Songwriting: What Good Looks Like

I always wondered about this conundrum. Why are there such big discrepancies between great songs and not-so-great ones? Particularly among some of the most successful artists with long careers?
Sure, not every song has to be a hit. But if they figured out how to write hit-worthy songs, why aren’t all their songs at that level?
Of course, there are artists whose outputs are very consistent. Eisley, The National, Son Lux, Tesseract are some of the artists I admire in this regard.
So it’s possible to become a consistent songwriter. Then why aren’t all successful artists consistent in their songwriting quality?
My theory is that this is the result of artists not knowing what good looks like, when it comes to songwriting.
This starts with artists not being clear about the goals of their music. When you don’t know what your songs need to achieve, it’s easy for the quality to meander.
Yes, there are many goals you can task your songs with. But for the likes of rock, pop and folk, below are the main ones songwriters should care about:
  • Individuality: to be distinct and not generic
  • Emotiveness: to conjure feelings in listeners
  • Memorability: for audience to remember the song when they aren’t listening to it
  • Listenability: for audience to want to listen to the song many times
Once you get clear on goals, then you keep working on your songs until they have the necessary qualities:
  • Expressiveness: the song should express something individual and distinct about the artist
  • Emotiveness: the songwriting and arrangement should convey strong and clear emotions
  • Memorability: the song should contain hooks, catchiness or other elements that makes it memorable
  • (Listenability happens as the result of:
  • Achieving the three prior goals, and
  • Having competent arrangements, performance, and production)
Of which, songwriters with chops can create Emotiveness and Memorability at will. Expressiveness goes beyond music into areas such as artistic persona and voice. It requires introspection and gestation for expressiveness to mature. (Though how long it takes may vary greatly among artists.)
In the video I go through below artists to explore when artists know what good looks like for them. And in some cases, contrast against someone who isn’t so clear on what good looks like:
  • AC/DC
  • Nirvana / Kurt Cobain
  • U2
My goal with this video is to empower artists to raise the overall artistic value of their songwriting. Understanding the basic principles will reveal where their songs are falling short. In other videos I will go deeper into how to achieve these goals.