The Beatles

Being Innovative in the Pop Music World

Innovation in pop songwriting is a tricky balancing act: you want your songs to be enough like other songs out there that you don’t scare your audience a way. But at the same time, you want your songs to move off into new and unpredictable directions, to excite your audience.

Being successfully innovative is also tricky because it takes the support of your audience. For example, your songs might be so innovative that your lose your fan base. In that kind of case, you’re innovative, but no one supports it, so innovation has failed (assuming you want to build on your fan base).

The Beatles give us a great example of innovation in the pop music world that was wildly successful. By 1964, they built a massive following with songs like “Please Please Me”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, and “All My Loving”. By 1967, their style had changed completely, and to call the new style innovative was an understatement, with examples like “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “I Am the Walrus”, and “Revolution 9.”

Beatles in RehearsalYou could argue that the Beatles didn’t have many of the concerns other recording artists usually have when it came to developing a more innovative style in their music and production. Their fan base was so large and had bought in to whatever the Beatles did that the Fab Four could have recorded almost anything and they would still have built on that fan base.

But for you and your songs, what can you be doing that might make your songs more innovative, more creative and inspiring and perhaps even a bit unexpected, without risking losing the fan base that you’ve spent maybe years building? Here are some thoughts to ponder:

  1. Consider pulling other genres into your songs. One of the safest ways to build an audience base is to allow your process to be influenced by genres you don’t typically use. The Beatles did this, allowing their songs to cross into Country (“What Goes On”), Classical (“Eleanor Rigby”), metal “(“Helter Skelter”), music hall (“Honey Pie”), and more.
  2. Work with a sound engineer to develop new production-level sounds and techniques. The Beatles were among the first groups to experiment with backwards playback (“I’m Only Sleeping”), fuzz bass (“Think For Yourself”), altered speed playback to change the vocal sound (“When I’m Sixty-Four”), for just a few examples. It’s not easy to say what technical innovation could be, but working with someone whose expertise is in this field gives you your best chance to do something that others haven’t tried.
  3. Think of ways to change up expected song forms. Your audiences will be expecting standard verse-chorus formats, but more innovative groups have thought outside the box on this. So a song like Lennon & McCartney’s “Happiness is a Warm Gun” is basically several unassociated sections pulled together to form a single song. You can pull two incomplete songs together to form one completed one, as they did with “A Day In the Life.” Or if you do decide to go with standard verse-chorus forms, try doing something less expected, like starting with the chorus, or perhaps starting with an instrumental.
  4. Try to use chords that go beyond the standard I-IV-V type progressions. I’ve always loved Lennon’s “Julia” from the White Album because the chord choices are just a little bit off the beaten track. Improving your sense of creativity with chords usually means lots of experimenting and improvising to come up with something that is not only innovative but really works. Look at chord charts for songs that you’ve loved for their harmonic creativity, and the more you listen, the more you’ll find your own sense of harmonic creativity increasing.
  5. Put lyrics first in your songwriting process. Most of the time, we rate songs by the creative and sophisticated level of the lyric. Like most aspects of good songwriting, the best way to improve your own abilities in this important facet of songwriting is to listen to songs with lyrics written by lyricists that you admire, and make notes regarding what you like and why you like it. Improving your lyrics often also means expanding on the kinds of things — the topics — that you choose to write about. Don’t obsess about topic, though. Your choice of words will wind up being more important than what you are actually singing about. For more on this, give this blog article a read: “Unique Song Topics are Hard to Find, So Stop Worrying About That“.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter. Hooks & Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook BundleThousands of songwriters have been using “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle, along with the Study Guide, to polish their songwriting skills and raise their level of excellence.

Posted in songwriting and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.