"If you have
built castles in the air, your work need not be lost. . There is where they
should be. Now put foundations
Ė Henry David Thoreau
"We believe that not every song, not every artist, not every
album, is created equal."
- Edgar Bronfman Jr., Chairman, Warner Music Group
In our other articles, we've had
an overview of Parameters and Roles, and weíre ready to look at one more
paradigm -- that which deals with the parameters of why songs achieve or fail to achieve
commercial and/or artistic success.
This paradigm will be known as the Four Faders, using an analogy weíre
all familiar with: the controls on a mixing board (see diagram at http://www.billpere.com/SCB/SCB_FourFadersDiagram.htm )
For any song you can name, someone will say "Itís a great song
!" -- For any
song, there will always be at least one person, besides the writer and his/her
circle of friends, who thinks
so. Others will say "It
The song may make the Top 10 in
several countries, or in a regional market, or it may never be played on any
station . It may sell a million
downloads, or none. It may become
a pop culture icon, or known only to a cult following. Itís easy to say that a song is popular
or not, or that itís a hit or not, but that gives no insight as to WHY. It does not tell you whether the song
is well-written or not. Being a
"hit" song often has nothing to do with being a well-written song.
Most average listeners, when they
say "Itís a great song !" really mean "Regardless of whether
itís well written or not, thereís something about it which appeals to my
personal taste or relates to my personal situation i.e., 'I like it ". "Like" does not equate to
"well-crafted", and vice-verse.
Letís look at four factors. Since parameters can vary and be set at
certain levels by conscious choice,
letís think of them as faders on a 4-channel mixing board. You can set each of the faders at
maximum, minimum, or in between.
The combination of the four
yields a particular Ďmixí or result. Using the diagram at http://www.billpere.com/SCB/SCB_FourFadersDiagram.htmour four faders for looking at a song are:
-- Breadth of Appeal
-- Depth of Appeal.
These four factors help clarify
the role that craft plays in songwriting.
( Go here for diagram: http://www.billpere.com/SCB/SCB_FourFadersDiagram.htm)
Effectiveness refers to whether or not the song
elicits the desired effect when heard by as listener. The songwriter,
through their intent, controls 100% of what that desired effect is, but the listener
controls 100% of what the actual effect is when they hear the song. Thus, effectiveness
is a shared parameter: Typically
a songwriter wants their intent and the effect to align. Some common desired effects might
-- wanting listeners to cry
uncontrollably when they hear the song;
-- wanting listeners to get up from
their seat sand shout "Hallelujah!"
listeners to excitedly tell all their friends that they just must hear this new song!
-- wanting listeners to purchase the
CD or track.
-- wanting listeners to feel
outraged about a particular situation
-- wanting listeners to feel good
about their life
.. and so many other
possibilities, all defined completely by you, the songwriter.
Appeal is controlled 100% by the
listener. It is a totally subjective parameter, based on individual taste. Either your song appeals to someone or
it doesnít. The songwriter has no say
in that. When people say
"music is all subjective" or "itís all just opinion", they
are usually referring to appeal, unaware that there are other channels on the
However, there is one instance
where you can exert some control over Faders #3 and 4. When writing a song for niche
a song designed to be pitched and
appreciated only by a bounded demographic (Hockey Fans, Train
Enthusiasts, Boy Scouts, Massage Therapists, Biologists, Coin Collectors, etc) you are automatically lowering Fader
#3, Breadth of Appeal, because you are targeting only a defined segment of the
overall population. This is a good
thing when done with Eyes-Wide-Open because when you have an audience with a known common
interest, it is easier to market the song and achieve higher Depth of Appeal
(Fader #4) to compensate for the
lower setting of Fader #3. If
too-narrowly focused references are used without the intent of niche-marketing,
the song will fall short of your goals.
The one parameter that is 100%
under your control as the songwriter is the craftsmanship which goes into your song. Craft refers not to the tools and
techniques you use, but to the degree of skill you have in applying those tools and techniques. You
can choose which tools to use, how to apply them, and with what level of
skill. Wisely chosen and well
applied, craft will help align the writerís desired effect and the listenerís
actual response, and it will help broaden and deepen the appeal of your
song. Craft, as Fader #2, is the bridge between Channel 1 and
Channels 3-4 on our mixing board.
Once we understand each parameter
and how they affect songs, we can then talk about how you can control
them. Using an Olympics
metaphor, many Olympic events are judged by two parameters: Degree of Difficulty and Execution, and
the final score is the sum or product of both. The Degree of Difficulty is like the Craft fader (#2), and
the Execution is like the Effectiveness fader (#1). If the Olympic audience voted, e.g. American Idol
style, (fortunately they don'tÖ)
that would be the Appeal parameters, (faders #3 and 4).
Do You Effect an Effect that Affects Peopleís Affect ?
Of the Four Faders, effectiveness is the parameter which is
easiest to define and measure. An
effective song is one which elicits the specific response that you want the listener to have. You are the one who defines what
that desired response is Ė tears, laughter, thoughtfulness, action etc. There are three levels of response that
a listener can have when hearing a song:
ē To feel something (an emotion is triggered)
ē To think about something (you are moved to give thought to an
idea or situation)
ē To act on something (you are moved to
turn your thought into some considered action)
Please note:In this discussion,
there is no value judgment made or implied about one type of song being "better" or
"worse" than any other.
All products of creative effort have value, however they do not all have
equal ability to cause a particular effect in a particular listener. You are completely in charge of what
effect to want to cause, and the
principle here is that of recognizing types of songs accurately for what
they are, so as not to form any unrealistic expectations as to the types of
reactions they might elicit.
As you might guess, the simplest
type of response to successfully elicit from a listener is to have them feel
something. This ease with which
this can be done is a double-edge sword.
Music, even without words,
usually evokes a feeling, pleasant or unpleasant. For a great resource on how the brain
responds to music, see "This Is Your Brain on Music" by Daniel J. Levitin, Dutton
Press, 2006. Simple, sincere words, without
music, can evoke a feeling. Random
verbal or visual images, without music, can evoke a feeling. The emotion in a voice just making
sounds (no words) can evoke a feeling (think of Donna Summerís 22 simulated
orgasms in the long version of
"Love to Love You Baby"). Instrumental texture can evoke a feeling (heavy metal
without guitar distortion would not be very heavy). Thus if your specific objective in writing a song is simply
to evoke a feeling Ė any feeling -- you donít have to work very hard lyrically
to achieve that objective and be effective if you know what type of music
carries what type of emotive triggers.
So whatís the other edge of the
sword? Because music and an
emotive voice so easily evoke feelings, the part of us which does not like to
expend extra effort is naturally drawn to this type of song. It becomes easy to get comfortable
churning out songs that just express raw emotion, and you might never come to
realize what youíre capable of creating, or the reactions you could be getting, if only you tapped
additional energy from your reserves. You can be excellent at writing this type
of song, but have your Eyes Wide Open to the fact that it is like being a
world-class pole-vaulter with the bar set at 9 feet instead of 19 feet. If you have thousands of fans
responding to your raw emotive songs, whatís to say you wouldnít have tens of
thousands, or more if you went to the next level of evoking thought and action
If the Olympian in you can
achieve a 6 or 7 out of 10, how would you ever know your full potential if you
didnít try or were not encouraged to try for a 8, 9, or 10?
The two biggest obstacles to
being great at anything are (a) complacency (being satisfied with any shoe,
whether or not it fits), and (b) fear of feedback. When you get a critique that suggests there are ways to make
your song work more effectively, think of it always as encouragement to
continually try for the next step above where you are; to stretch yourself to find new boundaries. Donít settle for a 7.
To look at it another way, think
of a song as being a gemstone brought up from your inner mine of creative
ideas. The farther down in the
mine shaft you have to go to bring something to the surface, the more effort it
takes. The more intermixed it is
with other materials, the more effort it will take to purify. To evoke an emotion through a song, you
donít need to dig down too deeply, and what comes out is usually pure
feeling. To go to the level of
getting others to think and act,
you need to explore many more corridors of your inner self, bring forth
cohesive and persuasive ideas, and process them into a higher state of
linguistic and musical clarity.
Thus, youíre expending more effort to purify the gem.
As you know, there are many
feeling-only songs which are commercially successful. Does that automatically make them effective and
well-written? Think of our 4-channel
mixing board. There is no direct
link between commercial success and either effectiveness or craftsmanship. They are on different channels. Commercial success is linked to the two
faders dealing with appeal. You are in
charge of your definition of success, and for many, being an effective songwriter, independent of
appeal, is the primary measure of success.
You can think of Effective
songwriting (Channel 1) as being artistically/critically successful, and
songwriting with Appeal (Channels 3-4) as being commercially
They are however, distinctly
different. You are the one running
the mixing board, and it does not have to be a choice of one or the other. Aiming for both is always an option,
although it is the more difficult, but perhaps most rewarding choice.
Dating Game: Presenting a Song is
a Social Interaction
how do you get a solid handle on the interrelation of song, effect, and
listener ? Think of a song as a conversation, a social interaction between you
and a stranger. This is essentially
what occurs when you present a song to someone. Understanding this concept is one of your most
powerful songwriting tools !
Weíve established that you have
choices and you are in control of your selections and defining the outcome you
want. If sounds too easy, it is,
because there is one other important factor in the mix. Think of typical social situations
where you make a series of choices Ė what to wear, how to do your hair, the
scent to use, what to say, how to act Ė all designed to make the specific
impression that you desire. This
works out only if the person on the other end of the social interaction is on
the same wavelength as you, and their expectations are met.
Otherwise, you can make all those carefully thought out choices, but the
experience becomes the job you didnít get; the pick-up line that fell flat; the sales pitch that didnít pan out; the audition that went nowhere; the relative you didnít mean to
offend; the prank that only you
thought was funny.
The Blind Date
If you intend to have an
audience, there are two sides to the interaction . An important principle is to
always show respect for your listener by anticipating and meeting (or surpassing) their
expectations. Think of presenting
a song as if you were going on a blind date. You are asking a stranger to share some intimate time with
you. Now think of all the things
that make a blind date successful or disastrous. If you only talk about yourself and never invite the other
person into the conversation, will there be a second date? If you genuinely try to connect but you
just have no common interests, will there be a second date? If you make the other person do all the
work to figure out what youíre talking about, will there be a second date?
And on top of all of this, not
only were you the one who asked the person to come spend this time with you, you
are asking THEM to pay for the date! They pay
for the transportation to your gig; they pay the entrance fee at the door; they
pay for your CD and your merchandise;
they give you their time and attention. Clearly, it falls to you to make the experience worthwhile
for the person whose favor you are courting.
The successful blind date is a
one where the time together is an equally shared experience, personal connections
are made, and common interests and tastes are found. Ultimately, you are in charge of shaping the experience, but go into it with your eyes-wide-open. . If there is even the hint that you feel
you are doing
the listener a favor, or that itís really about you and not them, you are
compromising your chances of affecting the listener a positive way.
The two faders dealing with
Appeal will be discussed in a separate article on "Courting Appeal".
For more, visit http://www.songcrafterscoloringbook.com
Pere was named one of the "Top 50 Innovators, Groundbreakers and Guiding
Lights of the Music Industry"
by Music Connection Magazine.
With more than 30 years in the music business, as a recording artist,
award winning songwriter, performer, and educator Bill is well known
for his superbly crafted
lyrics, with lasting impact.
Bill has released 16 CD's , and is President of the Connecticut
Songwriters Association. Bill is
an Official Connecticut State Troubadour, and is the Founder and Executive
Director of the LUNCH Ensemble (www.lunchensemble.com). Twice named Connecticut
Songwriter of the Year, Bill is a qualified MBTI practitioner, a member
of MENC, and as Director of the Connecticut Songwriting Academy he
helps develop young talent in songwriting, performing, and learning about the music business. Bill's song analyses and critiques are considered
among the best in the industry. © Copyright 2010
Bill Pere. All Rights
Reserved. This article may not be
reproduced in any way without permission of the author. For workshops,
or other songwriter services,
contact Bill via his web sites, at www.billpere.com,
www.ctsongwriting.com, and www.lunchensemble.com