The Difference between Good and Great in Songwriting

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On the Songwriting Reddit recently, this question popped up: “What trait separates ‘good’ songwriters from ‘great’ songwriters?” It’s generated many responses, and some of them are quite good, I think:

  • When the idea is just so clear and the music matches the lyrical aspect, making something foreign to the listener seem relatable…
  • To be a great writer, you have to be a great editor…
  • It simplifies a complex emotion in a way where you go “that’s what I’ve been trying to say.”
  • important to clarify that a ‘great’ songwriter is really subjective.

Those are all part of the equation. But here’s the problem with most of those definitions: they might be part of what you would say about good songwriters/songwriting. So what’s the difference between being good and being great?

One other poster wrote the following, and I think they’re getting close with this: “There is ‘great’ as in really good at writing great songs. And there is ‘great’ as in publicly recognized as being a great writer.”

It all comes down to one important word: CONSISTENCY.

In fact, it’s probably the only thing that separates good from great in anything, let alone songwriting.

You can stumble on an excellent idea for a song, one that grabs everyone’s attention without letting go. But if you came upon that idea by random chance, the likelihood that you’ll do it again is small.

It’s like an average golfer who manages, by some freak of nature, to hit a hole-in-one. For that moment, they look amazing. For that moment, they’re untouchable.

But it came about because everything lined up just right for that one swing of the club. And because they can’t replicate the event at will, they descend back to whatever skill level they typically show on a day-to-day basis.

And it’s the same with songwriting. If you write a great song, but can’t follow it up reliably with another great song, you’ve just demonstrated the difference between good and great.

“How do I move from good to great?” is another way of asking, “How do I become the kind of songwriter where almost everything I write is good?”

There’s no one right answer; there are several right ones, all being important:

  1. Study the technique of songwriting. Learn why good songs are good.
  2. Don’t accept that good songs are the result of random excellence. There are always reasons. Find and then label those reasons.
  3. Write regularly. If you write only because you feel like it, that’s part of random excellence. Writing because it’s time to write is part of programmed excellence.
  4. Get advice from experienced musicians (songwriters, performers, producers, etc.). Be courageous to ask what those good people like and dislike about what you’ve written. Don’t assume you must accept their advice: even good musicians may not know what you’re trying to do. But take advantage of others’ experience.
  5. Develop the skill of listening to your own music objectively. Rather than always asking someone, “What do you think of my song?”, ask yourself: “What do I think of my song?”

Whether you’re trying to build an audience base, get the attention of music industry personnel, or simply trying to be the kind of songwriter where your own songs give you pleasure, the most important word for you is: CONSISTENCY.

Consistency is proof of excellence.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

If you’re ready to study — to learn why a great song succeeds — and then to apply those discoveries to your own songs, you’re ready for “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle”

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