Three chords is all you need sometimes!

A great song? Three chords is all you need sometimes!

Songwriting is a process that ultimately has no rules. On one level, if you write a song, think it’s good and like it, then it’s “good” and in theory, who can argue?

On the other hand, people often argue about the quality of a specific song. This one is “great”, this one is “not very good” …who appointed them Judge of All Things Musical?

What’s certain is that generating large numbers of CD sales or paid downloads requires a lot of people agreeing a song is good enough for them to spend time and money on.

It’s weird really, any song can have avid supporters or avid detractors, yet there’s a collective mindset that determines which songs experience huge commercial success. And success is difficult to argue with.

So that’s about where commercial songwriting begins to branch off from pure art. “Rules” happen. You begin to run into gatekeepers who believe they know what “everyone likes” in a certain genre. And you better not rhyme heart with start because that’s overused cliche, that song’s going nowhere, buddy.

Unless it becomes a huge hit anyway, then for a lot of reasons that make it the exception to the rule, including the fact it was written in June and there was a moon in June, it’s okay.

Is anyone seriously going to take issue with the thought that a group of co-writers assembling at an appointed time specifically for songwriting purposes where they’ll brainstorm clever song titles and write lyrics about fictitious situations, aiming for a Billboard hit, is pure art?

And this link certainly offers food for thought:


How do you get your mind around that concept? Where does all THAT play out in your life?

The point is if you write songs you can take any of three positions:

1. I write purely for the sake of the art/fun/relaxation aspects. I don’t avoid “songwriting rules” but I don’t embrace them either.

2. I do songwriting for the art and if I accidentally write a hit, great, but no worries one way or the other. “Songwriting Rules” who cares?

3. I want a hit song! Because I want to write a hit, I “follow the rules” as much as they can be determined.

Maybe the Internet has opened things up a bit but it seems “the system” many musicians and songwriters complain about exists for a reason. Most people like a certain category of music or maybe 2-3 categories.

So if 5 million people are looking to listen to country music/purchase country music downloads, radio stations make that group a narrowly focused target. They do that because they must have money from advertisers to survive and advertisers need a targeted demographic to make spending $ pay off.

If you want to write a country hit, you must get your song in heavy rotation on the most powerful of those stations. As you endeavor to do so, the gatekeepers will be making sure you comply with rules.

Hey, life is tough no matter what you do.

That’s songwriting now and for at least the next many years to come.