By Michael Anderson
When I hear a new song I want to like it.

That may surprise some TAXI members who get my critiques. But I love a great song. I appreciate a well-crafted song — but mainly I want a song to hit me where nothing else can — to speak emotionally in an honest, personal way that I feel my life would be missing if I hadn't heard it.

That is the desire of the listener.

But when the listener hears your poorly constructed song the reaction is like frustration — or even anger. They have offered their time and attention — and you have squandered it. Good will from a listener is a precious commodity. Don't waste it — make sure you make it worth the listener's time to hear your song.

How do you do that? Quality control.

How much time will an industry professional give you to prove you can deliver? Not much.

How much time do you have to work on your song to get it right?

As long as it takes.

I have been noticing lately a tendency in my comments to other writers to emphasize the concept of focus in putting a song together. When you listen to as many songs from a critical point of view as most industry professionals do, it becomes obvious very quickly if the writer has purpose and direction with a song — which usually translates to a purpose and direction in their art in general, and in their approach to their career.

We live in an era of information overload — there is so much coming at us in the course of one day that the average consumer in our modern world just can't keep up.

One of the things we look for in art is clarity and direction — a statement of purpose that defines at least one small part of our world — and in the case of music, that is usually an emotion, and that emotion is usually love and the ramifications of love.

When we have the pressures of our culture and the modern information age screaming at us vying for attention, music and the emotional realm it speaks to become a safe haven.

When the promise of that sanctuary is rudely interrupted by a lack of focus in basic structural elements, or just plain laziness in construction, a poorly executed song becomes nothing more than another irritating distraction. The listener simply tunes it out or shuts it off.

Life is too short to waste on bad songs.


In songwriting, know what you want to say, know how you want to say it, then say it. Make it clear. If it is clear in your head, and you know what you are doing, it will be clear to your listener.

When you present a song to any audience you are dealing with people who have their own agenda and lives — usually very busy lives, and they are easily distracted and preoccupied. You need to get and keep someone's attention. How do you do that? Give them what they want — even though they may not know what that is.

And the way to do that is to be clear in your presentation, and the development of your idea. I will here mention a few areas of focus depending on the situation you are pitching to.

The main area for me, (and it may be just personal), is melodic flow and lyric linear development.

There is a natural flow to a good melody that feels right — and there is a natural development in a lyric idea that connects clearly with the listener. And I don't mean just simple — it may take a bit of effort for the listener to "get" (Dylan for example) — but the effort is worthwhile for the listener — there is a payoff.

Another point I often stress to aspiring songwriters is about the musical content of their songs: Is it stylistically defined and focused in the genre they are trying to pitch?

With all of the advances in sampling, looping, and computer software programs that even write your music for you, the one key ingredient that can't seem to be bought is a compelling sense of stylistic definition and focus. The seemingly endless variety and possibilities available these days via technology are not necessarily good things.

Be conscious and aware of what you are writing.

I have people play me their songs all the time and then ask, "What style/genre is this right to pitch to?"

I want to answer, "If you don't know, how should I?"

That's like a guy inventing something and then asking the patent office what it is. It's the creator's job to define function.

In songwriting, know what you want to say, know how you want to say it, then say it. Make it clear. If it is clear in your head, and you know what you are doing, it will be clear to your listener.

The listener wants to like your song — help 'em out a bit.



You can order Michael Anderson's "Little Black Book of Songwriting" from michaelanderson.com or Amazon.com.

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