Five Songwriting Ponderables

Do you ever find that when you’re talking to other musicians about music in general, there’s a list of “the things you’re most likely to say” guiding your conversations?

Everyone has their big issues in music. Their pet peeves. Their guiding principles. Their “why do people think this way!?” kind of rants.

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Shall I list five of my particular favourites? I won’t call them rants, although… well, don’t get me started! I’ll just characterize them as songwriting ponderables, and I’ve listed them in no particular order below.

And then in the comments, please feel free to rant about favourite songwriting issues you find raise your hackles and get you steaming.

  1. No song ever failed because the chord progression was boring. Some songs benefit from chords that make us think, that challenge our imagination, or that take us on interesting musical journeys. But when a song fails, and the progression is at fault, it’s because it’s not working, not because it’s too simple.
  2. You are too fixated on Nickelback. This one really gets me. Let’s set aside for the moment that most people who talk about how much they hate Nickelback couldn’t list a song they recorded. But that band has become the icon for cringy, horrible music. I get it. To me, all their music (and particularly their performance style) all sounds the same and lacks imagination. But if you’re a musician and you’re can’t get over how much you hate this group, you’re wasting an incredible amount of time. Move on!
  3. An opinion in a song doesn’t become more relevant because it’s been sung. It doesn’t become more clever because it rhymes. I remember seeing an interview with Bob Dylan once in which he was asked to expand on his thoughts and opinions from one of his songs’ lyrics. He said something to the effect of “Why? I’m just a songwriter. I don’t know anything more than anyone else.” So if someone sings, “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way,” your first reaction might be, “Wow! That’s SO TRUE!!” Hopefully, your next reaction will quickly be, “Oh, that actually isn’t really smart after all.” Being clever isn’t bad in a lyric, but nothing takes the place of a simple line that touches the emotional heart of the listener.
  4. Music theory will give you an important insight into the workings of music that always improves your creativity. No, music theory will not stunt you as a songwriter. It does the opposite: It shows you why music works, and gives you vocabulary to describe your musical thoughts to others. It can be every bit as important as learning the rules of grammar are to a writer. Theory isn’t a set of rules, it’s a set of observances. If it stunts your sense of creativity, you are (as they say) using it wrong.
  5. You can improve your songwriting by listening to other genres. Most songwriters want to be unique somehow. They want their songs to stand out apart from the rest, and to be distinctive. Nothing will help you more than simply immersing yourself in good music from genres you don’t normally listen to. And if you don’t know what to listen to, a simple online search for “the best [metal] songs ever” will get you started. (Replace “metal” with any genre, and you’ll have enough to keep you going for a long time!)

What grand statements do you find yourself regularly making with others when you talk shop? Please share your own ponderables below in the comments.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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  1. Pingback: GARY EWER – The Essential Secrets of Songwriting Blog | I Write The Music

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