Songwriting Notes – experimental versus listenable

experimental songwritingDerek Sivers has a post here to quit your quirks when working with others.

As a technology and online presence consultant, I whole-heartedly agree. But as I read it, I thought about songwriting as well.

I get the chance to hear a lot of artist – either when I speak to a songwriting group or online in discussion groups or with email.  Many times I’ll hear someone’s music and their clear desire and push to be “different” or “experimental.” At the same time, they will bemoan the fact that they cannot find listeners.

They believe it is because “listeners” just don’t get it. That the fault with the lackluster response their music gets is a lack of understanding or sophistication of the listener. Don’t get me wrong.. I’m not against the idea of someone learning to appreciate other musical styles by taking the time to listen, learn the nuances, etc.

Many years ago, a sociology teacher brought a tape (does that date me) of a-tonal and  a-rhythmic music to our class. I’ll be honest.. it was not listenable. It was noise. Under the guise of exposure to a cultural experience.. to appreciate what an individual wanted to create, I was subjected to noise for 20 minutes.. well… more than noise, there were notes.. but it might as well have been a child randomly hitting various instruments.

I have no great desire to experiment with “music”… I’m more interested in “listenable” music. I’m not against stylistic experimentation – and mixing and matching forms. But in the end, listeners – or the lack thereof – are telling you something.

Experimentation for the sake of “being different” rarely produces something that is listenable – and I would suggest – rarely produces something worth producing.

Frameworks are not the enemy

One of the pieces of advice I give songwriters (and writers) for that matter is to write to a simple, tried and true, form.


5 paragraphs with each paragraph being 5 sentences. 3 primary points – 1 per each body paragraph. A 1 paragraph intro and a 1 paragraph conclusion. Simple.


Verse – two 4 line stanzas, Chorus – 4 lines, Verse – 2 4 line stanza , Chorus, break, Chorus.

Yep.. not real original. No experimentation. But.. an economy of words and space force the issue of conveying your message. Also, listeners know (mostly) what’s coming. You can vary it by throwing in a bridge before or after the break.

Songwriters have effectively reached listeners with this form for years – and continue to.  Once you’ve reached listeners with that form – once you’ve proven your ability to convey the message and engage your fans – then you can experiment. They’ll be more receptive to it.

I suspect you’ll find that you can do a LOT of great things within a standard framework.

The other benefit of a framework, in writing or music, is that when you remove the question of what is the framework, you are left only with the creative process of generating ideas and words. It is actually very liberating to work within a framework. It lends itself to creativity rather than hindering it.

That’ my opinion! Your mileage may vary.

Posted in Blog, Songwriting.

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