The Threshold

After almost 20 years of home recording, song writing and failure, I came to the realization a few years of the one thing that seems to define a successful musician/band. My guess is everyone else has already and and always know this and as usual, I am the last one to the party. It came to me after the same repetition of pattern. I would write a song, put it out onto the various media mediums and send off links to all my friends to listen. It was always the same thing, I would get about 5 listens and that is where it stopped. I would listen to countless other songs by bands that, in my opinion, were not that good, and in some cases, the singer would be off key about 20 percent of the songs. I thought it lied in having the best recording stuff and knowing everything about mixing and production and mastering.

Then, it just dawned on me, it all boils down to this, does this song create the urge or desire to be played again once it was heard? I have heard countless great songs, but I never have this desire to want to hear it again. There is this threshold that gets crossed in a persons heart, this emotion that is stirred up and it feels such that you want to hear it again to feel it again. There are so many one hit wonders and I always wondered how it was that they could have such a great song and then, never seemingly have another song that was even close to that one, almost like that one song was a mistake. I would buy the album (back in the day) only to find that was the only song on the whole album that was good. Yes, the production of that song was/is, in most cases, what brings it over the threshold, but it is not the soul cause of all of the songs to go viral. This has so effected my writing. My goal has become to focus on a song that has something about it that makes someone want to listen again. I use to think if a song had the basic sounds and structure, it should work. I use to think that if I like the song, everyone else would. I only saw the song from my perspective. Even when I thought I was writing a song that would stir others up to enjoy, I was still not crossing the threshold enough, it was lacking in some way at some point in its process. So am I the last person to find this out? Has anyone else considered this in their production?


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Yes, I think it’s very much feeling based, something that comes through the music and/or lyrics that resonates with you. That, and addictive subliminal songwriting and production tricks that ‘hook’ you into listening. :wink:

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I doubt it, but the question is: Does really matter?

Is this new insight into songwriting (which itself is debateable) going to make you a better songwriter?

The fact is, there is no secret sauce to writing a good song - although there are plenty of decent guidelines you can take note of.

I have heard many people say they only care if they like their music, and they don’t make it for anyone else. If that was true, why do they put it out for others to hear? I think just about every person is making music, to some degree, for public approval and acceptance. So to me, I think it does matter as it is the primary reason that we share our music publicly.

When someone comes to your recording studio, do you not do everything you can to improve the quality of your production of their sound? I think if a persons goal is to get the most people to like and enjoy and replay a song, then I would think being conscience of what helps and was doesn’t is important. Spend a few hours on Reddit Songwriters listening and reading, it doesn’t take too long to see hundreds of people who think their song is great and they can’t understand why no one else gets it. Ask them if they think it’s important get the concept that to have others like your music, you are going to have to at least something that makes them want to listen to it.

I was answering your question in your opening post, i.e. Does it really matter whether you are the last - or even first - person to realise whatever you think it is that you have realised?

And when I say it’s debatable, it seems that your revelation boils down to: In order for a song to be really good, it has to be…well…really good. So good that people want to listen to it again. I mean, even if that is a thing, how are you going to implement it in order to improve your songwriting?

The thing is, you can never know whether other people think it’s good or not until the point when you publish it, and by then it’s too late.

I do if that’s the service they want, yes. But that is no guarantee that people will like it. And that’s my point: Write your song, make it the best it can be, then publish it. You have no way of knowing whether people will like it or not. (Although if it’s obviously dreadful, then it’s a fair bet that no-one will like it).

There is one other unpalatable conclusion: If someone publishes a hundred songs, and no-one likes any of them, then the probability is that the person is simply not very good at writing songs.

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I agree. In high-brow circles I think they get really big on focus groups and intentional songwriting, if they have mega-bucks behind their record label sponsored campaign, but for the rest of us it’s pretty much a crap-shoot. Try to put some heart and soul in what you do, and hopefully it will connect. I happened to look this up on YouTube the other day, a song I hadn’t heard in many many years. I first heard it when it came out (AFAIK) way back in the 70’s, when I was in my teen years. And I don’t think Tom Waits was even a ‘thing’ then, but he got more popular after that believe it or not. I liked it then, and I like it now, but I couldn’t tell you why. It just has that special something. It’s just vocals and drums, and he’s not even really singing just kind of ‘rapping’ before THAT was even a thing. :roll_eyes:

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Did I mention I have auditory processing disorder? :weary:

I don’t think there is any objective threshold that a song can cross that determines whether it is “good” or not. There are a lot of different opinions about which songs are good and what makes a good song. It’s always just going to be a subjective opinion though.

It’s like the voting system, the entire voting base feels differently about 2 candidates running for office. Every single person feels something to some degree differently about each of those candidates, but the voting process ultimately decides who wins, not based on perspectives, but strictly on information, data. So my only point is not some system for determining a good song, but that to me, boiling down an artist to which one is successful and which one is not, not based on anything more than the ability to create a song or songs that have a high rate of replays. They have a gift of making songs that a lot of people want to hear that or those particular songs many times. So its just math. So I’m not saying what makes a good song vs not a good song, so much as I am saying that what seems to distinguish the musicians who are successful from those who are not, are the ones that can produce songs that feel timeless and give a sense of never getting tired of hearing the song.

The song or songs is certainly what makes or breaks an artist, but in some ways there is so much more. Many times those who are successful have “paid their dues” in terms of touring and hanging out in the music scene. Not always, but that can be a big factor. And even way back in time, the image and following of an artist could be a major factor. There are iconic album covers that helped artists get heard and appreciated. These days, the internet is a huge factor. Artists that become known almost have a guaranteed audience. Taylor Swift and Katy Perry and many others just release something and they have so many YouTube subscribers it’s literally an instant hit - over a million views in just a few days. Will that last? Will their fans still be playing that music at their wedding and their 20th anniversary high school reunion? Maybe. We won’t know until it happens, if we’re still alive. :wink:

Is YouTube the new radio? Is it all about record sales, or listens, or fans, or money? What is success anyway? What does it mean? What is its value? Is it narcissistic ego-stroking, or a valid measure of your maturity and contribution to the human race? Who knew that making music was so existential? :joy:

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re·play·a·bil·i·ty noun

noun: replayability

  1. (especially with reference to a video game) the quality or fact of being suitable for or worth playing more than once.

I hear what you are saying but I am trying to boil it down to the raw data, not even just how many listens, but how many times a song is replayed by each person. So lets say we had 5 singer/songwriters, and we took one song from each one of them. And let’s say that we sent 1,000 people the five songs, and we could monitor the replays of each song, what I am saying is that the singers who get a certain number (threshold) of replays of that song will most likely be people who have a gift for writing songs that would be successful, in general music terms. I am simply looking at the percentage of replayability with respect to a person writing songs. The 1,000 people could very well rate all of the songs as good songs, but I am talking specifically about the difference between them saying its a good song and them actually playing the song many times more. So I am not breaking this down based followers or album covers or the other things that contributes to a person’s success, but something that can be measured in terms of hard data, specifically percentage of replays, as if you were to just try and determine who has the most potential for great song writing. The only true measure, in the market place, of great song is the playability of it. You only hear songs on top 40 radio, that most people love to hear over and over, all day long. So I am really trying to only point out there there is a big difference between a good song, that a lot of people like, and a song that a lot of people like and also want to hear over and over. I am try to say with this post that my goal used to be to just write a good song. But I realize that what I really want to do is be able to write a song that someone wants to play over and over again, and I have not been able to do that. I don’t think I have even reached the "good song’ yet.

Well, I think I see where you’re going with the analysis, but I do think there’s more to it than that. Even record company executives, with many years in the business, thought a song would be a dud on radio (like Bohemian Rhapsody :wink:) or thought it might be a minimal seller (like Smells Like Teen Spirit), but those songs basically made Queen and Nirvana legendary acts - mainly on that one song that broke the mold. 95% of it can be accessibility, marketing, and promotion. How many plays you get can depend on if people think it’s worth listening to or not.

I just saw a documentary about Guns 'n Roses album Appetite for Destruction … it was going nowhere fast for like 10 months. Then the record guy pushing them got David Geffen - yes, THAT David Geffen - to get “Welcome to the Jungle” played on MTV … at 3am in the morning and only that one time! That’s all he could manage, and that record guy thought it was a lost cause. But the next day they had like 10,000 requests to MTV to play it again and again. Who knew? Amazing. People are influenced by other people’s opinions + opportunity + their own tastes + timing. All it takes is that one hook at the appropriate time and it can become a classic. Or fade dismally into the past completely unknown.


Reading through this thread, this has been foremost on my mind.

People subconsciously follow the crowd and everyone has tendencies to prefer different styles, moods, and themes in their favourite songs. Songwriting is a subjective matter…There is no “good” and there is no “bad”…there is only the judgement of good and bad. Sometimes people fall in love with a song because it reminds them of a special time in their life, but they confuse the love for that song with the belief it’s a good song. I believe that songs impact us often because we connect them to a place, time, people, events, emotions (anything really) that had an emotional impact on us. When we hear new songs we’re looking for similar styles and feelings that those old songs first gave us…A guy who prefers laid back, gentle music is less likely to be into death metal or raunchier sounding music because he’s looking for a particular mellow vibe…We tend to always gravitate to that music that first gave us goosebumps and that audio ecstasy. We tend to expand our tastes over the years because with every new song/ style/ vibe, we adjust and learn to like different vibes…but we all tend to seek a specific feeling/ emotion in the music that we prefer.

The greatest country song or rap song in the world will almost never become part of a rock lovers mixed tape/ itunes collection.


That’s very true. I can’t count the times that people got up and danced to “YMCA” and did the retarded (pardon my political incorrectness) arm movements without almost puking at the sight. :face_vomiting: About the same thing with Bon Jovi’s “Livin on a Prayer” or Van Halen’s “Panama”, although I think those are both pretty decent songs except for the overplayed puke factor. I can both love them and hate them I suppose. :thinking:

Well, it depends, IMO. Many years ago I used to be pretty one-dimensional with music. And in some ways I still am, at least with Rock. Anything that sounds like AC/DC immediately gets my attention and provokes that same kind of ‘party’ vibe. But I have also been able to enjoy other kinds of Rock that I didn’t grow up with. I like a lot of Grunge stuff, which was a complete U-turn from my Hair Metal and NWOBHM infatuation. And some 2000’s Rock and 2010’s Rock has turned my head too. It just depends on the band and the song.

And maybe I’m kind of weird, but while I had been kind of a Rock connoisseur/snob for a long time, I also embraced New Age meditation/yoga/hippie music many years ago. It’s like the opposite ends of the spectrum - head banging madness or totally chill cosmic oneness. :wink: I can do both, depending on the circumstance and mood. The New Age stuff transformed into Shamanic and Native formats but I still dig it.

I guess I do agree with you that we seek a specific feeling/emotion, it may be a part of our personality that stays constant, even if it is diverse and becomes even more so over time.


There is so much more to being a successful musician than this. You’re making it a binary issue when it demonstrably is not.

You’re drawing a non-sequitur conclusion. You’ve already pointed out yourself that some artists are one-hit wonders.

Every songwriter wants that.
Wanting people to love your songs is only natural, but it’s a moot point - that desire to be loved is not going to help you in your songwriting. If anything it’s going to hinder you, because you’re more likely to force the issue and end up with something contrived.

I would suggest that the best you can do is treat your song like a child: do your very best for it, and make sure that anything you do is in the song’s best interest, as opposed to your own best interest.

My two statements do not contradict each other actually, because I am not saying that in concrete terms, I am using that measurement loosely. I never said it is “guaranteed” that a person who can get one song to relay, is automatically going to be successful and if someone never can, then they never will. I simply said that the best method of predicting (not guaranteeing) that someone will be successful in songwriting, is that they can get a certain number of people to want to hear their songs again. So a one hit wonder was able to get one song that everyone wants to hear again but was never really able to do that again. That actually proves me point, he was not able to cross the threshold, what ever that number is, to go on and do it again. His nickname "one hit wonder’ is also proof in that it is seen as a negative in that he kind of failed at a music career. Now, before you write back with examples of one hit wonders who make a ton of money off that one hit, and say, “see, he didn’t fail at all.” I am talking about his perceived by the public failure to be able to really make any other worthwhile songs.

All very well said.

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Hi and welcome. I saw when you arrived but my wife had me on task to the n’th. ha ha Also thanks for listening to my newest song and your comments. I didn’t understand what the guitars were dark and the full panning meant. I always pan 100% and that is most likely wrong. I am not learn-ed.
I am 70 now and just get a real kick/rush about the whole process. I have these thoughts in my mind and bingo I start putting something together. Never get tired of it. My following on Soundcloud is usually under 10. ha ha some of my friends are in the thousands. When I first started my hopes were to someday hear a song on the radio. I am over that now. I do enjoy listening to original works. There are very few on this forum.
My goal is to get the listeners attention and keep it as long as I can. That ain’t easy. Also I get to my vocals very quickly. Many go 30 seconds and by then I am done. I have listened to many of friends albums and don’t have the heart to tell them all of the songs sound pretty much the same??
I like the way you think James and glad to have you here


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This topic has been an enjoyable read. Thanks for starting it, @WeGotLost.

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They probably do, but they are not totally conscience of it specifically. They generally just want to write a great song.