I think I need some clarification from my songwriter friends about what “good songwriting” means. I’ve had a few conversations about it lately, and I think I just don’t get it.

Basically, I’m trying to understand if songwriting is any different from all the other aspects of music, where personal preference (i.e. taste) is the dominant factor.  Is there anything quantifiable in the songwriting process that separates a good song from a bad one?  Or even components like melody and lyric – can they be measured and found to be actually bad or good?

I’m thinking about this because of comments I’ve heard from some of my music circle friends.  For example, I was going on about a band I’ve been digging recently to a guy I play with, and he responded with something like, “well they might be good at their instruments, but the songwriting is terrible.”  Now, I’m no songwriter, so this could very well be true, but the point is that I hadn’t noticed anything terrible about the songwriting in said band, and I still haven’t.  He was so confident to proclaim the songwriting as “terrible,” but I don’t know what he based his judgement on.  Another conversation I had last week revolved around a melody that I liked, but another friend didn’t.  He thought the song in question had a “bad” melody, but I guess I just don’t know what that means, because I’ve always enjoyed the melody.

On the other hand, I feel like I can accurately describe what would make a bad jazz performance bad, or why a good studio musician is good, because those things seem at least somewhat quantifiable.  As I said earlier,  music (and art in general) is fueled predominantly by personal taste, but there are moments where a spectrum of excellence appears, and the presence of certain variables provide opportunity for somewhat objective judgments.  I feel like I’m able to identify this spectrum, especially in things that I’m familiar with (like Jazz and studio performances).  I confess that I’m not too familiar with the songwriting world, so perhaps “good songwriting” has characteristics and trademarks that I just don’t know about.  However, it seems to me that compositional aspect of music would be the most subjective, and for the life of me I can’t find anything inherent in pop songwriting that doesn’t draw entirely on personal taste.

Anybody have any input on this?