Not all artforms are processed the same way in our brains. You might, for example, choose a particular painting to hang in your living room, one that you really like looking at. And you’re fine with seeing it “all the time.” Every time you go into your living room, there it is. It’s a nice painting, so you like that it’s a fixture in your house.
Songs aren’t like that. No matter how much we like a song, we’re more likely to reach a saturation point quickly with how much we want to hear it. True, when we first hear a great song, we might binge-listen for a while. But most of the time, we need time away from it in order to keep appreciating it.
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There are probably psychologists who can better say why that is — why we’re fine with seeing the same painting in our living room day after day, while constantly listening to the same song is less tolerable. It may have to do with the notion of artistic journey.
If you think of songs as being a journey, with a beginning, middle and end, we like when each journey is mostly unique. Of course there will be similarities between songs, and that’s what gives us the notion of genre. But each song we hear needs to be unique enough that we hear mostly something new for each song.
This is important to think about as you consider what you offer as a songwriter. If you solve the problems of songwriting in the same way each and every time you write a song, you’re going to wind up with a song that sounds too similar to everything else you’ve written. For every song you write, you need to offer a new journey.
What are the ways you can ensure that listeners aren’t going to tire of what you’re writing? Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Have several songwriting processes that you use interchangeably. If you’re always starting a song by working out chords, for example, you run the risk of creating an unpleasant sameness about them. In effect, you’re offering the same journey to your listeners all the time.
- Change up basic design elements from one song to the next, particularly tempo, key, mode and rhythmic feel. These are the elements that people notice right away, and a sameness with these bits will be unpleasantly noticeable.
- Try learning different instruments, even just enough to work out your songs. If you’re always using guitar to write, muscle memory will keep guiding your music in the same direction. So try banjo, mandolin, keyboard, your grandpa’s old fiddle… anything else that ensures that your first steps will be unique.
- Try a songwriting partnership. Collaborations are a great way to solve the problem of all your songs sounding the same. And a partnership will pleasantly change your solo efforts when you return to writing on your own.
- Always ask yourself, “What do I want my listeners to “learn” with this song?” By learn, I don’t mean that your song will necessarily have a message or moral — it’s more an issue of keeping track of what little bit of yourself you’ll be revealing to your audience when they listen to your song. Focusing on that will ensure that you’ve got something unique to share, and that keeps the musical journey fresh.
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