As innovative as The Beatles were, there wasn’t much new in their collective songwriting style. They brought ideas to pop music that had been around for years in other genres, and of course, they did it stunningly well.
Their compositional technique gave us some real beauties, but much of what they did had been happening out of the main stream, in the worlds of classical (both traditional and abstract), jazz, country, and many other genres.
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In so doing, they dressed up pop music and showed everyone else how respectable it could be. Pop music as an art form: that was possibly The Beatle’s most important contribution.
Of course, it takes more than simply borrowing the ideas from other genres to be good at what you do. But the songwriter/performers who dig into other styles of musical performance to find their own voice are the ones that truly succeed.
The best songwriters out there are not reinventing the wheel, and you shouldn’t be trying to, either. We’ve got the wheel; now we just need songwriters who can dress it up in an innovative, creative way.
When you write well, though, you succeed at giving the impression that you’ve done just that… reinvented the wheel. You make it sound like no one else could have written something like this.
In a way, it’s true: no one else is writing like you. Everything you do is unique. But it’s important to remember that part of your improvement as a creator of music is your ability to — not just borrow — but to meld the many ideas from the hopefully hundreds of songs you listen to every year.
Those who purposely try to reinvent the wheel usually come up with something that sounds too weird to be enjoyed, too abstract to truly touch the heart of the listener.
If today you’re stuck for songwriting ideas, and everything you try to write just sounds muddled and unpleasant, your time will be better spent listening to good music. The more you listen, the more you’ll absorb into your own personal songwriting style.
There are days when the best songwriting exercise you can do is to listen objectively to songs you like. If today is that day, sit back and listen. You’ll be a better songwriter for it.