How to make better music
The KLF’s The Manual seems to be the perfect recipe for cheap but successful hits, and the production methods described in it allowed the music industry to create tons of Top 40 hits without having to rely on traditional artists within the past two or even three decades.
The downsides of those methods, however, are the immense quality drop, as well as the resulting problems of the music industry.
The techniques described in The Manual were never meant to allow artists to become wealthy, or to allow the music industry to develop new business models. Drummond and Cauty made it clear right at the beginning of their book:
Other than achieving a number one hit single we offer you nothing else. There will be no endless wealth. Fame will flicker and fade and sex will still be a problem. What was once yours for a few days will now enter the public domain.*
As you (hopefully) learned while readying the previous chapters, having a Top 40 hit (or even a number one) is not what you should try to achieve. You will only need a successful niche single in order to sell your album to a niche audience. Once you become highly successful in your niche, mainstream success may follow. And don’t forget that the success of even the greatest artists of the past has often only be a niche success, while the masses always only consumed crap. You don’t need to appeal to the masses in order to become highly successful, and one of the biggest mistakes most artists make is to believe that the Masters Of The Past ever relied on the lemmings out there.
Great music has always only been a niche product, and the Golden Age showed us that this nicht can be quite lucrative.
At the same time it will be very hard to become successful or to make lots of money by making music for the masses, and this has clearly been demonstrated by the music industry during the past two decades.
This is why I recommend NOT to follow the recommendations you’ll find in The KLF’s Manual. This, of course, does NOT mean that you won’t have to follow the Golden Rules Of Pop.
As mentioned before, the Golden Rules always apply, no matter if you’re doing good or bad music, and no matter what genre you’ll be doing. It’s the same rules that the songwriters at Motown Records used to create some of the greatest songs of all time, and it’s the same rules behind all of the successful songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, U2, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, James Brown, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Radiohead, and all other great stars.
They apply to all genres, to all styles, and to all kinds of popular music.
While the KLF’s manual teaches you how to use those rules to create highly successful chart compatible EDM crap, we will use a modified version of those rules that will allow us to produce good music and to be successful with it. And here’s the good news:
Following a modified version of those rules in order to create great music will be just as easy.
This modified version consists of six basic rules (I added the rule about hooks, which the KLF guys did not mention although they discussed those in their book of course, plus the rule about inspiration). If you fully focus on those six rules (which will soon be discussed in detail), then you will become able to write songs that will probably be much better than anything you ever wrote before. Our six rules will cover the following points:
- Song structure
- Length & tempo
- Awesome groove
- Killer hook(s)
- Iconic lyrics
- Inspiration & quality
If you get those six points right, then you’ll have written your hit single.
Okay, this may still sound quite unbelievable at this point, but you’ll learn why this will eventually work out within a few minutes. A lot of books about songwriting will also tell you about chord structures. Some books may even teach you to start by first selecting a key, and then selecting a chord progression. We won’t discuss this here, as I don’t think this is the way outstanding hit songs are being written. You write a great song by taking an instrument (which may be a guitar, a synth, your voice, or even your DAW), and by starting to write what sounds right.
If you write a great song, then you will just know what chord to use next, as you will be able to imagine its sound in your head. If you’re an experienced musician, then you will just know what chord to play next – and if not, then you’ll find it by trial and error. Which does not mean that you cannot start writing a great song by selecting a key and experimenting with a standard progression – but if you’re not used to work that way, then you should not feel forced to go down that road just because some book told you so.
*) Text passages cited from The KLF’s The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), 1988.