Musical ideas

Good Songwriting, and the Demand for Uniqueness

I’ve had an approach to writing music that I’ve described on this blog before, which is that second ideas are often better than first ones. That shouldn’t be so surprising, since your second idea will usually take the first one as its model — whether consciously or subconsciously — and modify it. In most cases, that second one will be better.

I read a recent article in the New York Times, an interview with David Chase about his television drama “The Sopranos” (“David Chase on ‘The Sopranos,’ Trump and, Yes, That Ending“). In responding to how he attempted to create “real characters” based on how people would normally behave, he said this:

I always had this saying: The first 10 ideas you get, throw them away. And that’s what we used to do, is to just keep going until it was something you hadn’t seen before or couldn’t anticipate.

So I throw away my first one, and Chase throws away the first ten, but the sentiment is the same.

I find it interesting that Chase made that comment while answering a question about how to create characters that felt real. In a way, we’re writing music about things — people, situations, circumstances — that we want others to accept as real, at least on some level.

And he feels, after tossing the first 10 ideas, that he’s come up with something that’s unique enough to feel real.

Maybe he’s hit on something that’s vital in creating pop art of any sort: everything in life is unique, and once you’ve come up with something truly unique in your songwriting, you’ve actually created something to which audiences will be able to relate.

Good songwriting demands uniqueness. If you’re simply churning out tunes that sound like the kind of stuff everyone else is writing, you’ll be forgotten. No one remembers the hamburger they ate ten years ago, no matter how good it tasted. It’s just too similar to every other hamburger.

Unless it’s not.

Uniqueness requires courage. Because, like “The Sopranos,” it can succeed beyond your wildest dreams. Or it can flop.

So be unique. Toss out ideas in your search for better ones. How you know you’ve achieved something wonderful is that your song will be unique enough to feel real, not unique enough to simply feel weird.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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