Identifying Your Songwriting Achilles’ Heel

In typical usage, an Achilles’ heel is a weakness. But it’s a little more than that. To have an Achilles’ heel means that, in the midst of what seems to be many obvious strengths, you’ve got one weakness that threatens to bring you down.

That term may be on its way to becoming antiquated. I don’t hear it being used as often now as it used to be, but it’s a very useful one. It comes from Greek mythology: Achilles was the son of the Greek goddess Thetis. To give him strength, she dipped him in the waters of the River Styx, offering him protection from his enemies.

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But holding him by the heel as she dipped him meant that his heel was left vulnerable. And according to the myth, he was shot in the heel with a poisonous arrow and died.

It’s a very useful metaphor to describe that area of weakness that might be plaguing you — your area of vulnerability. In spite of all of your musical strengths, you may have that one area that you’ve always found difficult — one that threatens to bring you down.

Most of the time, it’s usually a good thing to admit your failings. After all, we can’t all be good at everything, and admitting that you’ve always found, let’s say, lyrics to be the trickiest part of your songwriting process can be a healthy admission.

The Weakest Link

But there’s another more sobering way to look at your Achilles’ heel. That one area of weakness in the midst of all your obvious strengths might be bringing your entire songwriting level down.

That can mean that even though your melodies sound wonderful, you’ve got weak lyrics that are distracting audiences. They can’t get to the point where they enjoy your melodies because they’re trying to deal with your words.

So an Achilles’ heel might have the effect of killing any chance you have of building on your fan base. It’s a “weakest link” scenario.

When people judge your songs, they’re actually judging not just your songwriting abilities, but the entire production package. And in fact, most listeners can’t distinguish between a problem that’s related to production, and one that’s strictly a songwriting weakness.

Some typical songwriting problems that might be your Achilles’ heel:

  1. Your melodies don’t support the meaning of your lyrics. When lyrics become emotional, for example, you’ll want to consider moving melodies higher to take advantage of the more emotive range of your voice. To read more about the structure of song melodies, check out this post: “Stepping and Leaping Through Song Melodies.”
  2. Your lyrics don’t make sense, or aren’t connecting with your audience. You’re trying to describe a complex state of mind or situation, but there are awkward moments particularly as you move from one song section to the next.
  3. Your chords don’t properly support the melody. There are weaker, more fragile moments in your chords that interrupt the flow of the music.

A couple of typical production problems:

  1. Your songs are too long.
  2. There’s a general unpolished sound with regard to your recording. There might be something amiss with the mix, or even just the performance in general.

Any one of these can be your Achilles’ heel. They can take a song that might otherwise be excellent, and bring it down to the point where you lose audience over it.

So if you’ve got that one area of your songwriting process that you admit is something that needs work, the time is now to start fixing it. It may not just be a weakness — it could be your Achilles’ heel.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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