I’ve often said that if you’re not doing something unique in your songwriting/performing, you’re missing the opportunity to add something remarkable to the music world.
Being unique does not need to mean being strange, or at least certainly not overly strange. Most of the time, what you feel comfortable doing as a songwriter will be constrained at least to a certain degree by the definition of the genre you work in.
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Once you’ve got a song working the way you want, there’s one final listening step that I think you should be doing: listen to your own song, and ask yourself, “Have I done anything unique with this song?”
It might be a curious turn of phrase in the lyric. Perhaps it’s something interesting and unexpected about the way the melody curves, or maybe you’ve added a certain rarely-used instrument in your chosen genre — a french horn in a country tune, for example.
If, in the end, your song sounds like practically any other song out there, then it almost doesn’t matter how good it is. Something needs to happen to make that song stand out and wave a flag that other songs aren’t doing, or else you’re just copying what has already been going on.
So what kinds of things might you be doing that could make your song stand apart from others?
- Use an instrument you don’t normally think to use: fiddle, dobro, oboe, trombone… anything that grabs attention. Led Zeppelin used recorders to help their “Stairway to Heaven” stand out from other songs.
- Change up the order of your song. Start with the chorus instead of the verse, or start with a seemingly unrelated section or lengthy solo, like the keyboard solo at the beginning of Supertramp’s “Bloody Well Right“
- Write a song about something few others would write about. George Harrison wrote about Eric Clapton’s love of sweets in “Savoy Truffle”, and Genesis wrote a song, “Pigeons“, about… pigeons!
- Use strange time signatures. Moving away from the predictable 4/4 time signature to something odd like 5/4 or 7/4 will put interesting hiccups in the expected groove.
Most of these ideas won’t take your songs into really odd directions, but will be odd enough to keep your audience thinking and guessing. And in the end, you’ll have a song that will be just unique enough to make your music stand alone in the best way possible.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
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