Is writing fresh, original songs hard to do? It is hard work, but as you develop being original into your second nature, it becomes easier, if not instinctual. You have to think different. Is it only possible for the exceptionally gifted or innovative writer? Not at all. It’s only possible for the determined and persistent songwriter. So, how do you write fresh and original songs? You work at it. You develop a filtering system. Here’s how.
There have always been songwriters that seem to have extraordinary powers and the ability to create mind-blowing songs that seem to be so unique. I’m not referring to artsy, out-there songs. I’m referring to those that can do so within the confines of your typical pop radio song—that’s quite a feat in itself. Creating simple to perfection, is actually hard. An example outside of songwriting, no one makes the complex into simple better than Apple does with its products and web sites. Yet, no one can argue that Apple has been one of the most innovative companies, in every area, ever. So yes, even in songwriting, it is hard work to do simple to perfection.
What History Shows Us About Songs and Originality
It’s easy to look to what’s currently popular, or popular from the past and rewrite the same song with new lyrics. Of course this has been done with countless songs when a new genre has been born. While these new genres are in there infancy, a flood of songs emerge with similar styles, chords, tempos and arrangements, as such elements typical define that genre. Such has been the case for Blues, Classic Country, Early Rock and Roll, Disco, New Wave, Punk, Hair Metal, Techno, Grunge and others. However, most of the truly timeless songs have a unique character about them. Somewhere within, timeless songs have something that sets them apart from the rest that makes them special. A lyric, a chord, a melody, an arrangement, a production technique – something that has a “wow” factor that listeners connect with.
Why Certain Genres Die Off
This is my opinion, not necessarily fact, but I believe there to be a lot of truth in my view. In the early stages of a new genre, there is a lot of copying and imitating of the few original artists, or even the one original artist that spawned it. In time, the genre tends to become so derivative that it implodes on itself. What I mean by that is, every idea has been worked until there is nothing left to draw from. The original innovators and leaders of the genre typically survive, because their inspiration was true and from within or “from the heart.” The artists that “jumped on the bandwagon” and were imitators, tend to fall by the wayside because they were simply copying and have run out of ideas.
Don’t Write To The Radio
An oft-given piece of advice for aspiring professional songwriters is not to write to the radio. Why? There are a few reasons. Right off the bat, you’ve lost being first to do something, especially if something new was introduced in that song. Now if you copy that “new” idea, it is going to be obvious that you copied it. Second, you need to keep in mind that what you hear on the radio may have actually been written years ago. It has only now been plucked from the pile and recorded or released. Third, when you write to the radio, in essence, all you’ll ever be doing is playing catch-up with ideas that came before. You can be influenced by ideas, but you must twist and mold those ideas into your own unique spin, thereby creating something “new” in the process.
2 Kinds of Hit Songs
There are two kinds of hit songs. Those that make the charts in the time period of their release, and those that go on to be timeless and get played—and loved for decades. I’m not talking about one-hit-wonders either, because many of those are indeed timeless. I’m talking about the hits you and I can’t remember. You know, those, very good, but not extra special songs. Sure, the song helped sell a lot of records, but it’s no “Yesterday” by the Beatles. You get me?
Write To Be Current
A professional songwriter not only has to be ahead of the curve, they need to be the curve. A pro songwriter’s job is to write hits—fresh hits. Fresh songs jump out and wake the listener up? Why? Human psychology. It is human nature to be attracted to the new, unique. The strong human trait of curiosity is aroused. When you re-hash the past, none of these human traits and emotions are triggered. In fact you get the obvious, humans typically tune out. We do this with sound in the same way we scan over pages we read or advertisement. They only way you are going to make a human pay attention, is to break him or her out of the comfort zone with something new and fresh. Got it? Good!
How To Develop The Skills
Now that you know why songs get stale, why people get bored, and everything NOT to do – I’m going to show you what you need to do. Here’s the checklist:
• Learn the craft of songwriting and all the rules first.
• Avoid cliché lyrics as if they were a contagious bio-toxin where the mere writing of them will infect your brain.
• Work very hard to come up with original, yet catchy titles
• Love sells and will always sell, so figure how to write about love in new, fresh and exciting ways. Be prepared to work your butt off to do this. It hurts the brain, I know. Do it anyway. Other hot topics: relationships, loneliness, overcoming, partying/drinking.
• Strategically break the rules in interesting ways. Find ways that do not cause the song to fall apart or be to weird for the listener. Remember that listeners expect popular song forms, these forms can be bent a little, but not too far or they break and you lose/confuse the listener.
• Force yourself to reject the over-used, mundane elements in songs we’ve all heard too many times. Force yourself to find unique twists that create the unexpected, in a pleasing way. One unexpected chord, or stop, or rhythm change can be that difference.
• Look for surprise. Some of your best finds come from mistakes. You hit the wrong chord or note, then your brain goes, “Wait! What was that?” This will happen to your listener too. Use that “so-called mistake.” It’s gold. When you master this technique, you’ll be able to try mistakes on purpose, by knowing what the rule or wisdom suggests, and then do something different. That’s when you are a Zen Master Songwriting Jedi!