The Bee Gees, whether you love or hate them, know a thing or two about writing songs with enduring appeal. That can’t be denied. They have the awards and the platinum records to prove it. In fact, they have a diamond record.
On a retrospective documentary about the Bee Gees I caught this week, filmed relatively recently (compared to their fifty year career), they were interviewed looking back on their records and commenting on what brought them success. They said something that, to me, was very interesting guidance for songwriters and musical artists. I’m paraphrasing here, but the essence of the advice was that you should write music that will sound good in fifty years time.
Wow! Now that is a very different approach to what record companies do, isn’t it? Record companies sense whatever happens to be the most popular music or musician now, then they all pile in, signing up bands and artists that sound just like the most recently popular thing. That’s why we get musical movements, like punk, disco, metal, etc. All of the record companies are trying to cash in with a clone of the breakthrough act that happened to catch the public’s imagination. It’s why we get so much music that has no lasting value.
Contrast that with the approach taken by the brothers Gibb. Write something that has to sound good in half a century’s time and you will start with entirely different assumptions. You’ll gravitate to the three fundamentals – melody, harmony and rhythm. You’ll tend to write timeless lyrics with universal appeal. Your instrumentation and arrangement won’t be tied to the current fad, it will be original and futuristic, while still paying homage to current sounds and styles. It will tend to disregard what everybody else is doing now and blaze its own trail.
If you are trying to make music, try to forget about faithfully sounding like your favourite genre or artist. That’s been done already and by somebody more authentic at that style. Don’t try to second guess the current mood of the audience, based on what they’re already buying. Instead, make something that their grandchildren will still think is good and worth a listen. Make something of lasting, monumental quality. Be the breakthrough act that defines a new musical movement.
That, I think, is the secret.