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Thread: How many bad songs do you have to write before you write a good one?

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    How many bad songs do you have to write before you write a good one?

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    I see my previous thread went completely off the rails. So I'm hoping this one will stay on topic.
    I've seen people post that you have to write a lot of crappy songs before you'll write a good one.

    It reminds me of that old adage that you have to spend 10,000 hours doing something before you're a pro at it.
    We've established that good and bad are totally subjective. So I want you to tell me whether you wrote a lot of crappy songs before you had a decent one, or are all your songs basically decent from the get go. Or are they still crap. And why to all these questions.

    I think that your skills as a songwriter are somewhat dependent on you skill as a player and arranger. So in theory you get better at it as your musical skills grow. Plus your skills may be dependent on how many songs you've heard or cover songs you've learned. It's kind of like school, the more you learn the better you are at your trade as you apply your training to your work.

    I started writing after years of playing but my songwriting is in my own mind a reflection/limited to my skills. I'm pretty happy with my tunes but I'm well aware that they are not super amazing. I think my songs started out at a certain level and have pretty much stayed at that level.

    So....there's my 2 cents. Give me yours....and just reference your own songs and song writing growth/skill....

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    I agree about skill, but theres also this thing about how songs just come to me. I start playing the guitar, then singing, and I'm like "Oh yeah I know how this one goes" Like I've heard it before. Keith Richards says he has an antenna, he puts it out and waits to hear something.

    Best I can explain it.

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    I'm one of those people who believes that there are such things as "bad" and "good" songs based on the combination that is used for melody, harmony, lyrics, (all that stuff they teach with music theory)....but that said, there is no obvious way to create good (or bad) songs, there's no specific formula, and it has nothing to do with the level of complexity.
    It's just how the stuff comes together, and of course, how it's performed, or the production that's used when it's recorded....it's about the whole combination that makes a song good or bad...IMO.

    You can take a good song on paper, and make it sound real bad with a lousy performance or production. Sometimes it can be a very minor difference between why/how it ends up as a good or bad song. A few notes changed, maybe a slightly different phrasing with the vocals, or just a different arrangement, a tempo change...and you end up with an improved song.

    So while I wrote more crappy songs early on...there wasn't a point where they all just started coming out good. I can still end up with a crappy song even now, but these days I have more understanding why a song is going south on me, and the skill to stop it. I've managed to save a lot more songs as my songwriting experience has grown, than I would have back in the day when I first started writing.

    I also feel that in recent years, each of my songs is better defined as an individual song, unlike back in the day when they sounded rather similar....like if you listen to the early Beatles (as one example), many of the songs had the same flavor, just slight differences in melody/beat and different lyrics.
    These days, I can more consciously write and "steer" a song in a specific direction and mold it into whatever I am after, rather than just take what comes out on its own, and/or just repeat the last song I did, but with only different lyrics and a small variation in the melody, chords and tempo. I like that about my songwriting today VS in the beginning...it's more of a craft now instead of waiting for moments of pure subconscious inspiration to generate a song.

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    Having had a little bit of a drink tonight, I was struggling to put into words how I feel on this subject and then miroslav came along and pretty much wrote out what I wanted to say but on a personal note I will add......

    I've been writing songs/poems/words for 20 odd years now. I've written a lot of songs, way too many to count and even though I don't play the huge majority of 'older' songs I've written in the past very often, I still remember them and remember them well. Some cringey lyrics and cheesy songs in general but writing those songs helped me become the (what I believe) better songwriter I am today. I've revisited some of them older songs with the knowledge that I have now and made them better songs. Do I consider them older ones bad songs? No I don't think so, they're just songs I wrote while I was learning. But I'm still learning, everyday.

    If I'm writing a song and it doesn't grip me or inspire me and egg me on, I try to change it and if that doesn't work I abandon it. But the idea will remain. Any lyrics I wrote may become useful for another song. I once read, regarding songwriters block, that you should write a song, even if you hate it, finish it, and then move on to the next. (something to do with motivation and momentum) I can't do that. If I don't like it, I won't want to play it to anyone or have any desire to record it, I don't see the point. I skip it rather than endure the arduous task.

    I had a tune I played on the guitar once for 6 years and I knew it was a great tune and would make a great song, but I could never find the right lyrics I wanted for it. Then one day I sat with a piece of paper and a guitar and in literally 3 minutes I had 3/4 of the song done. Another 5 minutes and it was tidied up, polished/finished and has remained the same since. That song, Snapshots, is now the song I'm known for in my little world. I'm not rich or famous from it but I have a lot of respect from musicians/people for that one song that took 6 years to write but 5 minutes to finish. I wrote that in 2006 and to this day I still only have a crappy demo of it and a few live recordings. I should really record it!

    If a song I write is good to me, it is a good song. Regardless about what Tom, Dick or Harry might think about it.

    That's my 0.02p worth.
    Cheap Gear - In A Square Room! Getting the job done! - TheMrClean.co.uk

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    Quote Originally Posted by ido1957 View Post
    I see my previous thread went completely off the rails.
    I am probably the only one that disagrees but I don't think it did. I thought it was a really good thread that brought up lots of good points and I was somewhat miffed that it got closed down. It did get a little bogged down in places with Greg and the other guy that thought I misunderstood him {I didn't !}but what made the thread come alive was the difference in concept of what good songs {and by extension, bad songs} actually were.
    Quote Originally Posted by ido1957 View Post
    How many bad songs do you have to write before you write a good one?
    I've seen people post that you have to write a lot of crappy songs before you'll write a good one.
    I think that is nonsense. Your first song could be a magnum opus ~ then you may never come up with a decent one again. There have been writers for whom that is the case.
    My initial attempts were crap. But there are mitigating circumstances. The first complete pieces of music I wrote weren't crap at all, just the first lyrics.

    Quote Originally Posted by ido1957 View Post
    So I want you to tell me whether you wrote a lot of crappy songs before you had a decent one, or are all your songs basically decent from the get go. Or are they still crap. And why to all these questions.
    It's actually hard to remember the point at which I wrote songs with a definite aim of them becoming recorded statements with definite arrangements. If I go back to 1992 as being the point at which I began actually recording with the aim of permanancy, then by then, over a 10 or so year period, I'd written lots of stuff and fragments of stuff. Mainly lyrics without music and music without lyrics {the majority}.
    When I started recording, I thought the songs I wrote, for the most part, were pretty cool. My problem was not so much the actual songs themselves, but translating those songs into something that made coherent sense as a recording. That is what has made a real difference down the years.

    Quote Originally Posted by ido1957 View Post
    I think that your skills as a songwriter are somewhat dependent on you skill as a player and arranger. So in theory you get better at it as your musical skills grow. Plus your skills may be dependent on how many songs you've heard or cover songs you've learned.
    Musically, I like some off the wall music like jazz and a bit of avant garde stuff and the thinking in those styles bleeds into some of my stuff. That made some of my songs bloody difficult to catch. Even I could see that.
    As I've gotten better in terms of recording, I've become a better writer in that my songs sound more like songs now. I've become better at blending the off the wall stuff with the regular stuff. In the past, my mate that used to drum for me was rather off the wall himself and we'd lay down bass and drums or guitar and drums and together, it sounded great. But trying to overdub other things was really difficult because we weren't exactly regular. I've sacrificed some of my avant garde leanings rhythmically for regularity and as such, the songs make more sense. So while I still like the older stuff, I write better stuff now, I think.
    Quote Originally Posted by ido1957 View Post
    It's kind of like school, the more you learn the better you are at your trade as you apply your training to your work.
    That was the thrust of what I was saying in the other thread. The fact that one may not think in terms of "good" and "bad" in no way rules out the notion of writing "better" songs. Of course one should get better at both writing and recording, the more regularly one does it.

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    A "bad" song is subjective and no one is so good that they can judge either or. One person might not like a song, and someone else may love it. Who's right? What makes a good song? What makes a bad song? There is no answer, therefore there are no good or bad songs. There are just songs.

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    I personally have to write 7 bad songs before every good one I write. No more, no less.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ido1957 View Post
    I see my previous thread went completely off the rails. So I'm hoping this one will stay on topic.
    Lol, I know where I'd put my money.

    Quote Originally Posted by ido1957 View Post
    I think that your skills as a songwriter are somewhat dependent on you skill as a player and arranger. So in theory you get better at it as your musical skills grow. Plus your skills may be dependent on how many songs you've heard or cover songs you've learned. It's kind of like school, the more you learn the better you are at your trade as you apply your training to your work.
    I don't really agree about playing skill being a factor in songwriting...at all. But definitely agree that listening to a lot of music helps- and not just the same set of songs over and over. If you are excited about music, you'll naturally chase it and try to turn over as many stones as possible chasing that feeling. Listening to a song you've loved all your life is cool, but after you've heard it a thousand times, you're not getting the same rush you got when you first discovered it. Never stop looking for that new thing that's gonna inspire you. The minute you decide you've heard it all or that there's nothing worth chasing out there is the minute when music isn't that important to you anymore

    Bear in mind I say this as someone who started writing songs very young (4-5 yo), used to play "pretend band" games when other kids were playing hide and seek, collecting records since I knew they existed etc. My music/life balance has always been pretty fucked and it's really damaged most of my life arenas- school, work, relationships, etc. I don't follow or care about current events, sports, movies, or TV and have only ever voted in one presidential election. I'm not remotely well-rounded and chances are, if you wanna talk "grown-up talk" I won't have much to say. But if you ask me how to make great music, of course I'm gonna say get inside it. Don't watch it from afar. Let it fuck yer life up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fat_fleet View Post
    I don't really agree about playing skill being a factor in songwriting...at all
    I do. I think one's playing and arranging skills are a factor.......but it's important to stress that this doesn't mean what I'm sure many people will assume it means. It doesn't mean that a really skilful player or experienced arranger will by default write interesting songs. I know a number of good players that, in my opinion don't write particularly interesting songs.
    By the same token, a "lesser" player might be a much better songwriter. Theory and experience can definitely arm you with the tools and scope to come up with useful stuff but having the tools isn't really what it's about. It's how you use what you have, be it small or immense.
    But playing skill and arranging experience are definitely a factor. A factor that can go both ways. Yes, they can be hinderances.
    Quote Originally Posted by fat_fleet View Post
    Listening to a song you've loved all your life is cool, but after you've heard it a thousand times, you're not getting the same rush you got when you first discovered it.
    Hmmm....I wonder. I once read an interview in which the interviewer expressed amazement at John Lennon's comment that the Beatles' post 1966 songwriting was not as good as prior to that period. Lennon went on to compare the songwriting to the relationship between a man and woman, saying a maturity and craftsmanship entered proceedings post '66 and that he and McCartney knew each other on all kinds of levels that they hadn't before. That's how I feel about many of the songs that I've been listening to for 35~40 years. So much about me has changed in that time.
    As I'm driving around, I listen to my albums and I frequently rewind songs back and listen to them over and over. I've been known to listen to the same song for three days. They may not hit me with the same rush they did when I was 16 or 20 or whatever. But many, many of them mean more. A maturity has come into my listening and I often find things in them that haven't been apparent to me for 35 years.
    Quote Originally Posted by fat_fleet View Post
    Never stop looking for that new thing that's gonna inspire you. The minute you decide you've heard it all or that there's nothing worth chasing out there is the minute when music isn't that important to you anymore
    I don't need inspiration. Come to think of it, I've never looked for inspiration when it comes to writing songs. I've been inspired by things, events, people. But I've never gone looking or relied on outside forces.
    I'm at the point in life where I have moreorless heard it all. As I've shared many times, I've got all the music I want. I'm consciously and determinedly not looking for new music. The last genre that tweaked my ears was what they called R&B in 1997 {artists like Tony Rich, Erykah Badu, Angie Stone, Omar, D'Angelo, Anne Nesby, Maxwell, Lauren Hill, Des'ree, Adrianna Evans, that kind of stuff} and stylistically, it was no different from soul, disco and funk which I already dug. What made it different was the programming of the drums and their sound.
    Once in a while I hear a song that I think is neat but they don't give me the old time rushes !
    However music is really important to me. I can't point to moments in my life since the age of 10 when it was more or less important. Since discovering the wonders of the "Maybe tomorrow" {by the Jackson 5} album on easter day 1973, there's not been a time when it hasn't assumed major importance.

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    I too hope this thread does not not end up in a prolonged debate about the merits of judgeing "good" vs. "bad". My following comments are based solely of my expectations as a writer (and in part the expectations of the publishers I work with).

    I base my judgement of good/bad on intellegent use of chord progressions, modulations, etc., strong but easy to sing melodies, a "hook" (or multiple hooks) and lyrics that tell a story that can reach an audiance at an emotional or intelectual level.

    When I first started to write, I beleive I wrote about 20 weak songs before I wrote my first strong song. As soon as I wrote that first "good" song - I immediately was able to recognize the "weakness" in my previous efforts.

    Now, many years later, I've written about 250 completed songs with another 100 or so that never made it to completion. I found that the more I wrote my ratio of "good vs. "bad" improved to about 1 in 10, then 1 in 5 and now is 1 in 3. Of the 250 I've written I believe about 30-40 are "good" and perhaps 5 are "very good". Good vs bad is based primarily on my expectations of myself - and I am a very harsh critic or my own skills.

    I believe the things that helped me improve as a writer were 4 main things: 1) My skills and knowledge as a musician improved (along with my understanding of theory as it applies to composition) 2) I learned to tell a better story with a clear start, middle and end - and when appropriate, a bridge or modulation to raise the song to a higher level, 3) I learned how to recognize when something simply was not working and walked away (rather than trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear) and 4) when I started to submit songs to publishers - they were very quick to tell me what did and did not work (and after I started to actually get published - the crtiques became even more severe) - nothing like a good reality check from the people who pay you to make you want to improve!

    I do believe a writer has to cross a threshold at which they write something that is really "good" before they can honestly assess their previous body of work.

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