Lurking around online guitar communities one’s bound to come across a variety of opinions on this, that, and the other to do with the best example of this and the best way to do that. It’s all excellent fodder for contemplation and is occasionally informative. Most of what one reads is, though, borne out of ingrained prejudice or the recycling of received wisdom, or reiteration of some pronouncement of this guitar god, or that. This exchanging of views is commendable, no doubt, but fresh insights or genuine authoritative advice is rarely found – particularly for free.
As ever, the most productive time is spent alone in serious study and objective (insofar as this is possible at all) consideration of one’s output. To honestly and objectively appraise the progress of a song under development is a piece of voodoo that I’m only partially successful at practicing. Criteria to use in judging the success of a song is a prerequisite to the process, but is more difficult to arrive at than it might appear at first glance. Consider:
What are the aims of the song? To sound “good”? If so, to whom? The writer? An audience – real or imagined? A prospective publisher / artiste / producer? To an aunt or uncle? Posterity?
Or is the purpose of the song to make money? If so; what is the target market?
Or is it intended to be a piece of art of purely aesthetic value only without reference to commercial appeal or admiration of an audience -.one small part of a magnus opus defined by your entire songwriting output – whose mere existence is its own justification.
Or might It could be written as part of a strategy to charm the pants off some girl? Or is it going to be another page in a musical diary recounting your thoughts, dreams, experiences, hopes, joys and disappointments as you make your own way through the days.
Or could Its purpose be catharsis, or to have some other therapeutic value? A safety-valve less you do some awful deed? Ha! Ha!
Or could it be a means to emulate or imitate a hero / heroine? A three-minute dreamscape in which you can “be” your idol? A means to escape the horror of the hum-drum day after day after day?
It doesn’t matter if, like me, you took to songwriting as a child without thinking or questioning and just did it as naturally as eating and sleeping. With self-awareness and learning about bad, good, and better – and pu-leeease, don’t tell me music is all about personal taste – you will make value judgments about your output. About form and content; about design and execution. So it would be better if we had a clear idea about the purpose of all this effort into writing songs. Without knowing this, how can we judge how successful we are? Because, for sure, different qualities are needed for songs serving the different purposes I mentioned above. And, yes, although I was drawing caricatures in these descriptions I will still assert that clarity of purpose is needed.
“Ah,” (you might say) “but I have to write songs. It’s what I am. I am a Musician. It’s innate. What else is there to say? Thinking about all of what you suggest would do nothing but unnecessarily complicate the process. It might tie me up in knots and even inhibit my songwriting. I would rather not interrupt my free and natural musical outpouring, thank you very much!”
OK. So be it. Rock on.