Bar stool philosopher: Songwriting for people who will never have a hit

Bar Stool Philosopher

The Bar Stool Philosopher.

Lots of people write songs; most of those songs will be heard by one or 2 people or maybe a few hundred. I’m one of those people.

So for most songwriters there is a need to redefine songwriting – away from the notion that you are trying to write a hit or trying to learn to write a hit. Or – as is the default position – trying to write for the pleasure of mass appreciation

There are lots of books about songwriting and every hit song ever written is a songwriter’s template. So – from one viewpoint – getting better at songwriting could be viewed as being about more accurately replicating those hit songs, or more successfully ingesting the lessons of good songwriting practice

Or not. I say not. Given the reality of most songwriters: which is that you are not going to have a hit song – and very few people will ever hear the songs you write; my suggestion is; spend all your time finding out how to write songs that exclusively please you. Songs that reflect your musical prejudices; tastes; quirks; likes and dislikes. Explore and grow as a songwriter but do so with the understanding that no one will ever appreciate or understand what you are doing. Record your songs: then listen to them with pleasure; the personal pleasure that can’t be measured by public approval.

Listen to and learn other people’s songs and take note of songwriting technique – but only with the aim of creating songs that will satisfy you. You are the audience; there is no other audience; there is no need to aim for songs that resonate with others; others don’t care; take that as read. Accept it and redefine your songwriting as an artistic pursuit with a personal purpose; to feed your own creative urges and to give you pleasure in its production and consumption; not a proxy pleasure that can be derived because another human likes it and validate your efforts.

Songwriting should and can be be more like the pleasure you get from eating ice cream; ice cream that you made yourself.  A personal activity where pleasure is associated with natural perception –  taste, when it is about ice cream – listening, when it comes to music.  The effects of both of these activities spread beyond the initial contact; they involve your brain – and that is a lot of a lot.

They are both intellectual and creative activities in the making and consumption. Eating ice cream is worth doing. So is writing songs.

Artistic pursuits are for the naturally selfish; take that to its natural conclusion; produce and consume; and take a profound selfish (perhaps even narcissistic) pleasure in both.

Controversial? Add your own thoughts below.

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2 responses to “Bar stool philosopher: Songwriting for people who will never have a hit”

  1. Arthur says:

    I like what you say in this post. It definitely needs to be said. I love songwriting and I invest a lot of time into it. I care a whole lot less about fitting a mold now. But I think we can do both. I think we can write for ourselves and write for others. And the important thing is to be aware of which you are doing at any given moment. I’m certainly not going to go out of my way to ‘not-write-a-hit’

  2. IonasDad says:

    So very true, Jim. At the end of the day, you must like what it is you are creating whether it be ice cream, beer (my ice cream, I guess!), songs. With the arrival of Coronavirus and the explosion of ZOOM music and songwriters online sessions, my songs have reached a far greater audience than I ever could imagine. Ultimately, I have decided that if I can be an inspiration to one person on a call (or in a venue), that’s great. However, you have to LIKE what it is you are creating – this is very important. I am not sure how many prolific songwriters actually like what they create, I’d be interested to know what percentage. You mention the songwriters’ handbooks but I feel that they end up just creating clones of what has already been done… anyway, we are just arrived in South Lanarkshire from the USA so this was an interesting find for me…. take care.

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