I’m sure you’ve heard that quality is better than quantity. And in many areas, this is probably true.
But when it comes to songwriting, thinking this way can actually lead you to write lower quality songs!
If you care about quality in your songwriting practice, you should probably care about quantity even more. Let’s take a look at why this is true, and some of the ways you can effectively build on a quantity-based approach.
A small experiment
Let’s say you had one month to come up with a draft for a great song. Should you take a few days to come up with one song idea and then spend the rest of the time crafting that one song?
Or should you try coming up with a new song every day and pick your favorite at the end?
A lot depends on how good that “one song” is to begin with. Does the initial idea have to potential to be great? Are you able to take the progressions and melodies and improve them significantly?
At the end of the month, you have one song to evaluate. How confident are you that you’ll discover it was a good bet?
If you chose one song a day instead, by the end of the month you’ll have 25-30 songs to evaluate. How likely do you think it is that one of them will be more promising than your initial idea for that “one song”?
I don’t know how you currently approach songwriting, so I can’t answer these questions for you. And the best way to find out is to actually do the experiment, trying it one way one month and the other the next. But I would suggest that if you approach songwriting in a certain way, the quantity-based approach will almost always win.
Let’s talk about why.
How quantity can form the basis for quality
Every time you engage in a creative act, you are coming up with something new, at least in some way. And coming up with something new will always involve luck.
You won’t know whether you’re on to something until you hear the result.
It’s possible to write a great song in one sitting. But it’s much more likely that a given idea will fall flat. This is where the numbers game comes in. The more attempts you make, the more likely luck will be on your side for just one of them.
But this isn’t always true! It all depends on what you’re doing when you make those attempts.
If aiming for quantity means you do the easiest, most familiar thing as often as you can, then you might have been better off just developing and revising a mediocre idea.
The key is to focus on challenging yourself. If you’re going to write a new song idea every day, then you should try something new each time. It doesn’t have to be radically new. Just pick one thing each day, however small.
Maybe you normally start your progressions on C, G, or E. Try starting on a different chord.
Maybe you normally write your songs in major. Try writing in minor.
Maybe you normally start with a verse. Try starting with a chorus.
You can get a lot more experimental than this if you want to, but the most important thing is that you take paths you don’t normally take.
Quantity done right leads to quality in more than one way
A songwriting practice that challenges you every day will lead to quality in a number of ways.
First, there’s playing the numbers. We’ve already talked about the question of luck. The more songs you write, the more likely you are to hit on an interesting idea (as long as you challenge yourself).
Second, there’s the benefit of greater variety. If you regularly try new things, then your backlog of songs will be more diverse.
It’s a common problem for songwriters that they end up basically writing the same song over and over again. But the more diverse your backlog is, the more likely you are to find an interesting idea.
Third, regularly writing a wider variety of songs will help you develop valuable skills. The more that starting new songs becomes a matter of routine, the more the barrier to starting a song will go down.
This feeds on itself.
And the more new ideas you try out, the broader your songwriting vocabulary will become. This actually increases the odds that when you sit down to write a single song, you’ll come up with an interesting idea!
Quality is better than quantity, so choose quantity!
When people say “quality over quantity”, they normally mean it’s better to have one great thing than ten mediocre things. And if I had to choose between having one great song or ten mediocre songs, I know I’d choose the great one.
But that’s not really our choice at all!
Be thoughtful about your songwriting practice, challenge yourself on a regular basis, and keep a record of your ideas. At the end of the month, you can enjoy listening through everything you came up with. And then you can choose the most promising idea for a quality song.