Student of songwriting

On Being a Student of Songwriting

When I go to the grocery store, I’m occasionally aware that at least 95% of everything the store offers are not items I’d ever buy. The same goes for my local (excellent) magazine store. I walk past the 95% of the magazines that pertain to wrestling, Lego, hair style, knitting, etc., and go to the few I personally find more interesting: history, popular culture and various music-related journals.

This may seem like an odd thing to say, but I don’t get angry at the magazine store for selling the journals I have no interest in. I assume that the store exists for more than my own needs: there are other people in my city!

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I don’t get angry at the grocery store for selling foods I’d never buy. I just assume that others buy them, and that’s why they’re being sold.

I mention this because I occasionally get emails from people wondering why in the heck I would spend any time analyzing this or that song, when it’s a song they hate. And since they hate it, they assume that others hate it, or should hate it.

I analyze lots of songs on this blog that I don’t particularly care for as a consumer. For me, though, when several tens or hundreds of millions of people have listened to a song on YouTube, my interest grows: What is it about that song that people like?

At that point, as a student of songwriting, whether I like it or hate it takes a bit of a back seat. I assume that there’s something about the song that the artist and producer got right, and hundreds of millions of people appear to agree with that assessment.

Then it’s my job to figure that out. Why are so many people attracted to that song? Why does it work? I may think the lyrics are lame, but they’re obviously speaking to huge numbers. Or maybe it’s not the lyrics, in which case I have to look deeper. Perhaps it’s the way the melody interacts with the chords. Maybe it’s the clever melodic hook.

It is very possible to learn from songs you don’t like. And in fact, good students of songwriting do it all the time. They learn to respect and appreciate genres in which they don’t have any particular personal interest. And they learn how to be a better songwriter from those very songs.

If you’ve decided that 2019 is the year you’re going to take your songwriting skills to the next level, you need to do the following:

  1. Listen to music you don’t normally listen to.
  2. Put your own personal opinions aside as you prepare to analyze or study that music.
  3. Think about what works in a song, and (at least for the time being) ignore what you don’t like.

By doing that, you have a better shot at being an objective listener, the kind of listener that learns.

Just as a sociologist will learn more about a society by observing which magazines people tend to buy, or food they tend to eat, a student of songwriting will learn more about what works within a song by studying the music that large sections of society tend to listen to.

I’ve got my likes and dislikes just like everyone else. I spend a lot of time clicking away from songs when I’m just listening for entertainment.

But when I’ve got my student hat on, I do a lot of unbiased, objective listening. And because I use that approach with the songs that I study, I don’t get angry at music that I don’t personally enjoy. I just get curious.

And then I study.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“Essential Chord Progressions” give you hundreds of progressions you can use as is, or modify to suit the songs you’re working on. If all you need are some chords to get you going, check out this ebook. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.

Essential Chord Progressions

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