The truth (set to music) shall set you free

I host a monthly songwriting critique session.  Every few months a person will attend and before their song is played they will ask for everyone to listen closely and notice if their melody has already been used in a previously released song, so that they can go back to the drawing board and come up with something “original”.  Before they play one note I tell them, that the answer is “yes, that melody has already been used”.  By the default of simple math, there is a finite amount of notes in a musical scale.  Since thousands and thousands of songs have been released, all of the melodies have been used.  The good melodies (the ones that are pleasing to the ear) have been used over and over again.

So what to do then?  Never write another song?  It’s all been done after all.  Well, yes that is true, but that doesn’t mean people should not continue to write songs.  Writers can use what’s already been done and put their own stamp on it, or a twist.  They can still express themselves in a meaningful way, even if it’s derivative. 

Even if you can’t be original, you can be honest.  If you write something that is genuine and from your soul, heart, gut or sexual organs it will come through and be appreciated by listeners, even if it is set to a tried and true melody.  People have bullshit detectors.  That’s why people like B.B. King and Johnny Cash, could sing simple songs using the same old chord progressions and it still sounded great.  People simply believed them.

In my opinion that’s what a lot of popular music has always lacked.  A lot of it I don’t believe for one minute.  They are contrived and calculated.  Though they may all be mildly entertaining on some levels they are ultimately just product.  None represent anyone’s dream.  None say anything that should be said.  They are not works of any artistic imagination, they are strictly commercial endeavors, executed for the sole purpose of making revenue.  Nothing wrong, with making money from your craft per se, but could you at least put a little heart into it?