10 Traits That Prove You Were Born to Be a Musician



It’s not a secret that musician brains are a little different from “normal” brains. As with any skill or profession, most of it can be learned, but certain things that you need to be a good musician come from nature, not nurture.

Do you show the symptoms of musicianship? Here are 10 established correlations.

1. You’re naturally curious

That door in your apartment that’s nailed shut? You’ve got to know what’s behind it. That trail through the woods that you see when you’re riding the bus? Sooner or later, you’ll get off a stop early to explore it. What happens when you put a bunch of big ball bearings on piano strings? You’re just the person to find out. Curiosity, exploration, and experimentation are bread and butter for musicians.

2. You’re not slowed down by rejection

Like salespeople, musicians have to hear “no” on a regular basis. No matter how great your act is, it won’t be right for every gig or every venue. No matter how talented you are, you’ll lose opportunities to someone who got there just a little sooner, someone who knows someone, or someone who sounds a little bit more like that club owner’s favorite artist. Although these rejections always sting, they also don’t deter you. You believe in your own voice and will keep working until it’s heard.

3. You have systems and rules for yourself and your surroundings

If musicians have a hard time accepting external structures, we tend to be eager to impose rules and restrictions of our own making. Musicians know intuitively what the right thing is. We’re likely to have strong opinions about domestic issues like dishwashing, laundry, and home organization.

A musician might have a no-eating rule in his or her car, or insist that all T-shirts have to be hung up rather than folded. This sense of correct practice is what builds the conventions and habits that form an artist’s personal style.

4. You’re reasonable in your dealings with others

Musicianship takes a lot of teamwork. You collaborate with bandmates, session players, studio staff, live sound techs, and (of course) your audience. You might be the brightest light in the room, but it’s highly unlikely that you’re the biggest diva.

If someone has unreasonable expectations or inflexible demands, it’s not you. Whether this skill is learned through your art, or whether your natural talents led you to become a performer, you’re always more likely to be peacemaker and negotiator than an instigator.

5. You don’t stay down for long

Ever work in the studio all day and hate the result? Ever lose a bandmate right before a series of shows? If you tackle anything passionately, you’ll have lots of little triumphs and little disappointments along the way. But if you’re moping on Monday, you’ll be back in the studio or on the stage on Tuesday. You don’t let a bad mood engulf you and color what you’re trying to do.

6. You have a lot of empathy

What makes a good songwriter? It’s not just wordsmithing – it’s empathy. How many great songs have been written about hardworking people crushed under some harsh system? Songwriters feel for others, so much so that they write songs from others’ points of view. This is why you’ll see so many musicians who have day jobs in caring professions, particularly helping the disabled in schools or job-coaching environments.

7. You get along well with animals

That empathy also translates into a love for animals. Tons of musicians have pets and many are animal lovers. Quite a few are animal rights activists. I challenge anyone to think about Sarah McLachlan without visualizing that ad with the sad puppies and hearing “In the Arms of an Angel.”You probably cried, too, even if you’re in a nasty punk band and have a safety pin through your nose.

8. You like science fiction books and movies

The real world? Boring. Artistic types like to create new worlds and explore worlds created by others. We like sci-fi and fantasy for this reason, and enjoy shows in which new viewers would be completely lost because they don’t understand the complex backstory.

Of course, since we’re veterans of creating things ourselves, we also tend to deconstruct scripts, calling out predictable lines that actors are about to utter. We like making fun of bad special effects, clunky direction, and bad acting.

9. You like fixing and building things

Music is a hands-on field, made to order for people who hate lectures and chalkboard notes and want to just jump in and do it. That’s why so many musicians modify their instruments, customize their band vans, and build all sorts of hacks in the studio or rehearsal space. A lot of us are drawn to carpentry, computers, electronics, and mechanics. We’re not afraid to rip things apart and see what makes them tick.

10. You laugh a lot

News cycle got you down? We’re all stuck on planet Earth, dealing with violent extremism, climate threats, and atrocious fast food. And we all have two weapons to battle the blues: art and humor.

Musicians are some of the funniest people you’ll meet, especially in groups. Ride to a show with any band that’s been together for a while, and you’ll be spitting out your drink. It’s a kind of amazing, vulgar, politically incorrect banter that screenwriters rarely get right. If we could just record chunks of that, we’d have enough material for a stand-up routine… or the lyrics to our next album.

Jesse Sterling Harrison is an author, recording artist, and part-time farmer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three daughters, and a herd of ducks.


How to Write Songs That Get Stuck in People’s Heads



If you’ve seen Easy A, you probably remember the scene where Emma Stone receives a card that plays Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocketful of Sunshine” and how Stone’s character hates the song – at first. Flash forward to a few days later, and she can’t stop singing it.

There are songs that we can’t stand, yet can’t get out of our heads. There are also songs that we love and feel addicted to. For whatever reason, songs get lodged in our brains – and often stay there for a maddeningly long time.

Labled “earworms” by the scientific community, it’s been suggested that these ditties hang around longer in musicians’ minds than non-musicians’. What makes a song have such a huge impact on our brains? Below, we’ll run through the four main components of creating a catchy song that you can’t get out of your head, even if you want to. 

But first, let’s revisit that clip of Emma Stone and “Pocketful of Sunshine” as a prime example of earworm invasion:

1. Song structure

There are a variety of song structures often used in today’s popular music. Formats such as ABABCB (A = verse, B = chorus, C = bridge or solo) and AABA (A = verse and B = bridge) are very common and easy for listeners to remember.

While songs don’t necessarily have to follow any specific layout, catchy songs generally tend to follow one of the more common structures listed above or a variation of some sort. Finding the right balance between meeting listeners’ expectations and throwing in something surprising is a surefire way to create an earworm.

2. Lyrics

In today’s music market, many fantastic songwriters write elaborate lyrics. That said, the majority of catchy songs feature smaller amounts of words or words that are easy to remember, and often repeat portions (see ABABCB above), which, in turn, create a difficult song to get out of your head.

When the focus is on the song’s hook and chorus, keeping the fancy lyrics for the verses will lure listeners in and leave them humming the most memorable parts throughout the day.

3. Chord progressions and melodies

There are certain progressions that create addictive songs. Similar to song structure, catchy chord progressions must balance expectations and artistic expression. By tying the simplicity of commonality to the unexpected, listeners are drawn into the comfort of what they know and the excitement of what lies ahead.

Building off the chord progressions, the melody is usually what we retain in our heads. A catchy melody is generally upbeat, though there are some hauntingly beautiful melancholy melodies out there as well. Even the most irritating songs have a well-written line that our minds can’t escape. A melody that is both interesting and recognizable is a key component of a catchy song.

4. Production quality

This last category is dependent on what exactly you do in the music industry. Are you writing for other artists? If so, the production quality may be out of your hands. If you’re in charge of the production of your song, however, this absolutely contributes to its popularity. Though there’s an audience for less polished recordings, not many people want to listen to a poorly recorded album version of a song that sounds like a demoIn order to have a catchy song that appeals to the masses, the production quality must be high. This isn’t to say that someone who can’t afford to record in a professional studio hasn’t written a catchy song, but a high-quality recording of the song will open up a larger market and make it more likely to receive favorable reviews and airplay.

Whether it’s a song you love or can’t stand, you have to admit there’s great science behind songwriting. Creating something that piques a large audience’s interest, even those who consider it a guilty pleasure, is a tough task to take on. For a fun exercise, try figuring out what makes that song you can’t get out of your head so addictive. If you’re a songwriter, you could even adapt that writing format and see what you come up with.

What do you think makes a catchy song? Let us know in the comments below!

Kathleen Parrish is a singer and songwriter from Seattle, WA. While she specializes in lyrics, she enjoys writing short stories, poetry, and journalism. For more information, please visit www.kathleenparrish.com.