Sometimes you’ll find that a song you’ve written will succeed even when it seems to violate some of the basic principles of good songwriting. It might be a melody that just lingers around one or two notes, when our instincts tell us that good melodies should have a nice up-and-down shape.
Or it might be a chord progression that wanders around seemingly aimlessly, when our musical instincts tell us that good progressions should target the tonic (key) chord.
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Or it might be lyrics that are hard to understand and hard to make a connection with, when we know that good lyrics usually touch our emotional soul and alternate between narrative and emotional.
When songs succeed despite violating the principles of good songwriting, the worst thing you can do is worry about those violations, and try to fix them. In fact, when songs work, it usually means that they are adhering to those principles in ways that you’re not immediately understanding.
So I usually recommend against analyzing your songwriting successes. When a song works, here’s what you do: turn the page and get going on your next one.
If a song you’ve written seems to be failing in some way, thats when it’s time to analyze it, and try to figure out what’s gone wrong. That’s when applying the principles of good songwriting will work for you. Knowing the basic principles of musical composition will usually point you in the right direction, and show you how to fix a bad song.
So when it comes to succeeding and failing with songwriting, take the following tips on board as your personal philosophy:
- Don’t analyze (or over-analyze) your own songwriting successes. If you appear to have broken some basic norms of songwriting, that’s fine. That’s not a problem to fix, as long as you like the song and it seems to be connecting with audiences.
- Analyze other songwriters’ successes. When you hear a song you like, try to figure out why you like it. Is it the chords? The lyrics? The melody? The groove? Identifying the things you like about a song helps you when writing your own. Because it’s someone else’s good song, you’re less likely to worry about the fact that it may have gone against the norms of good songwriting. That’s music for you!
- Silence your inner critic, especially at the beginning of the songwriting process. Being overly self-critical is a waste of time, and can kill whatever innovative direction your song is taking.
- Don’t confuse songwriting with production. A song that sounds bad may simply mean you need to hire a producer to help you. A song needs to be good before you take it to the studio.
- Have a healthy perspective on other people’s opinions. If someone dislikes your song, it’s not necessarily an indication that you’ve done something wrong. People can hate the songs you write, and that’s their right. Seek out and value seasoned professionals’ opinions, but remember that these are your songs. You get the final say on what they sound like.
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