"I love this song."
Have you ever heard someone say this out loud? Sure you have. Many of us have even said this ourselves when we hear the first few notes of a song as the band begins to play, or it starts to pour out of our car speakers during a long drive.
"I love this song."
"I love it when that Bb9 chord resolves to C minor going into the bridge."
"I love the plate reverb and compression settings used on that harmony vocal."
Which one of these remarks do you really want to hear from your audience when they listen to your music? It may depend on your audience of course, but one of these compliments will likely hit home with a lot more people than the other two, even though it might be harder to quantify.
You can find out what software plug-ins and settings the engineer used on those vocals.
You can analyze the chord progression and apply some knowledge of music theory to justify what was written.
Once you've figured it out, you can likely replicate it on your next song without much fuss.
But how does someone explain to another person why a particular piece of music moves them enough to say, "I love this song"?
Music is supposed to evoke an emotional response in the listener. Always.
What you feel when you hear a song is yours and yours alone
No one can tell you that you're wrong either, because everyone can interpret and relate to the same song in different ways. You might be completely wrong about the songwriter's intent or the producer's vision, but as long as your interpretation is something meaningful to you, a connection is made in the moment you hear it and the magic happens. Sparks fly. You love this song.
Now if only we could easily create that moment for each of our listeners, we'd all release a hit record every couple of days, right?
Copying the same chords, rhythms, and lyrics of your favorite songs will probably get you into some legal trouble so the challenge becomes replicating the audience's response to those songs while delivering something fresh, yet familiar. Different, but somehow the same. But not the same. Yep. Creating that moment for the listener isn't exactly easy, is it?
Without going too far into the science of how our brain works, it's safe to say that we feel gratified when what we hear lines up with what we expected to hear. Melodic patterns, subdivisions of the beat, and a recurring song structure all help create an expectation as the music plays. The song's hook gets stuck in our head for a reason—we expect to hear it again and we like it when we do, provided it's catchy and used effectively. Songwriters create expectations and know how to deliver on them.
Good songwriters and musicians are also adept at creating tension—both musically and lyrically. The tension that builds up eventually resolves to something more pleasing. As a listener, we want the tension to go away so, when it does, we feel good about it. We nod our head to the beat and we smile because we were right. We feel like we're part of the band. We rock.
Good songwriters can also deliver something unexpected at just the right moment to great effect. Like the comedian telling a killer joke, timing is essential. The best punchlines and whodunit mysteries both prove that the story can end with something we didn't see (or hear) coming.
Good songwriters can take the listener on a journey and deliver whatever blend of expected and unexpected gets the best reaction as the story is told.
But is all of that enough to make someone say, "I love this song"?
Unfortunately, no. The songwriter loves their music for different reasons than the casual listener does.
"Music sounds different to the one who plays it. It is the musician's curse." —Patrick Rothfuss
For many songwriters, it's a real struggle just to listen to a song without analyzing its chords, rhyming patterns, or time signature. After all, we spend a lot of time thinking about those things as musicians when we learn a new song or sit down to create one ourselves. Sometimes we need to practice casual listening—playing music in the background while we focus on something else. Every now and then, we might even manage to distract our musician brain just enough to hear a song and enjoy it as anyone else might.
But how can we apply that cherished non-musician appreciation to the very musician-focused task of making music?
Perhaps we needn't try so hard. It's a given that we need to apply our musicianship and songwriting chops when we create new music. Part of that skill set is knowing how to use the techniques we've learned along the way to grab the listener's attention and keep them engaged for roughly 3 or 4 minutes.
We also need to stop thinking we can control all of the things we can't.
If we were to ask our audience, "How can I make you love my song?" we may as well be asking them, "How can I make you love me?" because neither question will provide an answer that we like, and might even result in a restraining order.
Quite simply, we can't control what others think of us or our music. If we can't use the magic potion to make someone fall in love, maybe we're better off focusing on creating something worth loving in the first place. We can make music that we're proud of, that we put ourselves into, and make music that we ourselves will love. Yes, it will sound different to others, but it can start with something that sounds good to us as we create it and perform it. It's also a lot more fun.
Make music worth loving
Don't settle for that first draft. Refine each song to get it to where you want it be and don't take shortcuts. Add something different and don't be afraid to surprise the listener either if that's what the song needs.
Making music you feel good about is sometimes all you can or should do. Be intentional and be brave.
By making music that means something to you, there's a sincerity baked inside each song you record and release for the world to hear. That honesty can often be part of what connects with the listener as they hear your music and try to relate to it. They feel something they can't easily express as the song just speaks to them in some way.
Some might enjoy it, others may not, but perhaps someone will hear it and say, "I love this song."
I’d love to hear what you love about your current musical project and how I can help you finish it. Tell me about your music!
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