Most people can say what they like about a song, but they can rarely describe what they don’t like.
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In the not-too-distant past, it really wasn’t all that easy to hear bad music, if by “bad” we mean music that was badly written, badly played, and/or badly produced. The only way to get your music out there was to be picked up by a label, and the big labels weren’t going to risk their reputations on bad music. These days, thanks to easy access to recording equipment, software, and online resources such as YouTube and MySpace, we get to hear not only the best music out there, but the worst as well.
As a songwriter, possibly the worst audience reaction to your music will be boredom. You’ll likely wish that listeners hate what you’re doing, rather than be bored by what you’re doing. Hate at least means that you’ve had an effect; boredom means that you didn’t reach them on any level.
And regarding boredom, there’s something even worse: when an audience is bored, they can’t usually tell you why. Listeners are very quick to tell you what they like about music, even if they can’t express it using musical vocabulary (“Oh, I love this part…”).
But when they’re bored, they’ve already turn away from your song, and are on to someone else’s music.
Every song that bores people will have a different reason for missing the mark. The thing is that the difference between a boring song and one that really succeeds may come down to one or two small details. Fix those details and you’ve turned a totally unremarkable song to something amazing.
If you think you’ve written something with great potential, but you can’t figure out why it’s not making a connection to listeners, check this short list out:
- Does your song feature repetition of melodic ideas? Listeners need to hear repeating melodic fragments throughout a song. Sometimes those repetitions will be literal (repeating lines, verses, lyrics, and so on), and sometimes those repetitions will be approximate, like a musical motif. But one way or another, pattern recognition is vital to making a song successful.
- Does your melody have a climactic high point? Sometimes all it takes to bring a melody alive is to create one high point in your melody, a note that stands out from all the others. This should happen once in a verse, and once in a chorus, where the chorus high point is the more significant one.
- Is the verse more rhythmically active than the chorus? As you’ll know, the rhythm of a melody is generally the rhythm that’s generated by the lyric. But usually, a chorus melody features longer notes (i.e., slower rhythmic values) than a verse. This allows for the more emotive text of the chorus to work on the emotions of the listener.
- Is there a catchy hook for the listener to remember? Not all songs have an obvious killer hook. But if your song is boring, that may be all that’s necessary. A song can have strong structure and be well-written, but just missing that special something. If an audience doesn’t remember your melody, they won’t return to it. A hook will solve this.
- Is the intro the right length, with something interesting to reel a listener in? A song’s intro is an opportunity to snag the audience and excite them. But an intro that goes on for too long (more than 20 seconds) is risky. Keep it to between 10 and 15 seconds, and get people’s attention!
- Is there a logical structure to the use of instruments and vocal harmonies? Things should build from the start of the verse through to the end of a chorus. Vocal harmonies will usually work better in a chorus than in a verse. Chorus instruments should play with a bit more intensity than in a verse.
- Is the performance of your song hurting its chances? This isn’t a songwriting issue, except to say that if you aren’t performing your song well, you compromise its effect on listeners. People get distracted by bad performances. A song badly sung, or badly accompanied makes it sound amateur.
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