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  What Did Lennon & McCartney Know
  about Writing Music & Lyrics That
  You Don't Know?
 
PLENTY! . . . But Now You Can Learn It


  
7 MYTHS AND 7 REALITIES ABOUT
SONGWRITING AND COMMERCIAL SUCCESS

 
Myth #1: All great songwriters, present and past, write "from the heart," heedless of technique.
REALITY: No, they are not heedless of technique. More

 

Myth #2: Billboard-charted hit songs are great songs.
REALITY: No, Billboard-charted hits are not great songs. More

 

Myth #3: If you work hard at writing songs aimed squarely at the "hit song" market, you will eventually succeed as a hit songwriter.
REALITY: No, you probably will not succeed as a "hit songwriter." More

 

Myth #4: If you take a music degree or study songwriting at a prestigious music school, you will graduate with better songwriting skills.
REALITY: No, you probably will not have better songwriting skills. More

 

Myth #5: If you study songwriting from someone who has had hit songs recorded by major stars, you will learn valuable lessons and become a hit songwriter, or at least a better songwriter.
REALITY: No, you won’t become a better songwriter. More

 

Myth #6: If you spend a lot of money on good recording gear and great demo recordings, you will have an advantage as a songwriter.
REALITY: No, you will not have an advantage as a songwriter. More

 

Myth #7: A songwriter who has written 500 songs is a better songwriter, by virtue of experience, than one who has written only 5 songs.
REALITY: No, the 500-song veteran is not a better songwriter. More

  


7 MYTHS AND 7 REALITIES ABOUT
SONGWRITING AND COMMERCIAL SUCCESS

Myth #1: All great songwriters, present and past, write “from the heart,” heedless of technique.

REALITY: No, they are not heedless of technique. In fact, knowing and applying certain specific musical and lyrical techniques spells the difference between greatness and mediocrity as a songwriter.

Comparative research shows that great songwriters actually know what they’re doing, technically speaking—especially songwriters who have written multiple classics: Lennon-McCartney, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, the Gershwin brothers, Hank Williams Sr., Elton John, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Jagger-Richards, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Neil Young, David Bowie, Rufus Wainwright, and many others.

Lennon and McCartney did not know music notation. Neither did Irving Berlin, nor many other great songwriters. But knowing music notation has nothing to do with knowing great songwriting technique. The evidence is in the songs. Lennon and McCartney did not articulate, and did not write down, what they knew about technique. But they did know it. Although they did not read or write music, they were superbly educated, musically and lyrically.

Apart from learning to play music individually before they met, Lennon and McCartney acquired their technical songwriting skills by learning and playing thousands of great songs in the 5 years they were together before they started writing their own songs. They learned to write great songs by paying attention to the songs of many of the finest songwriters of the 20th century, including the masters of the 1920s through 1940s.

Any notion that Lennon and McCartney “just wrote from the heart, and didn't worry about scales or other things" is simply not true. Again, the evidence is in their songs. When examined for technique, the evidence in the songs reveals that Lennon and McCartney were able to write so many great songs, and were able to do so consistently for years, because they had extensive musical and lyrical technical knowledge.

It's interesting to note that, after they split, neither Lennon nor McCartney individually achieved the songwriting heights they achieved together. As a team, they had a complete set of technical skills. Separately, each had very good skills, but not the match of what they had together.

An ordinary songwriter who learns the techniques described in How Music REALLY Works! can acquire the skills to become a great songwriter and achieve commercial success. Without such skills, the likelihood of writing even a single great song is extremely remote. And so is commercial success.

 

Myth #2: Billboard-charted hit songs are great songs.

REALITY: No, Billboard-charted hits are not great songs, for the most part.

Empirical evidence shows that the great majority of Billboard hits are merely average songs, no different from the average songs written by ordinary songwriters all over the world. After a stint on the charts, nearly all Billboard hits fade away and are totally forgotten. They do not become classics, because they never were good songs in the first place.

Songs become Billboard hits for reasons that have nothing to do with song quality. The main reasons:

      Pure luck. A mediocre song (one of millions) catches the ear of an influential
        industry person who decides the song has commercial potential.

      Charismatic appeal of the recording artist.

      Media hype. A performer catches the ear of an influential music critic. Others in
         the media jump on the bandwagon.

      Cumulative advantage, also known as “the rich get richer” effect, or “first mover”
         advantage. Music consumers buy what they see others buying, regardless of
         quality. Recordings by famous performers sell millions, regardless of song
         quality.

      Massive, expensive marketing push.

      Strong record production values.

At any given time, hardly any genuinely great new songs are available for artists to record, whether self-written or not. As a result, thanks to the above factors, it’s mostly ordinary, undistinguished songs (slickly produced and sung by charismatic performers) that become Billboard hits.

On the other hand, songwriters such as Cohen, Waits, Wainwright, McKennitt, Sexsmith, and many others have achieved sustained, long-term commercial success mainly on the strength of their songwriting—with few or no Billboard chart hits.

 

Myth #3: If you work hard at writing songs aimed squarely at the “hit song” market, you will eventually succeed as a hit songwriter. The only way to achieve commercial success as a songwriter is to write songs similar to the songs on the Billboard charts.

REALITY: No, you probably will not succeed as a “hit songwriter.” And no, chart success is not, by any means, the only way to become commercially successful as a songwriter.

Millions of songwriters waste large amounts of time—years or decades of their lives—working hard at writing songs with “the market” in mind. Hardly any songwriters who “write for the market” actually achieve any significant commercial success.

If you take the route of writing for the hit song market, the odds are very poor that you will ever make a good, full-time living on your songwriting.

On the other hand, if you learn the skills and techniques that great songwriters use, you will have an excellent shot at commercial success, because you will have no competition. There always has been, and always will be, a huge market for brilliant songs. The supply is very limited because hardly any songwriters know what they’re doing. They simply do not have the skills to write brilliant songs.

To reiterate ... Great songs have always been in extremely high demand, but there is an extremely low supply.

 

Myth #4: If you take a music degree or study songwriting at a prestigious music school, you will graduate with better songwriting skills than you would have had without taking the degree.

REALITY: No, you probably will not have better songwriting skills.

You will probably graduate with a better knowledge of music notation, recording techniques, and the music business. And probably better performing skills. But you won’t learn great songwriting skills.

Songwriting skills are entirely different from performing skills. You can learn great songwriting skills without being a good performer.

 

Myth #5: If you move to Nashville or Los Angeles or London to study songwriting from someone who has had hit songs recorded by major stars, or has won Grammy Awards, you will learn valuable lessons and become a hit songwriter, or at least a better songwriter.

REALITY: No, you won’t become a better songwriter. And no, you do not have to live in a major music city to become a successful songwriter. And no, most songwriters who win Grammy Awards, American Music Awards, Oscars, etc., do not have great songwriting skills.

The assumption is that a songwriter who has had chart hits and awards is an expert in songwriting. However, the evidence shows this is a false assumption. This is analogous to assuming that a female accountant who has given birth several times is an expert in medically treating women with difficult pregnancies, because the accountant has had the experience of giving birth. By this reasoning, a male obstetrician would presumably not have the expertise to medically treat women with difficult pregnancies, because the male obstetrician has never had the experience of giving birth.

Awards shows do not recognize excellence in songwriting. They recognize the power of media hype and chart success, which are functions mainly of luck and marketing—not songwriting skill. (See Myth #2 above.)

Hit songs and great songs are not the same.

 

Myth #6: If you spend a lot of money on good recording gear and great demo recordings, you will have an advantage as a songwriter.

REALITY: No, you will not have an advantage as a songwriter. Money and technology will not save you.

A great song will be emotionally compelling, even though performed . . .

      With simple piano-and-voice, or guitar-and-voice;

      By any performer, (as opposed to yourself or your band, or some famous
         performer);

      In any style or genre—rock, country, jazz, etc.;

      At any time in the future—30 or 50 years from now.

 

Myth #7: A songwriter who has written 500 songs is a better songwriter, by virtue of experience, than one who has written only 5 songs.

REALITY: No, the 500-song veteran is not a better songwriter.

If that songwriter has not learned great technique (which is true for 99.9% of songwriters), he or she is just an average songwriter with a large catalog of average songs.

The evidence shows that it does not matter how many songs you have written: if you do not have the specific skills that great songwriters have, you will not be able to write anything but ordinary, run-of-the-mill, forgettable songs.

Imagine you’ve been on a trip, visiting the world’s grandest, most beautiful buildings. Seeing those great buildings inspires you, and you decide that you would like to become a great architect. What would you do? Sit down at a desk and start drawing, hoping you’ll come up with the architectural plans for a spectacular embassy, luxury hotel, or beautiful cathedral? Not likely. Instead, you would probably take the time to actually learn the skills that great architects have. You would become highly skilled at architecture. THEN you would design great buildings.

The great majority of songwriters aspire to write wonderful songs, but make the same mistake. They sit down with a guitar or keyboard and start writing, hoping to come up with a great song. But it doesn’t happen. They never write great songs, because they do not take the time to learn the skills that great songwriters have.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The free chapters of How Music REALLY Works! will show you what you need to know to write brilliant songs. It’s not difficult material. And you do not need to know music notation.


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