Songwriting Tips, News & More

10 Tips: What It Takes to Write a Hit Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jul 17, 2017 @11:19 AM

10 Tips: What It Takes to Write a Hit Song

by Loren Israel

 WhatItTakesToWriteAHitSong.jpg

An industry veteran––a songwriting mentor who has had years of experience grooming and handling multiplatinum-selling talent––gives you specific instructions about the art & craft of hit songwriting.

 

  1. Be up front with your story.

Look at the first two lines of your lyric. Imagine someone came up to you and read just those two lines. How much has the, “who, what, where, why, and how” of the story been communicated? If you’re still lost after hearing those first two lines (i.e., you don’t know what’s happening to the protagonist or have any idea what the song is about), then a record executive, producer, or casual listener will likely be uninterested in hearing more.

  1. Make every line count.

Go to any of your lines. Read just that one out loud. Does it make sense? Could it stand on its own without the support of the preceding and subsequent lines? It should. Every line should present a complete and independent picture for your listeners. Every line should also ultimately speak to the title of your song. Your title is your theme, and good writing never strays from its theme.

  1. Vary the length of your lines.

Type your lyric flush left on a sheet of paper (by the way, if your lyric doesn’t fit on one sheet, you’re in trouble). Can your draw a neat box around your lyric? How about your chorus or bridge? Do most of the lines hit the right side of the box? If this is true, then your song will likely sound monotonous.  You need variety in the lengths of lines and patterns of lyrics. Look for a really ragged right edge as a sign that your lyrics are conversational and rhythmically interesting.

  1. Vary the number of lines between chorus and verse.

Count the number of lines in each of your verses. Now, count the lines in your chorus. If they’re exactly the same (e.g., 4-line verse and a 4-line chorus), then you’re probably not contrasting enough between the two sections. That contrast helps the song feel fresh and exciting when played.

  1. Match the beat between verses.

Count the number of beats in the lyric of verse 1, line 1. Now, count the number of beats in verse 2, line 2. Do they match? What we often see is something like 8 beats in verse 1, line 2, and 13 beats in verse 2, line 2. No way those extra 5 beats are going to fit comfortably on the melody you worked so hard to establish in the first verse.

  1. Give yourself a title of power.

The position of your title tells the listener what your main point is. There are certain power positions in a song, all dependent on the structure you set up. Is it a verse/bridge structure (A,A,B,A)? Then your title will be in the first or last line of the verse. Think of “Yesterday” by the Beatles. Exceptions are rare, and require strong melodic emphasis to counteract the weaker positioning.

For a verse/chorus structure, the power positions are at the beginning or end of the chorus. Pick one for your title. Keep in mind that repetition of the title can work here. Think, “Yellow Submarine,” by the Beatles.

Burying the title in the middle of your song confuses your listener, leading to fewer requests on the radio and fewer purchases at the store.

  1. Establish consistent rhyme schemes but change up your rhyme sounds.

Look at your rhyme scheme. If you have an a, b, a, b, c, c rhyme scheme in verse one, you should do the same for verses 2 and 3. Now, what about the sounds of your rhymes? Is your song just a repetition of the ‘ee’ or ‘o’ sound? The ear gets tired relatively quickly from repetitive sounds like this.

  1. Make sure your pronouns agree with their antecedent.

When you’re listening to a song, and you recognize that “you” has become a “she,” you’ve now entered Pronoun Hell. You, as a songwriter, shouldn’t write “I” three times and have it refer to three different people. This sort of thing needlessly confuses your listener and can totally take away from your song’s story. Pro tip: when you’re using a quote in your song, make sure there’s an audible “he/she/they said,” so the listener understands what’s going on.

  1. Sing your melody a cappella.

Do it into a tape if you have to, but keep an ear out for where the title goes. If that happens to be the best part of your melody, then congrats, you’ve placed the title correctly. If not, fix it. Also, look for emotional dynamics in your song. Do you feel emotion when singing it? Or does it sound repetitive like a nursery rhyme. Make sure you vary the lengths of notes and the intervals between the notes to create a sense of connection to the listener.

  1. Color your melody with chords.

Each chord has an emotional tone that gives shading to your melody. Minor chords tend to express doubt or sorrow. Major chords have a happy, positive feeling. Adding 6ths, 7ths, 9ths, suspensions, and inversions, give the basic chord more feeling. Appropriate use of chords will give you the sound you’re looking for. Being too rapid or complex with chords might be distracting. Not changing enough or having a repetitive strum can be boring.

[Reprint permission by Music Connection magazine]

LOREN ISRAEL is a Songwriting Teacher, Record Producer and A&R Consultant specializing in finding and developing new talent. For over 15 years, Loren was an executive in the Artist & Repertoire department at Capitol Records. He worked with bands such as Coldplay, Less Than Jake, and was the A&R rep for Jimmy Eat World’s multiplatinum Dreamworks album, Bleed American. Lately, Israel has been developing artists through his six-month Songwriting Course, while also recently becoming an A&R Consultant for Sony Music. Bands he’s mentored through his course include: Plain White T’s, Neon Trees and the Unlikely Candidates. His songwriting mentoring has helped his bands earn over $60 million in contracts, promotions and merchandise.

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, song demo, writing lyrics, hook, bridge, Co-Writing Songs, Songwriting Process, Rhyming

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Song Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jun 06, 2017 @09:59 AM

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Song Lyrics

by Natalie Wilson

 songwritingpic.jpg

Writing the perfect song is a difficult task. What is “perfect”, anyway? What is it that the most popular songs all have in common? If you’re hoping to write the next big hit, you’ve come to the right place. The best songs in history have incorporated lyrics that uses clever rhyming schemes and syllabic patterns, a story-like progression, personal but relatable topics, and a catchy hook. Writing the next big hit can seem impossible, but there are a few tricks you can use to increase your chances of success.

Here are five mistakes to avoid when writing lyrics:

#1) Too Much Rhyming

While rhyming is one of the most common writing tools used to create popular songs, too much of it can sound childish. If you consider some of the best lyrics in history, rhyming is used subtly and doesn’t detract from the main message of a song. For example, take a look at these lyrics from ”Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey:

 

Some will win, some will lose

Some were born to sing the blues

Oh the movie never ends,

It goes on and on and on and on

 

These lyrics rhyme the words “lose” and “blues” together, but refrain from rhyming any words together in the next two lines. The use of rhyming should be a strategic way to draw attention to certain words, rather than used simply for the sake of rhyming. The combination of the strategic rhyming scheme, catchy melody, and raw talent of the members of Journey has made “Don’t Stop Believin’” a classic few will forget.

#2) No Coherent Story

Just like an essay, novel, or poem, your song lyrics should tell some sort of story. As the song progresses, your ideas need to unfold in a way that will make sense to your listeners. If you’re struggling to write a song with a clear message, try answering the following questions:

 

  • What story do I want to tell?
  • How do I want my listeners to feel after listening to the song

 

Rather than singing about your recent trip to France and then jumping to an unrelated topic, such as your childhood friend, try sticking to the same idea throughout the song. This will allow the song to resonate with your listeners more easily.

 

#3) Writing Disingenuous Lyrics

So many songs on the radio feel like they’ve been created by a machine simply to generate an income. If you’re a true songwriter, you know that music is about so much more than that. While tuning into recent trends and incorporating them into your songs will most likely help you gain some extra popularity, being disingenuous with your lyrics will set you up for failure. We all know how hard it is too warm up to someone we feel is being untruthful or two-faced. Likewise, your listeners will have a hard time warming up to your song if they don’t feel the lyrics are a reflection of your true personality.

When you’re not a romantic, when you’re not political, and so on, do not try to sound like one. Disingenuous lyrics very easily and quickly will sound like that, and that’s a fantastic way to lose your audience. Regardless of your song’s theme or idea, your lyrics must in some way be connected with you if you want them to stand out and come across as genuine. If you don’t, your lyrics will lack conviction which will make them feel stale.

 

#4) Mismatched Syllables

The proper use of syllables is an important part of poetry and song lyrics. The number of syllables combined with the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables will set the tone and flow of your song. Take a look at the syllables used by Hozier below:

 

Take me to church

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life

 

The second and third lines in this song both use a total of twelve syllables each. The song wouldn’t have the same momentum if the pattern of twelve syllables was broken between lines two and three. In addition to the number of syllables, the last few words of these lines alternate between stressed and unstressed syllables in the same pattern. “Shrine of your lies” follows a stressed, unstressed, unstressed, stressed pattern, which you can see from the bolded words. Similarly, “sharpen your knife” follows the same rhythmic pattern. This creates coherence in the lyrics that wouldn’t be evident if you use different numbers and patterns of syllables in every line of your song.

#5) There’s No Hook

Every popular song needs a hook. Not only does a song need to have a hook, a good song needs to place that hook in a strategic spot. Just like a commercial you’d see on television, the hook should be at the beginning. Similar to how colorful ads are used to catch a viewer’s eye, catchy melodies are used to grab hold of our ears. Once you’ve established your melody, you’ll need to make sure the content of what you’re saying also acts as a hook. If you’re writing a love song and you use a cliche statement involving “your heart” and how hard it is to be “apart”, you won’t come across as the cutting-edge artist you’re hoping to be. Remember not to rush the development of your hook, as it will be what draws your listeners in more than anything else.

Enjoy these tips!

 

About Natalie Wilson

Natalie Wilson started a music blog to share her knowledge to enhance your skills as a musician . You’ll find a wide range of topics on my blog, including reviews, tutorials, and tips for musicians. Check out: https://musicaladvisors.com/

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, song demo, writing lyrics, hook, bridge, Co-Writing Songs, Songwriting Process, Lyric Writing Mistakes, Coherent, Disingenuous Lyrics, Mismatched Syllables, Rhyming

One of the Biggest Lyric Writing Mistakes Songwriters Make

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 24, 2017 @10:16 AM

One of the Biggest Lyric Writing Mistakes Songwriters Make

by Anthony Ceseri

 Dave-Songwriter.jpg

A lot of times when writing, songwriters will get too focused on forcing their lyrics into their songs because they like the specific words they've chosen and how they've arranged them. But if you're not music-minded when you’re writing lyrics your song can sound wordy. Wordy lyrics can negatively affect your melody. For that reason, I want to address how you can write lyrics that can easily being sung in a melody. 

 

The Spoken Rhythm
The rhythm of a line happens as a result of a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within a phrase. I’ll indicate the unstressed syllables with “ba” and the stressed syllables with “BUM.” For example, the phrase “Lonely and waiting” has this rhythm: BUM ba ba BUM ba. Hear that? The syllables “Lone-“ and “Wait-“ are stressed in their respective words, while “-ly,” and “-ing” are unstressed in those same words. The word “and” is also unstressed. If you say the phrase out loud, you’ll hear it. The accented syllables are longer, louder and have a higher pitch. That’s what makes them stressed. The combination of stressed and unstressed syllables in the phrase “Lonely and waiting” (or in any phrase) create its natural sonic shape.

If you need to figure out the stresses in a word with more than one syllable, you can usually hear them by sounding them out. For a word with two or more syllables, like “lonely” it’s usually best to listen for the accented syllable, and assume the remainder of the syllables are unaccented.

 

However, if you need help with this, you can always check a dictionary. It defines which syllables are stressed and which aren’t when you look up a word with more than one syllable. For example, when I look up the word “loving,” I’m presented with this pronunciation: luhv-ing. The stressed syllable is given in bold.

Single syllable words aren’t as easy. Some of them are stressed and some are not. Again, it’s best to listen to them within a phrase to determine which are accented and which aren’t, but if you get stuck you can reference this rule of thumb: Assume single syllable nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are stressed. In other words, words that carry meaning are accented. Other words are not. You won’t find the answer in a dictionary for single syllable words.

 

Writing in Rhythms
As you know, music has a rhythm to it. A lot of times the words and phrases we speak aren’t very rhythmic. But since you know that your music will have a rhythm, you can write your lyrics to a rhythm, even if you don’t have any music yet. If you take this approach, you’ll know that what you’re writing will more easily fit into a song.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say I write two lines of lyric that say this:

 

Looking out into the sky
The night is so beautiful

 

If I write those lines out into their rhythmic patterns, I’d end up with this:

 

LOOK-ing OUT IN-to the SKY
This NIGHT is so BEAU-ti-ful

 

I highlighting the stressed syllables in bold. We could also take the words out and isolate the patterns:

 

BUM ba BUM BUM ba ba BUM
ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

The first line doesn’t really have a consistent rhythm. It has a strong stress, then a weak stress, then two of each before ending on a strong stress. The second line is better and more organized rhythmically (by having two weak stresses between each strong stress), but it doesn’t match the first line. That’s not a requirement, but it tends to make things easier, depending on how your melody will go.

So things might get a little chaotic when we start to put these lines to music, because their rhythms are random. What if instead we started with a rhythmic pattern, and then matched our words to that pattern. Writing out your stresses first lends itself well to writing catchy melodic motifs.

The rhythm of the second line was pretty good, so let’s stick with that and use it twice. Let’s say we want our lyrics and melody to have this rhythm:

 

ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba
ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

You can see that looks better already. Now we just have to find words that fit that pattern. We know the second line from our previous example worked, so we’ll keep that. Since we want to stay with the same lyrical idea, we can try a first line that’s something like this:

 

The sky is so magical

 

Which rhythmically works out to be:

The SKY is so MAG-i-cal,

or

ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

Now we have two lines with a good, consistent rhythm that match each other. So we shouldn’t have much of a problem fitting these words to music:

 

The sky is so magical
The night is so beautiful,     or

ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba
ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

You can hear the consistency in the rhythm of these lyrics, just by speaking them aloud. They have a good rhythm that’s the same from line to line, which will make them pretty easy to put them to a melody.

 

Last Note
This is an approach you can take whether you have a melody and you want to match your words to the music, or if you’re writing lyrics first, and you want them to be written rhythmically before you even develop your melodies. Either way, this approach will help you organize the stresses of your words to be more rhythmic, and lend themselves to being placed in music. It may be a little trickier to find the right lyrical phrases you’re looking for, but your melodies will drastically benefit from this approach.

 

About Anthony Ceseri

AnthonyCeseri.jpg

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 much more information on improving your lyric writing (especially if your audiences aren't consistently emotionally connecting to your songs), download our 2 free lyric writing cheat sheets here, while they’re still available: http://successforyoursongs.com/go/writing-lyrics/

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, song demo, writing lyrics, bridge, Co-Writing Songs, Songwriting Process, Lyric Writing Mistakes

5 Innovative Ways to Change Up Your Songwriting Process

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, May 22, 2017 @08:00 AM

[EXPERT ADVICE] 5 Innovative Ways to Change Up Your Songwriting Process
by Gary Ewer
 Innovative-Songwriting-Process.jpg
One of the main reasons songwriters get stuck in a creative rut is an overused songwriting process. If you find that you’re always approaching songwriting the same old way, and using the same structural design and chords over and over again, just changing how you approach writing can quickly break you out of a creative block.

Here are 5 ways you can change up your songwriting process, and the results may put your sense of creativity back on the fast track:

    1. Break out of the same old verse-chorus-bridge design. If every song you write starts with an intro, then moves on to a couple of verse-chorus sections, followed by a bridge and ending with a couple of chorus repeats… no wonder you feel devoid of creativity. What else can you try? How about starting with the chorus, like this: Chorus-verse-chorus-verse-bridge-verse-chorus. Or how about: Solo-verse-solo-verse-chorus-solo-verse-chorus.
    
    2. Change rooms. Songwriters are creatures of habit, and we all usually like to do our writing in the same location. So change it up once in a while. Ever try writing in the park? On a bus? In the attic of your house? It will surprise you what a new location does for your musical imagination. So grab your smartphone or digital recording device, and get creative.
    
    3. Change genres. You may not like, let’s say, country music. But have you ever tried writing it? You’ll find that early in the process of writing your first country tune, you’ll gain an appreciation and respect for it. You’ll find that you tap into a different part of your creative soul every time you change genres. The payoff often comes when you switch back to your favourite genre. You find that you’ve got a new vocabulary of musical ideas that you can use, ideas that make your songs unique and fresh.
    
    4. Try a melody-first songwriting process. You may think that creating melodies without a chord progression underneath might be difficult, but it’s likely easier than you think. Try this process: Take your smartphone and go for a walk. Start singing random melodies into your phone. You’ll find that your ability to improvise melodies in this way is better than you think. Get as much of a melody working as you can this way. Don’t worry about lyrics yet. When you get home, create a chord progression that can accompany the tune you’ve written. Even if all you have is 4 bars to show for your efforts, it will serve as the idea for the rest of the song’s melodies.
    
    5. Write a song on an instrument you’ve never (or rarely) played before. You don’t need too be very good on an instrument to use it in this way. If you play guitar, you’ll find that many of your songs tend toward a “sameness.” So even if you don’t play keyboards, sit down at a piano and plunk out a tune or find some chords. The benefit of playing a different instrument when you write is that you don’t succumb to “muscle memory.” You’ll find that the melodic shapes you find will differ from the ones you tend to always default to on your normal instrument of choice.

The moral of the story here is this: the sooner in your songwriting process you change things up, the greater the chance that your song will sound innovative and fresh. The more you change things up, the more creative you’ll feel.
 
Read more in Gary Ewer’s book, Beating Songwriter’s Block. Visit beatingsongwritersblock.halleonardbooks.com and enter the discount code AP2 at checkout to receive 20% off the list price and free domestic shipping (least expensive method)!

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, Melody, songwrite, song demo, writing lyrics, bridge, Co-Writing Songs, Songwriting Process

Songwriting Tip: Writing The Bridge

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Apr 08, 2013 @09:30 AM

The Bridge, the Whole Bridge and Nothing But the Bridge

By Molly-Ann Leikin, Music Business Mastery Coach

Molly-Ann Leikin, hit songwriter

There is no songwriter I ever knew who doesn’t have problems writing a bridge now and then.  And there is no singer/songwriter/producer among my clients who doesn’t try to negotiate his/her way out of a creating that section altogether. 

“I don’t need one, right?”

NOT.      

The third section of any song is as almost as important as the chorus.  So let’s talk about this.

For review:  contemporary songs usually have at least three sections – the verse, the chorus and the bridge.  Ideally, for each section, the melody line, the chords, the rhythm and the words are different from each other.  Whatever you’ve done in the verse, don’t do in the chorus or the bridge, and whatever you do in the chorus, don’t do in the verse or the bridge.  If you find you overlap or borrow from earlier parts of your song, revise the bridge so you don’t.  This isn’t just a chord change.  I mean melody, rhythm and the words. 

To me, song structure is like a simple, wooden, kid’s puzzle.  The verse is a triangle, the chorus is a square and the bridge is a circle.  That isn’t a square, a circle and another circle hoping to be a triangle when it grows up.  A triangle is a triangle.

As there are three different shapes in a song, each shape is a different color.  Let’s say the square is red, the circle is green and the triangle is blue, or ciel d’Albuquerque, if that’s how you roll.   

Listening to the top forty for twenty minutes will convince you that bridges in contemporary songs are often longer and more rhythmic than they ever used to be.  Although a decade ago the bridge was a pretty standard eight bars or two lines that rhymed, now a bridge is often an irregular number of seconds long, and sometimes, ‘way past 30.  Listen and you’ll hear that in a hit song, the bridge can include several rhythmic hooks and doesn’t have to rhyme anywhere.   

Many songwriters/producers who consult with me - even some of my Grammy winners - are so relieved to have finished their verses and choruses, and have such great tracks, they convince themselves that their bridges should be instrumentals. 

NOT.

I try to tell them gently but firmly that an instrumental break is often the excuse for someone to pop out a CD or delete an mp3.   We are, after all, in the original Shark Tank.     

Let’s be practical.  Suppose someone wants to use your song/track in a movie, but the scene is3:20and your song doesn’t have a bridge and is only 2:44.  It’s much easier for the music editor to shorten a track than for you to create a bridge in the middle of the night - months or years after you wrote the song – only to find that the music supervisor faced a deadline and had to choose another track that fit the scene.    

You worked hard to get that music supervisor’s ear.  Don’t go flopsy now.

The bridge is a good place for a surprise and a twist – where something unexpected happens musically and lyrically that spins the song in an OMG direction.  I don’t mean a weird chord.  I’m talkin’ new melody and rhythm for an uneven number of bars, plus a story twist in the lyric, like the crisis at the end of the second act in a good movie or play.       

The chorus is still the most important section of the song, and the verse has to be strong enough to hold our attention for 25 seconds, more or less, until the hook.  But once we’ve heard two verses and two choruses, we, as the audience, need to hear something new.  And that’s where your bridge goes to work bringing your song home.

© 2013 Molly-Ann Leikin

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.

After lyric, song and instrumental marketing consultations with Molly, six of her clients have won Grammys, nine more have Grammy nominations, and so far, 6238 of Molly’s protégées have placed their work in TV shows, movies, on CD’s, in commercials, and their songs/tracks have been downloaded all over the web.  It starts with a consultation – in a private meeting or phone call with Molly or in one of her small, personal classes.  www.songmd.com and [email protected]

 For more information on the 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Molly-Ann Leikin, bridge