How many songs have you written? How many years have you been writing?

OK, I know this topic has probably already been discussed before. I probably even brought it up myself at some point.

But I’m at a place of being puzzled by it again.

I don’t understand how/why musicians can write 500+, 1000+, or even more songs.

Charles Wesley apparently wrote over 4000 hymns. Though I think this was mostly the lyrics and not necessarily the Music part. Bill and Gloria Gaither have written over 700 songs together. Yet they are jealous of the writer of “Mary did you know?” Because none of their songs have gained as much popularity as it has. Uh, last time I checked “Mary did you know” isn’t that big of a deal ? So does it mean the majority of their songs are crap?

I figure in 16 years of making music, I have made somewhere in the range of 75-125 songs. (Unfortunately I don’t have all the songs in one place to make a count. Currently working on that right now). Let’s just average that to 100, that’s about 6 songs per year average. Sounds about right.

Not that I’m saying all my music is great, but personally I would much rather write 3 good songs that I love than 50 crap songs that I don’t really care about.

So how the heck is it possible to write enormous numbers of songs? Does it mean that most of them are crap? And if so, what is the purpose for this?

Also I do realize that writing, tracking, producing, etc your own song is totally different (and possibly more involved) than simply writing the lyrics and music of your song…

I know our reason for making music is all different and whether or not it was worth it shouldn’t come down to “accomplishments” and “number of songs written”. But I’m just curious about this topic.

So. How about you? How many years have you been writing and how many songs would you say you’ve made during that time?

Addendum, regarding the quality of songs:

OK, I was at the “Gaither homecoming” concerts this weekend, which is like a huge festival of Southern Gospel music. (I’m not a huge fan but my family brought me along, and there is some pretty good music). We saw something like 10 hours of music over the weekend from various different bands/singers. Let’s say including talking between songs, etc, there were 8 songs per hour. So I heard approximately 80 songs over the weekend. Some of them I really enjoyed, others I didn’t like so much.

And I started to think “All these songs can’t -all- be great songs”. Some of them are just average songs, not only by my count but by the majority opinion. Surely? Yet the crowd response is always positive, so how can you gauge which songs are truly excellent and which are average? Sure, I can say which ones I liked the best, and which ones I liked the least… But that would just be 1 subjective opinion. So, not very meaningful. What qualifies a good song? Is it complexity of song structure? Likeability of the melody? Or is it the emotional response that it evokes from the listener? Or a combination of these things?

Also I wonder whether musicians and non musicians like different songs or types of songs. Is it possible that people who are themselves music, prefer music that is more complex than non musicians? So then, how do you please both audiences? Can it even be done? I’ve heard of bands and/or singers that many musicians quote as being influential, but the band quoted was never very commercially successful.

So I wonder, if there is a difference between the music that musicians like and non-musicians like, what does one think of the other?

Do musicians think of “non-musician music preferences” as boring and simple?
Do non musicians think of “musician music preferences” as incomprehensible or unenjoyable?

Also, what the hell is up with “Pachelbel’s cannon”? Is there anybody here who has not liked this song at some point? And then probably gotten bored with it afterwards?

Is there something to be said about the point at which you liked Pachelbel’s cannon, and whether or not that has something to do with your musical taste development?

Or am I just getting too analytical/stupid about the whole thing and really none of these questions really matter?

Hell if I know. ? Tell me your opinions!!! :lol:

My father and his wife tried to get me into the white southern gospel quartet thing- of course, I have the capacity to appreciate it, and it is easy to see how it ties to black gospel music and pop and country music, but aside from that academic level, it got old for me quickly.

Understanding how those songs work in form and function, it is written as a melody line, lyric, and chords, and that’s it. Arrangement is handled by the singing groups, the song should work sung solo and unaccompanied as it is sung with a choir and organ. For the sake of relating that to composing instrumentals in the tracker, that means all the little rough blips and blops you don’t finish and release count as a written song too.

When you are a songwriter at that level, and you make a point to make up songs every day, whether you keep the results of the day’s work or not, even if you miss a few days, you’ll have between 200-300 songs by the end of the year. A majority of them will be bad on their own, but have little bits that are used in future songs, consciously or otherwise. However, it is not the sheer mass of work that leads to greatness as much as the ability to recognize what works and what doesn’t, refining and testing new ideas as you go.

I wish I could find a 60 Minutes interview that showed the inside of Diane Warren’s “office,” all of her songs are composed in a room with no windows, where nobody may enter except her engineers to perform maintenance, nobody cleans, and it is rarely even dusted. The room is littered with C10 cassettes, all rejected songs, though among that mess are half of Whitney Houston’s hits, an Aerosmith power ballad, some of Celine Dion’s anthems, and more…

As far as “what makes a song great,” I’m afraid your guess is as good as mine. To this day, I can’t answer the question “what kind of music do you like?” in a clear way, and when I was less secure of a person, I took it personally, answering with “whatever I want” or “none of your business.” What makes a person like or dislike music is tied to all kinds of outside influence, that there is no way anybody can ever completely put a finger on it without providing some kind of context, so for someone like Ms. Warren, that context is the Billboard chart. For me, it’s site hits, comments, and compo results. I imagine for gospel songwriters it’s about writing a song that is easy for anyone to sing and play but moving enough that people of that religious persuasion will want to sing the song all the time, for generations to come. Is that more difficult than being Billboard’s #1 for a week?

Especially for non-musicians, music is a badge that you put on a lifestyle, activity, or an archetype; the music of skaters, the music of dancers, the music of stoners, the music of movies, the music of video games, the music of commercials as they pertain to different products, and even musicians often have trouble understanding a kind of music if it is not properly presented with a context. The music you share is a badge of who you are, the music you reject is a rejection of the things you are not. I don’t think musicians as a whole find this tedious, though I do, because I don’t always want to make music that is easy to listen to, danceable, aggressive, soothing, uplifting, angry, or whatever- sometimes it’s more fun to hear something and wonder what it is, since after all, the emotions and expressions we think appear in music are really interpretations we learn from those contexts.

Does it matter? As much as anything like that ever does, I guess.

My parents are really into Southern Gospel, and it’s what I grew up on (somehow I went from that to heavy metal?). I actually played guitar in church a lot growing up. It does not surprise me that someone can write that many songs in that style. Southern Gospel puts cookie cutters to shame in their ability to create generic songs. The same chord progressions, melody “styles”, lyrical themes, and even the words themselves get recycled over and over again. There is zero variation in rhythm. If they’re not using the same drum loops for all these songs, then they’re wasting money a drummer, because he’s playing the same thing over and over again. The instrumentation is extremely minimalist and all the talent focus is on the singing. That’s not necessarily a criticism, it’s surely done on purpose. They don’t want flashy musicianship to take away from the elements they want to push. It’s a genre filled with quartets and trios. It’s sort of like they purposely don’t want any one musician or singer to get any credit, I guess because they see it as taking away from god’s glory.

And I guess it’s like any other genre, you have the generic stuff, and then you have the stuff that out shines the rest.

All the things that annoy me seem to be what fans of the genre treasure. One thing that annoys me is how blunt the lyrics are. It’s like they have absolutely no faith in the intelligence of the listener. They can’t create an analogy with out bluntly telling you what it represents. Like the Lighthouse, for example. At first it’s a clever little song, but then in the chorus they throw it all away by bluntly telling you that “Jesus is the lighthouse” like ok thanks captain obvious. In general I find the lyrical themes to be devoid of authentic human emotion and thoughts, and this seems to be mirrored in overly happy melodies and song structures that don’t build up to anything or go anywhere. It feels like 50% of all the songs are about either the fact that they can’t wait to die so they can go to heaven, or about how everything was so much better when they went to the country church and had the family bible on the table. A strange irony, that I find this music completely lacking in spirituality.

Now that I’ve (perhaps unfairly) trashed the entire genre, I want to mention that not every SG artist just writes the same old crap. I actually found the Crabb Family’s music to be refreshingly different, full of energy. It’s as if they actually like making music.

As for some of the broader questions, I think there is a strong cultural influence in various music scenes that has the largest impact on how music is received. Southern Gospel works because of the culture and religion surrounding it. And it’s almost taboo to dislike it, within that culture, or taboo to like other music (like how I’m going to hell for listening to heavy metal). Other music cultures do the same thing though. Within the metal scene punk has been taboo, and vis versa. Just because there isn’t religion driving it doesn’t mean the same cultural influences won’t be there.

There’s also a lot to be said about atmosphere music creates vs. a “brilliant” single song. Southern Gospel, EDM, and other music that’s a little generic is often not really created in the same mindset as like, Stairway to Heaven. Whereas a Zepp fan will focus on single songs that they think are the greatest songs ever written, SG and EDM etc. just focus on having a large collection of songs that collectively create a particular atmosphere than the listeners desire.

Wow, thanks for the well thought out replies guys! I will have to chew on these for a bit before I respond :)

Anyone else want to weigh in on the subject? :walkman: So far I’ve only heard from Americans. Admittedly, Southern Gospel is an American phenomenon and you Europeans may not even be familiar with it. However you can still comment on the other parts of the discussion :)

P.S… Check this out:
Isaacs - I will Praise him acapella <-- If that doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will ;)

Without going into religion too much, I think that’s the reason why I don’t feel right in those kinds of churches. (I grew up Catholic in New Jersey.)

My dad’s wife showed me an old bulletin her church passed out in the late 50s warning of the dangers of dancing and Rock 'n Roll. When that distinction went to heavy metal, even in northern Catholic church, we were taught that Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” was some devil worship song, when really it isn’t saying anything that isn’t already in Revelation, and now that time has removed all the reactions and gut feelings, it’s easy to see that most of Ozzy’s lyrics aren’t that far removed from things John Lennon would have sung. Then again, I don’t think they were fond of Lennon either.

EDM and the stuff that came before it have had their share of celebrated hits, but because the objective is to create a party that lasts through the night, you can’t have the first DJ play nothing but huge anthems, and you definitely can’t have every DJ playing the same songs, no matter how similar the songs in the style may be. I’ve noticed in the reactions to posts hating Big Room on reddit, that the post will say “Nobody’s going to remember this stuff in five years,” and the replies will say, “That’s not the point of the music, anyway,” and it’s been that way since the early days of disco: the dancer/listener is the star, then the DJ, then the music.

The atmosphere is a big part of why people listen, which is why I think there are people want to know how to make a song sound good before they learn how to compose well.

Usually, there will only be one such song like this per group, a difficult song that is more like a chorale than a barbershop tune, and that’s because even in revival, the evening must come to a proper spiritual climax. When I hear it, I imagine a lot of rehearsals where the pitch bends and key changes went wrong. ;)

This stuff exists in Europe too, though I find the most connection in whatever it is Irish folk groups do; white southern gospel is a progenitor of modern pop music. (white gospel → black spirituals → black gospel → The Blues) (white gospel → bluegrass → country/western)

I can’t comment on the Gospel thing (I’m from Europe!). It just reminds me something (only very remotly connected), once a friend of my mother brought a tape with some relogious music from some asian country (I forgot which), she said “listen to that, this music is amazing”, we listen to, and indeed the first few minutes were good, building a mysterious and spiritiual feeling, but then the SAME stuff was going on for the entire tape!

Anyway regarding the main topic, producing a lot of music, I don’t have a lot to say but I think one key is just to be excited about it, Diane Warren says “show up”, but you can’t show up if you’re not excited about it, this is even more important than inspiration or “being in the zone” (though being in the zone is so awesome).

Regarding what makes a song sounds good, it’s a very tricky topic I think, my head hurts just thinking about it. But regarding why music has such an emotional impact on us, it’s a really facinating subject, I might actually write a blog about this, sometime in the future…

Anyway, I’ll end with a quote from Diane Warren from that interview

“The trick is to make things sound simple, even if they may be harmonically complex” :)

I’ve been playing guitar, bass, singing and recording at home for about 23 years and I have probably written about 50 songs in that time but to be honest there are only 4 or 5 that I am proud to put my name to.

I find my best songs take roughly 6 months - 2 years to go from the initial riff / guitar part, to vocal melodies and lyrics which feed / inspire other guitar parts and bass lines / drum patterns, which feeds more vocal parts, lyrics, harmonies. etc.

Only when I have the song fully mapped out in my brain and its bursting to get out like an angry wasp caught in a tin can, do I record properly although I throw a few 16 bars rough as fuck demos down during the writing process.

I’m all for quality over quantity and if I could produce one 10 track album of great songs in my lifetime I’d be very happy. At this rate I’ll be 60 by the time that happens!

16 years and only 100 songs blimey
does it take you months/years to write 1?

in around 20 years ive written thousands, some have been lost, the rest are in a bin bag full of tapes, a large box full of cdr’s, a number of hard drives. most have never been heard by anyone, the good ones i played live and some are on itunes and the like.

maybe try to be a bit quicker about it, you know most of the time the actual song is written in the first attempt, or at least the guts of it, the rest of it is just fiddling, and mostly amounts to nothing.

to push myself, i went for a year almost every day writing at least 1 song sometimes more. sure a lot of them were crap but its a very rewarding experience. the purpose is to push yourself beyond where you are now, you would be surprised what comes out of something like that. try not to worry about the little stuff, thats just fluff and unimportant.

what makes a song sound good is purely in the ear of the beholder. personally i cant stand some forms of music that a whole load of people love, gospel and techno for example.
the best songs come from the heart and are usually written in one go, those songs that take ages to write usually are good for the bin before you even start. dont be afraid to say to yourself, thats rubbish, and start another one.
have 3 or 4 songs you are working on at the same time, one will obviously stand out from the rest, ditch the others and continue with the good one.

best of luck
and speed it up!

edit: btw im not american and dont like gospel, cant say ive ever met anyone that does like gospel. different world over there i guess.

I’ve made hundreds or more in about 14 years. I give myself about an hour or less to finish something. The times of working for hours and hours (or weeks) on one song are over for me and I don’t think it’s worth it. It’s all a bunch of junk no one is going to listen to anyway. If I think it sounds good and I like it, I save it and quit and feel good about it. A majority of “songs” are between 50 seconds to 1m30s and that’s the way I like it and will continue to make.

I’m not going to count, but if i call every individual musical piece i made a “song”, there must be over a thousand over the last 20 years. Mostly crap. :lol:

I’ve been playing a variety of instruments since I was 15 - electric guitar, harmonicas, 5 gallon paint cans and drum sticks/pipes (c’mon, it counts!) didgeridoo, banjos, keys, synths, trombone - stuff to pass the time, I never thought about making recordings until a few years ago when a friend first introduced me to Renoise; even then, I took a year of fiddling and ho-humming with software between long hauls at work, to make myself understand how it worked, watched tutorials etc. You know, all the usual bits you do when working with new gear or software. Out of the tracks I have submitted to soundcloud, I have only deleted 1 and that was purely because I could NOT bear to listen to it, it was sub par to my ears, utterly hated it. So, actual time spent “recording” about 2 years with a handful of tracks uploaded, one ended up on an EDM compilation as an outro - I was flattered! How many do I still have locked up and working on, intermittently in my archives? A lot, for me and that’s around 20 unfinished pieces, including an EBM/Industrial cover-remix of Downeaster Alexa (it just has me stumped) that’s been glaring me in the face for almost 2 years.

Actual “writing” of various music 22 years
Recording of music = 2 years
Uploading = 1 year
Years of being a supreme procrastinator = too damn long.


I’ve personally written hundreds of songs since I first started coming up with my own stuff 20 odd years ago (wow, that makes me feel old…). I’ve got about a dozen tapes dating back to '93 or '94 of (mostly crappy) guitar tunes, about a dozen or so tapes dating back to 1998-ish of MTV Music Generator songs (again, mostly garbage), dozens of .IT mods, Buzz .BMXs, SONAR projects, Live arrangements, and now Renoise .XRNSs. My pace has since slowed down dramatically, though. I’ve finished perhaps 60 songs in the last 7 or 8 years.

How many do I actually like? It depends on how generous I’m feeling when I listen to them ;) The good thing about a giant catalog of crap songs is that you can go through them and find little bits of gold in them, and those bits you can bring forward into something newer and, hopefully, better. All those crap songs end up being more like sketch books than finished canvases.

Most of my better songs, and better received by listeners, have actually been the fastest to develop. I suppose that’s because they avoid being over-thought, over-tweaked, over-worked, and over-cooked.

As for writing more songs versus fewer, I’ve recently come across the works of Mike Monday (Google him if you’re curious), a music productivity coach who offers some free information and a paid-for seminar that boasts of some pretty amazing results. His philosophy, and mine since discovering his work, is that we’re all out to capture that music in our heads, but all we can come up with is the music we have now. The ONLY way to get that music in your head out is to keep working with the music you have now, and through shear volume of work, experience, practice, and perseverance the music in your head finds its way out.

I’ve yet to actually see the fruits of this approach, though. Old habits die hard. But the important thing is this: the only way to master anything is to make all the mistakes you can make, and come away from those mistakes having learned something new. The only way to make all those mistakes is to do more work.

I would personally prefer a return to those 4-or-5-songs-a-week days. I had more fun while I was producing, and among those hundreds of crap songs I still managed to come up with more than 3 good ones a year. More if you include all the useful sketches that turned up in otherwise terrible songs.