This article originally appeared on Cari Cole's Standing in the Spotlight blog.
I was just in the office of one of the biggest players in the music business, and we were having this conversation about what it takes to breakthrough as an artist. And the truth is, no matter who I speak to in the business, the answer is the same.
There are lots of great voices and artists with “the look.” But what sets you apart is… drum roll…
To break through the riff-raff and rise to the top, every artist needs songs that speak for them and connect in a way that strikes a chord with what people are thinking and feeling. And a song (or two or three) that become what they are known for, that brands them in the public eye.
Here’s my list of eight attributes of kickass songs.
1. They stand out with just piano/guitar and voice (sans production elements)
If a song stands on its own performed with one instrument, you know you’ve got something powerful.
2. They say something brave
There is an element of risk in songs that stand out. What are you holding back from saying? Write that.
3. They speak from your life and message
Real life is far more interesting than made up stuff. Write songs that you fight for, that are hard-won.
4. They also speak for a generation or group of people
You know you’ve got a kickass song when it speaks from your life and at the same time speaks directly to people or for a generation.
5. They are cleverly crafted
The lyrics wax poetic, use imagery to “show” not tell, tell a story, make use of clever songwriting tools like internal rhymes to hook our attention, and leave no filler lines (lines that reiterate what’s already been said or just fill space instead of saying something). Kickass songs also always have a solid structure and melodies that tear straight into people’s hearts. Work your craft baby!!
6. They are relevant and timeless
They sound like they were written today (not 20 years ago) and at the same time. They sound like they were written today (not 20 years ago) and at the same time, have elements of classic songwriting that exudes the timeless of great songwriting.
7. They are produced with great precision and vision
Even if it’s just a demo, it’s recorded perfectly with perfect time, tempo, instrumentation and vocals that are on pitch, on point and beautifully phrased. In other words, nothing is interfering with the delivery of the song and message and only enhancing the message.
8. They are unanimously liked across the board
One of the best ways to know for sure that your song kicks ass, is that everyone likes it. And that means complete strangers too.