Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: The Most Important Thing Is Everything

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jul 31, 2014 @03:41 PM

The Most Important Thing Is Everything

by Barbara Cloyd

Songwriting
If your goal is for your songs to be hits on Country radio there are a lot of factors to consider when you write. Does every line make sense? Do they all work together to support one main idea? Is the language conversational? Is there a solid rhyme scheme? Is the melody memorable? Is the chorus catchy?


That’s just a small sampling of what it takes for a song to be a hit. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes you find the perfect rhyme that says exactly the right thing, but maybe it’s not a word people say every day. Sometimes you find a wonderfully clever line but you have to cram a few too many syllables into the melody. You have to make compromises sometimes, right?


Wrong. You have to get it all exactly right.


Once at a workshop I heard a publisher say that the people he pitches songs to are “looking for any reason to say no.” As soon as they hear one thing they don’t like, they pass and go on to the next song. If that seems harsh, remember, they have no shortage of songs to choose from. There are more than a thousand new ones written every week just by the staff writers who are writing full time with the support of a publisher. Plus every hit writer has a large catalog of songs that haven’t been cut yet. That’s your competition,
It’s also important to realize that when artists cut a song that becomes a hit, they have to live with that song for their entire career. They don’t want to make that kind of commitment if there is any little thing that doesn’t feel right.


If you want to make money with your songs, don’t settle when you write. I was told early on, “If you think maybe there might possibly be something wrong with your song, it’s wrong.” Be honest with yourself. For example, did you use a tired cliché instead of finding a fresh way to say it? Are you leaving it to the demo singer to make lines work where the words don’t fit the melody quite right? Are you keeping lines that don’t further the idea of the song because you love them? If you left a weak line in place so you could finish the song, did you go back and improve it?


Once you’ve worked out all the bugs, it can be a good idea to put your song away for a while and come back to it with fresh ears. I always do that, and it’s amazing how many times I see problems with a song that sounded like a masterpiece when I finished it. After fixing every weakness I can find my next step is to play it for other people who will be honest with me, and their feedback often points out more things that need polishing.


If all this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But if you aren’t willing to do it, there are lots and lots of writers who are. Tom Shapiro, who has written seventeen #1 hits, says that the difference between a really good song and one that will make you a lot of money is the last five percent. Your family, friends and fans are rarely as critical as Music Row. It’s great to soak up their support but don’t let it keep you from acknowledging how high the bar is set and pushing yourself to reach it.

 

Since it began in 1986 Barbara Cloyd has been hosting the open mic at the Bluebird Café, where she has seen newcomers like Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney and David Wilcox, as well as many of today’s top writers. After Lorrie Morgan took Barbara’s song “I Guess You Had To Be There” into the top 10 developing songwriters began asking Barbara for feedback and advice. This led to her career as a teacher, offering one-on-one consultations and hosting the popular “Play for Publishers” workshops. She’s also well know for her ability to spot talent and many now-successful writers and artists owe their start to introductions she made for them. For her dedication to helping writers the Nashville Songwriters Association’s gave her the Maggie Cavender Award for Exception Service to the Songwriting Community.

For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Bluebird Cafe, songwrite, Barbara Cloyd

Songwriting Tip: Understanding the Most Common Song Structures

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jul 30, 2014 @03:18 PM

Understanding the Most Common Song Structures

by Anthony Ceseri

Writing Songs With Guitar

When I first started writing songs, I went through a phase where I had no regard for song structure. I thought to myself “Everyone writes a verse then a chorus, then another verse and another chorus. That’s so bland. I want to be different!”


So I wrote a few songs that would start with one section, then go to new section, then a third new section, then a fourth and so on. You couldn’t even label these sections as verses or choruses because they’d show up once and be gone from the song after that.


What I didn’t realize at the time, was my songs were chaotic. And as a result no one wanted to hear them again after the first time. There was nothing to pull them in. There weren’t memorable.

Song structure is important because it organizes our songs. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel in order to be creative.


Think of the most common types of song structures as universally agreed upon roadmaps for your songs. They tell us where the song is going. We’ve heard the most common structures so many times that we’re practically trained to know what section is coming next. While that might seem like a bad thing, it’s not because it brings a familiarity to our music which makes people want to hear it. It does that from the very first time we hear a song with a common structure.

 


The Most Common Structures

With that in mind, let’s look at the most commonly used song structures in popular music.


Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus

This one’s also known as an ABABCB structure, where A is the verse, B is the chorus and C is the bridge. This one’s extremely popular. Radiohead’s “High and Dry” is a good example of this song structure.

 

Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus

This one’s a slight variation of the first structure we looked at. The only difference here is the addition of a pre-chorus which shows up before the choruses. A good example of this structure is Katy Perry’s “Firework.” The part that starts on the words “You just gotta ignite the light…” is the Pre-Chorus.

 

 

In both of these song structures it’s fairly common for the chorus to be repeated a second time at the very end of the song to really drive the hook of the song home to the listeners.



Verse / Verse / Bridge / Verse

This one’s a bit of a departure from the first two structures we looked at. It’s also known as an AABA structure. This time A denotes the verse, while B denotes the bridge. There’s no chorus is this type of structure. Instead, each verse usually ends (or begins) with a refrain. A refrain is a line or two that repeats throughout the song. Since it’s usually the title, the words of the refrain usually stay the same, while the rest of the verse lyrics change.


A lot of times this song structure will have a lot of variation in the verse melody, since the verses repeat often. It keeps their melody from getting boring during all the repetition.


The Beatles and Billy Joel have used this song structure a lot. The song “We Can Work it Out” by the Beatles uses this structure. If you listen to the song, you can hear that the title line “We Can Work it Out” is the refrain in the verses. The section starting on “Live is very short…” is the bridge.



Any of these structures can be modified as appropriate for your song. You may have noticed that in “We Can Work it Out” the bridge is repeated twice. This is a pretty common modification of the AABA format since a lot of times a simple verse, verse, bridge, verse structure often makes for a very short song.

 


Common Song Structures without Bridges

Those three song structures are the big ones. There are two others that are common as well, but they’re used less because they don’t have a bridge.


Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus

Also know as an ABAB structure, this one is a simplified version of the ABABCB structure, with the bridge omitted.


Verse / Verse / Verse

This one’s also know as an AAA structure. It’s not used often because it’s hard to keep things interesting if all you have is one section being repeated. Like the AABA structure, this one also makes use of a refrain in the verses, as the central focus. Bob Dylan uses this song form in “Tangled Up in Blue.” Take note of the variation in the melodies through a typical verse. It’s crucial in a song with this structure in order to keep the melody interesting.

 

 

A bridge helps to change up the sound of a song and keep it interesting. It prevents a song from simply being a repetition of one or two sections. That’s why these two song structures don’t show up as much as the first three we looked at. But you should know that they do exist in songwriting.

 


The Role of Each Section

Song structure is a bit more than arranging a song’s sections in a certain way. It’s also important to understand that each section typically has a role to fulfill. If you know the role of each section in your song, you’ll be better prepared to modify a song structure, as you see fit.


Verse

Lyrically, the verses of your song will move your story forward. The chorus or refrain is likely to have the same words each time, so the verse is your chance to keep your ideas moving along.


Chorus

Think of your chorus as the big idea for what your song’s all about. That’s partly why your title is most likely to show up in your chorus. Your title also sums up what the song’s about. Melodically, the chorus will be the catchiest part of your song. This is what people will have stuck in their head long after your song is over. That’s another reason it’s good to have your title in the chorus. When people get your chorus stuck in their head, they’ll easily know what your song is called and can find it later when they want to hear it again.


Pre-Chorus

The pre-chorus is an add-on before the chorus. It usually repeats the same lyrics each time, the same way a chorus does. Musically, a lot of times it creates a nice build up to what’s coming in the chorus. Katy Perry’s “Firework” was a good example of that.


Bridge

The bridge is a departure from what we’ve heard in a song, previously. This goes for both the lyrics and the music. Lyrically it’s an opportunity for a new perspective. Musically, it’s a chance to offer the listener something they haven’t heard before to keep the song interesting.


Refrain

In the AABA, or AAA structures, the refrain is the line that draws all the attention in your verses. It’s usually at the beginning or end of each verse and is often the title of the song.


Hook

The hook doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific section of a song, except to say it’s the catchiest part of a song. Most of the time, it will be your chorus, if your song has one. If your song doesn’t have a chorus your hook will most likely be your refrain. As hit songwriter, Clay Drayton, says “A fish knows the hook… Once it’s in you, it’s hard to get it out.”

 

Those are the basics of song structure. You can modify the common song structure to fit your song as you see fit, but it’s good to know what they are so you can use them as a starting point. Not only will they bring familiarity to your songs, but they’ll give you a good guide on how to lay out your music.


Anthony Ceseri is a songwriter and performer who has traveled the country in pursuit of the best songwriting advice and information available. From classes and workshops at Berklee College of Music in Boston, to Taxi’s Road Rally in Los Angeles, Anthony has learned from the most well-respected professional songwriters, producers and performers in the industry. For a lot more songwriting information, grab your FREE EBook here: http://successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/

For Information on the USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Anthony Ceseri, songwrite, song structures

Songwriting Tip: Your Best Bet for a #1 Song (Revised)

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jul 23, 2014 @01:48 PM

Your Best Bet for a #1 Song

by Ralph Murphy

Ralph Murphy, hit songwriter

For a small business owner such as a songwriter/publisher, knowing the market is vital. Budgeting for success means looking at income (when it decides to come in!) and making informed decisions about how to spend it most effectively. Up near the top of the list of expenditures (almost right next to eating) are demo costs. The financial outlay for demonstration recordings has risen to $750 - $1,000 per song. So, if you write 30 songs a year and only have $10,000 in your demo budget, you're going to have to make some hard choices.

The Truth About Dogs and Chickens

Let's say you've written this song about a Chicken. You love it! Your mom loves it! The special person in your life loves it! However . . Radio is only playing Dog songs. Fortunately, you've also written four Dog songs, which everybody loves. Your dilemma? You only have enough money to produce a three-song demo, but you have five songs (four Dog songs and one Chicken song). What do you do? Now, unfortunately, I have suitcases full of demoed Chicken songs, so I know what the songwriter side of me says; however, I noticed early on in life that food is a good thing and that eating makes me happy. So, while grumbling and complaining about how radio should be playing more Chicken songs, I demo three of my four Dog songs so I can continue to support my nasty food habit! In the frustrating war between art and commerce, commerce wins.

Let's be honest. Though it shouldn't, radio drives the "commercial" aspect of the songwriting process. (Did I already mention that I like to eat?) It affects just about every decision we make creatively. In the year of 2013, country radio did something seismic in nature, which impacted songwriters and publishers dramatically. As an experiment to maintain listenership, Country radio decided to slow the progress of records going up and down the charts in hopes of breeding the kind of familiarity that keeps listeners coming back for more - commercials, that is.

As a result, I became curious and decided to try an experiment of my own. I started by researching the Billboard Country chart for 2013 and found that a total of 11 songs reached #1. Taking a closer look, I began to wonder: what type of song is reaching the top in this brave new world of radio? A world in which, though yet another ripple effect of deregulation, big radio chains have been allowed to buy up and homogenize most of the "mom and pop" country stations resulting in:

#1 BILLBOARD HOT COUNTRY SONGS/COUNTRY AIRPLAY SONGS

BILLBOARD HOT COUNTRY SONGS
There were 11 that went to number 1 on this chart which uses a combination on sales and radio airplay to determine number 1

TEMPO
When you look at tempo you find that only 3 of them were above 100 BPMs (beats per minute) and the fastest was only 106 BPM. Of the 8 that were under 100 BPMs, They spent 39 weeks at #1. So, you can deduce that they were all aimed at radio.

Billboard Country Airplay Songs (Only airplay used)
By contrast, there were 30 #1s. Only 5 of them were above 100BPMs. Only 1 at 120 BPMs at dance speed. Of the 25 that were under 100 BPMs, they spent a total of 46 weeks at #1, the lion’s share.

GENDER
BILLBOARD HOT CONTRY SONGS
Women were only featured as artists on 3 records and there was only one female solo artist to go to #1.....and that was of course Taylor Swift.
Songwriters were 28 male and 4 female.

BILLBOARD COUNTRY AIRPLAY SONG
There was not one solo female artist to have a number one record the the Billboard Country Airplay Charts and the writers were disproportionate as well, with 8 females writing on a #1 and 55 males writing on a #1 (Rodney Clawson had 5, Ashley Gorley had 4 and Chris Tompkins had 4 as well)

ARTIST INVOLVEMENT
BILLBOARD HOT COUNTRY SONGS
The artists contributed to 50% of these records about 5 of the 11 Billboard Country Airplay Songs. 11 of the number one had the artist writing on it, about 1/3.

INTROS
BILLBOARD HOT COUNTRY SONGS
Intros......For 8 of the 11 There was an average 11 second intro. 3 records had zero start....not particularly radio friendly.

BILLBOARD COUNTRY AIRPLAY SONGS
There were no zero starts! The average was 15.9 seconds...The longest was "Boys Round Here" with 31 seconds. The shortest was "Drunk Last Night" with 6 seconds.

PRONOUNS
BILLBOARD HOT COUNTRY
First use of the pronoun "You". All used the pronoun ""You" and the average was 19.5 seconds

BILLBOARD COUNTRY AIRPLAY
4 recorded songs that reached #1 didn’t use the pronoun ""You"
“Round Here” by Florida/Georgia Line,
Caroline- Parmalee
Zac Brown Goodbye In Her Eyes
Little Bit Of Eeverything
And Keith Urban
So, 26 did use the pronoun ""You" and used it within 34 seconds..including the intro!

FIRST USE OF TITLE
BILLBOARD HOT COUNTRY
First use of title occurred by, on average, 53 seconds including the intro

BILLBOARD COUNTRY AIRPLAY
All got to first use of the title within an average of 60 seconds, including intro.

ENDINGS
BILLBOARD HOT COUNTRY
All were dead ended

BILLBOARD COUNTRY AIRPLAY
There were only two fades

BEST BETS!
So, best bets for writing a country #1 in either chart?
1. Keep it under 100 BPMs.
2. If possible hang out with the artist.
Have an intro
Use the pronoun “you” to invite the listener in
And...get me to the title in 60 seconds or less!!

 

WHAT WAS A POP #1 HIT ON BILLBOARD MAGAZINE IN 2013?

There were 11 # 1 records in 2013.

--BEATS PER MINUTE (BPM):
Last year, only 5, less than 50% were over 100 B.P.M.
The previous year, 2012, 2/3 were over 100 B.P.M. which showed a bias toward Dance/EDM, as the record reflects the heart rate of the consumer. And...the heart rate is increasing. Three records were 140BPM's or more showing a gradual increase in the last decade in consumers’ heart rate.

So, this year the listener, as opposed to the dancer is accommodated. 6 #1s were under 100 BPMs and Miley Cyrus with her infamous song "Wrecking Ball" was actually "at rest", or around 60 BPM! .......coming to a radio near you!

GENDER:
--Women artists showed prominently in Pop as 5 records had solo (3) or had women Artists featured (2) out of the 11 number ones.

WRITERS:
However of the writers of the 2013 #1s, were again disproportionately male.
Male writers were represented 32 times on #1 songs. 5 women writers contributed to # 1 pop songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts.

~Artist/writers were present on 10 of the 11 number ones.

~When we look at intros, we find, as has been the case in Pop, the intros seem to be disposable.
7 of the 11 #1s had zero start and of the remaining 4 that had intros, they averaged 9 seconds. That’s very minimal, which means that they really weren’t designed for radio.

FIRST USE OF THE PRONOUN "YOU"
4 of the number ones were about "issues" or "stuff"
"Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (also the #1 Hit of the entire year of 2013), was about....Guess What?
"Harlem Shake" was a instrumental dance track (140 BPM)
"Can't Hold Us" again, by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, although they invite you in....literally, with "Good to see you, Come on in..." The Track really is not about the listener.
And of course there was a hit "The Monster" by Eminem, featuring Rihanna
The rest of the records (7) invited the listener in by using the pronoun "you" on average, around the 23 second mark.

Also, the first use of title occurred in 6 of the 11 before the 1 minute mark, which is within the listener’s expectation.

FADE
There was only one record that faded in 2013 and that was "Blurred Lines". The others "deadended". That means that they were designed specifically to be "singles".

THE 2 MINUTE WALL
5 of the #1s got to either a bridge or a call and response or something significantly different before the 2.30 second mark.

Song length really was fairly limited to 3-4 minute area. The shortest was “Royals” by Lorde at 3.08 minutes and longest was "Blurred Lines" at 4.20 minutes, the rest fell in between the 3-4 minute region.

6 number ones used the 4th form. That structure seems to be structure "du jour". That structure took up 37 weeks. Of number one time, and the songs are more songs than just dance tracks like “Harlem Shake".

If you look at songs like “Royals”, ‘When I was Your Man”, “Wrecking Ball” and “Roar”, they are more identifiable with story songs than dance tracks.

Third form showed that it was alive and well as it posted "Locked out of Heaven" and "Thrift Shop". Third form really resonates with audiences and really works well with radio.

The only second form was "The Monster" by Eminem, featuring Rihanna.

WHAT TO LOOK AT
So if you are dealing in the hit pop "sticky song" market, you are looking at writing that song with the artist or adding their name to it afterward.
If it is a dance project, it’s going to be 140 BPMs or more (Happy 160)
If it is a regular number one, it’s under 100 BPMs to accommodate the listener.
The songs all reached the first use of the title within 60 seconds.

The bulk of them, all of the songs used the pronoun “you” on average 23 seconds from the start of the song. ….And, it’s probably going to be written in 4th form. Again, fulfilling listener’s expectations.

Your best shot

So, you have Dog songs and you have Chicken songs. Where do you spend your demo dollar?

Your best shot for getting a #1 record is to write:

mid- to up-tempo
romantic/humorous or sad/heartfelt theme
4/4 time
contemporary pop/country style
story or conversation
1st person or 2nd person
3rd form
linear melody with a story to a soaring chorus
13 second intro
So much for Chicken songs!

I would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Phil Goldberg and Chad Green indulging my "need to know" in helping research the above information. Most importantly, thank you, Mark Ford, for massaging and editing my lunatic fringe ramblings into a coherent form.

 (Revised and written by Ralph Murphy)

Ralph Murphy, hit songwriter and expert, has been successful for five decades. He wrote huge hit songs such as Crystal Gayle's "Talking in Your Sleep" and "Half the Way". Consistently charting songs in an ever-changing musical environment makes him a member of that very small group of professionals who make a living ding what they love to do. Add to that the platinum records as a producer, his success as the publisher and co-owner of the extremely successful Picalic Group of Companies and you see a pattern of achievement based on more than luck. Achieving "hit writer" status has always been a formidable goal for any songwriter. Never more so however than in the 21st century. Catching the ear of the monumentally distracted, fragmented listener has never been more difficult. Getting their attention, inviting them in to your song and keeping them there for long enough for your song to become "their song" requires more than being just a "good" songwriter.

*His new book Murphy's Laws of Songwriting "The Book" arms the songwriter for success by demystifying the process and opening the door to serious professional songwriting. Hall of fame songwriter Paul Williams said in his review of the book "If there was a hit songwriters secret handshake "Da Murphy" would probably have included it." To get the book, enter 3 or more songs at the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition and receive this exclusive book » 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit songwriter, songwrite, Ralph Murphy, Crystal Gayle, Sell Songs

Songwriting Tip: We Don't Care What Really Happened

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jul 16, 2014 @10:00 AM

 

WE DON’T CARE WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

by Harriet Schock

 Harriet Schock, hit songwriter

I have a chapter in my book Becoming Remarkable called “Reality: the Training Wheels” which points out how helpful it is to a songwriter to write something real because the pictures are there in his memory to access for the story. That does not mean, however, that what actually happened needs to be the story line of your song. I also have a chapter called “Truth vs. Facts.” For my full view on both of those points, I can refer you to those chapters. The point I’d like to make here is that sometimes writers get hung up on what actually occurred and fail to see the “truth” of the situation. If the truth of your song is that you miss someone like mad, and he happens to be a few miles up the street, you don’t have to say that. Putting him in another continent can tell your story just fine. Many people know that “Midnight Train to Georgia,” by Jim Weatherly was originally “Midnight Plane to Houston.”

I rarely tell the story of how “Ain’t No Way to Treat A Lady” started out, and never in print, but here goes. The first verse starts “I guess it was yourself you were involved with…I would have sworn it was me.” The first actual words I wrote down were…”I guess it was myself I was involved with…I would have sworn it was you.” Well I knew that wasn’t going to fly (and yes, I was on a plane at the time). I immediately changed it. With the change, it led easily to the last two lines of the verse “I might have found out sooner if you’d only let me close enough to see.” Maybe in real life I had taken responsibility for the disaster of the relationship, but I sure wasn’t going to write the song that way. They say that everyone in a dream is the actual person dreaming. I happen to think that’s true of songs too. Everyone in our song is actually us. Now THAT’S a scary thought. But isn’t it also liberating? We can be the villain we’re vilifying. And ask any actor: Aren’t villains more fun to play?

So be the villain and write a song to yourself from the hero’s (heroine’s) viewpoint like Sting reportedly did in “Every Step You Take” written from his wife’s viewpoint.  No one will know who is who. And as long as it’s compelling, we won’t care at all if it “really happened that way.”

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films as well as starring in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s current film, “The M Word” features Harriet’s song, “Bein’ a Girl,” sung on camera. Harriet is in the process of writing the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online courses by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com

 

For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, songwrite, Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady