There is no single method or secret ingredient in the process for making good music. Things like years of experience and lots of familiarity with any given songwriting process can be just as beneficial—or detrimental—as sitting down with an instrument without much musical training. Because every songwriter’s process is a complex mosaic of things like natural musical intuition, experience, and musical philosophy, pinpointing and imitating what songwriting approaches prop up great music isn’t always helpful or even possible to do.
Why developing great taste in music is vital for songwriters
Instead of trying to imitate how a great songwriter works, you’ll probably get more out of pinpointing just what exactly it is you think that makes the artists you admire great. Having a solid and informed taste in music is an integral part of being able to create meaningful music. When you’ve got a deep appreciation and interest in another artist’s music, you also have a path towards creating some great music of your own. Rather than just blindly copying and pasting aspects of your favorite songs into your own music, having a great taste in music opens your creative world up to things you might never thought were possible before.
Taste is more than simply liking music
All music, whether it’s stuff you enjoy or not, has been informing your musical philosophy since before you were born. If you’re like most musicians, there’s probably stuff out there you love as much as you hate, but the truth is that everything you hear shapes not only your taste in music but also how you work as a musician.
Developing a solid taste and appreciation for music is much more than simply liking some songs and hating others. It’s the lifelong process of discovering what makes one piece of music successful and what makes another flawed, uninspired, or flimsy. If a song has ever stopped you in your tracks, did you take the time to figure out why? Maybe it was something in the singer’s voice or the way the drums came in at just the right moment. Or maybe you’ve never bothered to discover what in music moves you so much.
Rather than liking music and calling it a day, having good taste in music is the process of learning what it is in music you love and why. The interesting thing about this process is that if it’s done correctly, a songwriter will always be on the cusp of figuring out what they love about music without ever quite getting there. There should always be room for surprises and change.
If this all sounds complicated, it’s because it is. Every musician’s taste in music is unique and layered, but the value of taste comes with the individual’s search for learning what makes music good and how to bring what they find into their own work. In the same way that even the greatest musicians never completely master their instruments, a songwriter’s taste should always remain dynamic rather than stale and stagnant.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.