Many new songwriters often make the mistake of simply trying to mimic songs that have already enjoyed chart success, instead of trying to add distinctive elements of their own to create something fresh.
Pharrell Williams firmly believes in the importance of not just imitating what’s already happening: “I feel like when you copy, you blend in, and when you blend in, you get lost,” he recently told Collider.com.
“If someone asks me what inspires me, I always say ‘That which is missing’ because I don’t want to copy everything that’s already happening,” he said. “When I make music, I try to make something you’ve never heard before.”
For new writers, though, it is equally important to make sure that your songs are not TOO different—otherwise you could end up writing in a form that many listeners just can’t understand. You have to strike a balance.
This is because there are specific conventions that are consistently found in the chord progressions, melodies, lyrics, rhymes and construction of all hit songs. Over the past 50 years in particular, listeners have subconsciously come to expect to hear these elements in all new songs.
To be sure of finding receptive ears in the music industry (and amongst record buyers), your songs therefore need to sound familiar—but not similar.
Previously unheard songs have to be easy enough on the listener’s ear to be commercial and marketable (which, at the end of the day, is all that record companies and music publishers are interested in). But instead of simply copying stuff that is happening, focus on taking what is already out there to a new level—whilst being careful not to make too big a leap that could leave a huge gap between you and your audience.
When someone once asked the legendary trumpet player Clark Terry what steps he felt newcomers should take to achieve success, he famously replied: “Imitate, assimilate, and innovate”.
In other words, listen to what’s being played on the radio and on streaming services, analyze the latest trends, absorb the key elements of current hit songs and emulate them—but carve your own niche by innovating and adding something new of your own.
As Pharrell Williams says: “Try to find that which is missing”…
# # # #
“How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music) and Barnes & Noble’s Nook store.