What Makes a "Good" Song?
Of course it would be presumptuous to give a clear answer to the question of what a good song is. The spectrum of characteristics a song can have is just too broad. Quite a few musical pieces become hits exactly because they don't fit in any of these well-known schemes. That said, it might be a good thing - especially for beginning writers - to be able to follow some common rules, that might help them to find their way around.
While writing a song, you normally do not think too much about the reason, why you are writing this song. You just write it. But at some point during this process you should consciously deal with some questions. The answers to these questions can be important to you insofar as they give you the opportunity to see your work in a larger context. Only this extended context will allow you a realistic and above all unbiased view of your song.
What are my musical ambitions?
Quite meta, isn't it? You might find it not so easy to give an accurate answer as soon as you start thinking about it. However, this is actually one of the most important questions you should face. Here comes why.
Obviously, the higher your musical ambitions are, the more people you expect to listen to your song. There is a big difference between writing a song just for yourself and wanting it to be known beyond the boundaries of your bedroom, your circle of friends, your country. The standard by which your song is measured varies accordingly. So does the feedback given by your audience. While the guests at a friend's birthday party would celebrate your song, the same song played on the radio could cause your audience to only shrug their shoulders. This fact may seem trivial, but many young or inexperienced songwriters lack exactly this differentiated point of view. The web is full of people singing out of tune, performing dead boring songs on their guitar, encouraged by their parents or best friends. Some of them learn it the hard way.
That's why it is so important to consciously choose your target audience. It prevents demotivation through frustration and lets you set the right benchmark for your work.
What feeling would I like to trigger in my audience?
This question is much more concrete, though not necessarily easier to answer. A piece of music is always successful when it touches the listener. These can be magical harmonies or sound effects, driving beats or lyrics that speak from the soul. Often it is a combination of many different elements. Usually it's these subtle things that move someone in a way that they can't even say why.
What stylistic means can I use to trigger this feeling?
After identifying, you should try to work that feeling out without leaving the fine line between "too random" and "too cheesy". The right dosage over time is important here. Create a choreography that smartly plays with the listener's emotions. In analogy to houseplants, constant watering is just as harmful as the complete absence of water.
Am I honest with myself about my abilities?
This brings us back to the personal level where we started. Contrary to the general question of one's own ambitions, the aim here is to reflect more closely on whether theory and practice are compatible related to a certain piece of music. Of course, this requires a certain ability for self-assessment.
If, for example, you wrote a punk rock song, but neither play the drums yourself nor have the opportunity to record it, that shouldn't stop you from realizing your project this time. You could try to record a MIDI drum set. You could say that would be okay as a demo.
Well, it is probably not. At least if you decided to follow any high ambitions, you should always think big. The key is to be honest with yourself: what do I dare to do for myself without making too many compromises in quality and what should I better give to third parties? Collaboration might seem unattractive to many artists and they have the good right to think so, of course. However, on closer view, collaboration with other capable artists could be a huge opportunity.
6 Tips for Producing a "Good" Song
1. Be unique!
It is not without reason that this point comes first. Uniqueness in arts is one of the key factors to success. The phenomenon is well known: Someone puts something radically new on the music market, something that people obviously like. It won't take long and suddenly every other song sounds like a copy of the original. Thereby it can't even be ruled out that some of these "imitators" can achieve a certain commercial success. However, these make up a very small number. So instead of drowning in this mass, try to set innovative accents yourself. The market is so full of arbitrary music, it takes something unique to really stand out.
2. Make it catchy!
Every song needs some kind of recognition value. Once heard, a good tune should circle in your head for a long time. Songwriters often can't judge how catchy their song is after working on it for a while. It dominates their heads in any case. If you have any doubts, try to get objective opinions about the recognition value of your song as soon as it is written. Also experiment with the catchiness of different structures, like hooks, riffs, sound effects, etc.
3. Record your tracks to perfection!
The quality of your recordings is the basis for everything that follows in the creation process of your work. If you're wondering why your recording lacks this high-end gloss, the reason is often to find in the way you record. After all, not everyone owns a professional recording studio. But that makes it all the more important to make the best of the situation, in spite of difficult circumstances.
Use a proper room!
For most home producers this is a big deal. Modern music is often free of extensive room reverberation, which puts the focus even more on good room quality, especially for vocal recordings. As a home worker you shouldn't fool yourself. The sound quality of a professional studio cannot be achieved at home. Which doesn't mean that you can't write good songs at home. From a certain level of professionalism, however, you should think about visiting a professional studio.
If you read the credits in the booklet of a pop single more than once, you shouldn't be surprised. Songs written by more than five songwriters are not uncommon. Professional authors know about their skills, but they also allow others to contribute in the common sense of making the result even better. Do not hesitate to let others be part of your creativity. Artists who have never worked in a team before might be surprised by the inspiring effect others can have on your work.
5. Focus on professional sound quality!
Sometimes the song itself can be the killer. But the final mix prevents it from becoming a hit. Not without reason do record companies only hire their best producers for the best promising songs. To reach the level of a top chart producer is probably the dream of most hobby producers. But just like with other skills, it's experience that makes the difference.
6. Modernize your sound!
Always be aware that music is also subject to steady trends. I know a lot of song producers whose pieces are masterly made. But somehow they sound like fallen from the last decade. They are not the exception. Many good producers are so stuck in their time that they hardly have any access to modern sound worlds. However, this is not only a matter of sound, but also of song building. Songs working perfectly fine ten years ago, can be a no-go today. If you worry about modernity, try to work with vibrant reference tracks and keep on listening to contemporary music.
Clean up your tracks
Hardly anyone thinks that the post-production of a track is done with the recording and a few insert effects. However, in many cases impatience prevents us from making these edits consistently. Today's professional recordings usually require many hours of manual work per track. Pitch Correction, for example, is a very common feature nowadays that makes the difference in the end. It needs a lot of experience to edit a vocal track to correct its pitch without affecting authenticity, expression and sound quality.
Scale your tracks
Scaling your tracks means to provide multiple takes of the same recording for overdubbing. This usually is done to fatten the sound. If your mixes sound powerless, try to double your takes. Modern sequencer software allows you to perfectly align multiple versions of a track.
Following this guide won't make you a perfect songwriter. But it may help you get the most out of your production. Some people might have to write a hundred songs before there's the one that stands out. Every song will probably bring you up one step closer to your goal. Apart from all the good advice, persistency sometimes is the best virtue.