In product (software and hardware) development, most systems are created with build-in testing facilities. This way, at every step of the development, it’s possible to launch a test version and see that everything is still working fine. Without this, you may be adding embellishments on top of a shaky foundation and end up with something that looks great but cannot stand real-world conditions.
In songwriting, muzak can be used to fill the same role. A memorable song will translate very well as muzak. In fact, if the hooks are good, the muzak version can become almost as appealing than the full vocal version. You can convert your song to muzak by replacing all the vocal parts by monophonic instrumental parts. Personally, I always write the most important parts as MIDI with a simple acoustic piano sound. Then, once the muzak version is done, I start overdubbing the real vocal and instrumental parts over it.
Note that muzak is different from “naked” version, where someone will sing with a simple piano or guitar accompaniment. These are not as good as a test because they rely too much on the technical abilities of the performer. In other words, Ella Fitzerald and Oscar Peterson could make anything sound great.
A stress test is when a system is run with the most extreme settings to see if it still holds under pressure. You can stress test your song by using cheesy instruments to play the lead melodic and harmonic parts. How cheesy? What about an accordion for the lead vocals and a church organ for the harmonies. If you still like your song after that, you’ve got a winner. One note of advice: don’t bother having anyone else listen to a cheesy version. Very few people can separate cheesy instruments from cheesy songs.
A Great Song
A great song is a memorable song: One that anyone will remember and like the first time he/she ears it. If a song takes 10 listens to differentiate from others, you know it’s pretty lame. You may find that your song depends too much on a particular effect, guitar or keyboard sound. In such case, it may help to rewrite that part until it becomes as memorable as the rest of the song.
Keep on writin’