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Audience’s Perception Of Songs

Any songwriter knows that a song won’t succeed without well-written music and perfectly crafted lyrics. But the interplay between music and lyrics in a song raises two questions. The first is which is more important and the second is which should be written first. However, the second question is not really a question; as it is simply a matter of personal preference and custom. The question that really needs to be answered is actually the first one: “Which is more important?!”

To answer this question, we need to examine how the audience perceives the songs. Songs are written for people to hear; therefore, the way you identify with songs is the most relevant and crucial to the songwriting process. A good songwriter should research their audience beforehand and, as a result, shape the song in such a way that it hits the target audience as easily as possible.

Since I belong to Western music by education (classical music) and Eastern music by birth (being Egyptian), I investigated the perception of songs by Arab and European listeners as deeply as possible. My conclusion is that these two different cultures produced very differently biased people.

Arab culture and heritage is largely based on poetry, while music has remained trivial. Consequently, for Arabic listeners, the lyrics come first and the music becomes a melodic device with as little arrangement as possible. Lyrics come first for Arabic listeners!

On the other hand, Europe’s musical heritage is huge, with many brilliant composers who will always be remembered. At the same time, the great poets of Europe used a language that today requires a lot of simplification to understand. The music reaches the European listener before the text!

So does this mean you can write “bad” texts for European students and get away with it? Of course not!! Eventually they catch up. Also, Arab listeners will not listen to a song with bad music. The idea is that if the audience could care less about lyrics, they wouldn’t “appreciate” a complex lyric. In fact, they wouldn’t understand it and would describe it as ‘bad’. It should be “good” but not “complex”.

It all depends on the complexity. Arabic listeners will be soothed by a beautiful melody that goes well with the text. It should be pretty, but it CANNOT be complex!! According to my mother, Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” is “louder” than music should be. I think he meant “too complicated for music”. European listeners, on the other hand, are not satisfied with nice melodies, you have to have strong chord progressions, a strong base line and a strong drum line.

So I write more complicated lyrics for Arabic students and more complicated music for European students. Study YOUR audience and see what they like and what side they’re biased towards so you know how to adjust your song complexity. But be careful; sometimes “less complicated” means “harder to write”… I wish for simple songwriting!!

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