Songwriter

No One Cares How Long It Takes to Write a Song If It’s a Good One

Look around you. You can probably see lots of things that you’ve purchased. Some are inexpensive, like pencils, your comb, and your lamp.

Other things represent the most money you’ve ever spent, and depending on your stage of life, that could be your smartphone, your car, or your house.

For everything that you own that you consider to be your most valuable possession, think about this: On the day you made your purchase, you probably never asked the salesperson, “How long did it take for them to make this?”


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“How long” is not a question that we think of as being in any way relevant to the quality of the item. We don’t actually care, do we?

How long it took to make a car only ever rises to the level of being interesting in a geeky sort of way. We have lots of ways to assess the quality of an item we’re buying, but “How long did it take to make this” never gives us much relevant information.

In the music world, though, we can get fooled into thinking that songs that happen quickly are the ones that are special. They’re special because obviously the songwriter was inspired by some kind of force or spirit. What else could possibly explain how this song came into being so quickly.

And if it is truly something that’s come about by way of whatever songwriting gods we acknowledge, surely there’s something almost magical about that. And if you think that way, you can see why we can be enticed to give special recognition to the songs that come together quickly: If it’s come about quickly, it must be good.

But the quality of a song only ever comes down to one thing: how effectively the various elements of the song — the melodies, chords, lyrics and production — partner with each other.

The quality of a song has more to do with songwriting principles than the time it took to put it all together.

Why did that one song you worked on take months and months before it sounded right? The true answer will possibly frustrate you: because that’s how long some songs take.

In the introduction to the 2004 Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs, Jay-Z said “If I work on them more than, say, 20 minutes, they’re probably not going to work.”

I felt a bit sad when I read that sentence. Because sometimes, songs just take longer. It’s always been that way. Mozart could sometimes write entire symphonies in a matter of a few days. But it took Brahms, on average, about ten years to write each of his symphonies. Did Brahms symphonies lose value because they took so long to write? Of course not.

For all artists, there seems to be a need — a desire — to get things done quickly. The sooner one project is done, the sooner you can get on with the next one. That’s normal, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way.

But don’t confuse your desire to work quickly with your desire to write something good. How long it takes is usually irrelevant to the quality of the final product.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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