TIP #1: Keep It Simple
The first key to making a good song better is to keep it simple. Regardless of the music genre, most of the “successful” songs have a relatively straightforward arrangement, a simple and memorable melody, an uncomplicated chord progression, and a clean production.
When writing a new song, don’t overthink it and don’t attempt to cram too many things in. Don’t try to compensate for poor writing by covering it with an overly-complex guitar riff or a huge string arrangement. Don’t hide your lyrics and melody in an arrangement that’s too busy. Don’t try to impress people with how fast you can play if the song doesn’t need it. Don’t overshoot your voice’s threshold.
If you’ve already written a song that you think could be better, consider simplifying it. Without listening to it, think of the things that really stand out in the song. A good guitar riff? A particular thing you did with your voice? A few chords that just gel nicely? Make these your core. Now, listening to the song, are there sections of the song that are less-than-great or flat-out boring? Is there a lyric that just doesn’t work? Take these out. Look for anything that’s not necessary and simply cut it out. Leave more room for the really cool things and keep only the lesser things that complement those cool things. Leave people wanting more instead of quickly skipping to the next song in their playlist.
Personally, the first thing I make simple is the drum beat – especially in any form of popular music. I started my music career as a drummer in a gigging band. When I was young, I tried to impress everyone with how many great fills and ghost notes I could fit into a song. Until the day a much more experienced musician took me aside and explained that the only people “moved” by flashy playing are other musicians – unless they’re better than you – and that’s not our audience. It’s the people in the crowd we care about “moving” and what moves someone more than a great groove? There are bands I really respect as musicians but I just can’t listen to their music because it’s so full of flashy playing that you can’t get into it. On the other hand, I don’t care what kind of music you SAY you like – try to sit still when you’re alone in your car and “Shook Me All Night Long”, “Love Shack”, “Lust For Life”, or “Billy Jean” comes on. There is just something so powerful about a simple, straightforward drum beat.
Jonah Brockman is an independent music producer and engineer dedicated to empowering songwriters with the resources they need to make great music. Visit jonahbrockman.com for more information, rates, and work examples.