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In Songwriting, What’s Worse Than Predictability?

If there’s one thing songwriters usually strive for, it’s uniqueness. No one wants to simply write songs that sound like everything else that’s going on out there. That would make it hard to build a fan base of your own.

Except… there is something worse than being overly predictable in your writing style (and predictability is not necessarily a bad thing, but I’ll get to that in a moment), and it’s this: writing songs that don’t make an emotional connection to the listener.

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Without an emotional connection, your audience won’t care. When a song fails to reach out and generate emotions of any sort, there’s little if anything that will cause listeners to want to come back to listen to it again. People crave being manipulated in that way. Whether it’s love, happiness, sadness, melancholy, or any other emotion, people want to feel something while they’re listening to music.

Predictability is not always a bad thing, and in fact, most songs are comprised of musical elements that everyone’s heard before. Having said that, every song needs a certain dose of originality, and the most common parts of a song that will show this originality will be the lyric and the melody.

But even there, there’s usually something predictable about melodies and lyrics in the sense that they use common words that are combined in, albeit, a somewhat unique way, and they use melodies not written quite that way before.

It’s hard to put real numbers on this, but it’s fair to say that most good songs are about 90% predictable, with only a small 10% of something that’s innovative, unique or surprising. That predictability is why you can listen to a song and tell within seconds what genre it is: country music, for example, doesn’t just have a sound — it has a way that the melodies tend to move, it has lyrics that are common in that genre, and a singing style that’s also common.

So for whatever amount of energy you put into trying to make your songs a unique musical experience, you need to put at least that much energy into finding ways to make sure your song is generating an emotional response in whoever takes the time to listen to it.

Without that kind of listener connection, it won’t matter how unique or clever your song is — no one will want to listen.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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