John's 6 Point Song Analysis

"Tailor Made" circa 1981. Neal, Stan, Andy and John on the far right.

For decades, I've watched live acts at festivals and clubs etc. Some of them were well received and others were not. I started to wonder what makes a song or act work and developed this analysis over many years as occasionally I would see something extraordinary that people really responded to. Tinpan Orange and Sensitive New Age Cowpersons were Woodford Folk Festival standouts. Who could forget Melbourne's The Nicest People’s singer wearing a gas mask with round glass inserts as underpants. I know I’ve tried!

I saw seemingly similar acts work and then others not work. I saw performers complaining that virtually no-one took any notice of them, and I wondered why. Eventually I worked it out.

If you want to perform your songs live or present recordings, you can use this analysis to dramatically improve the probability that the music/performance will be well received.

Keep in mind a vital member of your act is the sound engineer. It's a pretty thankless task most of the time and one of those jobs that no one notices if it's done well but everyone complains about if it's not. If they aren't totally switched on or skilled... or if they don't like you... your music will suffer so remember to always acknowledge and thank the sound person.

6 point song and performance analysis

The song:

1. melody, riffs, musicality and catchiness. “sing a long-ness”

2. rhythm, beat and “danceability”

3. lyric and story interest level, character involvement and development

The performance:

4. pitch, tone, diction and technique

5. mix, sound and clarity 

6. emotional resonance, feel, vibe, charisma, personal appeal and presentation, the entertainment and excitement factor

If it is high on all the points it will most likely be a hit. Like "Rag Doll" by Frankie Valli and the 4 seasons or "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson. "Hotel California" has to get a mention. Listen to the music, doobies.

"Smoke on the Water" is huge on #1 because of the main riff or “hook” and reasonable on the others. Without the riff, it doesn't work. "Black Night" is the same. Ironically, for a band with extraordinary musical talent, their two most popular songs were the simplest ones.

Crowd favourite “Piano Man” is a #3 with vocal and musical hooks and a sing along part so scores on #1 as well:

"Play That Funky Music White Boy" is high on all points, especially #2:

Karaoke favourite “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond is a big #1. #3 and #5 are good too:

The more of these categories the song is high in, the better it is. But a song like a Dylan classic, a Jewel song or a Tracey Chapman song may be high in #3 and just fair on the others. Simon and Garfunkel are usually pretty high on #3 and #4, maybe #5, reasonable on #1 with very clear lyrics.

Crowd favourites like Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" are pretty high on all four points:

Crowd favourite “Eagle Rock” is high on #1, #2 and #5 plus Ross Wilson is an extraordinary performer. Watching him on stage can be a lesson in how to do it. And they are fun, so it scores on #6 too:

Think about Bob Marley... “Could you be Loved” has got them all!

Beach Boys are usually #1 and #4 first:

If it is low on #1 and #2 it must be super high on #3 and #4 and super clear. This explains flops. If it is primarily a “story” song (# 3) and you can’t hear the words it is a flop. Imagine “The Gambler” with a mumbler gurgling away at the mic! Or "Sympathy for the Devil" if you couldn’t understand Mick?

Some bands have lots of number 6! 

And some performers have so much charisma it doesn’t matter what they do (or don’t even sing the song properly): 

Try out these Ed Sheeran songs and see if you can identify what makes them work:

There's literally hundreds of songs that could be included so sorry if your favourites aren’t here! It's interesting to run songs though this analysis. Try all the often requested pub songs, classic hits, popular songs from today or songs you really enjoy. It's guaranteed to be an enriching learning experiencing that will inform your own songwriting. 

- John Whittingham