Originality in songwriting

Is it possible to be original in songwriting? There is that famous verse in the Bible: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) All songwriters start their journey having already heard many songs, many times. The sounds and associations of all these songs become part of their vast mental and emotional library. Ideas, words, images, stories – these, too, are formed out of the raw materials of life experience and observation. Many (most?) combinations will inevitably be like someone else’s song or lyric. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. And yet, most artists like to do something that hasn’t been done before. How do we navigate this? Here are two experienced voices on this question: musician and producer Mark Ronson, and ex-Chair of Warner Bros UK Rob Dickens:

Mark Ronson – Zane Lowe Interview, Feb 2011

Ronson is a musician, DJ, singer, songwriter and record producer, has won Brit awards and Grammys, and has produced recordings for Adele, Bruno Mars and Amy Winehouse. Wikipedia entryOfficial website

“Be prolific. The more stuff you make, you find your voice. And your voice is always going to evolve over time, but I think just only by constantly creating and creating … that’s my main [piece of advice]. And then, originality, that’s the best thing. The thing of chasing trends and doing something because it’s on the radio, at best, you’ll always be the second person to do it. And I think it’s so much more exciting to do something completely fresh and new, and sell a fraction of what you would do if you just copied what the new trend is. … If you’re trying to chase the sound of radio, and what’s going on, you’re just going to be behind the curve. Whenever in a moment of weakness I’ve tried to copy something that I think might be a hit, or might sound like a hit, it’s usually terrible.”

Rob Dickens, Chairman, Warner Bros UK (1983-98) – Music for Misfits: the story of Indie, BBC4 2015

“The problem with any movement is, people think there’s a formula. And they don’t realise that the people who started it had something to say. And so when you see a formula, a lot of people both from the music industry and from the artist community sign up to it. And so you get a diluted form, and when you get dilution, that musical form becomes meaningless.”

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