Should I write a song about it?

Stumbled across a good post by Frasier Smith about what makes a song hit-ready. I think this is the songwriting equivalent of “get rich quick” schemes to the average Joe, or of “Good to Great”-style books for business. And yes, I’ve thought a lot about the topic myself.

Smith talks about various elements in hit songs that make their lyrics and melodies memorable, universal, and instantly appealing. Certainly those are elements worth striving for, if pop hits are your goal — and they are ours.

But one of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the importance of writing for me. I’ve always done this, to a degree, but at times I’ve strayed a bit into unfamiliar territory in the hopes of writing something that more people would connect with. Imagine me writing, for example, a song with NASCAR allusions. I’ve tried it. It sucked. I won’t do it again (I promise).

And I just don’t believe it’s necessary to deal with the unfamiliar. Some of my favorite hits are the ones that seem broadly appealing and universal, but which have lyrics that appear specific about the writer’s own life. I’ll cite “She’s My Kind of Rain” as an example, even though its merits are often contested in songwriting circles. I’d cite other examples but I’m about to board a plane. Let me just assert that they are plentiful.

Moreover, I’m finding that the more I strive to write about the most universal topics in the most universal way, the less motivated I am to write them. Maybe that’s a “duh” kind of realization, but it hadn’t sunken in yet after all these years of writing. I think I’ve got it now.

So for me, the question of what to write about is “whatever I’m thinking about.” And then I guess I’d hope that I’ll sometimes stumble across universal themes. That makes it pretty simple, huh?

2 thoughts on “Should I write a song about it?

  • There is a lot of advice on songwriting floating around Nashville, most of it bad.

    What do you think the reaction would be for an unknown songwriter pitching a song like “you’re beautiful” on music row?

    Not every song has to be the “be all, end all” song. It’s ok for a song to just be a song. “Unfamiliar territory”, what’s that? We all live on the same planet. Did Led Zeppelin have to live through a flood to come up “When the Levee Breaks”?

    Why do you believe your “NASCAR allusions” song sucked? I hope not just because someone else told you so. And even if you came to the conclusion that the song did not meet up to your own standards that does not mean that there is not something to be gained from it. Maybe parts of it can be put with other ideas later on. Or maybe a small change would take it where you want it.

    The way I see it, if someone doesn’t have something specific to contribute to the betterment of a song, I am not really interested in their critique, because everyone has an opinion. If I wrote the song, I obviously must think it has some merit, and I am not going to change that opinion based on some nebulous criteria. Any given song pitched on music row has a virtually infinitesimal chance of charting. Not every song that doesn’t get cut “sucks”.

    Inspiration is not quantifiable. If you “try to write a hit” it will probably sound contrived, like most of the bullshit on the radio. That may work for established writers, but probably won’t help an unknown or less known writer. Probably the best way of increasing one’s chances is just to write a lot of songs. IIRC Lennon and McCartney reported that they wrote about nine throwaways for every song they cut.

    Another good piece of advice would be to make sure you have family in the business.

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