts and opinions about something for which there is no duplicate. All we have to guide us are principles of good musical composition. But you must also factor innovation and creativity into your opinions, and that’s perhaps the hardest part.
Getting someone else’s analytical opinion can be very useful, but there is value to learning to analyze your own songs. The most difficult part of that is dealing with subjectivity. A song can feel like your own baby, and that makes it difficult to be honest with yourself regarding its possible flaws.
So here are some tips that might help you with learning to analyze your songs and becoming a better songwriter.
- Prepare your mind to be objective. This is the trickiest step, and one that needs to be in place before you can ever make good use of your time analyzing your own songs. If you find it hard, try this: sit back in a chair, close your eyes, and visualize the scenario that someone has sent you a sound file of their latest tune. It may take a few moments, but you can get to that point where you successfully imagine that it’s someone else’s music. You definitely need to stop thinking of your song as your own baby. Distance yourself emotionally before analyzing.
- Accept success. Songwriters occasionally worry that a song everyone seems to enjoy doesn’t seem guided by the principles of good songwriting. It just seems to work for no good reason. In those cases, accept the success of the song, and if you feel you want to analyze it, try to figure out why it’s successful, not why it doesn’t adhere to normal songwriting principles for your chosen genre.
- Categorize and isolate the elements within your song. Listen to your song objectively several times, and isolate the various components for each listen. For example, listen purely for lyrics. Focus on use of metaphor, simile, alliteration, and other poetic devices. Assess its use of imagery. Compare verse lyrics with chorus lyrics, and try to think of ways the lyric can be more compelling. Then (in no particular order) listen for melodic shape, then for instrumentation, then chords, and so on. Categorizing and then isolating elements in this way allows you to focus in on potential problems more accurately, and come up with viable solutions.
- Don’t change a song simply because someone doesn’t like it. Someone disliking your song is not an indication that there’s something wrong with it. There are many songs that I personally dislike with considerable intensity, but I can still recognize that they work, and that they adhere to sound songwriting principles, and can admit that others love them. So yes, get the opinions of others, but don’t assume that those opinions should place very high in importance when it comes to solving a song’s structural issues. (If everyone dislikes it… now you’ve got a problem. :))
- Have the courage to change problems, and the courage to keep the good bits. Deciding to change something about your song can take a considerable amount of courage. Analyzing implies that you’re at least considering the possibility that something’s going to change about your song when you’re done the process. That final step, of changing your lyric, your chords, even something as benign as your tempo — these are all changes that take courage and determination. No one ever said that songwriting was for the faint of heart.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
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