It’s tricky, writing music that pleases your target audience. They want every song to sound unique and fresh. But at the same time, they want to hear the kind of music that attracted them to you in the first place.
So you try to write something that goes in a refreshingly new direction, and they give you the thumbs down. So then you write something that’s a little more like what they’re used to, and they grumble that it’s same old, same old. How do you get the balance right?
Chord progressions are not protected by copyright, so exploring all the possibilities in Gary’s eBooks may give you the innovative sound you’re looking for. And if you simply want advice on adding chords to your own new melody, check out “How to Harmonize a Melody.”
In general, audiences — even the ones that want something innovative — will be happy with songs that are quite similar to what you’ve written before, with merely a touch of innovation.
Sticking with an approach you’ve always used is common in musical composition. Even classical composers have their favourite go-to melodic shapes, ideas, chords and rhythms. It’s why we can listen to an unknown Beethoven work, and say, “That sounds like Beethoven.”
But there really is a problem when your newest song sounds just like the one you wrote last week. Once that happens two or three times in a row, your fans start to believe that they’ve heard it all before — that you’ve got nothing new for them. It’s a major reason for a shrinking fanbase.
When audiences feel that they’ve heard something before, they usually mean:
- They recognize the basic feel of the song as sounding too similar to something you’ve already done. You can’t write very many power ballads, for example, before everyone feels that you’ve run out of ideas.
- They recognize basic melodic shapes as ones you’ve used before. The way you do that particular leap upward, or perhaps the way that you chant out a melody that sits on one or two melody notes… those are all characteristics that you need to be careful about using too much.
- They recognize the kinds of chords you like to use.
- They recognize the kinds of lyrical clichés you’ve used.
If you find that everything you write sounds like something you’ve written before, here are some tips for keeping your songs sounding fresh and new:
- Make listening to music a daily experience, and try to listen to as many different genres as possible. Keeping your listening palette full and rich means you’ve got a lot of ideas to draw on and borrow from.
- Don’t use the same process over and over. If you like starting songs by vamping chord progressions, there is a danger of all your songs sounding similar. So try starting by working out lyrics, by working out melody, or by concentrating on a particularly interesting rhythmic groove.
- Try different time signatures. Songs in 4/4 are the most common, accounting for more than 90% of all pop songs. So try 3/4 (“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”), or try something even more innovative, like 5/8 (“Everything’s Alright“)
- Explore a more interesting instrumentation. If you find that your songs use the same basic sounds (computer-based, or guitar-bass-drums kind of thing), try branching out and using instruments you’ve not considered before.
- Work with a producer. If you can afford it, hiring a professional producer gives you the best chance to give your songs a professional shine that explores all the creative possibilities of your chosen genre. Songwriters can sometimes be their own best producers, but not often.