The Easy Way to Write Hit Melodies
By Molly-Ann Leikin, Song Marketing Consultant
To write stronger, memorable, singalongable tunes, here’s the process I use. It has worked for 88% of my clients. The 12% who didn’t have success, just plain didn’t do it.
My way isn’t the only way to write a melody, but if you are having issues with this part of your songs, here are six quick steps that work.
When my songwriter clients send me their songs for consultation, and there is a problem with their tunes, it’s usually because these writers are playing chords, expecting them to do the melody’s job. They can’t. But when the notes come first, voila.
The entire second chapter of the fifth edition of my book, “How To Write a Hit Song”, is about writing stronger melodies. All of chapter eleven in “How To Be a Hit Songwriter” focuses exclusively on advanced melody construction.
In both books, I define a melody as a series of single notes, with rhythm – something we hum or whistle.
Here’s how I write a melody. There are 532 songs that are now on or have been on the charts because the writers tried this process:
l. Put your guitar aside for now. I know that sounds blasphemous, but when you change the process, you can change the result. C’mon. Try it.
2. At a keyboard, keep your left hand behind your back, while you choose individual notes with one finger on your right hand. Don’t play chords. Just choose notes. I’m watching…
3. Record everything. Listen back, tweak what you’ve got, record, listen, tweak, record again, listen again, tweak, record. Repeat this for a week. Save all takes. Then, at the end of that week, listen to everything.
4. Assuming you like what you’ve written and rewritten, use those notes – no chords – just those notes – as your chorus melody.
5. Repeat the process for the verse melody, then the bridge, making sure the rhythm and melody of each section are completely different from the other two, and from anybody else’s song.
6. When you’re satisfied that the melody of each section is original and irresistibly singalongable, THEN add the chords.
Let me know how you do.
Molly-Ann Leikin is an Emmy nominee. The author of “How To Write A Hit Song” and “How To Be A Hit Songwriter”, she has written themes and songs for over five dozen TV shows and movies, including “Violet” that won an Oscar. Through marketing consultations with Molly, four of her clients have Grammy nominations, another won an Emmy, and so far, with her help, over 6000 of Molly’s lyricist and composer protégées have placed their work in TV shows, movies, on CD’s and in commercials.She’d be happy to set up a consultation with you: www.songmd.com, email@example.com, 800-851-6588.
For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
Demo vs. Master Recordings by Melissa Axel
Demo vs. master recording—what's the difference? You might as well ask the difference between Norma Jeane Baker and Marilyn Monroe. In the same way we evolve from blossoming youth, searching for the best ways to express ourselves, to realizing our potential as a self-possessed adult, a song often undergoes a drastic transformation from rough demo to fully produced track.
The purpose of making demo recordings is manyfold:
* to get feedback from industry professionals to address melody or lyric issues of a song before beginning the production stage
* to create a sketch of the song for making pre-production decisions, such as tempo, feel, instrumentation, and arrangement ideas
* to share the song with musicians and other members of the production team to decide on parts and prepare for recording
* to compare basic recordings of a number of different songs being considered for recording full production and choose the best or most urgent ones to focus on
Making demos can be as simple as performing the song into your phone's voice memo app or using a computer program like GarageBand to flesh out a basic accompaniment to the melody. Or, many cities have demo studios you can hire, complete with session musicians and a vocalist who will perform in the desired style for pitching the song to a recording artist (be aware that in most cases, you will not retain the master recording rights to be able to license these tracks for use in film and television or to put on your own release and sell). By nature, demos should not be fully produced but remain stripped down so music professionals can easily envision possible arrangement and stylistic ideas for the song.
Master recordings, on the other hand, are fully produced "broadcast quality" tracks. Whether recorded at home or with a producer at a recording studio, they should be professionally mixed and mastered to be ready for radio and online broadcasting, available for sale, and placeable in film and television. Unless you are deliberately recording a live performance, masters require several weeks to months to a year or more of preparation. You will need to spend significant time in pre-production and rehearsals with your team (producer, arrangers, musicians, co-writers, etc.) fine-tuning the song form, instrumentation, arrangements, tempo, feel, and overall sound or vibe just right for the finished recording.
Like Norma Jeane and the iconic screen personality she became, both are beautiful—and at their core, they are one and the same. As we saw many times with Marilyn's image though, diamonds in the rough run the risk of being over-produced or sexualized, feeling too "manufactured" and in danger of straying too far from the authenticity that made them so special in the first place. If we follow our instincts and mold raw inspiration into a polished presentation that best serves the song and reflects its original joie de vivre, that fundamental essence will ring true in the final creation.
Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS is reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Tori Amos. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
6 Traits of A Badly Written Song
(source: Music Connection magazine)
By Bobby Owsinski
Although we’ve all heard the stories about a great song that was written in 10 minutes, most well-written songs are actually finally crafted by many rounds of re-writes. Many inexperienced songwriters don’t take enough time to hone a song, and as a result, their songs may display a number of undesirable traits. Keep in mind that regardless of the genre of music, from rock to country to goth to rockabilly to alien space music, there are common elements that keep a song interesting to your particular audience, and also characteristics that rear their head when a song doesn’t hold the listener’s attention as well.
Here are 6 traits commonly found in badly written songs that were culled from two of my books, The Music Producer’s Handbook and How To Make Your Band Sound Great. My apologies for using song examples that might seem a little dated, but I wanted to chose ones that most people are familiar with after years of airplay.
1. The Song Is Too Long
Many songs have sections that are way too long. Two-minute intros, three-minute guitar solos and five-minute outros are almost always boring. You are always better off to have a section too short rather than too long. The only exception is if you can actually make a long section interesting, which usually takes a lot of arranging skill and even then still might not keep the audience’s attention. One really long outro that does work, for example, is on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic “Free Bird” (don’t laugh––it’s one of the most played songs ever), where slight arrangement changes, kicks and accents every 16 bars really holds the listener’s attention.
2. The Song Has No Focus
Beginner songwriters often have no focus to their songs, which means that the song meanders from chord to chord without a clear distinction between sections. This is usually the result of not honing the song enough and thinking it’s finished way before it’s time. Sometimes there’s really a song in there if you peel it back a bit, but usually the only way to fix it is to go back to the drawing board for a major rewrite.
3. The Song Has A Weak Chorus
Sometimes it’s hard to tell when the verse stops and the chorus starts because they’re basically the same. An interesting chorus usually has something different about it from the verse. It may be just a little different, like adding background vocals or another instrument, or an accent or anticipation to the same chord changes and melody (like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Crossfire” with the horn hits and guitar fill). Or it can be a lot different with different set of chord changes or melody combined with the arrangement changes like “Vertigo” by U2, “This Kiss” by Faith Hill or the Eagles’ classic “Hotel California.” Either way, something has to change in the chorus to lift the energy and keep the song memorable.
4. The Song Has No Bridge
Another common songwriting mistake is no bridge. A bridge is an interlude that connects two parts of that song, building a harmonic connection between those parts. Normally you should have heard the verse at least twice. The bridge may then replace the third verse or precede it. In the latter case, it delays an expected chorus. The chorus after the bridge is usually the last one and is often repeated in order to stress that it is final. If and when you expect a verse or a chorus and you get something that is musically and lyrically different from both verse and chorus, it is most likely the bridge.
A bridge is sometimes the peak of the song where it’s at its loudest and most intense (check out the bridge of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”), or it could be its quietest and least intense point (the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” where Pete Townsend sings “...It’s only teenage wasteland,” or the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water”).
Almost every great song has a bridge, but there are the occasional exceptions. Songs that are based on the straight 12-bar blues frequently don’t have bridges but might use dynamics or arrangement to provide the tension and release. An example would be the ZZ Top classic “Tush.” There’s no bridge in the song, but the snare fill by itself––after the last verse into the outro guitar solo––supplies the release. Another would be the Guess Who/Lenny Kravitz song “American Woman” where there are just four bars of a different guitar and bass rhythm and a stop that performs that same function as a bridge.
5. The Song Suffers From A Poor Arrangement
Even with great songwriters, this is the most common mistake. Usually this means that the guitar or keyboard will play the same lick, chords or rhythm throughout the entire song. This can work perfectly well and might even be a great arrangement choice if another instrument plays a counter-line or rhythm, but usually it just means that the arrangement will be boring. You’ve got to make sure that the song stays interesting, and that means the addition of lines and fills. An example where a structure like this does work is “American Woman” again.
6. The Song Has No Intro/Outro Hook
If we’re talking about modern popular music (not jazz or classical), most of the songs have an instrumental line (or hook) that you’ll hear at the beginning of the song, maybe again in the chorus, and any time the intro repeats in the song. A great example would be the opening guitar riff to the Rolling Stone’s “Satisfaction” or the piano in Coldplay’s “Clocks.” If you want to make your producer happy, develop your hooks before you do your demos or hit the studio.
• BONUS Tip: They’re not “Originals”
A sure sign of an amateur writer who doesn’t take writing songs seriously is to refer to one’s songs as “originals.” A tape that says “originals” really has “club band” written all over it. Nothing against club bands, but no one is going to take your writing seriously when you refer to your songs using that word. It’s much better to say, “Here are some songs that we wrote” or “Here’s one of our songs.” You will be taken a lot more seriously by the very people that you want listening.
Now take a long, hard listen to your songs. Do any of them have any of the above traits? If so, it’s time for at least one more rewrite.
This article is used by permission from Music Connection magazine's November 2011 issue. Bobby Owsinski is a producer, author and music consultant who has written 15 books on music, recording and the music business. Read some excerpts at bobbyowsinski.com or read his popular production blog at bobbyowsinski.blogspot.com or his music business blog at music3point0.blogspot.com.
For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net