Most people seem convinced that the Eurovision Song Contest serves no useful purpose — but after forcing myself to listen to the shortlisted British entries last week, I'm not so sure. In fact the whole ghastly edifice serves to illustrate the point that if you set out to try and write a song that will appeal to the lowest common denominator of humanity, the outcome is likely to be tragically embarrassing.
Which leads on nicely to the subject of the music we write at home. While I'm not suggesting that any of of you would come up with anything so banal and dated as the material previously discussed, there is always a temptation to look at what's selling, then go away and write your own version of it — that's why so many people are busy trying to sell the same rave track with only minor cosmetic changes. But what's selling now was, more often than not, written and recorded months ago and the writers have, hopefully, moved onto something new. That means that by the time your interpretation of the idiom works its way through the system, it will be six months or more out of date.
Unless you are a particularly cunning musical Mike Yarwood, the best hope of success is to ignore much of what's going on and just write what you find enjoyable to write. If it turns out that something is commercial, then great, but even if it's not, at least it will be honest. By all means make concessions to current trends in terms of general style or dance tempo, but use your own musical ideas. The same thing applies to production techniques — don't necessarily steal them wholesale, just take the best on board and use them when they're musically appropriate. Though it's an obvious example, the Beatle's singles were always a surprise — they never followed the same formula as the hit before, yet they were always compulsive. Occasionally they borrowed ideas from rock and roll, various ethnic musical styles, classical music and contemporary pop, but those ideas were always reworked to produce something unique. Many people attempted to copy the Beatles, some quite successfully, but because the Beatles didn't stick to a formula, they always kept ahead of their competition.
The moral of the story is that next time you hear something great, just absorb the good ideas; don't copy it or, perish the thought, in years to come it could be you submitting that Song For Europe.
Editorial by Paul White
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