Have you ever noticed that the music you love to write, always ends up being the music people hate?
Yet, your worst written songs, the songs you said “I can’t believe I wrote this POS” are somehow, magically, the ones everyone loves?
What’s up with that?
When I was in Nashville, I always heard this phrase: “G/C/D – that’s all ya need.”
This means, with those three chords, you can pretty much write every country song known to man.
Of course everyone knows that a lot of popular songs also follow a similar pattern.
“HEY WILLIAM HAVE YOU HEARD THAT 4 CHORD SONG HURRRRR DURRRRR”
If you dissect enough songs, you’ll eventually see thousands of similar patterns.
When we write our own stuff, these patterns inevitably come out and influence our writing.
When I went back to the music that people naturally liked, I found out that it had to do with existing patterns already written from previous generations that came out in my writing.
Anytime I tried to deviate TOO much from these patterns, people hated it. It was weird, it was ok, it sounded funny.
But, if I were too safe, people thought it was bland, boring, weak.
I started noticing that I would constantly ask myself reassuring questions during the writing process.
Is it good enough, will people like it, is it a “hit”?
After a while, these questions are easily answered through practice and experience. After a while, we just “know”.
However, once a musician reaches even higher levels of mastery, he/she is able to write music that fits within it’s selected environment and the music can be altered, shaped, and controlled, like black magic.
It no longer becomes an impulse that you react to, but a force that can be channeled into a specific direction.
But then, the ultimate question arises.
Do I create what I truly enjoy or do I create something that I think others would enjoy?
So, what do we do?
We write a few songs that are really weird, or really commercial, as we yo-yo back and forth between the two extremes, which is our identity and our perception, ergo what we like and what we think others like.
We then get frustrated because we look at the two extremes and go “What the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I just write “normal” music?”
It becomes a never-ending battle between you and yourself.
We might even get so frustrated by the conflicting opinions that we go to Google and type in “how to write good music” only to find a lot of foo-foo websites out there (looking at you mom blogs, music how-to’s, and self-help marketing sites) regurgitating the same pop self-help garbage.
Just do what feels right in your heart…
Just follow your goals and dreams…
Just be yourself…
LAME. When have you ever read “follow your dreams” and you said “Very good point, I will start doing that now.”
Motivation is the other side of procrastination, but effectively the same coin, as both do nothing in the long run.
At a certain stage, you no longer respond to failure OR success OR motivation. You become a robot that follows a calendar (that is the end road for most successful people).
Yeah, that’s good and all William, but if I wrote my “real” music, stuff that I really loved, I’d scare my entire fan-base away. No one is ready for the real me. Not even me – people just don’t respond to it.
I hear ya. Well let me share some tips with you.
1.) Becoming original is a discovery process, relative to the person experiencing it.
To answer the question – should you write original music or music that sells?
In every instance, case, and situation, always write what you enjoy.
Why? Because, when you write music, whether you intend to be original or not, you utlimately become original whether you want to or not.
Meaning, no matter how you do it, you’ll end up writing music you like anyways.
You can tell yourself – I am going to write a pop song and make a hit.
Well, you can start out that way, but eventually the song will just be a reflection of you, as it slowly starts showing your real-self.
On the flip-side, if you deviate from this and you intentionally set-out to create something for the sole purpose to make money or you think it’s what people like, it’s glaringly obvious to everyone except the writer.
How? The song appears out of place, sounds inauthentic, or just really bland, as you overcompensate because your perception is saying – all pop music is XYZ so I can only stick to XYZ.
The writer, in the attempts to please everyone, pleases no one.
You can immediately tell if a song was written to make money or not simply by the level of how weird they are willing to go.
However, that person that writes the music for commercial masses has the same writing mindset as the person who thinks he/she is writing non-commercial music.
They both think that they are creating original music and the other one is the weird one.
What I am saying is this: I am giving you permission, right now, to be as original and weird with your music as you can.
2.) Put Your Music Through 2 Phases
When I ran those experiments that I mentioned earlier (why are people responding to certain kinds of music), I split my writing into 2 phases to solve this.
Phase 1: The Safe Filter – Whenever you first write a song, make it generic, simple, and safe. Your goal in this phase is to simply write a solid structure that is easy to build from.
This is what grabs people’s attention first, so playing it safe is the smart move in this case, as the listener has something to relate to and can base an immediate opinion on.
You can build something weird from normal, but it’s hard to build normal from weird.
Phase 2: The Crazy Filter – On the second pass, make it you – turn it into what you enjoy.
You now have the structure and foundation to deviate from and you can start messing with chord changes, weird melody intervals, weird instrumentation, adding in different breaks, and doing odd-ball stuff.
Stuff that you love that makes you unique. You are essentially playing with play-money after the bills are paid. It’s a much, much, better feeling (trust me).
(Guess what genre of music does this the most? Jazz. Bebop jazz was born by taking standard swing tunes and fucking them up as much as they could. Everyone loved it.)
Same analogy: building a solid home, but adding in unique furniture, weird quirks, and oddities.
Opposite analogy: building an odd-shaped home, like a hexagon, and adding in dumb furniture that people can’t sit on or make sense of.
Case in point, be normal in the beginning and weird at the end.
When you do this, you have the safety people crave and the weird stuff you love, pleasing both parties.
And guess what – that ends up becoming your most popular music, every time – guaranteed.
You can stray-away as much as you want, as long as you have the foundation in-tact.
Every process of writing music is the same and is also relative to the writer, regardless of the genre and technique, and knowledge required to write said music.
If someone is incredibly proficient in math-rock, writing a math rock piece is easy-pie and their audience expects that.
It takes the same effort that math-rock musicians use to write a piece, as it does for the pop musicians to write a pop track, because the level of knowledge is equalized within respect to that specific genre, performance, and knowledge.
For example, I am a massive Animals As Leaders fan, but I also love pop music – (Lady Gaga, Morcheeba, Duffy).
Animals As Leaders, although their style is off the charts and different from pop, their normal writing procedure would probably resemble that off a pop star’s writing procedure, only difference being the technicalities, music patterns, and song structure.
Two totally different styles, but in their minds, the same effort is being applied to produce the same outcome.
Whether they know it or not and no matter what style, most people write music going from the safe filter to the crazy filter.
3.) Most people want to hear your music, they just don’t know it.
You make money by creating something and delivering it to the right people. Emphasis on the right people.
If it goes to the wrong people, you make no money. The product could be amazing, but if you have no people to sell it to, it fails.
The beauty is that there is a whole big world out there and everyone has different tastes. Most just don’t know it or admit it.
Why? Well, it’s not personal. It’s simple.
They don’t have time, life is crazy, and they have bills to pay. Actively seeking and exploring new music is not a priority, but a hindrance.
Music is seen as a luxury item for most of society in all countries, as jesters and jokers were ordered to perform pieces for the kings and queens. But, their pay paled in comparison to the elite musicians that were on tour during the royal times.
You would have never caught Mozart playing for a peasant village, as he was just too famous and expensive to hire, especially when his Dad put him on tour playing Vivaldi cover tunes at such a young age, only for Mozart, at the age of 23-26, said “Fuck this, I cannot play other people’s music anymore. Screw you Dad – I’m leaving the band and your management and doing my own thing in a different city. I must play the music I like.”
Sounds like every other musician, doesn’t it? (I just rekt 10,000 musician’s self-esteem)
Kinda reassures you in a way. No, you are not weird for feeling that way.
Mozart did it centuries ago and followed the same path. More so than you probably know.
People listen to the radio, not out of preference, but out of convenience. Again, it’s nothing personal nor bad – it’s just a matter of time and situation.
HOWEVER – if shown this new music, they would be more receptive than you think and test.
When you really embellish your uniqueness and embrace it, it creates a boldness that attracts people to you naturally, almost in a primitive sense, because back in the old caveman days, it determined our livelihood.
Ironically, it may not have been the music that triggers people into liking you. It’s just the refreshing feeling of being associated with someone who at least has an idea of what to do in this crazy world.
It naturally rubs off on you and you become that person, because we not only mirror our environment, we mirror the people we associate with, and that includes mentors, or musicians we admire or listen to.
Now, I know all you guys admire me for being the bravest and most courageous guy of all time (thank you thank you) but take a look at yourself.
You are much, much braver, than I or anyone could ever think of.
You have so much potential and you haven’t even used 1/10th of it. There should be statues of people like you. Big things are small things to you – you want ginormous things to accomplish.
I respect that and respect you for reading my articles.
Similarly, your uniqueness can become almost like a virus that infects other people by simply embracing your true-self, for most people never even get the chance or courage to do so.
They begin to admire you because you’re taking a shot, being different, and doing something that they themselves dream of doing everyday, but never take the first step because of excuses.
They see themselves in you – that is the real root of it all.
You become a leader with 1 person, that 1 person turns into 10 people, and so forth.
And then before you know it, your inbox is flooded with questions from people all around the world asking “Can you help me, William?”
I’d be glad to.
Running away from yourself, the one thing that CAN make you money, is the number one problem musicians face.
They try to emulate others, their sound, and their look, when in reality, the one thing that was given to you since birth, was your own plot of land and set of tools.
That is all you have and all you will ever have.
The moral of the story is simple: write music safely, twist it to how you like, and promote it unconditionally with boldness.
Readers, have you ever hidden your music from your audience? If so, why?