If you always give the audience what they’re expecting, that’s a recipe for losing a fan base.
It’s true that your fans are going to expect a certain style of songwriting from you, but if you never venture outward — never explore the extremes — your fan base is going to get lulled into the unpleasant notion that not much is ever going to change.
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To figure out how to explore the outer reaches of your songwriting style, it’s important to be able to identify your comfort zone. What do you think makes a song distinctly yours?
To determine this, it’s best to look at each song component as a separate entity. This may take a little time, but here’s short list of how you might do this:
Read through lyric sheets of several of your most recent songs. Get an idea of the kind of thing you’re likely to write about. And probably more importantly: is there anything you don’t ever seem to write about?
Is it all love songs for you? If so, it’s time to branch out to write about other things that might connect to your audience. So how about social justice? Taxes that are too high? An ode to your guitar? Anything that gets you away from your normal go-to topics.
This can be an eye-opener, because for many songwriters, the way the melody works is a matter of subconscious design. When you put the magnifying glass on your melodies, you’ll want to make note of:
- Your songs’ basic ranges.
- Use of melodic leaps: do your melodies leap around a lot? And are they mostly upward leaps?
- Use of repetition of short melodic ideas: is repetition a common feature in your song melodies?
Now think about your last few songs, and are you seeing a lot of similarities? The answer is (as George Costanza would say) to do the opposite. Identify where your comfort zone has been, and purposely try to find ways to move in the opposite direction. It may be more comfortable (and more exciting) than you think.
Most of your songs will favour the same kinds of chords. It’s common for songwriters to make either mainly diatonic choices (i.e., choose chords that come naturally from your song’s key), or to make choices that stray a bit (flat-VI, flat VII, secondary dominants, or chords that use added tones).
If you’ve never ventured much from tame chord progressions, you’ll be pleased to know that it doesn’t take much to provide something innovative that will take your songs in a new direction. I’ve written an article about this before, and so if being adventurous with chords isn’t easy for you, this might serve as a good intro to the topic: How to Add a Bit of Complexity to Song Chord Choices
I think you get the idea. You need to take a close look at what you call your own personal songwriting style, and start moving into the extremes of what you’ve normally offered your listeners.
Any time you do this, you’ll run the risk of losing a listener or two, those who really aren’t much into being adventurous. But you will pick up others who will be impressed with your new direction. Almost always you’ll gain a larger fan base than you lose, and that’s a good thing!
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