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Do great songs really ever go unheard?


I am not talking about good songs, I am talking about great songs.  I know good and great are subjective, but can you point to a song that you said to yourself - “that’s one of the best songs I ever heard in my life” - and then that song went on to die on the shelf; never to be heard by more than a handful of humans again?  Does death by obscurity really happen to great songs, or does lack of traction only happen to mediocre songs?

I am doing some research.  Can you show me links to songs you think should have been certifiable hits?  Or, just comment on this post.  Thanks.

Reader Comments (44)

I suspect it happens a lot. In fact, I suspect it happens more often than not. There's no shortage of truly great songs in the world. I've been completely blown away by five different songs in the last week - none of which will ever cross the radar of most people reading this.

And that's not because it's obscure or unusual stuff. These are totally accessible, pure pop gems that just have something really special going for them.

The problem (if you want to think of it as a problem) is that talent is not a rarity. And the music business is not a meritocracy - and it's certainly not 'fair'.

I suspect there's a range of factors at work here. All sorts of reasons that MOST great songs will NEVER do well. And conversely, most songs that do well aren't really great. This is not an anti-pop rant - I LOVE pop music. But there are some very, very famous examples of songs that are just not good songs by any standard, and yet do very well from a commercial standpoint. I'm sure you can think of examples.

Case study:
I have a friend who is on his fifth album, and is generally regarded by all who have ever come into contact with his work as an amazing songwriter and an incredible talent. I'm one of a handful of people who have been lucky enough to hear a selection of the hundreds of tunes he recorded on 4-track and saved on cassette years before he decided to let the wider world hear any of his music.

There are some amazing lost classics in there, and he will not be convinced to ever let them see the light of day. Which is a shame, but he feels that his juvenalia should remain personal and you gotta respect that. It's not like the released stuff is leaving anything to be desired.

So - it's not a failure of marketing by any stretch. Great songs, deliberately withheld.

But - and this is my point - Even now that his records are commercially released, it astonishes me that someone who produces 'one of the best songs I ever heard in my life' every time he goes in to bat has not really made any significant noise outside his native country of New Zealand.

And that, I think, is one of the real problems at work here. There is more going on to prevent great music reaching the ears of willing masses than there are forces to help overcome that. Despite the wonders of the internet, some of those problems have to do with geographic boundaries.

There are some songs that would have been certifiable hits had anyone in Britain or America ever released them, distributed them and promoted them. It's a shame - but the cream only rises when it's actually in the jar with all the milk.

Do yourself a favour - go to YouTube and find something by SJD. Then you'll hear great songs that, by and large, go pretty much completely unheard. At least, on a global scale.

October 14 | Unregistered CommenterDubber

As an indie singer-songwriter, I have been pounding the virtual pavement since I quit my day job a few months back and I am coming across amazing internet resources every day.

Listen to my songs at my blogsite: or better yet, tune in online.

Tomorrow I will be on internet radio at 2pm PST (at

-Catherine Scholz

October 14 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Scholz

I agree with Dubber that it happens all the time.

Think of the local bands that attract huge audiences in their hometown. Sell thousands of CD's in a very small market. Tour regionally to large audiences.

The reason these bands are attracting attention is because they have great songs. You've got to imagine if these bands can garner that sort of attention locally, that with exposure nationwide they would be household names.

I grew up in Maine. There is (and has been) a band called The Rustic Overtones. They write songs that could be hits on rock stations, pop stations, and top 40 stations. They have an amazing live show. Their fans buy every record they put out, and they've been doing this for over 10 years. They have been signed to Arista, Tommy Boy, and most recently Universal Records. They play to crowds of thousands in Portland, Maine.

Yet if you go anywhere outside of Maine, no one knows them. Check them out at

Think of how many bands and artists have similar followings locally. These bands all have fans that would say their songs are "Some of the greatest they've ever heard."

I am not in the band. If just one person becomes a fan because of this post, that would make me happy.

Jake Roche

October 15 | Unregistered CommenterJake Roche

It happens all the time. I know because I ask this question to almost every songwriter/publisher who comes through the studios at Music Business Radio. Listen for yourself, if you want to hear it in their words.

With that said, I think successful writers never give up on the truly great songs. They may not ever get cut, but they'll die pitching songs they really believe in.

October 15 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Hooper

Maybe because great songs are not enough. More than that, what makes your own difference ? Your own originality ? A great song can be crafted in a "so many times common way", so what makes the difference with other ones, even if the songwriting is better.

What about chet baker for example : he never wrote a song, but had a very special way to play and sing. A band like cocorosie played with toys and human beat boxes in their bathroom. A band like beirut mixed european folk with american flavour... and so on... unique sounds or personalities...

So, more than a great song, what makes you unique so noticeable ?

October 15 | Unregistered CommenterLaurent

I discovered a Welsh folk singer called The Gentle Good last year. It was like hearing Nick Drake for the first time. I was so overwhelmed I even offered to set up a label to put his stuff out, but I think was somewhat bemused by enthusiasm and never really got back to me ;)

Now, I'd be amazed if, when he finally puts his album out, he doesn't get the sort of reaction Bon Iver got this year. But... does he have the same kind of story to capture the media imagination that Bon Iver did? Seems that really that's what it takes these days. As Laurent says, what makes you unique? I'm not sure good songs are enough anymore.

Anyway, if you have the time, go here and listen to Dawel Disgyn. Incredible.

He does sing in Welsh so, er, I guess he's a little doomed in terms of global recognition ;)

October 15 | Unregistered CommenterChristian Ward

Bruce this is an interesting question that I have thought about myself from time to time. I'd have to say that if an artist is truly extraordinary and they run their entity with some respectable business skills (some quality marketing, promotions, networking, financing, and all the other stuff we talk about on these blogs), then I think they can expect to make a decent living at what they do. ...MEANING they can expect to be compensated the same way that a teacher, carpenter or public accountant is while being able to do what they love. For a local or regional act to make it big, as many have pointed out here, involves a great deal of luck. But isn't this the nature of life? Isn't it also unfair that the guy who is running his regional business with incredible skill will probably never get the chance to be CEO of GE or Microsoft? I think then expectations need to be lowered somewhat as there is only so much room in public mindshare for multiple Bonos. If an act is great, and they educate themselves on business issues (i.e. read these blogs) then they can almost certainly improve their success. As George Thorogood once said, Bob Dylan sells brand new Cadillacs and I sell used cars, but atleast I am in the same business. I am for the first time starting a serious band (no more cover acts) and plan to implement everything I am learning here, so we shall se how it goes.

October 15 | Unregistered CommenterPat W

I'm a singer/songwriter but I'm also realistic. I could tell you that I have written some of the best songs etc etc, but you wouldn't believe me, and to be honest I think others think more of my music than I do.

So in saying all that, one band I think who have written an album worth of stuff that was truely life changing for me is Epicure. Their first album Goodbye Girl was just sad brilliance. And whilst they dont' necessarily deserve great accolades because not everyone likes sad stories.

So if you are interested to find out more then go to and listen to 12 Months of Winter and Life Sentence.

If your somewhat intrigued in my music, which has received 4 star reviews by main st press in Australia but still can't be sold to anyone outside my extended family then

A great post by the way. Will definately check out other suggestions.

October 15 | Unregistered CommenterDave Anderson

I agree with Dubber when he says - "talent is not a rarity" - I am an indie record producer and owner of Euphonic Sound Recording Studio in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I see crazy amounts of undiscovered talent every week. The two issues that most commonly prevent the discovery of great songwriters/performers is promotion & production.

First promotion:
Read these blogs (as others have suggested) and become a business person. Learn about this industry. Apply the great advice you learn here and at other places like & Also read Derek Sivers book "How to call attention to your music." I truly believe the answers are there. Talent may not be rare, but I'll tell you what is...Talent coupled with the desire, drive, persistence, smarts, passion, & the business sense to make it happen. To not except NO for an answer. Passion for music creation is not enough. An artist must have an equal or greater amount of passion devoted to the promotion/business side of their music career.

99.9% of all classic songs (songs that millions of people know and love, and are not likely ever to be forgotten) have an inspired production treatment. Under funded indie artists often fail because they try to cut corners or fast track the production process. I just finished working on a record with a really cool band with a unique sound and catchy songs...great songs really. This band has decided to skip the mastering stage because of budget. Even though I found them a great mastering engineer that will master their record for under $750 Cdn. To them they don't really understand what mastering is and therefore feel that it must not be important enough to worry about.

The best advice I can give is look at the production process that has been applied to virtually every great hit song. Maybe you can't afford to have Rick Rubin produce your record, or Bob Katz master it, but skipping an entire stage of the process is a huge mistake. Talent is also not rare among sound engineers and producers. Find someone who can engineer and/or produce your songs according to the tried and true methods used to create 99.9% of all the great music the world loves.

Sorry for the length of this. The last thing I must mention is that I do not feel that luck plays as big a role as others do...or at least not in the way people assume. Here is a quote from Thomas Jefferson:

"The harder I work, the luckier I seem to get."

Add smarter along with harder, to bring us into modern times. This formula will increase the instances and opportunities for luck to occur.

blog -

October 15 | Unregistered CommenterJames Pew

I've been meaning to write a long post about this subject. Mainly because you read all these bios of internet musicians (of which I am party) proclaiming their talent through their prolificness (not a word, I know (prolificity?)) People that are putting out a song a week or a song a month or a song a day. And the secret, to the point of your question Bruce, is that folk music (I don't mean the genre but I do mean blues-based chord progressions and song structures) is really not that difficult to make.

Long story short: Yes, I've heard many many 'great' songs that nobody else will ever hear. Some of it may be production, some of it may be marketing, some of it may be arrangements, and some of it may simply be randomness. But I do believe that there is either an infinite amount of great songs or a number close enough to infinite to be equivalent for the purposes of this discussion.

And yes, I think I've written a few of them. And no I don't think I will ever get a critical mass to hear them.

I was recently introduced to, which I think is great for finding some absolutely awe-inspiring music from artists which seem to go unnoticed or who are unsigned or artists that are just not trying to become famous. It would be good for your research as there is a great community of music enthusiasts and musicians on there. I recently discovered a guy called Ashley Best on there and after hearing one of his tracks I went straight to Itunes to download his album. It has some amazing tracks, which give me the chills all the way through! The track I previewed was called 'Fever', I think he is unsigned but apparently he produces it all himself too which makes it more special for me. I also discovered a band called Copeland and I wondered why I had never heard it before, it seems criminal that some of these artists never get heard! Thanks for an interesting read and good luck with the research!


October 15 | Unregistered CommenterFran Hayes

There is a great band named Anything Box, they came out in the early 90's and are still making great music to this day. They make really beautiful electronic music and is heavily influenced by the Beatles, New Order, Joy Division, and Depeche Mode.

Check out their site at

October 15 | Unregistered CommenterJONxBLAZE

A great song or piece of art is only one part of the equation and does not equal acceptance by the mases . It takes a few really big pluses and a lot of minuses along the way for it to equal sales and artist recognition.

Take a look at other great artists that dwelled in obscurity until their tenacity paid off with recognition for what they believed in. Claude Monet was one of the few artists of the Impressionist movement that actually lived long enough to reap the rewards of his and their labor. The Impressionists were rejected and ridiculed for over 20 years by the art community before being accepted as legitimate art.

Some artists are so far ahead of curve (e.g. Radiohead, Impressionists) and others are just trying to find their audience. Timing is one thing that has to align for a great piece of art to be heard or seen. This is also known as patience if you happen to be one of those artists that are ahead of the game. This is not always the easiest for artists to understand because they believe that once the song is done then their part is over. Nothing is further from the truth. This has been said before a million times but I'll say it again, This is when the hard work begins.

It takes a team of people on the outside that have to believe in the artist and their creation also. Otherwise, you have an artist with limited resources and audience that they can't develop beyond a small following of loyal devoters. For their reach is subjected to the connections that they have made in a limited capacity. The extended reach of a team then multiplies that with a consistent educated effort. So that 'great' art CAN reach the tipping point and the artist can gain notoriety and sales that transfer into a career.

So the equation goes:

'Great' Song + Timing and Patience + Tenancity - Rejection + Team + Believe(2) = Great Song + Successful Career

October 15 | Unregistered CommenterDale Adams

Writing a great song is the easy part, getting it heard by the masses is the hard part. So, yes, some great songs go unheard...

Of course, the real question is: what are the creators of those great songs doing to make them heard? Personally, I feel like I've just barely begun to scratch the tip of the iceberg on what I need to do to make average Joe hear my songs.

October 16 | Unregistered CommenterJim Offerman

I've been completely blown away by five different songs in the last week

haha - then you must have some damn low standards for greatness..
I must disagree with most of the above. Truely great songs are not common. they are rare and I think its probably seldom that they do not see the wider acclaim.

I listen to a lot of new music every week and on the most part I'm disappointed. its all just recycled rubbish. cliche mostly. boring.

Its easy to right a 'good song' its easy to get it out there, play some shows. most gigs i've been to lately the bands were pretty average. the band has a huge following why? cause they write great songs? - NO -mostly its cause they have a lot of freinds, they know how to party, they know the rigth people. and they suck the right..... well you know what I mean.

October 16 | Registered CommenterLuke Echo

Luke, you could be correct; I lean in your direction. However, there are lots of really good songs that should be playlisted by tens of thousands, if not millions of people worldwide. For example, if you like the smooth, smokey sound of Sade - you would like "Channing LeBlanc". (Listen to She Said.) These are the artists/songs that should never go un-found again.

My suspicion is that there are tens of thousands of Channings all over the world. Although, "She Said" may not be a hit, it's a song that should be enjoyed by those that like this type of music.

In a world where abundance trumps scarcity, I think it's possible for the Channings to find a place on everyone's iPods... Of course, they just need to be found.

October 16 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

For example, if you like the smooth, smokey sound of Sade - you would like "Channing LeBlanc"

So that's why i won't listen to her, even if it's briliant. i've got so many things to listen to but i don't have much time for it.
if i like sade i want to listen to a new record, not to a clone artist.

what makes you unique ? what do you do for letting me understand you're unique so i'm up to listen to a couple of tracks ?

a great song is supposed to become famous because it sounds different. because the people who play it are singular. so it's not about the one song hit, it's about the band who's able to write great songs and play it in a special way.

October 16 | Unregistered CommenterLaurent

Laurent, your methods and criteria for finding new songs seem to work for you. Congrats. For the rest of us using Pandora, iTunes Genius, or any other recommendation technology/service, I will settle for the "productivity tool" that enables me to cut through 1,000,000 songs fast. After I have whittled 1,000,000 songs down to the ones that sound like Sade (and combined with some additional criteria), I plan to try out some of these "clone artist" tracks, as this will probably be the method that saves me time and makes me happy :).

"a great song is supposed to become famous because it sounds different" - that's sort of wrong. If you plot the acoustical features (melody, harmony, beat, tempo, octave, rhythm, pitch, cord progression, cadence, texture, timbre, etc.) of just about every hit ever created, you would be surprised how similar they ALL are. It's actually the non-hits (would those be be "un-great" songs?) that plot off the charts (figuratively speaking)...

October 16 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

Have to disagree here, Bruce. A great song will almost always plot off the chart. Greatness is not linked to popularity in any direct way.

The idea that a song is great because it maps to an algorithm of other songs that have proved popular is appalling. I can swallow the fact that a song might be popular because it conforms to the characteristics of other songs that been popular - but I can no more accept the idea that a song is great BECAUSE it is popular any more than I can accept the idea that all popular songs are great.

Most musicians will agree that most chart records are not the best music. Bestselling novels are not necessarily the greatest literature. Popular pictures are not the best art. Blockbuster movies are seldom the best works of cinema.

Please don't confuse 'biggest selling' with greatest. Britney Spears is not the best our culture has to offer, even if she happens to be number one in the charts this week.

An algorithm may be able to tell if a song is similar enough to all of the other hits to sound at home in the charts. It will never be able to tell if a song is great.

October 17 | Unregistered CommenterDubber

Bruce, sorry i'm not fluent i try to explain my mind the best i can. anyway...

I don't think what you call my method a unique way to find music. I just rely on chance and curiosity, i'm an active listener and want to find new music. i think a lot of people do that.

I totally agree with andrew D. (ps SJD song "Beautiful Haze" is amazing, thanks...).

Two questions :
1- go back to the sixties with your algorythm. The question is are you "beatles" or "rolling stones". personaly 'im velvet underground, first album sold 500 copies.
2 - how can you manage an album like the last Talk Talk, Laughing stock ? 6 songs, around ten minutes long each, no choruses. no hit. i can't stop listening to it at least one time each week for 17 years...

October 17 | Unregistered CommenterLaurent

I actually submitted several songs to Platinum Blue some time back, in order to get them 'x-rayed'. Two of them achieved scores above 700: No easy Way (at 716) and Neverafter.
According to PB this would classify them as having 'hit potential' (Malcom Gladwell even wrote in an article that "anything above 700 is exceptional'); for reference Gnarl Barkleys "Crazy" is rumoured to have reached 729.

Cool results but no hits to date in terms of sales or even WOM ! I can send you the xrays if you are interested.

By the way, if you feel like taking a quick listen both songs are available at (or direct link

Keep rocking

Le Baron

October 17 | Unregistered CommenterLe Baron

Having read the post and some of the comments, I had a response. Then, after a pause, I read the rest and saw what Bruce was getting at. ;)

Nonetheless, here's my original comment:

The question begs another: are great songs born or are they made? In other words: is any song great before it recieves mass public acclaim? (Whenever that may occur.)

I agree that to equate popularity with quality is a mistake. Where are the hits of yesteryear? How many of us can name even half of the singles at No. 1 during the course of 2007? What about further back? Still, there are clearly songs that have stood the test of time and retain public awareness decades after they were released. There are artists who've recieved recognition only after they gave up and stopped recording. We can safely say that the great songs are the ones that last (whether we like them or not; I'm no fan of Mozart, but I won't argue that he was a poor composer).

Which brings me back to the question: can we say that when a song is written it only has the potential for greatness? If so, Bruce's question is somewhat besides the point: it's being heard that makes songs great.

Someone said "songs are like sponges that absorb memories and experiences".

Andrew, how do you know that Britney Spears is not the best our culture has to offer? History will be the judge of that? As Krzysztof pointed out - Mozart was not perhaps the best composer. For many, Britney's new song will be one of the "sponges" of their lives. Who knows how history tell the story. For all we know, her songs may be in heavy rotation on the classical station 500 years from now. (I am thinking about a Woody Allen movie.)

I think we can all agree that there are lot of "fine" songs sitting on the sidelines; that what we call good, or great, or the best culture has to offer - is a matter of opinion. We even all have different ways to find the songs we enjoy.

As for me, I am working on methods that enable people to find the songs they desire. Filtering against previous hits is something we will provide, but not because this method guarantees greatness, but because hits, for many people, are the sponges people can readily relate to. For everyone else, you will be able to build your own song sets to filter against. Once again, I believe all filtering, recommending and measuring tools (for music) should be looked at as productivity utilities. Without these utilities we would drown in an ocean of songs.

October 17 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila


Anyways, what I really want to add: one my groups is called Algorhythms, and my Google Alerts are totally worthless because it's nothing but the same typo, over and over. Equation-based iterative processes are called ALGORITHMS. Not Algorhythms, which is a pun.

Of course, we're mostly musicians here so I can't hold you to the same standards I would an SEO blogtard, who should definitely know better than to write about "google's algorhythms" -- c'est la vie. Those who talk, don't know....etc.

October 17 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

There was a band a few years back called Virgos Merlot.. they were played on radio here and there, first record on Atlantic, then they changed name (and image) to just Virgos, one more album online-order-only, then they broke up. They were called the Devine before that. Brett Hestla, lead singer, was bassist for Creed at the end there. Talk about a backwards world!

Poor VM had bad songs picked as singles from their first record. The first song of the album, "The Cycle" should have EASILY been picked over the not-as-good "Gain" or "Kiss My Disease".

Still, I guess getting on the radio with a couple songs is cool.

But where is Brett Hestla now? Hopefully still producing. Because that guy can WRITE SONGS. Almost every song on those 2 albums were perfect.

The world is unjust!

Don't songs that we truly consider great have a "certain something" that just sets them apart?

Yes, technology can help sift, but because it can only analyze, not FEEL, it will never be able to identify that special great song essence.

October 18 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

"Without these utilities we would drown in an ocean of songs."
...but we do, Bruce - we do. and i think that's exactly the point here. first of all, how can we talk about great songs if 'great', even 'truly great' means something different for everyone? we'd have to differentiate between a variety of 'greats'. if great means popular (imo it doesn't), then the answer to the original question is 'no' - that's a no-brainer. but if great means a true work of art in terms of composing, performing, producing etc. then i guess the answer would be 'yes', because works of art are not good as background noise. but that's what music often - maybe mostly - is. these days, who buys himself a record (in whatever form), sits on the couch and really listens? really concentrates on the experience? who does that anymore? who has the time and the calmness? and as a side note: we lower the quality to make the songs smaller. we wouldn't do that if it was for the experience and there were times when this was the other way round. we do that for quantity - i'll get to that in a moment...
people are preoccupied with all sorts of things, so they need some 'easy listening' they can do on a bus, maybe during work, while doing the dishes or while dancing in some club. but those are not works of art, those are fast-food. and that's exactly why those songs are popular or even big hits. they have no rough edges or anything one could think about. they're flat, that's why they work. a hamburger is no culinary masterpiece - that's why it's such a success. the only thing you need to concentrate on while eating it, is to not drop half of it. it doesn't distract you, but that's the core idea of a great meal. two different worlds or two oppositional meanings to fulfill.
that would lead to the question: is it even possible for a great song to be heard? we could argue about what 'being heard' is. how many people are needed to turn a tune into a heard one? if it's a huge crowd, then it's only possible for songs tailored for a huge crowd to be heard and that almost automatically leads to a not-very-artful-song because it has to please the masses and therefore has to be kind of slick, without edges, one-size-fits-all. there might be exceptions of course but the more people it pleases, the less great it is.
when we talk about songs that are decades old but still known, heard and loved by people - we usually talk about songs people connect to certain experiences of their lives. but decades ago, it was a lot easier for a song to get there because people bonded more with a song than they do today. why's that? time's weren't that fast. a song like, ida know, 'life is life' (or is it 'live'?) or 'the final countdown' or whatever was played for months at every single event back then, so lots of people had a chance to connect. not that these would be great songs in any way except being as one-size-fits-all as it gets. today a song lasts how long? a week? and of course the people themselves have changed but getting into that would lead too far beyond the scope of this place... and let's not forget, today quantity is worth more than ever before. how many songs fit on an ipod? i piled up about 800 cds before i had my first real computer and i knew every one of them. that's not even a third of what you can pack on a classic ipod. and i'm a musician, someone for whom listening is part of the job aka a full time activity. when the internet opened the possibility of sharing songs illegally, it was about songs. later it was about whole albums and now? it's about discographies. tomorrow it's what? whole genres? we do drown in songs. people hear more songs today than ever before but as a result they care less about every single one. maybe today listeners connect more to a band than to a song?
today we need tools that search and pick songs that we might like for us, because we drown in songs. productive? hell, yeah - but since when is productivity even ballpark with greatness?
and who could even think about a single waterdrop while swimming in the ocean? i have no idea where i'm going with this, for i already got ideas that could keep me writing for ages. sorry if this is of no help for your research, i just wanted to add a short (!) note to your 'drowning in an ocean of songs'-picture and that's where it went.
truly great thread here. i do think though, you might be going at your research the wrong way or with the wrong goal. and as soon as i hit the 'create post' button, you might want to reconsider about the follow up note below the title of your post :-)

October 18 | Unregistered Commenteraudiot

Good comment, audiot. I especially liked the comparison of pop songs to fast food. Indeed, every hamburger I've encountered so far was flat (I do hear stories about burgers that have been moulded of minced meat by hand, as opposed to being stamped out of sawdust, but I think it's only a legend.)

I can see the logic behind what Bruce is pursuing, but personally, I don't think it's going to work. There are a couple of reasons:
1. If there was a sure-fire way of crafting a song so it has lasting appeal, professional songwriters would have come up with it by now. There are numerous guidelines, but to adhere to them strictly produces less than impressive results. This admittedly isn't much of a problem, since Bruce's idea is working in reverse - starting with a great song (chosen by the individual listener, so as to avoid any discussion like the one here) and finding others that fit the same pattern. The problem with that is:

2. We can't really say what parameters are important: melody, rhythm, harmony, dynamics, what? Computer job that: we'll analyze everything to the extent that the processing power of computers allows. Surely we'll get it right, no? Well, no, all because of:

3. However we analyze a song, the closest match will be the same song (the same recording of the same song, to be precise). By the same token, cover songs, plagiarisms, rip offs - anything in fact that is highly similiar will be at or near the top of the list. This of itself may or may not be a disqualifying factor for the user, but the whole problem is in the fact, that the process offers absolutely no guarantee, that the listener is going to get a new song that he or she likes at the end. I can see the ploughing through tons of imitative songs in order to find something we can actually like as a whole new kind of digital music hell. What's worse, there's really no certain way to solve the problem, because we don't really know what makes a song "click" for someone. That was the whole idea behind spectral analysis: hoping that computers would notice something we didn't.

P.S. It has occured to me as I concluded this comment, that perhaps the analysis of a person's entire discography might offer enough guidelines to improve the process somewhat, but it's a long shot. Yesterday, I was at an Evergrey gig (for those who don't know: they're a prog-metal band, from Sweden I believe) and as is always the case, there were songs played over the PA during set-up. Only one got a reaction from the crowd and it was an overwhelmingly positive one. The song was "Billie Jean". Prescient is the computer that can predict that.


I could tell you that you are wrong, and I could tell you how it's going to happen, but I am just going to wait until you try out my toys. Then, you can buy the beer..

You are 33% there with your last paragraph.


October 19 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila


"1. If there was a sure-fire way of crafting a song so it has lasting appeal, professional songwriters would have come up with it by now."

They HAVE, and I'm not surprised you're not aware of it. But yeah, there's small companies in LA that do EXACTLY THAT for a steep price. There's been articles on some of them in Wired -- 3 years ago, at least. This is not new.

October 19 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Justin: I know there are, I'm just not sure how well they do it. It's a bit early to judge how many evergreens this era will produce, but I have seen asignificant drop in the number recorded since the Eighties. Time will tell.

Bruce: I'm still waiting for more details. ;)

I can't really add anything of value to this because there have been some amazing comments that have said it all (including a mirror of my personal view and it's nemesis ;) ). I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for their views and i've really enjoyed reading this a few times over the last week.


October 22 | Unregistered CommenterLee J

Well I definitely think it happens everyday. Music is political. I am a singer/songwriter and have been chosen for something when I clearly should not have been and not been chosen when I should have been chosen. Music is so subjective. You are dealing with millions of people with different tastes all accross the world and some A&R guy sitting in New York picked a song about "toothpaste" over the great lyrics because little children can relate to the music. Let's face it. It is all about the kids nowadays, not the great lyrical content. And most music buyers are not musicians so they do not care about perfection.

The music business is a money machine and if you don't have the "total package" your song is going to get overlooked no matter how great it is UNLESS the A&R rep is someone who likes really good music. It all depends on the label and the decision makers. If you are on the radio, even if the song is bad, eventually repetition makes people "think" they are supposed to like it.

One thing I do know is I have bought a lot of music over the years before I started trying to pursue it as a career and the whole "first 15 seconds rule" is the absolute truth. If you can't catch someone in the first fifteen seconds with something, then the song is off to a bad start.
So that may determine a lot of what is chosen on the radio. Great beginnings.


January 9 | Unregistered CommenterRG

I agree with those who posted that there are a many great songs out there that go unheard.

I sat in a a Nashville "hole in the wall" bar one night while we all passed the guitar around and sang our songs to each other. Every song I heard that night was amazing and most of them were never even recorded!

Please check out my stuff and let me know what you think. or

Thanks all!

February 23 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Vitale

I'm not very objective about my songs or recordings, so I look to listeners for feedback. At a cover/original mix gig I'll play originals without a word of intro just to see which songs get responses. If someone asks what that song was, I know I've hit a nerve. I pay attention. If I see someone ease into tears during a song, or just lean into the music in a concentrated way, I know the same thing. Now, does that make the song a "great song"? Maybe. Maybe they had bad chicken for supper. Maybe their life sucks and the song put something in perspective and just hit home, or maybe they just like that kind of music. Sometimes songs take on a life of their own, and it's only after years of playing the song out that an arrangement finally clicks, and suddenly the song comes to life. And let's (songwriters) admit it, sometimes it's just the incredible singer, and almost any decent song would have worked.

I certainly believe some of my songs are "better" than others musically or lyrically, and some songs are just excuses to play a wonderful groove, and any old words would have worked, but in the end, I think it's the communication that is either there or not. Some songs come to me in the air, and I write them right down. Others are labors of love/hate that take years to come together. When the whole song makes sense and feels right, I stop messing with it and I start playing it out.

I've had some commercial (translation: FM/Net/Digital/mailbox money) success in the last few years (I'm 58, and have played pro for 40 years), and it was the result of single-mindedly dedicating the time to cut the albums, hiring a promoter, and putting myself at risk financially. I did a lot of research and tried to spend wisely and do a lot of legwork myself. Even so, in the end, the songs are what made it all go. DJs and PDs play what they like. Simple as that.

And yes, you bet your asp that great songs go "unheard", if we mean by that "unheard by millions", but for a true songwriter, the song is what it's about. When the song is written, it's time to go on to another, and let someone else worry about commercial enterprises. For many years I just played in bands for a living, and my songs existed for their own sake. I HAD the write them down or they'd chase me around the house at 2 AM. Now I make an effort to get them played wherever, whenever I can. Internet, FM, whatever. If I have more spare time in a week, I send out submissions, call people, upload tracks, etc, etc. This has worked for me, but the increased success isn't really about me writing "better" songs, it's just a lot of legwork paying off finally.

Stephen Foster

February 24 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Foster

Thanks for sharing that Stephen. Excellent comment.

February 24 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

bradlee z. denver artist, obscure, lives here in denver now, cant remember where hes from.. some basement somewhere. huge undergroiund following of ween fans, but totally unknown. incredible songwriter.

May 18 | Unregistered Commenterkeny

Ah, what the hell, here's a song I wrote and everyone I have ever played it for has said it's a great song. I know it's not a hit song -- too slow, too sad -- but I do think it's decent.

The song is called Here Comes the Weather, and it is sung by Larkin Gayl, who also has many GREAT songs.

If anyone out there listens to this and likes it, please send me an email.

And here's my blog:


September 22 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Shattuck

"My Life is Easy" by Cains & Abels is one of the best songs of the year... I hope some people hear it:

September 28 | Unregistered CommenterMark Neigh

This is a very interesting issue. that affects creators and consumers of the creations as well.
But I do think a big chunk of the main concept is going unseen. and that is the artist´s expectations and goals with their music (or any art form)
Very often, in our materialist society, success is measured by profit, money. If you made it big (money wise) you succeeded. And I think thats when art loses value.
Maybe the bands people say "are ahead of the game", are in that situation because they have understood the new industry (online) correctly. And they see that they can now sell their art more easily, but to smaller audiences. new technology has brought that possibility to everybody´s reach now. And in a smart way, you can make a decent living in that scenario.
my point is: the general mass and industry concept of success is still based on the models of the old industry, the industry dying now from not knowing how to cope with change.
Not every good band needs to play wembley in front of 150,000 people, sell millions of records and bo on TV, to consider their experience through life in music rewarding, pleasant, productive.

I do agree 100% on the fact that talent, does not bring success on its own. i consider that a fact. there are times to be creative and innovate, and there are times to work hard and let somebody know about what you do.

And i think music and art should be made for good purposes.
If your main goal was to dedicate your life to this for the money, maybe you started off with the wrong approach.
money has to be a part of the equation, not the result. if the others factors are worked upon properly, money will come. and if it doesnt, you should learn to appreciate the other good things that do come.

If you took the time to read this, thanks a lot

January 7 | Unregistered CommenterVitaly Franco

This has been a fascinating thread to read. For many years I owned rehearsal rooms and I was continually astounded as to how a significant proportion of the bands who rehearsed there had just one very good, if not great song, that I would catch myself singing as I pottered about the place.

I'm not sure about most of them being "one of the best songs I've ever heard in my life'. But if you consider most of these bands didn't even commit these songs to anything nearing releasable (even for MySpace) quality recordings, then as Dubber alludes to in his initial post there are loads of great songs just languishing on rehearsal room demos in the bottom drawers of band members whose bands split up before they even did a gig.

In a 20th century industry these solitary great songs had little to no chance of ever gaining any traction with potential listeners. It will be a sad indictment of the supposed potential of the internet to re-shape the production and consumption of music, if the 21st Century doesn't improve the opportunity of the writer of one great song to have it heard by more than four other musicians and the owner of the practice rooms.

February 12 | Unregistered CommenterMat Flynn

songs that should have been hits (and this is a very small list)

Astronaut Wife - Where Will We Go
Fountains of Wayne - Hey Julie
Pocket Size - Walking
The Sundays - Here's Where The Story Ends
Heather Nova - London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do)
Sugar - If I Can't Change Your Mind
Frou Frou - Breathe In, It's Good To Be In Love
Imogen Heap - Just For Now, Goodnight and Go
The Cars - It's All I Can Do
Sarah McLachlan - Elsewhere
Azure Ray - If You Fall
Jeff Buckley - Last Goodbye, Grace
Splashdown - Games You Play, The Archer, Waterbead, I Understand
Jem - Wish I, Stay Now
Third Eye Blind - Motorcycle Drive-By, The Background, Blinded, Forget Myself
Ben Folds - Annie Waits
Jimmy Eat World - The World You Love, Kill, If You Don't Don't, Cautioners, Lucky Denver Mint

songs I can't understand how they became hits recently:
Kings of Leon - Use Somebody, and most of their other stuff
30 Seconds To Mars - This Is War (god it's annoying)
Muse - everything by them (including the song that rips off "Personal Jesus" and "White Wedding")


September 19 | Unregistered CommenterChris Caulder

I'm not overpompous but i do think my music is worth a listen. I swear I'm not trying to spam, just trying to get y'all to appreciate some hard-working artists trying to make music that is both aesthetically pleasing as well as lyrically sound. thanks.

October 20 | Unregistered CommenterJawn Smiff

I think great songs don't get heard simply because there is an over-saturation in the market. Like Dubber said, in our age, talent is not uncommon. Especially now that we live in a world where technology has enabled any and everyone to become a musician and artist. So now people who would have never thought of doing it before are not making careers out of it. Not everyone has the financial means to pay for great marketing that would enable their song to get heard by large audiences. And not everyone has the resources to get help promoting their work. It's a problem I run into as an artist myself over and over. And I have been a musician my entire life. And have been in the business since the start of online, social networking, electronic technology became the standard. I know that my product is there. I have the whole package. But I constantly run into the obstacle of competing with people who's songs aren't as good (or good at all) but they have the financial means to get it out there and or the resources (connections) to get help with the marketing. I do a great job with what is in my own power to do but there is only so much I CAN do by myself. Therefore, I may die with a few amazing albums under my belt that no one will have ever heard. It's the sad reality of this day and age. Artist development by PR companies and record labels do not exist anymore. They want you to do all the work for them and then MAYBE they will take you on after the fact. It's a dark time to be a true artist. And sometimes I wish I could go back and decide on a career that would ensure me a fruitful future. But we do it anyways because of the love of it.

November 10 | Unregistered CommenterIrene Merring

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