Aiming for the Edges: The Un-hit.

As songwriters we strive to write hits; songs that are marketable, memorable, adaptable, and above all enjoyable. But aiming solely for hits can become creatively limiting. There’s a whole lot more to the target than the bull’s eye, and sometimes what we need to write ourselves out of a rut is a song that casts aside all sense of marksmanship and aims for the edges. In other words, an “un-hit”.

Independent songwriters want every song to be a hit, especially in this digital era where we seem to be moving away from the album and towards the single as the standard unit of musical consumption. The problem is it puts songwriters in a position of constantly having to shoot at only what the public wants, expects, and will pay for – a very small dot in the center of all musical possibilities.

Adjust Your Aim
Albums are cool. When songwriters write for albums they are concerned with the flow of the album as a whole, and between the bullet-proof singles they often insert songs that serve the overall context but might not stand well on their own. Un-hits. Songs that would never have happened if the songwriter had been sighting at a target audience and gauging market fluctuations. All us songwriters need to write like that sometimes – reverse our usual limitations, and allow ourselves to hit anything but the bull’s eye.

Any dart player will tell you that there are often better places to hit than the bull’s eye. Experiment with these new targets. Pick a crazy limitation, and own it. Write a song with no chorus, or two choruses. Write one that has three bridges and no verses. Write a song you don’t think will sell in a million, trillion years. Write a song that uses nothing but swear words for lyrics, or doesn’t have a single rhyme, or has only one word in the whole thing. Write one that modulates through every key.

Missing the Mark
Aiming for the edges takes creative courage. You expand your chances of finding new artistic territory, but you greatly reduce your chances of financial success. That is not to say that un-hits can never be hits. You never know when the public will seize on some off-the-mark song and embrace it. “The Bed Intruder Song” is a current example. Talk about not aiming for a target: the lyrics were written by Antoine Dodson, a guy who didn’t even know he was writing a song. It is currently #35 on iTunes Charts, in front of songs by Lady GaGa, John Mayer, and Carrie Underwood.

Sometimes the whole target becomes a bull’s eye, and other times if you keep hitting wide to the right long enough, the target will readjust itself to accommodate you. Whatever you write, do it with conviction and purpose. Make your single arrow on the edge more memorable than the multitude in the middle.

My List
Listed below are some of my favorite un-hits. These aren't from obscure prog or heavy metal bands. Each song is from a band, album, or writer that is/was actively charting songs. I've only included songs that did not chart, but it should be stated that the list of un-hits by bands like The Beatles and Queen that have charted is a long one. Have some favorites of your own? Let's hear 'em!

Back Talk – Journey, from the album “Frontiers”
The Millionaire Waltz - Queen, from the album "A Day at the Races"
Because – The Beatles, from the album “Abbey Road”
Ode de Toilet (The Toilet Song) - Brad Paisley, from the album "Time Well Wasted"
Straight Cold Player – Lenny Kravitz, from the album “5”
Mother – The Police, from the album “Synchronicity”
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite – The Beatles, from the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

*Photo by M i x y


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