There is Hope: 8 Rules That Could Save Pop Music

Courtesy of Absolute Power Pop: A new band called the Ripoff Artists has posted a manifesto that, if implemented by all artists, would save Western music. Here are their eight theses, and I hereby nail them to the virtual door:

  1. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Burt Bacharach and John Barry are the 5 primary pop music influences.
  2. Lyrics are 50% of a pop song; they should either make a philosophical point or tell a story.
  3. Tambourines and shakers must be used.
  4. The following words will never be used in a rhyme scheme: heart and apart; young and fun; dead and bed.
  5. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus.
  6. In music videos, no one will be seen playing a musical instrument.
  7. No good pop song can come from jamming.
  8. Illegal downloading of music is OK; failure to buy the music you love is a crime.

There are a few things I’d tweak: I’d replace John Barry with Brian Wilson; music should be way more than 50% of a pop song; and I prefer hand claps over shakers. But these guys seem to have captured the essence of pop music and have a formula for what a good pop song should contain. A formula? How rigid! What a restraint on creativity! But classical music had rules (e.g., no parallel fifths, no octaves). Perhaps we need to get back to basics. Write songs that you can hum. Use harmonies in a way that adds richness and texture to the overall tune. Take note of chord progressions and test different ones to see if you really have the right one that fits with the song. That’s why I especially like number 7 (No good pop song can come from jamming). Songwriting is a craft. It’s hard. Sure, some melodies and lyrics may come easily, but it doesn’t mean that a “Hey Jude” can arise from just playing and waiting for the music gods to inspire you. There’s instrumentation, harmonies, recording techniques. Like writing, it may take several rewrites, edits and embellishments. Rules are there for a reason, people. Don’t think art is easy.

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