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Is This Perspective on Art Holding Your Songwriting Back?

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Content provided by Joseph Vadala. All podcast content including episodes, graphics, and podcast descriptions are uploaded and provided directly by Joseph Vadala or their podcast platform partner. If you believe someone is using your copyrighted work without your permission, you can follow the process outlined here https://ro.player.fm/legal.

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In this episode of the Songwriter Theory Podcast, we're asking if this perspective on art is holding your songwriting back. I constantly hear people, including songwriters and musicians, say "Music is just all subjective", "Art is subjective", "There is no good or bad, art is purely subjective".

Not only is that unequivocally wrong, I think it's an actively destructive view that doesn't leave any room for us to "get better" at lyric writing, music composition, or anything else songwriting because, by definition of music being entirely subjective, there literally is no such thing as "better" lyrics or music or songs.

So why spend time trying to make our songs better? How could we even begin to have a discussion on how to write better lyrics or improve our chorus? If it's all completely subjective any of that would be a total waste of time. So, in this episode of the Songwriter Theory Podcast that absolutely no one asked for, we're going to talk about why this view is wrong and why it also is destructive to us and our future as songwriters.

Transcript:

So there's a certain perspective or opinion or just something that people say, especially artists of any kind, seemingly, and certainly songwriters. It seems like songwriters are constantly saying this and I think it's both destructive and just completely wrong. So because of that, we're gonna talk about it in this episode of the Songwriter Theory Podcast. Hello, friend, welcome to another episode of the Songwriter Theory Podcast. I'm your host, as always, Joe Svedala. Honored that you would take some time out of your busy day to talk songwriting with me. Extra honored that you would take some time to listen to this podcast where we are, this is a podcast for being honest. Nobody asked for me to talk about this. The vast majority of subjects we talk about is something that either is inspired by what I think some of you would want me to talk about if you did tell me, and then a lot of it is off of what you do tell me. So a lot of the content recently, the last several months, has been inspired very directly by your feedback when I asked what your number one songwriting struggle was. Most of the content has been pretty directly off of that, some more directly maybe than others. And I still need to finish that series as well, which we'll get back to. I have not forgotten. But this is one of those episodes where we are talking about something that nobody asked for, but I still think is important to talk about. And I've wanted to talk about it for a while, and then just realized it's a good podcast episode. I think it's an important thing to discuss, because you may not end up agreeing with me, but hopefully I can at least get you to consider that instead of what seems to happen, which a lot of people just kinda, I wanna say mindlessly kind of repeat this thing, I think it's a cop-out answer, and I think it's not true, or at least there's an argument, I would argue a very compelling argument, that it's clearly not true. But regardless, hopefully you at least reconsider the repercussions of this view of this perspective, and also maybe consider that maybe it's just not true. If you haven't already, be sure to grab my free guide, 20 Different Ways to Start Writing a Song. It's a cheat sheet, it's shorter, it's better than it used to be, and has double the ways to start writing a song. It's a great way to go, especially for somebody who is struggling with your song sounding the same, or you feel like you're uninspired. One of my favorite things to do, because my bread and butter way of starting a song is starting with a piano riff or something at the keyboard. But whenever I feel like, I just don't have any piano riffs in my fingers right now, I feel like I've written them all, which obviously I haven't, right? But just, you know, if you write a piano riff two a day for five days, by the sixth day, you're kind of like, I just, I don't even know, like I've done every key of it, I just don't know where to start. But just doing something as simple as, I'm gonna go grab a stock funk beat and improvise to that, or I'm gonna do a bass line, or I'm gonna start with an interesting symbol or song title instead, or I'm gonna think of an interesting character or an interesting story to tell. Those can be all great ways to start a song that will refresh us creatively, so that we don't get into writer's block. So anyway, be sure to check that out, songrithury.com slash free guide. So what is this perspective that I'm wanting to talk about that I think is super prevalent and ultimately pretty destructive and just not true, just wrong? It is that art is completely subjective, or art is totally subjective, or art is just subjective, all the different versions of that quote that seemingly everybody says. And not everybody says it, not everybody has that opinion. I think a lot of people don't have that opinion, but the people who do are very loud about it. And I think, first of all, it's just not true, which we're gonna cover first, why I think it's just not true. And then also, regardless of the level of truth, I think it's an unhelpful perspective if you want to get better as a songwriter. If you wanna write better songs, I think it's an unhelpful, if not overtly destructive perspective. So first, let's talk about some of the reasons why I think it's just not true. And we're gonna start with quite a claim probably, but and that claim is, I think the vast majority of people who say this don't actually believe it. They think they believe it, but if we tease it out a little bit, if we discuss it a little bit, dive a little bit deeper, about the repercussions, if it really is true that music, art in general, movies, books, it's all subjective, just totally subjective. There's a lot of consequences of that view that almost no people that do start with the premise of like, all art's all subjective, music's all subjective. Most of those people, when we go down some of the paths we're gonna go down, it's like, okay, if that's true, then this other thing has to be true. But those people, even if they wouldn't admit that they are like, yeah, I guess I don't agree with that. Inwardly, I think they just, they would know. Oh, I don't think this view is correct. So first let's start with how logic works, I guess, which I know you didn't expect this in a songwriting podcast, but this is, if you want to get to the truth, you have to think logically. And I know a lot of people listening to this might be like, really, I didn't expect a logic thing today, but here we are. So whenever a logical claim is made, one way to test it is to take it to the extreme and see if it still holds true. So for instance, if I were to make the moral claim that all stealing is bad, you take it to the extreme, find the most understandable or seemingly justifiable version of stealing and try to figure out is that morally right? If it is, then that undermines my point that all stealing is wrong, right? Or all lying is wrong, for instance. So if we were to say all lying is morally wrong, but then we take it to the extreme, right? If we were to say all lying is wrong, then we would be able to lie to a certain evil German party from the 1940s to save certain people from a horrible fate. If we lied to them, is that a moral good? I would argue yes, because they're saving their lives and life doesn't always give you perfect choices. So you're not lying for evil and you've edited that deeply because I don't know, YouTube algorithm is weird and YouTube doesn't like talk about certain things and they will brand it. You can't even say certain words without them. You're like, oh my goodness, they're bad guys. Like, no, no, I'm presenting them as the bad guys. But anyway, hopefully you got my drift about 1940s certain German. But anyway, if you can find one example of something, then the whole claim is just not true. So if we take the claim that art is completely subjective or songwriting specifically is completely subjective to the extreme, we would take the most extremely bad version of art and extremely good version of art, put them together and say, is it true that it's just subjective that this really bad thing is better than, or is worse than the really good thing? So let's do that. If we believe, if we believe that all art is purely subjective, again, this is, don't, this is getting ahead maybe, but there's no false, no, don't false dichotomy here. The claim that all art is subjective, is totally subjective is a extreme claim. What I'm not claiming is that it's purely objective. I'm not claiming that. I think that's actually more arguable than this, but I'm not arguing that. I think there's objective ways to look at art and there's of course, there's subjective ways to look at art as well. Of course, there's subjective ways to look at everything. But the idea that it's purely subjective is what I'm saying is not true. It's not 100% subjective. But if it's true, that's 100% subjective, then it is 100% valid, 100% valid for me to say that the first scribble my daughter did is equally as good art as Starry Night, Mona Lisa, Sistine Chapel, Statue of David. And not only do you have no grounds to refute or argue with me, because you said it's all subjective. So if I subjectively believe that my daughter's first scribble is better than Sistine Chapel, what, is your subjective opinion more important than mine? That would be blatant narcissism, right? That your subjective opinion matters than somebody else's subjective opinion. That's like the epitome of narcissism, is we all have equal opinions except mine is more equal. Like mine is more important. That's a horrible place to start. So if it's true that it's all subjective, you have to concede, you must. There's no other way than it is equally valid for me to say that my daughter's first scribble is better than Sistine Chapel than for you to say the Sistine Chapel is better than my daughter's first scribble or first time she tries a stick figure. Like just to put an illustration on it, I can do right now a deep piece of art that is very meaningful to me, that I've thought about for a long time. Sorry to those of you who are just on podcasts who isn't gonna see this exquisite, brilliant piece of art. Here we go. Better than the Mona Lisa, baby. And the best part is, if it's true that art is purely subjective, not only can you not actually refute or argue with what I just said, you can't even inwardly roll your eyes because you say it's all subjective, purely opinion. So if that's my opinion, you can't refute it. And it would be pretty arrogant for you to even roll your eyes at it. Because what, is your subjective opinion somehow better than mine? There's no objectivity here according to this view. So really you can't even get off on judging me for having that opinion. But here's the thing, we all know this absurd. We all know, deep down, like even right now, you're probably thinking about, no, that can't be true. But yes, it is. If it's purely subjective, there's no objectivity. Then there's no discussion to be had about something being better or worse. Because that doesn't exist in your view. It's just what people like, what each person subjectively likes. That's the only thing we can talk about. So we can't even begin to have a discussion about what movie is better than another movie. Let's apply it to other art forms before we take it back to songwriting. So let's take movies. We all know, hopefully, that The Dark Knight is better than Morbius or Thor II. We all know that Infinity War is better than Thor II. Most MCU movies in the Infinity Saga are better than Thor II. But we know that that's true. We know that Empire Strikes Back is a better movie than Rise of Skywalker. Everybody knows that. I mean, the only thing that every Star Wars fan in human history agrees on is Rise of Skywalker is a pile of garbage. It's awful, awful. Even people who were defending episode eight still agree Rise of Skywalker is terrible. And we all know that The Godfather is better than Troll 2 or The Room, famously awful movies. To the point that if somebody actually tried to say Thor II is better than The Dark Knight, all of us would be like, "Are you kidding me?" Now, maybe if they said they like it better, there's no accounting for taste because now that's not an objective claim anymore. That's a subjective claim. But anytime we say this quarterback is better than another quarterback, that's an objective claim. And there's no way to, there's no science to just outright prove it. You have to gather what you think goes into what is a great quarterback? Is it accuracy? How much does playoff performance matter? Is it playoff stats or is it playoff wins? A quarterback wins even a stat and maybe not a football or sports person, so I've already lost you. But there's many things where we can have objective discussions that just aren't completely clear, which we'll get into in a little bit, a little deeper. But this goes to something else where let's go to music. You may or may not like Cardi B more than classical music. In fact, probably a lot of Americans, if they're being honest, they don't actually like classical music. Some actually are willing to say, I think it's boring, right? Some people will actually say that out loud, which I almost admire. So probably, if I were to guess, it might even be true that if you were, if every US citizen had to be honest, they would say they prefer Cardi B over classical music. I don't know, as I said that, that's probably not true. But regardless, there's a lot of people that if they're being honest, they prefer Cardi B, and absolute garbage like WAP, over Moonlight Sonata or anything by Bach Beethoven, whoever is in your goat discussion of composers. And honestly, if somebody said, I just like Cardi B more than, I would be like, okay, that's a little bit of a sign of a degenerate culture that we live in a world where a lot of people probably genuinely prefer outright garbage like that over brilliant classical pieces. But there's no accounting for taste. That's a, they're not making an objective claim that Cardi B is better than Beethoven or Cardi B is better than Bach. So that's fine, right? They just like it more. But I think we all, a little part of us, would immediately, if we were in a room and somebody had the audacity to say, oh, Cardi B is far more brilliant, far better of an artist than Bach or Beethoven. We all know that we jump in and be like, are you kidding? Because that's an objective claim. That's an objective claim. And we all know it's objectively false. We all know, in our heart of hearts, we know that. Now we might not have figured out how to articulate why that's true, which we'll get into in a little bit, but that doesn't change that it's true. For instance, we'll save that point, because my second point is gonna be how objectivity is often misunderstood. But again, somebody can say, I like WAP more than moonlight Sonata. Purely subjective claim, whatever, it's fine. If they say it's better, now we have a problem. And most of us recognize that. Why? Because most of us understand that there are objective and subjective claims, and they both can be valid. For instance, I can say that I like the Star Wars prequel trilogy more than I like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That's just taste, right? I would never say that it's better than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the greatest movie trilogies ever. And the Star Wars prequels have significant issues, especially the first two. And it's just, if you were to break down how you measure movies, I'm pretty sure basically every category, Lord of the Rings would win. But I love Star Wars, George Lucas, Star Wars. And orcs and ogres, not ogres, but orcs and dwarves and elves and all that sort of high fantasy stuff just does not do it for me, just from a personal standpoint. I still like Lord of the Rings because it's so good that it actually gets me past my bias. It's kind of like a country song that I like. It's really impressive. It means the song must be really, really good because I'm so biased against country by nature. So we all know there's a separation there. You can come up to me and say, "I like Thor II better than The Dark Knight." And I don't think you're a little crazy, but for the most part, you're just saying what you like. I don't know why you like it better, that's fine. But we all know that we'd all be a little ticked if somebody said, "Oh, the Barbie movie's better than Gladiator." Of course it's not. We all know it's not. Even the people who made Barbie, if they're being honest, know that it's not better than, I don't know, on "Music Gladiator." I'll use a more clear example. It's a wonderful life, which is in absolutely the goat discussion of movies. Somehow I didn't see it until this year. That movie had hype for 31 years that have been alive and still actually matched or exceeded the hype. That movie deserves, most movies in that category are overrated, that one is not. Anyway. So, if any of what I just said is true, where you know deep down, like, yeah, I mean, obviously it's absurd to say that Troll 2, or The Room, is better than It's a Wonderful Life, or that Cardi B is a better writer than Bach or Beethoven, or My Daughter's Scribbles, or The Scribble I Just Did, is better than Starry Night or Mona Lisa or something. If that's true, then you don't believe it's all subjective. You don't, because if it's all subjective, everything, all those absurd things I said, shouldn't bother you at all. Because it's just pure subjective. So what is it? There's no discussion to be had. I have my opinion, you have yours. There's nothing to discuss. Which leads me into the second thing, which I think is what bothers a lot of people. People throw the baby out with the bathwater, they make this fallacy all the time with things. And they confuse objectivity as like, it's a thing that's so obviously true, nobody could disagree with it. Which is funny to me that in today's world, people could say that, because there's lots of things that are firmly established as objective that large swathes of the population are just like, "No, not true." Like, "Okay, all right." And so it's shocking to me when people think that. It's obviously not the case. Just to take one silly example, like the earth isn't flat and it revolves around the sun. Right? You know what I mean? Like people deny it still. And also objectivity doesn't mean that it's easy to measure or determine. Just as an exercise here, let's take science. One of the more objective things we have, right? Math is the most objective probably in sciences. It depends on the type of science, right? The gravity science is far more objective than many other types of sciences or pseudosciences. But just as a example, for most of human history, we had no idea that we were made up of cells, much less that cells are made up of molecules, which are made up of atoms, which were made up of the combination of protons, neutrons, and electrons. That doesn't change the objective reality that always was the case. 2,000 years ago when we didn't know that, it wasn't not true. But right now, scientists say that 90% of the universe is dark matter, they don't know what it is. Whatever it is or whatever group of things it is, the objective truth that we currently don't know is still the objective truth. It doesn't change just because we don't know how to measure it or we haven't figured out what it is. It's just like if you lived under a rock your whole life, it's objectively true that the sun is in the sky and the rock isn't the whole world, even though in your perspective, this life under the rock is all there is. That doesn't change the objective reality though. So what you won't hear me saying is that it's easy to have a discussion, try to in good faith, have a discussion about objectivity and art. It's not an easy discussion. But in almost anything except math, that's always true. A lot of times we oversimplify things to try to make it seem simple, but it's not. Right? And I think a lot of people run into this whenever, you know, the deep down, they know something like, yeah, it's yes, it's a wonderful life, is objectively a better movie than the room. We all know that down deep. But when somebody actually is crazy enough to try to argue with us, that's when sometimes we might be like, oh wow, I don't actually know how I know that, but I know it's true. But that's true even for scientific things. You and I, for probably every single person who's listening to this podcast watching this video, you have never yourself seen any proof or even evidence really that the earth is round, but we all believe it. Theoretically, we all believe it. A lot of people don't, but we'll say we here believe that the earth is round. And that's okay if you don't. I have people I love who don't, and that's okay. Crazy to me, but it's what it is. So in that case, why do you believe that? You believe that because science textbooks all told you that. You know far more people that believe that than don't. And you saw some pictures from space, allegedly, that seemed to show the earth as being round. Right? We all, for many things that we take for granted as being objective, we actually have outsourced to other people. The fact that we're made up of, I mentioned, protons, neutrons, and electrons, none of us, none of us have definitively seen for ourselves, oh yeah, there's protons, neutrons, and electrons. Maybe we've seen a picture in a textbook that's labeled that way, but we don't know that. They could have been making it up. And I'm not suggesting those things at all. In case it's not obvious, I'm not suggesting either of those things are true. But there's a lot of things in life that we don't think about how we really don't know how to defend the objective thing. And we can't say that we've actually seen it with our own eyes, or have proven it with our own science, or math equation, or whatever it is. Much less all the things in the world that are way more nebulous, like who's the goat for basketball, or football, or whatever else. All of those arguments are way more nebulous than sports media would make you believe. The same thing is true with like, how would you even begin to decide the goat of actors, or the goat of composers? It's a difficult thing. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, though. So I think this is a part of the people get frustrated and I kind of throw it out. It is a difficult discussion to try to get to how can I separate out this concept of, here's what I like in a song, versus here are some of the objective through lines and themes that seem to generally create a better song. Now it's easier if you break it down into pieces. For instance, I did this when I believe I did a podcast breaking down why, it wasn't the main point of the podcast, I think the main point of the podcast was why you should learn piano as a songwriter, and then I did one on why you should learn guitar, I believe. But I believe I've done this, maybe I haven't. But a quick breakdown is, I believe that you can make an objective claim that the piano is the greatest instrument. Now, that means that we have to break it down into different things that are objective, or are more objective. So for example, we have to talk about, okay, how do you measure the greatness of an instrument? I think one factor is its range, right? Because it's an ability to play different pitch ranges that adds to the mix, adds to the song, and piano has the largest range, right? So it has violin beat, it has guitar beat, it has instruments like flutes beat by a ton. It's way more than most instruments, and it's more than any other instrument, at least of, you know, main semi-normal instruments. Organ is probably close, but yeah. Then another factor would be something like, how much you can do with one person at an instrument. With a flute, we'll take the flute as comparison, with a flute, it can play one note at a time. That's it. With a piano, you can play chords, full chords at the same time while also doing the melody. You can sing with just a piano, and it feel pretty full. You can't sing just with a flute, and it feel full. People don't do that, right? Your accompanist is never a flautist. Your accompanist is a pianist, or maybe a guitarist, which by the way is another part of the argument, I would say. Then I think there's an element of instrumentation that's how useful is it across different genres. Something like a banjo is really only super useful as a main instrument, as a driving force, in very specific genres. It's a very specialized instrument. Piano, you can throw it in an old ancient classical piece, or way before classical. Heck, you could do Gregorian chants with piano, and it works totally fine. It seems to fit because of such an old instrument. But it also can fit in the most modern rock or pop. It's not like a steel guitar, which automatically makes something sound kinda country. So I think you can break down these different categories and say the piano is either number one, or number two for darn near every category. And the only thing that seems to be in competition is these days, maybe guitar has kind of entered the goat discussion. But probably 150 years ago, that wouldn't be true. But these are the sort of things we have to do, right? Is break it down into pieces of like, okay, melody, how melody and the chords and the lyrics all fit together, which we're not gonna dive into this next, because actually in the next episode, we're gonna finally take the audacious step. Very often, whenever I mention, like, look, I think it's crazy to say that it's purely, it's just all subjective art. The immediate pushback I get is the like, gotcha question, which is lazy and silly, I think. But it's like, okay, define what makes a good song. Like that doesn't, first of all, I'm not saying that there's no subjectivity. And I'm also not saying like, oh, it's trivial to just be like, oh, let's make a math equation. And then we can just grade every song and it comes out with a perfect number. And we can definitively say this song is better than another. No, it's always gonna have some level of variability. There is some subjectivity to it. But if we take it to the extreme, that's where we see, okay, there's also some objectivity to it, which is why we all know that if somebody says, wap is better than Moonlight Sonata, if you have any soul at all, there's a little part of you that's angry at the idea that somebody could suggest such an absurd thing. But we can, again, if there's no objectivity, you can't think that's absurd. You can't, there's no, it's all subjective. So there's nothing to talk about. So anyway, we are gonna take that audacious step in the next episode, which I believe might be the 250th episode for this podcast. And I'm not gonna do it because I think I have all the answers, I don't. But I think everybody's too, it seems to me that everybody's too lazy to even try. And I think that's a problem. I think that's a problem because of the third point we're gonna get into. Which is, to me, if you wanna grow as a songwriter, if we wanna be able to have legitimate discussions about how can I make a song better, how can I improve a song, we can't say that it's all subjective. Because if it's all subjective, there's no discussions we had. If I write a song in the next hour, I take an hour and write a song, and I feel like the second verse lyrics just isn't quite working. And the bridge melody feels like it doesn't really fit with the theme and with the main ideas. It just doesn't fit with the lyrics of the bridge. And there are numerous other problems. Maybe just the lyrics of the chorus just don't quite work, they don't feel tight. They are using a lot of meh words like sad, which is a pretty bland word compared to something like wistful, which is more specific, or bitter. For instance, you could say, it's maybe over simplified, but wistful is something like sadness and longing for a past happiness that you had. It's very specific, so it has sadness, but it has happiness too, because you're wistful for something that was happy, but you're sad about it now because you don't have it anymore. So it's way more specific than sad, which is a broad category. Because if I say I'm bitter, bitter is kind of like a hybrid between angry and sad, which are two more generic concepts. But bitter is a very specific type of sadness or a very specific type of anger. It's really sort of a hybrid. So if I say I'm bitter, that's telling you that I'm both sad and angry. If I tell you I'm just sad, that's just sad, right? So there are words that are clearly better and more precise than others that communicate more, even though it's still one word. So the word sad versus the word wistful, communicates way more with one word than sad does. And that's not even like a, that would be a thing that's like objective. Like if I tell you I'm sad, or I tell you I'm wistful or bitter, I have absolutely been more precise in communicating what specifically I'm feeling with those other two words. And there are many other examples that would be way more extreme. I probably should have picked a more extreme example, but regardless. So if I sit down and I write a song, and it has all these issues, if I truly believe that it's all subjective, I believe there is no reason, no good reason for me to take any time to listen to that inner voice that's telling me that my second lyric, my second verse lyrics aren't working, and my bridge melody doesn't work with the lyrics, because it's all subjective. What does that even mean? Because I can't even begin to say that my lyrics aren't good, because that's an objective claim. I can say I don't like the lyrics in that section, but who cares? That's my subjective opinion. I shouldn't even care about my subjective opinion for my own songs, because I might be, my subjective opinion might be totally wrong, and the whole world thinks it's great. And since there's no objectivity at all in this view, why would I spend more time to just subjectively change the lyrics? Meanwhile, if I sit down and I write a song draft in an hour, same exact scenario, but I believe that there is some objectivity to it, and that I can, by taking the lyrics in the second verse that I think have issues, they're not using very precise words, it doesn't really evoke much of an emotion, because it's kind of generic language, maybe there's even some cliches in there, which is the worst of all, but if I go into that with, no, there is some objectivity here, then there's reason for me to think I can make that better. It's worth trying to make it better, because making that verse better exists. If we say it's all subjective, that doesn't even exist. There's no such thing as making your second verse lyrics better, that's an objective claim, just like it's objective to say the Dark Knight is better than Thor 2. Saying I like it better is not, that's a subjective claim, that's just an opinion, I don't even have to back it up with any facts. If I claim the Dark Knight is better, is better, that's an objective claim, I need to be able to explain to you why it's a better movie than Thor 2, which I would do, except that you don't care, because it's a songwriting podcast, but that is something I could do, and have done before. But not that anybody, I've never heard anybody make such a ridiculous claim, I've heard similar ridiculous claims, but not that one. So with the mindset that there's some objectivity to this, I'm incentivized as a songwriter to think my song isn't just perfect as it is, I can't just write it off as oh, it's all subjective, so I think the lyric might suck, but no, there's no such thing as a sucky lyric, I'm just gonna throw it out there. Then there's reason for me to actually try to make it better, and there's a way that I could figure out how to make it better, because we can't even begin to have a discussion about how to write a better pre-course, or how to write a better chord progression, or how to improve your second verse lyrics for your song called Infinity, or I made up a song title on the spot and immediately regret it, but we can't even begin to have that discussion. You can't email me and say, Joseph, give me some feedback on this song, because all I could tell you, if there's no objectivity, is I like this and I don't like this, but why should you care what I think? If it's just all subjective, you shouldn't. I don't even think you should really care what you think if it's all subjective. What does anything matter? We might as well just do that, say that's my song. Subjectively, it's just as good as anything else. I like that more than Moonlight Sonata. So it is what it is. And I think down deep, a lot of times, another underlying reason that people believe all art is subjective, there's many things we could get into that's even deeper that we're not gonna get into because of the song on any podcast. I think it's downstream of certain world views and things like that. But I think a part of it too, is we have to take responsibility and acknowledge that we might write songs that aren't very good, or we might have to acknowledge that our songwriting used to suck or the first five songs we write are gonna suck and the next five songs are gonna be okay. And then even when we start writing more and more good songs, we're still gonna have some duds that just aren't very good, didn't quite work. If we say it's all subjective, we can give ourselves a pass. We can just say, oh, who's to say? Everybody universally hates this song and everybody says it sucks and they can even give objective reasons why it sucks. How the melody is something that is completely unmemorable and also it's not an interesting melody but boring, and which it merely has some subjectivity to it. But there is also a level of, we all have heard melodies that like, oh, there's something about that that's good and there's something about that. Another one is melody I think is one of the hardest things to have any sort of objective discussion on. But we can look at a lyric and be like, look, that had a cookie cutter line here, it's not emotionally resonant at all. It's using a lot of generic words that isn't gonna move anybody. So we can even talk about specific things in each other's songs that just aren't working and could be improved. But if it's all subjective, there's nothing to talk about. And that's the part that really gets me, is it doesn't make any sense at all. If it's true that it's all subjective, for anybody to be listening to my podcast or anybody else's podcast about songwriting, it doesn't make sense to try to get better at songwriting because that doesn't exist if it's all subjective. The idea of writing a better song or taking your song and making it quote unquote better does not exist because better is an objective claim. All you can do is hope to make a song that you personally like better or that for some reason you care that I personally like better, which you shouldn't care about. You shouldn't even care what you subjectively like better necessarily. I mean, obviously that should be a part of it. We should write music we like generally. And then the part that really gets me is the idea that there's people out there creating content, teaching songwriting, who would say it's all subjective. If it's all subjective, does that mean that your content is just you saying, in my subjective opinion, this, in my subjective opinion, that, and you should listen to my subjective opinion because my subjective opinion is better than your subjective opinion? Like is that? I don't know how we get away from that. And it's one of those things where like, for some reason this is one of those things where like anytime I try to have this discussion, for some reason I feel like people try to brand the opinion that no, there's two spectrums. There's I don't like it to I do like it, which is subjective claims. And then there's a separate, totally separate discussion that's being able to discuss it's bad to its good spectrum. And those are not necessarily linked at all, which is why I can like one movie way more than another, but also concede that the movie I like less is actually a better movie. If we are incapable of that, that's a massive flag, massive flag, because we should be able to have that discussion. And that's an acknowledgement that there's a separation between our personal taste and just what makes something good. For example, famously, if you listen to this podcast, my favorite band is vertical horizon, but you will never hear me say is vertical horizon is the greatest band of all time. I would never say that. I don't think they're the best band of all time. I wouldn't even begin to be audacious enough to make that claim about any band. They're my favorite though. They speak personally to me. I would say maybe that Mascale is a good songwriter. I think it can back up that claim with, because that's an objective language, right? But I would never say they're the best band, or my favorite band is better than your favorite band necessarily. I mean, maybe I would, depends what your favorite band is. But that's a totally separate discussion. I should be able to concede that your favorite band might be better than my favorite band, but I still like my favorite band better. Just like I might like Revenge of the Sith even more than I like Lord of the Rings movie, but I can concede the Lord of the Rings movie is better. The acting is probably better. The plot is better. Maybe the VFX are better, right? The effects are better. The script is better. The plot is better. Did I say that already? The dialogue is better. Of course, the dialogue's better. Dialogue has never been Star Wars' strong suit, right? So we can break it down into categories, and then break it down further and further, and try to have an objective discussion in good faith where we try to parse out, you know, why does the Lord of the Rings have better dialogue than Star Wars? We all know that's true, but, you know, it is a difficult conversation to figure out why that's true. So this is the ultimate thing for me, is it just feels like, regardless of any of the other points which were about that, I just think it just doesn't stand up to basic reason that all art is totally subjective. Frankly, I think it's a ridiculous thing to say. I don't think it stands up to even thinking about it for like five minutes. But, even with that opinion, I also think it's just destructive. You're just not incentivized to ever try to get better because there is no better to attain. That doesn't help us. If you wanna become a better songwriter, if you wanna listen to content to get better at songwriting, you have to accept the premise that better exists is such a thing as making your lyric better. You can edit your second verse lyrics that suck, and you know they suck, and you cringe at them. You can edit them, you can redraft them, rewrite them, and then you look at the B, right? Your sixth draft that also had edits, and look and say, "This is objectively better than what I started with. "This is obviously better." And if that doesn't exist, why would you waste any time to do that? You wouldn't. You wouldn't. And to me, it's like, well, everything becomes pointless really fast. Trying to learn to write better doesn't exist. You shouldn't listen to any content creator about it. There's no point. There's no point. And this is a thing too that for some reason, it's only art that we apply this to. If we said that, "Oh, well, how to build a good car is totally subjective." No, it's not. If the car doesn't move properly, or if the car is such that even in a 30 mile per hour car crash, anybody who's remotely near the crash is going to die 100% of the time, obviously it's not a good car, right? Again, it's like good car, bad car, good house, bad house. There are elements to it that are subjective. And there are elements to it that are objective, which we know if we take it to the extreme. If you compare whatever you think the best car is, just the engine is the best, the speed is the best, the acceleration that breaks, the safety, the gas mileage, all the different factors that we could say are, here's what makes a car better or worse. It's better across the board than car B. Then we know it's objectively better than car B because it's both safer, faster, more fun, more cool looking, better gas mileage. It's better at all the things. So we know there's some level of objectivity to this. There's objective discussions we had. We know this to be true for everything else. I would even argue for music, which is why I gave the example, we all know we're gonna cringe if somebody actually comes up to us and has the audacity to say, "WAP is just as good as Moonlight Sonata," or whatever. Maybe you didn't think Moonlight Sonata is overrated. You know, I'm not even sure where I land on that. I haven't really thought about it. But, you know, pick some masterful classical piece, or hack just a not horrible gross song like WAP, which is just awful in every possible sense. I really think it has no redeeming qualities. But, regardless, it just ends up being destructive to us if we can't have that discussion. So next episode, we're gonna do the audacious thing. We're gonna try to figure out what are some of the things we can look at that seem to make objectively better songs? What are some of the commonalities? What are the factors we look for? For example, I'll give you one example. I think it starts with synergy, if you will, of all three of the main parts. If the melody feels like it is communicating the same thing as the lyrics, which feels like it's communicating the same thing as the harmony and the chords, to me, that's a start. If your lyrics seem to be talking about one thing, but the melody doesn't fit at all with the lyrics tonally, the lyrics are really sad and just, or maybe wistful or something, but then the music is like grandiose and epic in a way that just doesn't fit. This doesn't make sense. These are supposed to be working together. So I think that's where it's gonna start. I haven't fully written it out yet, the episode, but we're gonna do the audacious thing because I know this episode alone, a lot of people are gonna be like, "Whoa, this is really good." I know. It is what it is. I'm not gonna back down from this. You're welcome to make your counter argument. I've heard a lot of counter arguments. I have yet to hear a compelling one. It usually comes down to, "Oh, you can't give me a math equation to figure out how good a song is." So you're wrong. No, that would prove, that wouldn't even prove wrong that if I were to claim that art is totally objective, me not being able to provide basically a math equation to figure out how good a song is still doesn't disprove that claim. And that's not the claim we're making. I'm making the claim that we should be able to have a discussion from a subjective standpoint and from an objective standpoint. Sometimes the line is blurred between the two, but the idea that we can have no objective discussion about art, whether movies or music is absurd, asinine, ridiculous, doesn't stand up to even the beginning of thinking about it. Which is why we're gonna discuss it next time. Because I think it's worth having that discussion. Because if you and I wanna write a better song, next time we write a song, we have to have some standard to look at at what does that mean? When we say I wanna write a better song or I wanna take the song ahead and make it better, what are some of the factors I can look at to make it better? Otherwise, I don't even know what we're talking about. We're wasting our time, really. So hopefully this was helpful to you. Hopefully it got you to maybe reconsider some things if you're somebody that has said before or really hasn't thought about it much, but just you hear from so many people this, you kind of accept it as true, but you never really thought about it yourself. There's probably a lot of people, which is fine. We don't have time to think deeply about literally everything that everybody says in passing. So hopefully for you there was something in this that at least made you think, huh, okay. Yeah, there's something to this idea that if it's all subjective, this is a waste of time. So maybe in my heart of hearts, I know deep down that there's some level of objectivity here, just because it's difficult to measure doesn't take that away. And next time we'll do the hard thing that nobody else is willing to do. I've never seen it anywhere. Maybe it's been done, maybe it hasn't, but we're gonna do the audacious thing. We're gonna try to figure out how to objectively measure a song or some factors to look at for objectivity in a song. I don't pretend I have all the answers for sure, but we'll try. We'll do a good faith tribe and you can let me know in the comments what things maybe poke holes in it. Let me know maybe factors that I'm gonna miss. I'm sure I'm gonna miss factors. It's a hard thing to tackle, right? But we can do it together. Also, if you have ideas, feel free to email them to me as well. Really, my goal is I wanna start this discussion. I think it's a worthwhile discussion. I don't pretend to have the answer, but I do think it's worth all of us together trying to seek it, trying to figure out what makes it. Again, if you haven't already, be sure to check out my free guide, 20 different ways to start writing a song, songwritertheory.com, slash free guide. Thanks for sticking with me. Thanks for listening to an episode that again, nobody asked for, but I do think is an important thing to talk about. Don't worry, soon we'll be back to the normal grind of the main stuff people wanna know. But I thought this episode was important to talk about. Hopefully you found it helpful. And I will talk to you hopefully in the next one.

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►► Download the 20 Ways To Start Writing A Song Guide here: http://songwritertheory.com/freeguide/

In this episode of the Songwriter Theory Podcast, we're asking if this perspective on art is holding your songwriting back. I constantly hear people, including songwriters and musicians, say "Music is just all subjective", "Art is subjective", "There is no good or bad, art is purely subjective".

Not only is that unequivocally wrong, I think it's an actively destructive view that doesn't leave any room for us to "get better" at lyric writing, music composition, or anything else songwriting because, by definition of music being entirely subjective, there literally is no such thing as "better" lyrics or music or songs.

So why spend time trying to make our songs better? How could we even begin to have a discussion on how to write better lyrics or improve our chorus? If it's all completely subjective any of that would be a total waste of time. So, in this episode of the Songwriter Theory Podcast that absolutely no one asked for, we're going to talk about why this view is wrong and why it also is destructive to us and our future as songwriters.

Transcript:

So there's a certain perspective or opinion or just something that people say, especially artists of any kind, seemingly, and certainly songwriters. It seems like songwriters are constantly saying this and I think it's both destructive and just completely wrong. So because of that, we're gonna talk about it in this episode of the Songwriter Theory Podcast. Hello, friend, welcome to another episode of the Songwriter Theory Podcast. I'm your host, as always, Joe Svedala. Honored that you would take some time out of your busy day to talk songwriting with me. Extra honored that you would take some time to listen to this podcast where we are, this is a podcast for being honest. Nobody asked for me to talk about this. The vast majority of subjects we talk about is something that either is inspired by what I think some of you would want me to talk about if you did tell me, and then a lot of it is off of what you do tell me. So a lot of the content recently, the last several months, has been inspired very directly by your feedback when I asked what your number one songwriting struggle was. Most of the content has been pretty directly off of that, some more directly maybe than others. And I still need to finish that series as well, which we'll get back to. I have not forgotten. But this is one of those episodes where we are talking about something that nobody asked for, but I still think is important to talk about. And I've wanted to talk about it for a while, and then just realized it's a good podcast episode. I think it's an important thing to discuss, because you may not end up agreeing with me, but hopefully I can at least get you to consider that instead of what seems to happen, which a lot of people just kinda, I wanna say mindlessly kind of repeat this thing, I think it's a cop-out answer, and I think it's not true, or at least there's an argument, I would argue a very compelling argument, that it's clearly not true. But regardless, hopefully you at least reconsider the repercussions of this view of this perspective, and also maybe consider that maybe it's just not true. If you haven't already, be sure to grab my free guide, 20 Different Ways to Start Writing a Song. It's a cheat sheet, it's shorter, it's better than it used to be, and has double the ways to start writing a song. It's a great way to go, especially for somebody who is struggling with your song sounding the same, or you feel like you're uninspired. One of my favorite things to do, because my bread and butter way of starting a song is starting with a piano riff or something at the keyboard. But whenever I feel like, I just don't have any piano riffs in my fingers right now, I feel like I've written them all, which obviously I haven't, right? But just, you know, if you write a piano riff two a day for five days, by the sixth day, you're kind of like, I just, I don't even know, like I've done every key of it, I just don't know where to start. But just doing something as simple as, I'm gonna go grab a stock funk beat and improvise to that, or I'm gonna do a bass line, or I'm gonna start with an interesting symbol or song title instead, or I'm gonna think of an interesting character or an interesting story to tell. Those can be all great ways to start a song that will refresh us creatively, so that we don't get into writer's block. So anyway, be sure to check that out, songrithury.com slash free guide. So what is this perspective that I'm wanting to talk about that I think is super prevalent and ultimately pretty destructive and just not true, just wrong? It is that art is completely subjective, or art is totally subjective, or art is just subjective, all the different versions of that quote that seemingly everybody says. And not everybody says it, not everybody has that opinion. I think a lot of people don't have that opinion, but the people who do are very loud about it. And I think, first of all, it's just not true, which we're gonna cover first, why I think it's just not true. And then also, regardless of the level of truth, I think it's an unhelpful perspective if you want to get better as a songwriter. If you wanna write better songs, I think it's an unhelpful, if not overtly destructive perspective. So first, let's talk about some of the reasons why I think it's just not true. And we're gonna start with quite a claim probably, but and that claim is, I think the vast majority of people who say this don't actually believe it. They think they believe it, but if we tease it out a little bit, if we discuss it a little bit, dive a little bit deeper, about the repercussions, if it really is true that music, art in general, movies, books, it's all subjective, just totally subjective. There's a lot of consequences of that view that almost no people that do start with the premise of like, all art's all subjective, music's all subjective. Most of those people, when we go down some of the paths we're gonna go down, it's like, okay, if that's true, then this other thing has to be true. But those people, even if they wouldn't admit that they are like, yeah, I guess I don't agree with that. Inwardly, I think they just, they would know. Oh, I don't think this view is correct. So first let's start with how logic works, I guess, which I know you didn't expect this in a songwriting podcast, but this is, if you want to get to the truth, you have to think logically. And I know a lot of people listening to this might be like, really, I didn't expect a logic thing today, but here we are. So whenever a logical claim is made, one way to test it is to take it to the extreme and see if it still holds true. So for instance, if I were to make the moral claim that all stealing is bad, you take it to the extreme, find the most understandable or seemingly justifiable version of stealing and try to figure out is that morally right? If it is, then that undermines my point that all stealing is wrong, right? Or all lying is wrong, for instance. So if we were to say all lying is morally wrong, but then we take it to the extreme, right? If we were to say all lying is wrong, then we would be able to lie to a certain evil German party from the 1940s to save certain people from a horrible fate. If we lied to them, is that a moral good? I would argue yes, because they're saving their lives and life doesn't always give you perfect choices. So you're not lying for evil and you've edited that deeply because I don't know, YouTube algorithm is weird and YouTube doesn't like talk about certain things and they will brand it. You can't even say certain words without them. You're like, oh my goodness, they're bad guys. Like, no, no, I'm presenting them as the bad guys. But anyway, hopefully you got my drift about 1940s certain German. But anyway, if you can find one example of something, then the whole claim is just not true. So if we take the claim that art is completely subjective or songwriting specifically is completely subjective to the extreme, we would take the most extremely bad version of art and extremely good version of art, put them together and say, is it true that it's just subjective that this really bad thing is better than, or is worse than the really good thing? So let's do that. If we believe, if we believe that all art is purely subjective, again, this is, don't, this is getting ahead maybe, but there's no false, no, don't false dichotomy here. The claim that all art is subjective, is totally subjective is a extreme claim. What I'm not claiming is that it's purely objective. I'm not claiming that. I think that's actually more arguable than this, but I'm not arguing that. I think there's objective ways to look at art and there's of course, there's subjective ways to look at art as well. Of course, there's subjective ways to look at everything. But the idea that it's purely subjective is what I'm saying is not true. It's not 100% subjective. But if it's true, that's 100% subjective, then it is 100% valid, 100% valid for me to say that the first scribble my daughter did is equally as good art as Starry Night, Mona Lisa, Sistine Chapel, Statue of David. And not only do you have no grounds to refute or argue with me, because you said it's all subjective. So if I subjectively believe that my daughter's first scribble is better than Sistine Chapel, what, is your subjective opinion more important than mine? That would be blatant narcissism, right? That your subjective opinion matters than somebody else's subjective opinion. That's like the epitome of narcissism, is we all have equal opinions except mine is more equal. Like mine is more important. That's a horrible place to start. So if it's true that it's all subjective, you have to concede, you must. There's no other way than it is equally valid for me to say that my daughter's first scribble is better than Sistine Chapel than for you to say the Sistine Chapel is better than my daughter's first scribble or first time she tries a stick figure. Like just to put an illustration on it, I can do right now a deep piece of art that is very meaningful to me, that I've thought about for a long time. Sorry to those of you who are just on podcasts who isn't gonna see this exquisite, brilliant piece of art. Here we go. Better than the Mona Lisa, baby. And the best part is, if it's true that art is purely subjective, not only can you not actually refute or argue with what I just said, you can't even inwardly roll your eyes because you say it's all subjective, purely opinion. So if that's my opinion, you can't refute it. And it would be pretty arrogant for you to even roll your eyes at it. Because what, is your subjective opinion somehow better than mine? There's no objectivity here according to this view. So really you can't even get off on judging me for having that opinion. But here's the thing, we all know this absurd. We all know, deep down, like even right now, you're probably thinking about, no, that can't be true. But yes, it is. If it's purely subjective, there's no objectivity. Then there's no discussion to be had about something being better or worse. Because that doesn't exist in your view. It's just what people like, what each person subjectively likes. That's the only thing we can talk about. So we can't even begin to have a discussion about what movie is better than another movie. Let's apply it to other art forms before we take it back to songwriting. So let's take movies. We all know, hopefully, that The Dark Knight is better than Morbius or Thor II. We all know that Infinity War is better than Thor II. Most MCU movies in the Infinity Saga are better than Thor II. But we know that that's true. We know that Empire Strikes Back is a better movie than Rise of Skywalker. Everybody knows that. I mean, the only thing that every Star Wars fan in human history agrees on is Rise of Skywalker is a pile of garbage. It's awful, awful. Even people who were defending episode eight still agree Rise of Skywalker is terrible. And we all know that The Godfather is better than Troll 2 or The Room, famously awful movies. To the point that if somebody actually tried to say Thor II is better than The Dark Knight, all of us would be like, "Are you kidding me?" Now, maybe if they said they like it better, there's no accounting for taste because now that's not an objective claim anymore. That's a subjective claim. But anytime we say this quarterback is better than another quarterback, that's an objective claim. And there's no way to, there's no science to just outright prove it. You have to gather what you think goes into what is a great quarterback? Is it accuracy? How much does playoff performance matter? Is it playoff stats or is it playoff wins? A quarterback wins even a stat and maybe not a football or sports person, so I've already lost you. But there's many things where we can have objective discussions that just aren't completely clear, which we'll get into in a little bit, a little deeper. But this goes to something else where let's go to music. You may or may not like Cardi B more than classical music. In fact, probably a lot of Americans, if they're being honest, they don't actually like classical music. Some actually are willing to say, I think it's boring, right? Some people will actually say that out loud, which I almost admire. So probably, if I were to guess, it might even be true that if you were, if every US citizen had to be honest, they would say they prefer Cardi B over classical music. I don't know, as I said that, that's probably not true. But regardless, there's a lot of people that if they're being honest, they prefer Cardi B, and absolute garbage like WAP, over Moonlight Sonata or anything by Bach Beethoven, whoever is in your goat discussion of composers. And honestly, if somebody said, I just like Cardi B more than, I would be like, okay, that's a little bit of a sign of a degenerate culture that we live in a world where a lot of people probably genuinely prefer outright garbage like that over brilliant classical pieces. But there's no accounting for taste. That's a, they're not making an objective claim that Cardi B is better than Beethoven or Cardi B is better than Bach. So that's fine, right? They just like it more. But I think we all, a little part of us, would immediately, if we were in a room and somebody had the audacity to say, oh, Cardi B is far more brilliant, far better of an artist than Bach or Beethoven. We all know that we jump in and be like, are you kidding? Because that's an objective claim. That's an objective claim. And we all know it's objectively false. We all know, in our heart of hearts, we know that. Now we might not have figured out how to articulate why that's true, which we'll get into in a little bit, but that doesn't change that it's true. For instance, we'll save that point, because my second point is gonna be how objectivity is often misunderstood. But again, somebody can say, I like WAP more than moonlight Sonata. Purely subjective claim, whatever, it's fine. If they say it's better, now we have a problem. And most of us recognize that. Why? Because most of us understand that there are objective and subjective claims, and they both can be valid. For instance, I can say that I like the Star Wars prequel trilogy more than I like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That's just taste, right? I would never say that it's better than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the greatest movie trilogies ever. And the Star Wars prequels have significant issues, especially the first two. And it's just, if you were to break down how you measure movies, I'm pretty sure basically every category, Lord of the Rings would win. But I love Star Wars, George Lucas, Star Wars. And orcs and ogres, not ogres, but orcs and dwarves and elves and all that sort of high fantasy stuff just does not do it for me, just from a personal standpoint. I still like Lord of the Rings because it's so good that it actually gets me past my bias. It's kind of like a country song that I like. It's really impressive. It means the song must be really, really good because I'm so biased against country by nature. So we all know there's a separation there. You can come up to me and say, "I like Thor II better than The Dark Knight." And I don't think you're a little crazy, but for the most part, you're just saying what you like. I don't know why you like it better, that's fine. But we all know that we'd all be a little ticked if somebody said, "Oh, the Barbie movie's better than Gladiator." Of course it's not. We all know it's not. Even the people who made Barbie, if they're being honest, know that it's not better than, I don't know, on "Music Gladiator." I'll use a more clear example. It's a wonderful life, which is in absolutely the goat discussion of movies. Somehow I didn't see it until this year. That movie had hype for 31 years that have been alive and still actually matched or exceeded the hype. That movie deserves, most movies in that category are overrated, that one is not. Anyway. So, if any of what I just said is true, where you know deep down, like, yeah, I mean, obviously it's absurd to say that Troll 2, or The Room, is better than It's a Wonderful Life, or that Cardi B is a better writer than Bach or Beethoven, or My Daughter's Scribbles, or The Scribble I Just Did, is better than Starry Night or Mona Lisa or something. If that's true, then you don't believe it's all subjective. You don't, because if it's all subjective, everything, all those absurd things I said, shouldn't bother you at all. Because it's just pure subjective. So what is it? There's no discussion to be had. I have my opinion, you have yours. There's nothing to discuss. Which leads me into the second thing, which I think is what bothers a lot of people. People throw the baby out with the bathwater, they make this fallacy all the time with things. And they confuse objectivity as like, it's a thing that's so obviously true, nobody could disagree with it. Which is funny to me that in today's world, people could say that, because there's lots of things that are firmly established as objective that large swathes of the population are just like, "No, not true." Like, "Okay, all right." And so it's shocking to me when people think that. It's obviously not the case. Just to take one silly example, like the earth isn't flat and it revolves around the sun. Right? You know what I mean? Like people deny it still. And also objectivity doesn't mean that it's easy to measure or determine. Just as an exercise here, let's take science. One of the more objective things we have, right? Math is the most objective probably in sciences. It depends on the type of science, right? The gravity science is far more objective than many other types of sciences or pseudosciences. But just as a example, for most of human history, we had no idea that we were made up of cells, much less that cells are made up of molecules, which are made up of atoms, which were made up of the combination of protons, neutrons, and electrons. That doesn't change the objective reality that always was the case. 2,000 years ago when we didn't know that, it wasn't not true. But right now, scientists say that 90% of the universe is dark matter, they don't know what it is. Whatever it is or whatever group of things it is, the objective truth that we currently don't know is still the objective truth. It doesn't change just because we don't know how to measure it or we haven't figured out what it is. It's just like if you lived under a rock your whole life, it's objectively true that the sun is in the sky and the rock isn't the whole world, even though in your perspective, this life under the rock is all there is. That doesn't change the objective reality though. So what you won't hear me saying is that it's easy to have a discussion, try to in good faith, have a discussion about objectivity and art. It's not an easy discussion. But in almost anything except math, that's always true. A lot of times we oversimplify things to try to make it seem simple, but it's not. Right? And I think a lot of people run into this whenever, you know, the deep down, they know something like, yeah, it's yes, it's a wonderful life, is objectively a better movie than the room. We all know that down deep. But when somebody actually is crazy enough to try to argue with us, that's when sometimes we might be like, oh wow, I don't actually know how I know that, but I know it's true. But that's true even for scientific things. You and I, for probably every single person who's listening to this podcast watching this video, you have never yourself seen any proof or even evidence really that the earth is round, but we all believe it. Theoretically, we all believe it. A lot of people don't, but we'll say we here believe that the earth is round. And that's okay if you don't. I have people I love who don't, and that's okay. Crazy to me, but it's what it is. So in that case, why do you believe that? You believe that because science textbooks all told you that. You know far more people that believe that than don't. And you saw some pictures from space, allegedly, that seemed to show the earth as being round. Right? We all, for many things that we take for granted as being objective, we actually have outsourced to other people. The fact that we're made up of, I mentioned, protons, neutrons, and electrons, none of us, none of us have definitively seen for ourselves, oh yeah, there's protons, neutrons, and electrons. Maybe we've seen a picture in a textbook that's labeled that way, but we don't know that. They could have been making it up. And I'm not suggesting those things at all. In case it's not obvious, I'm not suggesting either of those things are true. But there's a lot of things in life that we don't think about how we really don't know how to defend the objective thing. And we can't say that we've actually seen it with our own eyes, or have proven it with our own science, or math equation, or whatever it is. Much less all the things in the world that are way more nebulous, like who's the goat for basketball, or football, or whatever else. All of those arguments are way more nebulous than sports media would make you believe. The same thing is true with like, how would you even begin to decide the goat of actors, or the goat of composers? It's a difficult thing. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, though. So I think this is a part of the people get frustrated and I kind of throw it out. It is a difficult discussion to try to get to how can I separate out this concept of, here's what I like in a song, versus here are some of the objective through lines and themes that seem to generally create a better song. Now it's easier if you break it down into pieces. For instance, I did this when I believe I did a podcast breaking down why, it wasn't the main point of the podcast, I think the main point of the podcast was why you should learn piano as a songwriter, and then I did one on why you should learn guitar, I believe. But I believe I've done this, maybe I haven't. But a quick breakdown is, I believe that you can make an objective claim that the piano is the greatest instrument. Now, that means that we have to break it down into different things that are objective, or are more objective. So for example, we have to talk about, okay, how do you measure the greatness of an instrument? I think one factor is its range, right? Because it's an ability to play different pitch ranges that adds to the mix, adds to the song, and piano has the largest range, right? So it has violin beat, it has guitar beat, it has instruments like flutes beat by a ton. It's way more than most instruments, and it's more than any other instrument, at least of, you know, main semi-normal instruments. Organ is probably close, but yeah. Then another factor would be something like, how much you can do with one person at an instrument. With a flute, we'll take the flute as comparison, with a flute, it can play one note at a time. That's it. With a piano, you can play chords, full chords at the same time while also doing the melody. You can sing with just a piano, and it feel pretty full. You can't sing just with a flute, and it feel full. People don't do that, right? Your accompanist is never a flautist. Your accompanist is a pianist, or maybe a guitarist, which by the way is another part of the argument, I would say. Then I think there's an element of instrumentation that's how useful is it across different genres. Something like a banjo is really only super useful as a main instrument, as a driving force, in very specific genres. It's a very specialized instrument. Piano, you can throw it in an old ancient classical piece, or way before classical. Heck, you could do Gregorian chants with piano, and it works totally fine. It seems to fit because of such an old instrument. But it also can fit in the most modern rock or pop. It's not like a steel guitar, which automatically makes something sound kinda country. So I think you can break down these different categories and say the piano is either number one, or number two for darn near every category. And the only thing that seems to be in competition is these days, maybe guitar has kind of entered the goat discussion. But probably 150 years ago, that wouldn't be true. But these are the sort of things we have to do, right? Is break it down into pieces of like, okay, melody, how melody and the chords and the lyrics all fit together, which we're not gonna dive into this next, because actually in the next episode, we're gonna finally take the audacious step. Very often, whenever I mention, like, look, I think it's crazy to say that it's purely, it's just all subjective art. The immediate pushback I get is the like, gotcha question, which is lazy and silly, I think. But it's like, okay, define what makes a good song. Like that doesn't, first of all, I'm not saying that there's no subjectivity. And I'm also not saying like, oh, it's trivial to just be like, oh, let's make a math equation. And then we can just grade every song and it comes out with a perfect number. And we can definitively say this song is better than another. No, it's always gonna have some level of variability. There is some subjectivity to it. But if we take it to the extreme, that's where we see, okay, there's also some objectivity to it, which is why we all know that if somebody says, wap is better than Moonlight Sonata, if you have any soul at all, there's a little part of you that's angry at the idea that somebody could suggest such an absurd thing. But we can, again, if there's no objectivity, you can't think that's absurd. You can't, there's no, it's all subjective. So there's nothing to talk about. So anyway, we are gonna take that audacious step in the next episode, which I believe might be the 250th episode for this podcast. And I'm not gonna do it because I think I have all the answers, I don't. But I think everybody's too, it seems to me that everybody's too lazy to even try. And I think that's a problem. I think that's a problem because of the third point we're gonna get into. Which is, to me, if you wanna grow as a songwriter, if we wanna be able to have legitimate discussions about how can I make a song better, how can I improve a song, we can't say that it's all subjective. Because if it's all subjective, there's no discussions we had. If I write a song in the next hour, I take an hour and write a song, and I feel like the second verse lyrics just isn't quite working. And the bridge melody feels like it doesn't really fit with the theme and with the main ideas. It just doesn't fit with the lyrics of the bridge. And there are numerous other problems. Maybe just the lyrics of the chorus just don't quite work, they don't feel tight. They are using a lot of meh words like sad, which is a pretty bland word compared to something like wistful, which is more specific, or bitter. For instance, you could say, it's maybe over simplified, but wistful is something like sadness and longing for a past happiness that you had. It's very specific, so it has sadness, but it has happiness too, because you're wistful for something that was happy, but you're sad about it now because you don't have it anymore. So it's way more specific than sad, which is a broad category. Because if I say I'm bitter, bitter is kind of like a hybrid between angry and sad, which are two more generic concepts. But bitter is a very specific type of sadness or a very specific type of anger. It's really sort of a hybrid. So if I say I'm bitter, that's telling you that I'm both sad and angry. If I tell you I'm just sad, that's just sad, right? So there are words that are clearly better and more precise than others that communicate more, even though it's still one word. So the word sad versus the word wistful, communicates way more with one word than sad does. And that's not even like a, that would be a thing that's like objective. Like if I tell you I'm sad, or I tell you I'm wistful or bitter, I have absolutely been more precise in communicating what specifically I'm feeling with those other two words. And there are many other examples that would be way more extreme. I probably should have picked a more extreme example, but regardless. So if I sit down and I write a song, and it has all these issues, if I truly believe that it's all subjective, I believe there is no reason, no good reason for me to take any time to listen to that inner voice that's telling me that my second lyric, my second verse lyrics aren't working, and my bridge melody doesn't work with the lyrics, because it's all subjective. What does that even mean? Because I can't even begin to say that my lyrics aren't good, because that's an objective claim. I can say I don't like the lyrics in that section, but who cares? That's my subjective opinion. I shouldn't even care about my subjective opinion for my own songs, because I might be, my subjective opinion might be totally wrong, and the whole world thinks it's great. And since there's no objectivity at all in this view, why would I spend more time to just subjectively change the lyrics? Meanwhile, if I sit down and I write a song draft in an hour, same exact scenario, but I believe that there is some objectivity to it, and that I can, by taking the lyrics in the second verse that I think have issues, they're not using very precise words, it doesn't really evoke much of an emotion, because it's kind of generic language, maybe there's even some cliches in there, which is the worst of all, but if I go into that with, no, there is some objectivity here, then there's reason for me to think I can make that better. It's worth trying to make it better, because making that verse better exists. If we say it's all subjective, that doesn't even exist. There's no such thing as making your second verse lyrics better, that's an objective claim, just like it's objective to say the Dark Knight is better than Thor 2. Saying I like it better is not, that's a subjective claim, that's just an opinion, I don't even have to back it up with any facts. If I claim the Dark Knight is better, is better, that's an objective claim, I need to be able to explain to you why it's a better movie than Thor 2, which I would do, except that you don't care, because it's a songwriting podcast, but that is something I could do, and have done before. But not that anybody, I've never heard anybody make such a ridiculous claim, I've heard similar ridiculous claims, but not that one. So with the mindset that there's some objectivity to this, I'm incentivized as a songwriter to think my song isn't just perfect as it is, I can't just write it off as oh, it's all subjective, so I think the lyric might suck, but no, there's no such thing as a sucky lyric, I'm just gonna throw it out there. Then there's reason for me to actually try to make it better, and there's a way that I could figure out how to make it better, because we can't even begin to have a discussion about how to write a better pre-course, or how to write a better chord progression, or how to improve your second verse lyrics for your song called Infinity, or I made up a song title on the spot and immediately regret it, but we can't even begin to have that discussion. You can't email me and say, Joseph, give me some feedback on this song, because all I could tell you, if there's no objectivity, is I like this and I don't like this, but why should you care what I think? If it's just all subjective, you shouldn't. I don't even think you should really care what you think if it's all subjective. What does anything matter? We might as well just do that, say that's my song. Subjectively, it's just as good as anything else. I like that more than Moonlight Sonata. So it is what it is. And I think down deep, a lot of times, another underlying reason that people believe all art is subjective, there's many things we could get into that's even deeper that we're not gonna get into because of the song on any podcast. I think it's downstream of certain world views and things like that. But I think a part of it too, is we have to take responsibility and acknowledge that we might write songs that aren't very good, or we might have to acknowledge that our songwriting used to suck or the first five songs we write are gonna suck and the next five songs are gonna be okay. And then even when we start writing more and more good songs, we're still gonna have some duds that just aren't very good, didn't quite work. If we say it's all subjective, we can give ourselves a pass. We can just say, oh, who's to say? Everybody universally hates this song and everybody says it sucks and they can even give objective reasons why it sucks. How the melody is something that is completely unmemorable and also it's not an interesting melody but boring, and which it merely has some subjectivity to it. But there is also a level of, we all have heard melodies that like, oh, there's something about that that's good and there's something about that. Another one is melody I think is one of the hardest things to have any sort of objective discussion on. But we can look at a lyric and be like, look, that had a cookie cutter line here, it's not emotionally resonant at all. It's using a lot of generic words that isn't gonna move anybody. So we can even talk about specific things in each other's songs that just aren't working and could be improved. But if it's all subjective, there's nothing to talk about. And that's the part that really gets me, is it doesn't make any sense at all. If it's true that it's all subjective, for anybody to be listening to my podcast or anybody else's podcast about songwriting, it doesn't make sense to try to get better at songwriting because that doesn't exist if it's all subjective. The idea of writing a better song or taking your song and making it quote unquote better does not exist because better is an objective claim. All you can do is hope to make a song that you personally like better or that for some reason you care that I personally like better, which you shouldn't care about. You shouldn't even care what you subjectively like better necessarily. I mean, obviously that should be a part of it. We should write music we like generally. And then the part that really gets me is the idea that there's people out there creating content, teaching songwriting, who would say it's all subjective. If it's all subjective, does that mean that your content is just you saying, in my subjective opinion, this, in my subjective opinion, that, and you should listen to my subjective opinion because my subjective opinion is better than your subjective opinion? Like is that? I don't know how we get away from that. And it's one of those things where like, for some reason this is one of those things where like anytime I try to have this discussion, for some reason I feel like people try to brand the opinion that no, there's two spectrums. There's I don't like it to I do like it, which is subjective claims. And then there's a separate, totally separate discussion that's being able to discuss it's bad to its good spectrum. And those are not necessarily linked at all, which is why I can like one movie way more than another, but also concede that the movie I like less is actually a better movie. If we are incapable of that, that's a massive flag, massive flag, because we should be able to have that discussion. And that's an acknowledgement that there's a separation between our personal taste and just what makes something good. For example, famously, if you listen to this podcast, my favorite band is vertical horizon, but you will never hear me say is vertical horizon is the greatest band of all time. I would never say that. I don't think they're the best band of all time. I wouldn't even begin to be audacious enough to make that claim about any band. They're my favorite though. They speak personally to me. I would say maybe that Mascale is a good songwriter. I think it can back up that claim with, because that's an objective language, right? But I would never say they're the best band, or my favorite band is better than your favorite band necessarily. I mean, maybe I would, depends what your favorite band is. But that's a totally separate discussion. I should be able to concede that your favorite band might be better than my favorite band, but I still like my favorite band better. Just like I might like Revenge of the Sith even more than I like Lord of the Rings movie, but I can concede the Lord of the Rings movie is better. The acting is probably better. The plot is better. Maybe the VFX are better, right? The effects are better. The script is better. The plot is better. Did I say that already? The dialogue is better. Of course, the dialogue's better. Dialogue has never been Star Wars' strong suit, right? So we can break it down into categories, and then break it down further and further, and try to have an objective discussion in good faith where we try to parse out, you know, why does the Lord of the Rings have better dialogue than Star Wars? We all know that's true, but, you know, it is a difficult conversation to figure out why that's true. So this is the ultimate thing for me, is it just feels like, regardless of any of the other points which were about that, I just think it just doesn't stand up to basic reason that all art is totally subjective. Frankly, I think it's a ridiculous thing to say. I don't think it stands up to even thinking about it for like five minutes. But, even with that opinion, I also think it's just destructive. You're just not incentivized to ever try to get better because there is no better to attain. That doesn't help us. If you wanna become a better songwriter, if you wanna listen to content to get better at songwriting, you have to accept the premise that better exists is such a thing as making your lyric better. You can edit your second verse lyrics that suck, and you know they suck, and you cringe at them. You can edit them, you can redraft them, rewrite them, and then you look at the B, right? Your sixth draft that also had edits, and look and say, "This is objectively better than what I started with. "This is obviously better." And if that doesn't exist, why would you waste any time to do that? You wouldn't. You wouldn't. And to me, it's like, well, everything becomes pointless really fast. Trying to learn to write better doesn't exist. You shouldn't listen to any content creator about it. There's no point. There's no point. And this is a thing too that for some reason, it's only art that we apply this to. If we said that, "Oh, well, how to build a good car is totally subjective." No, it's not. If the car doesn't move properly, or if the car is such that even in a 30 mile per hour car crash, anybody who's remotely near the crash is going to die 100% of the time, obviously it's not a good car, right? Again, it's like good car, bad car, good house, bad house. There are elements to it that are subjective. And there are elements to it that are objective, which we know if we take it to the extreme. If you compare whatever you think the best car is, just the engine is the best, the speed is the best, the acceleration that breaks, the safety, the gas mileage, all the different factors that we could say are, here's what makes a car better or worse. It's better across the board than car B. Then we know it's objectively better than car B because it's both safer, faster, more fun, more cool looking, better gas mileage. It's better at all the things. So we know there's some level of objectivity to this. There's objective discussions we had. We know this to be true for everything else. I would even argue for music, which is why I gave the example, we all know we're gonna cringe if somebody actually comes up to us and has the audacity to say, "WAP is just as good as Moonlight Sonata," or whatever. Maybe you didn't think Moonlight Sonata is overrated. You know, I'm not even sure where I land on that. I haven't really thought about it. But, you know, pick some masterful classical piece, or hack just a not horrible gross song like WAP, which is just awful in every possible sense. I really think it has no redeeming qualities. But, regardless, it just ends up being destructive to us if we can't have that discussion. So next episode, we're gonna do the audacious thing. We're gonna try to figure out what are some of the things we can look at that seem to make objectively better songs? What are some of the commonalities? What are the factors we look for? For example, I'll give you one example. I think it starts with synergy, if you will, of all three of the main parts. If the melody feels like it is communicating the same thing as the lyrics, which feels like it's communicating the same thing as the harmony and the chords, to me, that's a start. If your lyrics seem to be talking about one thing, but the melody doesn't fit at all with the lyrics tonally, the lyrics are really sad and just, or maybe wistful or something, but then the music is like grandiose and epic in a way that just doesn't fit. This doesn't make sense. These are supposed to be working together. So I think that's where it's gonna start. I haven't fully written it out yet, the episode, but we're gonna do the audacious thing because I know this episode alone, a lot of people are gonna be like, "Whoa, this is really good." I know. It is what it is. I'm not gonna back down from this. You're welcome to make your counter argument. I've heard a lot of counter arguments. I have yet to hear a compelling one. It usually comes down to, "Oh, you can't give me a math equation to figure out how good a song is." So you're wrong. No, that would prove, that wouldn't even prove wrong that if I were to claim that art is totally objective, me not being able to provide basically a math equation to figure out how good a song is still doesn't disprove that claim. And that's not the claim we're making. I'm making the claim that we should be able to have a discussion from a subjective standpoint and from an objective standpoint. Sometimes the line is blurred between the two, but the idea that we can have no objective discussion about art, whether movies or music is absurd, asinine, ridiculous, doesn't stand up to even the beginning of thinking about it. Which is why we're gonna discuss it next time. Because I think it's worth having that discussion. Because if you and I wanna write a better song, next time we write a song, we have to have some standard to look at at what does that mean? When we say I wanna write a better song or I wanna take the song ahead and make it better, what are some of the factors I can look at to make it better? Otherwise, I don't even know what we're talking about. We're wasting our time, really. So hopefully this was helpful to you. Hopefully it got you to maybe reconsider some things if you're somebody that has said before or really hasn't thought about it much, but just you hear from so many people this, you kind of accept it as true, but you never really thought about it yourself. There's probably a lot of people, which is fine. We don't have time to think deeply about literally everything that everybody says in passing. So hopefully for you there was something in this that at least made you think, huh, okay. Yeah, there's something to this idea that if it's all subjective, this is a waste of time. So maybe in my heart of hearts, I know deep down that there's some level of objectivity here, just because it's difficult to measure doesn't take that away. And next time we'll do the hard thing that nobody else is willing to do. I've never seen it anywhere. Maybe it's been done, maybe it hasn't, but we're gonna do the audacious thing. We're gonna try to figure out how to objectively measure a song or some factors to look at for objectivity in a song. I don't pretend I have all the answers for sure, but we'll try. We'll do a good faith tribe and you can let me know in the comments what things maybe poke holes in it. Let me know maybe factors that I'm gonna miss. I'm sure I'm gonna miss factors. It's a hard thing to tackle, right? But we can do it together. Also, if you have ideas, feel free to email them to me as well. Really, my goal is I wanna start this discussion. I think it's a worthwhile discussion. I don't pretend to have the answer, but I do think it's worth all of us together trying to seek it, trying to figure out what makes it. Again, if you haven't already, be sure to check out my free guide, 20 different ways to start writing a song, songwritertheory.com, slash free guide. Thanks for sticking with me. Thanks for listening to an episode that again, nobody asked for, but I do think is an important thing to talk about. Don't worry, soon we'll be back to the normal grind of the main stuff people wanna know. But I thought this episode was important to talk about. Hopefully you found it helpful. And I will talk to you hopefully in the next one.

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