I remember when I was but an excitable young guitarist in my early twenties, talking to what seemed (back then) a dinosaurianly old geezer in his early thirties. He opined that he was no longer particularly impressed if someone played him a very good song on the guitar, as loads of people had done that, including a friend of his.
Putting to one side for the moment the possibility of bias re his friend, I was back then somewhat shocked. My whole raison d'etre had been to try and craft finely-honed songwriting gems, learning the Simon & Garfunkel and Beatles songbooks, etc.
Now, however, I'm starting to see what he meant. Go to pretty much any open mic in Edinburgh of a weekday, and you will probably hear some very good, possibly even great, songs. But, they're still just songs on an acoustic, nice though they are. If you were to listen to a whole album of that, you would possibly get a bit tired before the end, due to the arrangement being all the same, i.e. one guitar, one voice, and the ear/brain combo naturally rebels against uniformity of sound.
But, you may cry, surely with a bit of judicious arranging, these songs could be filled out even more, like a songwriting Cutty Sark under a fair westerly? Ah, but therein lies a problem. It would appear that the same skills that enabled the young troubadour to fashion their heartfelt piece, do not spring from the same source that enable good arrangements. In fact, what can happen is that the song can be diminished, not enhanced, by a dull bass/drums arrangement, or a distracting melodic second instrument of some sort. Or the vocals are too quiet. Or the guitar sounds crap as it's been DI'd. Or . . .
In actual fact, it's very hard to arrange and record a song so that it does justice to the song itself, and doesn't get in the way of what the song's about. Choice of instrumentation, how everything sits in the mix, how effects are applied and to what, the room it's recorded in, the attitude of the sound engineer . . . the list could go on for a long time. It all somehow plays a part in the final recording. Speaking as someone who has oft-times been disappointed with their band's results from a recording session, I cannot claim knowledge of any of these secrets.
That's probably why, in the harsh light of reality, very few local artist's CD's are on repeat listening in my house. The songs may be there, but the arrangments aren't. There's some honourable exceptions to this, but in general, on getting the CD home, a vague sense of disappointment fills one on hearing the first few tracks.
Next issue: Those (IMHO) worthy CD's!!