At my first real job in a recording studio, sitting in sessions and watching the producers, engineers, musicians, and singers go through their process, it struck me how intangible it all is. The components are known: instrumentation, lyrics, chord changes, and the elements pitch, time, and performance can be judged and measured, but what makes a song good? Even when everything is in place some songs work and some don’t. What is it that captivates, and how do you find it, or know it when you see it? The studio I worked for had a producer named, Monty Green. I thought, Monty knows music, so one day I asked him. 

“Monty, what makes a song good?” I can see the wheels turning, and he stutters a little while he packs-up a few things. Then, he stops and turns towards me.

“Well, you know, it’s just if it’s happening,” he said. Yeah, that was his answer, because there’s nothing else to say about it. It’s intangible. 

Later on, I asked an Italian conductor and pianist, who loved food and wine, what he looked for in a good cheese. At first, the look on his face said, that’s a stupid question, but then, holding his thumb and fingers together and shaking them a little, he said, “It’s like people, does it have personality.”