Songwriter - Synth

Your Songwriting Success: It Always Comes Down to the Quality of the Song

It may seem to you that those songwriters who have had great success just have the right people in their corner. They’ve had the best chances, and quite possibly a healthy dose of good luck.

And while all those things are probably true, there’s one thing that’s got to be in place before any of that will work for you: You need to be writing excellent songs, and doing that consistently.

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It’s true that there are times when a great song just seems to be the result of some random magical event. You just come up with a song that happens to resonate with a large section of the listening public. And everyone wants to hear it.

But those kinds of magical events — the songs that just seem to happen by accident are rare enough that if you’re planning to rely on random success, you won’t catch the attention of anyone important in the music business.

Producers, managers, and other industry personnel are not interested in hitching their wagon to someone who is only randomly successful. That’s just too risky. They need to know that even if every song you write isn’t a potential hit, that a lot of what you write is.

Four years ago I posted an exchange from an interview, between producer David Foster and the host of CBC Radio’s show “Q”, Tom Power, that talks about how important the quality of a song is when it comes to success in the recording industry:

DF: “Well, you know, Quincy Jones, what he said about having a hit record? ‘Quincy, what’s the three elements you need for a hit record?’ ‘Well, let me think about it, David. Number 1 is the song, and number 2, by the way, is the song, and number 3, by the way, is also the song.’”

TP: “Do you think a bad artist can make a good song great?”

DF: “I think a bad singer can have a hit with a great song. I think a great singer cannot have a hit with a bad song.”

If consistent excellence with regard to your songwriting is the missing element, I can practically guarantee that you are missing the fundamentals — the guiding principles — of songwriting. These are principles that have been around not just since the start of pop songwriting in the fifties, but long before that, even back as far as the 1600s, when the basic structures of good chord progressions became established.

Without the discovery and understanding of those principles, your success can only ever be a random event. And if you’re taking your songwriting seriously, you need to be doing at least these two things:

  1. Make listening to good songs a daily part of your life.
  2. Read what good songwriters and teachers of songwriting have to say about what makes a song actually work.

Principles won’t tell you specifically how to write your next song, but they will tell you why songs in the past have been so good, and then guide you as your use your musical imagination to come up with your next one.

If you’ve written a good song in your past, celebrate that. But now you need to turn the page and figure out what you can do to make your success a consistent event.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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