I’m not trying to redefine words, but I find it helpful to think this way and maybe you will too. Because many songwriters, producers, and performers talk about “serving the song” or what is best for “the song”. Let’s be practical. There is no The Song; no platonic ideal of what any song is or should be. There isn’t an objective “best” when we are talking about, well, most things, but especially not about creative endeavours. When it comes to songwriting, production, and performance there are only competing subjective ideas about what any person thinks will sound best, or is most pleasing to them.
Is it just semantics, then, when someone talks about serving the song? We all sort of understand that this is just their opinion, and should be taken as such. Well, words do matter. And there is a danger of falling into the trap of obeisance to some subtle hierarchy that tends to exist in recording studios. You may feel like the producer, if there is one, should have the final say on arrangement, production, or other aspects of a song. After all, presumably you hired them to help make the song the best it can be, right?
Producer/artist relationships can be complicated. It’s really great to have discussions in advance of the recording process to make sure you have a mutual understanding of how things will work once you’re in the studio. Producers, on the whole, take their jobs very seriously and are truly trying to help craft the songs, and album as a whole, to be the best they can be. But it’s important to figure out what “best” means before you begin. And, ultimately, while the producer will always be linked to the song, or the album, or both, they are not tasked with living with the song in the same way as the songwriter, or performer. If you have to play this song — hopefully hundreds of times in your life because it becomes hugely popular — then it better be a song you can live with in that way.
This is why I find it immensely helpful to discuss changes to any song in terms of, “I think it will sound better if…” or even, “I prefer…” as opposed to framing anything in terms of The Song. These are personal preferences, and should be treated as such. And the ultimate authority, in my opinion, is the songwriter. They can, of course, agree with the producer, or anyone else in the studio, or their mom, or a dozen other opinions. But it is their song. I don’t think it’s too harsh to say that if anyone involved truly has strong opinions against what the songwriter wants to do, well, they can go and write their own song.
WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT “LOVE”?
This is tangentially related, but people do talk about “loving” something in a way that, it seems to me, is more accurately described as either liking it, or being a connoisseur of it. If you love something, I think, you also enjoy some of the not-so-enjoyable things about it that others do not like, and that connoisseurs avoid.
Take movies, for example. I have a friend who says he loves movies, but he mainly watches only critically-acclaimed films. Obviously those kind of movies are generally pretty damn good, but I wouldn’t classify that as loving movies — he’s a connoisseur. He enjoys finely crafted films. Watching a trashy movie — a B-horror film, a sappy rom-com, a thrilling but vacuous action vehicle — would not appeal to him. And I would argue that’s where the word “love” lives — in those movies that most people find silly, boring, sappy, crass, or otherwise “less than”.
You don’t have to enjoy every bad movie to love movies; I just think you have to enjoy some of them, in some way, to truly love movies. This is complicated by the fact that some movies are popular without being critically acclaimed, or even while being critically panned. There is a space for people who enjoy creative projects (music, movies, books) because they are popular, and that seems to have nothing to do with loving the creative art itself, but more with being aligned with pop culture as part of their identity. Nothing wrong with that, but don’t mistake it for loving movies, per se.
Not for nothing, I do think this version of the word love also applies to the people you love. There are, sometimes, things about them that others would not find pleasant (morning breath? Snoring? Strange peccadilloes of all sorts?) but that you find charming, or are just so much a part of them that they are attractive while still being something you would find awful in someone else. That’s love for you.
BACK TO THE POINT
There is no objective truth in art, creativity, or the enjoyment of art and creativity. That is not a flaw, it is absolutely the epitome of the form. Don’t try to chase some notion of an objective “best” version of the things you create. And, be wary of those who purport to know what the “best” version of any creative project is, because they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Enjoy the version that you find most pleasant for you. Maybe some other people will like it too.