Songwriting Philosphy: What “Trusting Your Gut” Really Means

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We have all heard the saying “trust your gut” before, but how do you actually use it to make sure you make better music and decisions on promoting your music?


It’s Don’t Mean A Thing Unless It Got That Swing
I don’t know any musician who is looking to make their music even more soulless. Even if you were, you’re always trying to craft some sort of emotional response. As a producer, I watch musicians declaring “_____ makes this part work” without ever listening to alternative ideas and then judging them by the emotional response the give you. Music listening is a reactionary experience, hence why you don’t like every song with a great chord structure. When you choose to use logic instead of listening back to things and making a decision you defeat the very purpose of crafting a song. While greater knowledge and understanding of songwriting can help aid your decisions of what to do when crafting a song, you need to trust your reactions to each change, not just paint by numbers.

That Feeling
We have all known the feeling, someone plays a part and you just feel wierd. Then you play the song again and the same thing happens. That is your gut telling you there is a problem with this part of the song. That is the very thing I am telling you to speak up about. That is your body having a reaction to music and an unpleasent one.

If there is anything I have learned from working on songs for the past 18 years, is that I constantly regret when I don’t listen to my gut. I’ll often listen back to records I produced in the past and hear things I regret not fixing. Without fail everyone of those things were things my gut told me were mistakes, I just wrote them off as things like:

  • “No one will hear it”
  • “You’re just being picky”
  • “You’re overanalyzing the song”

All of those things are excuses! As you get better at crafting music, you will hear these mistakes forever. To make matters worse certain fans hear everything, when they hear your record and if you are hearing it so will someone. Even if the listener can’t pinpoint what is wrong they will be able to deduct that you are not quite on the money with your songwriting and that someone (who probably “checks their gut”) is doing it better. You need to fix it if you’re gut tells you it is wrong,

In Practice
If you are not following the real life applicatyion of what I am describing I will try to make it more clear. Let’s say you are working on a song and your drummer is playing a humongous fill into the chorus.

You: Hey man, that fill isn’t really working
Drummer: No dude, it works because it speeds up the song
You: Can we try something else?
Drummer: Dude this fill, like, MAKES the whole song!

Rather then trusting the reaction someone is having to a song, the drummer is spouting a close-minded theory. Anyone can SAY a part does something. I could easily come into the equation and say the part slows down the song. The greater point is when a fan of yours is in their basement listening to the song, you can’t be there to say “It’s awesome, it speeds up the song”. It needs to work without any context or explanation to the listener.

When someone feels something in their gut, you need to TRY EVERYTHING to fix it. Then react to each different variation on the part from your gut until you have something everyone involved in the songwriting process actually likes. How do you know when a song is done??? When everyone’s guts are calm and you all have goosebumps!

photo by flickr user cote

Jesse Cannon is the editor of Musformation. He produces records at his studio Cannon Found Soundation. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseCannonMusF. For more info please visit his website.

  • Renee

    Growing up I used to jam with people who were not quite as serious about music as me, and I used to get picked on a lot for “being too picky”. Unfortunately, I think a lot of musicians get discouraged from listening to their gut because of this kind of thing. Now that I’m seriously working on my own stuff, with other people who are just as serious (and therefore just as picky) as me, I’m just re-learning how to listen to my gut and go all out when fine-tuning my songs.

  • Brandon Asraf

    I have to agree with you one hundred percent on this topic i am in a duo and we try everything until a song feels right from begining to end. We find the feelings are best left in the song, its ok to be harsh and to the point with our reactions to ideas as long as you try them first. I notice to many bands take personal feelings into consideration to much. Everyone should get a chance to put an idea out there and bickering is normal but there is a difference between wanting to sound like an amazing drummer bassist or guitarist and wanted to write an great song.