How Good Songwriters Listen to Music

As an unofficial “student of songwriting,” you’re curious. You’re not content to just enjoy music — you want to know why some songs sound great, and then you want to apply what you learn to make your own songs sound great.

Simply stated, if you aren’t curious, you aren’t a songwriter.

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Because you write songs, you tend to listen to music in a different way from how most other people listen to music, at least much of the time. When you’re in songwriting mode, you tend to pull songs apart and learn about each component while you’re enjoying it.

You might be curious about a certain chord. Or perhaps it’s the interplay between melody and chords that’s intrigued you in a certain song. Or maybe it’s something on the production level that’s grabbed your interest: how did that band get such a nice instrumental build between the verse and the chorus.

In any case, other people — non-musicians, I’m talking about — aren’t so curious about the mechanics of a song. They’re not so interested in pulling songs apart to learn about them. They simply want to enjoy them.

Songwriting Success

How do you know that you’ve written a successful song? It’s simple: when someone wants to hear it again, you’ve written a good one.

And in fact, in that regard, it’s not so much that people want to hear it again; it’s more accurate to say that they want to feel that way again, and so they click to listen to your song.

That’s a vitally important point that bears repeating. When people say that they like a certain song, it’s actually the case that they want those feelings again, whatever feelings they experienced when they first heard your song.

The emotions that listeners generate as they listen to your songs are often subtle. The emotions don’t have to be over-the-top. But if they aren’t feeling anything, it doesn’t matter how clever a song you’ve written. To the average non-songwriting listener, music is an emotional experience.

When you’re listening to music as a songwriter, listening is an objective activity. You need to dig down beneath the emotions to learn about the skeletal framework of a song, and that means listening objectively. It means putting aside whether or not you personally like a song, and judge it on a less emotional level.

If listening to good music isn’t part of your daily routine, you’re missing the most important advancement you can make in your own songwriting. That listening needs to be objective, and guided by your own intense curiosity.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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