I’ve been seeing people debate to the point of getting into a WWF brawl (or is it WWE now, I’m old) over pop music standards and how to write songs. They all have an opinion on what makes great music.
Things like formulaic pop music, talking song structure, keys, infamous tuning (440 vs 432), and atonal music. I feel like I need to make a really good point.
It may be an unpopular opinion, but here it is:
The Debate On What Makes Great Music
We can debate these things until we’re blue in the face. We can study them until our brains hurt and our hands are tired from writing notes. We can enroll in college courses, study with mentors, and ingest thousands of songs looking for the answers. But here is the truth…
People react to what moves them.
Emotion. And everyone’s perspective is an individual and unique one. It is all about what captivates and pulls emotion out of the performer and in turn the audience.
Which also brings up an incredibly interesting idea – perception. I always said how it’s amazing how quick we are to change our beliefs and convictions depending on the lens that we view things through.
On a political and sociological level, beliefs about things like privacy, war, and security can be quickly altered. Our beliefs are contingent upon our own circumstances.
Same goes for television. We watch House of Cards, Breaking Bad, and Homeland finding ourselves falling in love with these people that are CLEARLY wrong… but we sympathize with it. It is all about the lens and perspective that it is presented to you, the audience.
So what the hell does that have to do with music? Simple… people will react to your message differently depending on where they are emotionally or their experiences that you can take them back to.
Perspective Is What Makes Great Music
Do you remember the first time you heard a sad ballad? Chances are you were a kid that never went through a breakup. You reacted to things that supported the idea like a minor key, space in the mix, and an intimate vocal. But the idea was too big for you at the time.
Now, remember after a breakup hearing a super happy love song that you loved years prior. You probably reacted and said “$%^& this song!!” And that other sad song just got a whole hell of a lot more sad to you!
How about hearing a song about death after losing someone close to you. Or a nice party song with your windows down on the way to the beach.
The music that you heard growing up leaves memories that can come back like an acid flashback at the switch of a light switch when that first note comes on.
The two producers I worked with and I used to joke that the only reason why a band with a sound as lame as Van Halen has a fan base is that that is the music our parents heard when they started getting laid. Seriously, what is up with that high-pitched squeal vocal, terrible pants, and god AWFUL reverb?!
So the purpose of a GREAT song is to create an emotive experience. To trigger a memory, appeal to a listener’s situation, and to tell a profound story – your story. That is what makes great music! You!
Hope this helps! So get out there and tell your story.