Great songwriting, from a listener’s point of view, flies under the radar, by which I mean that the best songs are great without making it obvious why they’re great.
- A song might have a gorgeous melody, but the average listener won’t know exactly why it’s so beautiful.
- It might have a really captivating sequence of chords, but most people couldn’t tell you what they are.
- Its form might make the build-up and diminishing of musical energy and emotion perfect, but most people wouldn’t be able to tell you why they feel the emotion of that song so keenly.
- The lyrics might speak powerfully to the heart of the listener, but most of those people may not be able to tell you exactly what it is about the choice of words that hit the mark so well.
From a listener’s point of view, it can seem that excellence in songwriting is a random aligning of excellent song elements.
But in good songwriting, as in good anything, there’s nothing random about it. Excellence comes from knowing the principles of musical composition, and then applying those principles in a musically intelligent way.
On track to make songwriting a full-time or part-time career choice? Read “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.” It expands on some of the ideas in “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting,” with chapters like “How Do I Write Songs When I Don’t Feel Inspired”, “How Do I write Good Vocal Harmonies”, and others.
But actually, there is one aspect of randomness in good songwriting that we must acknowledge, and it’s this: creating an initial great song idea. That first idea upon which you build the rest of your chord might be a snippet of melody, a line of lyric, or some other great kind of idea.
And even that initial idea, which seems to come from deep inside your musical mind, isn’t really random. It’s appeared in your mind due to your previous musical experiences, accumulated over the years since the day you were born.
Paul McCartney once said, “I can’t tell you how to write a song; I can only tell you how you might finish a song,” and that’s as true a statement as any teacher of songwriting can utter. That’s McCartney’s way of saying, “You need to come up with a great idea as a starting point.”
If you want to improve your songwriting, you need to get curious about exactly why good songs sound good. That means learning to analyze songs, take them apart, consider the different elements both separately and paired up with some other element, and really learn about why the song is successful.
An audience member has the luxury of simply thinking that a good song is a magical act of musical excellence.
As a songwriter, you don’t have that luxury.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook bundle comes with a free copy of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process”, along with an all-important Study Guide!