This is an overview of the “Songwriting Triangle”, a tool I use to analyse my own work and make sure I achieve my songwriting goals.
A couple of years ago, I came up with the idea of the Songwriting Triangle. It’s a concept loosely based on something called the Rhetorical Triangle.
Rhetoric is the art of persuasive communication and what is songwriting if not precisely that? A great musician ‘persuades’ you to pay attention, moves you to feel a certain way and maybe makes you want to dance, lie down, throw yourself at a wall, kiss someone, punch someone, laugh, cry, or any number of other things.
Music is Communication.
Music is an extremely complex form of communication and songwriters – if they want their songs to be listened to and appreciated – must persuade the audience to give up some of their time and attention for the song to achieve it’s purpose. I use the songwriting triangle to illustrate to students a way of thinking about what they’re doing from a broad perspective. It can be really helpful in determining your overall goals as a songwriter and it’s useful for keeping yourself on track as you write and choose songs for a live performance, or an album.
Each corner of the triangle represents an aspect of the creation and performance of songs. Think of it as a target.
- At the top you have the music itself, meaning the chords, melody and rhythm The technical aspects of songwriting, the style, the instrumentation and the production.
- At the bottom you have, on one side, you: the artist and/or performer. This is about your motivation, how much of yourself you put into the song, how you construct your ‘brand’ as an artist.
- On the other side you have the audience: it’s about awareness of their attention span, taste, a general respect for and understanding of their humanity.
When I work with people that are already writing and possibly performing songs, I get them to place themselves where they think they are on the triangle. Some might place too much emphasis on the music itself, they want to build an audience but they don’t put enough of themselves into it and they don’t consider their audience at all. This makes for cold, alienating, or just plain weird music that turns people off; this is fine if you don’t care about ‘reaching’ people with your music but if you do, your approach might be working against your goals. There’s no point making 500 CD’s to sell at gigs if no-one can relate to your music in any way. Likewise, if you spend too much time focusing on what you think an audience wants to hear while neglecting one, or both of the other points on the triangle, your music might well come across as shallow and inauthentic.
This might seem overly analytical, I understand that. Music is so much about feeling and intuition and that’s as it should be, but there’s a definite place for a scientific, or logical approach. Using tools like the songwriting triangle can help create a mind set fertile enough that when inspiration strikes, you can take full advantage of the ideas, find the courage to chase them down and subordinate them to your overall purpose as an artist.
The timeless classics hit the Songwriting Triangle dead centre.
I’m fascinated by the pop song as an archetypal art form: around three minutes long, three or four verses, a chorus with a memorable hook and maybe a middle eight. The best pop, I think, hits the songwriting triangle dead in the middle and the best pop songwriters consistently strike the bullseye with each consecutive hit. It’s also important to add that the ideal balance for other styles and genres of music is not necessarily dead centre, that is for you and the audience that fits your niche to decide. The vast majority of the music we consume however, fits into the umbrella category of pop whether rock, country, indie, dance etc. It’s a worth while exercise to listen to music you really like and have a think about how closely it hits the centre of the triangle.
That’s it for now, just and introduction to the idea. I’m planning to write some more posts that delve deeper into each corner of the triangle and how you can apply this tool practically to your own processes.