Open Mic: What's The Quickest Way To Kill A Song?

Jon Ostrow on Feb 23, 2012


Although songs unfold and progress so naturally to us as listeners, the process of songwriting itself can be a difficult beast to tame. There are many mistakes, ranging from minute to catastrophic, that songwriters can make throughout the songwriting process that can damage the overall quality of a song.

For this week's Open Mic discussion, we wanted to go back to the very basics, and open the floor to all of you to see which mistakes you have made, or have seen others make often that we, the songwriting community should be wary of.

Below are 10 mistakes that we've outlined to get the discussion started, but we need your help to uncover all of the common mistakes that are being made.

Take a look at the list below and then add your own ideas or suggestions in the form of a comment!

1. Attempting to conquer more than 1 topic per song

While it is important to focus solely on one topic in a song, it is also just as important to make sure you have at least that one topic or your song will suffer from just sort of meandering without any purpose.

2. No focus on who the song is being written for

When writing a song it is important to know who your intended audience is. There are 3 main types of audiences that a song could be written for which we've outlined in full here.

3. Refusal to re-visit, re-write or re-work songs that aren't quite finished yet

Sometimes a song just doesn't feel ready yet. One of the biggest mistakes any songwriter could make is to rush through the writing process, proclaiming a song to be done because they have finished a session or because it is 'close enough'.

4. Confusing over-used, cliched lyrics with those that are 'poetic'

Lyrics and poetry and intersect. But it is an important distinction and common mistake to understand that the two are in fact not the same thing. Many times songwriters will attempt to create something poetic and instead just inject their work with cliche after cliche.

5. Lyrics are too 'artsy'

Unlike using cliched lyrics when trying to sound poetic as mentioned above, many times songwriters will attempt to sound 'artsy' (think The Beatles Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds) by combining descriptive words in a way that sounds unique, but ultimately makes little sense.

6. Writing in confusing song form

Many times in songwriting, simplicity is key. Oftentimes songwriters will attempt to create complicated song forms with intricate time signatures and chord progressions, but unless the focus is prog-rock, this unfortunately becomes more confusing to the listener than creative.

7. It's sounds sloppy due to over layering instrumentation or vocals

Again, this goes back to the importance of simplicity in music. Layering instruments or vocals can be great, but they can just as easily hurt the overall song if they are done improperly, or too much, to a point where they sound sloppy.

8. Songs are too long or too short

A song should feel natural in its length. Pushing it too far or not pushing it far enough will lead to a lackluster final song.

9. Lack of enunciation in singing

This can be tricky, while it is a common mistake to sound too grumbly on a track which can hurt the vocal quality and the importance of the lyrics, over enunciation can also hurt a track by not sounding natural.

10. Using false emotion

Many times songwriters will attempt to put themselves in someone else's shoes to tell a story or convey an emotion that they may have never felt themselves. This is always a mistake as the emotion will come off as 'phony' or even just a little off, rather than truly genuine, making it very difficult to truly connect with the listener.

Now It's Your Turn!

Now that we've outlined 10 mistakes that we feel are crucial to avoid, it's your turn to add to this list! We want to hear from each and every one of your suggestions of song-killing songwriting mistakes that we should all avoid in the form of a comment below.

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