Songwriting Tips, News & More

[Songwriting Advice] Choosing the Chords That Work With Your Melody

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 02, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Choosing the Chords That Work With Your Melody
by Gary Ewer

Choosing the Chords That Work.jpg

You’ll notice that when you’ve got a melody, the notes of that melody imply the chords you’re likely to use. That’s not to say that you’ve got no choice in the matter, of course. For every chord you might use, there is a list of chords that could serve as substitutes. Just as an example, here’s two versions of the opening of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” each version using different chords:

VERSION 1: I  I6  |IV  I6  |V  I  |V  V7  I|| (C  C/E  |F  C/E  |G  C  |G  G7  C||)

VERSION 2: vi  iii  |V/V  V4-2/V  V6  |  IV6  I6-4  |  ii6  V  I  ||
(Am  Em  |D  D7/C  G/B  |F/A  C/G  |Dm/F  G  C  ||)


When songwriters get stuck at the chord progression stage — where they just don’t know what chords they’re supposed to be using — the main cause of the distress is a simple one: forgetting to listen to the melody!

The notes of your melody are going to be the main guide. After considering the notes, you then need to know a bit of chord theory. Not much, actually, just these following points:

  1.     Good pop chord progressions make great use of the circle of fifths. If you’re not sure how that works, give this article a read: “The Circle of Fifths Progression: Making It Relevant for Songwriters.” All that’s meant by this is that for most progressions, you’ll find many spots where the distance between the roots of adjacent chords is a 5th, like this progression: C  F  Dm  G  C. From C down to F is a 5th; from Dm down to G is a 5th; and from G down to C is a 5th. This is a vital part of good chord structure.
  2.     Good pop chord progressions target the tonic chord. The tonic chord is the one representing the key of your song. If your chorus is in C major (like the bit of “Twinkle Twinkle” I used at the beginning of this article), C is the tonic chord. Chord progressions should (usually) seek out that chord. They’ll often start on the tonic, wander away, but immediately try to find it again. In the progression C  F  Dm  G  C, you can hear the progression trying to find that tonic C chord again, certainly by the time you’ve reached Dm.
  3.     Good pop chord progressions tend to make most of the chords change on strong beats. To find the strong beats, simply tap your foot to the music. Your musical brain will automatically sort it out. Your foot will go down on a strong beat, and up on a weak beat. Start adding chords on strong beats.
  4.     Good pop chord progressions honour the function of the chords. Chord function can be a tricky concept, but for pop music, it tends to be rather simple, and you can get away with considering three basic functions: the tonic function, the pre-dominant function and the dominant function. The tonic function is typically represented by the tonic (I) and sometimes the vi-chord, the pre-dominant function by the IV or ii-chord, and the dominant function by the V-chord. Each function has a list of substitutes that can be used. To learn more about this, read “Creating Good Progressions: It’s All About Chord Function.”


You’ll find that occasionally putting a chord on a weak beat works well. In VERSION 1 above, the final bar has a chord on beat 1 (a strong beat), beat 2 (a weak beat) and then the final chord on beat 3 (another strong beat).
Don’t Forget to Listen!

There’s a lot of experimenting that goes into creating a chord progression for your melody. Here’s a summary of points to remember:

  1.    Listening carefully to the melody is the most important part about adding chords. Discover the notes your melody uses. Look at each strong beat, and then look at the weak beat that follows.
  2.     The chords you choose should use the strong beat note and most (not necessarily all) of the weak beat notes.
  3.     As you work out your progression, keep in mind the need for many adjacent chords to use roots that are a 5th from each other, and use the tonic as a musical target.
  4.     Find songs that you like and play or sing through the melody slowly without chords. Then play the chords and sing the melody. Notice how the progression targets the tonic, and make note of where the chords change. Most of the time, you’ll notice those changes happening on strong beats.

    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 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, chord progression, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Re-writing, Gary Ewer

7 Beatles Secrets about Songwriting I wish I'd Discovered Decades Sooner

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 10, 2018 @08:00 AM

7 Beatles Secrets about Songwriting I wish I'd Discovered Decades Sooner (Part 2)

by Jessica Brandon
Beatles.jpg

The song writing styles of John Lennon and Paul McCartney not only differ from each other fundamentally, but also change over time, affected and influenced by each other.  The songwriting partnership between Lennon and McCartney is extremely legendary. They employed so many tricks that anyone can add to their songwriting arsenal. Here are some secrets and tricks of the Beatles:
 
 
1. Change up your chorus
This shows up in their hit "She Loves You". Unusually, the song starts with the hook right away, instead of introducing it after a verse or two. "She Loves You" does not include a bridge, instead using the refrain to join the various verses. The chords tend to change every two measures, and the harmonic scheme is mostly static.
 
 
2. All Blues to Your Melody
When recording “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, On Track 3, McCartney played bass while Harrison played the Bass VI, sometimes doubling McCartney's bass line and sometimes playing full chords. (This capability was one of the benefits of the Bass VI; it could be played as a bass or as a regular 6-string guitar.)
 
 
3. Mode mixture & Delay The Root Chord
"Eleanor Rigby" is played mainly in staccato chords with melodic embellishments.
 
The song is a prominent example of mode mixture, specifically between the Aeolian mode, also known as natural minor, and the Dorian mode. Set in E minor, the song is based on the chord progression Em-C, typical of the Aeolian mode and utilising notes ♭3, ♭6, and ♭7 in this scale. The verse melody is written in Dorian mode, a minor scale with the natural sixth degree. "Eleanor Rigby" opens with a C-major vocal harmony ("Aah, look at all ..."), before shifting to E-minor (on "lonely people"). The Aeolian C-natural note returns later in the verse on the word "dre-eam" (C-B) as the C chord resolves to the tonic Em, giving an urgency to the melody's mood.
 
The Dorian mode appears with the C# note (6 in the Em scale) at the beginning of the phrase "in the church". The chorus beginning "All the lonely people" involves the viola in a chromatic descent to the 5th; from 7 (D natural on "All the lonely peo-") to 6 (C♯ on "-ple") to ♭6 (C on "they) to 5 (B on "from"). This is said to "add an air of inevitability to the flow of the music (and perhaps to the plight of the characters in the song)".
 
 
4. Use non-diatonic chords and secondary dominants & Utilise The Outside Chord
"Strawberry Fields Forever" was originally written on acoustic guitar in the key of C major. The recorded version is approximately in B♭ major; owing to manipulation of the recording speed, the finished version is not in standard pitch (some, for instance, consider that the tonic is A). The introduction is played on a Mellotron, and involves a I–ii–I–♭VII–IV progression. The vocals enter with the chorus instead of a verse. In fact we are not "taken down" to the tonic key, but to "non-diatonic chords and secondary dominants" combining with "chromatic melodic tension intensified through outrageous harmonization and root movement".
 
“I Want To Hold Your Hand’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ Voice leading in the Plagal cadence Here is a summary of the action in a IV–I change (in the key of C), highlighting the important ‘inner’ voice leading.”
 
 
5. Restate Your Lyrics
Lennon's lyrics "A Day in the Life" were inspired by contemporary newspaper articles, including a report on the death of Guinness heir Tara Browne. John Lennon wrote the melody and most of the lyrics to the verses of "A Day in the Life" in mid January 1967. Soon afterwards, he presented the song to Paul McCartney, who contributed a middle-eight section.
 
 
6. Take Risks
Example: Here There and Everywhere(1966)
In many ways, the opposite of Eleanor Rigby in that it is rich and complex harmonically speaking.  The first time Paul really spreads his compositional wings and takes bigger risks with ascending major chord sequence.
 
The introduction beginning "To lead a better life" opens in the key of G and involves a I–iii–♭III–ii–V7 chord progression. The ♭III (B♭ chord) on "I need my love to be here" (arpeggiated in the melody line) is a dissonant substitute for the more predictable VI (E7) that would normally lead to the ii (Am) chord.
 
 
7. Change of Keys from Minor to Major
The song as originally issued by the Beatles is in the key of A minor, changing to A major over the bridges. Aside from the intro, the composition is structured into two rounds of verse and bridge, with an instrumental passage extending the second of these verse sections, followed by a final verse and a long instrumental passage that fades out on the released recording. All the sections consist of an even sixteen bars or measures, which are divided into four phrases.
 
The chord progression over the verses includes a shift to a ♭7 (Am/G) on "all" (bass note G) and a 6 (D9 (major 3rd F♯)) after "love" (bass note F♯) to a ♭6 (Fmaj7) on "sleeping" (bass note F). According to musicologist Dominic Pedler, the 8–♭7–6–♭6 progression represents a hybrid of the Aeolian and Dorian modes. The change to the parallel major key is heralded by a C chord as the verse's penultimate chord (replacing the D used in the second phrase of each verse) before the E that leads into the bridge. Musicologist Alan Pollack views this combination of C and E as representing a sense of "arrival", after which the bridge contains "upward [harmonic] gestures" that contrast with the bass descents that dominate the verse. Such contrasts are limited by the inclusion of minor triads (III, VI and II) played over the E chord that ends the bridge's second and fourth phrases.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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[Songwriting Advice] Some Tips on Editing and Re-writing A Lyric

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 03, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Some Tips on Editing and Re-writing A Lyric
by Cliff Goldmacher

TomKimmel.jpg
I’d like to introduce you to Tom Kimmel. Along with releasing several major label albums as an artist himself, Tom has written songs covered by Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt and Randy Travis among others. Tom’s insights into the lyric-writing process are well worth a good read. Enjoy!

Re-writing A Lyric.jpg

For some of us, a lyric rushes out into the world before we can think much about it and sometimes it’s a fine lyric, just as it is. Other times, even if we feel a strong personal connection with the lyric, it could be strengthened with a little work.

On the other hand, often a lyric comes in dribs and drabs, and once we have a complete draft we might be so relieved that we declare it finished prematurely.

In both cases, a lyric might benefit from a fresh perspective and a willingness to tinker a little.Songwriting Tips

Ted Kooser, one of my favorite poets, says that even when one of his poems comes out in one piece he still plays with it a bit to see if it might be improved. He hastens to add, however, that no matter how much or how little re-writing the poem requires, he wants it to read as if it flowed from the pen.

We songwriters have a similar goal. We want our songs to slide by easily without calling too much attention to themselves even if the lyric has real content and depth. To that end, there are a couple of references I return to.

When I’m re-writing a lyric I first ask myself if the song has what I call a strong through the door factor. In other words, I want the words to sound good and to sing well so well, in fact, that if someone heard the song through the door they’d enjoy it!

In order to achieve that, I may record a working version of the song-in-progress and listen to it softly or from a distance not analyzing the words, but listening for the sound and flow of the words. Do the words seem to roll off the tongue or do I stumble over certain sounds, words or phrases?

Chances are that if a lyric doesn’t sound good from the other side of the door, it won’t sound good up close either. So, in my book, it’s very important that a lyric sound and feel good. If it doesn’t, I can begin my re-write by asking these questions:

1. Do the syllables I emphasize when singing my lyric coincide with the notes emphasized in my melody? If not, I’ll try to adjust.

2. Do the number or words or syllables I’m placing in my lines and phrases make it easy for me to sing the song? If I’m cramming in too many syllables in a line or phrase, I can experiment with simplifying by making my phrasing less busy.

3. Likewise, I may need to add words or syllables to more closely coincide with notes of melody that I’m emphasizing.

4. Are most of the vowel sounds in my words easy to sing? For example, I’m probably going to avoid placing the words hat or it over a very high note!

Of course, strong lyrical content is extremely important to most songwriters, so the second way I approach a re-write or edit is by examining how the lyric unfolds as the song develops. I may ask myself, “Does my lyric and song unfold in a way that is satisfying, that holds the listener’s attention as well as my own?”

To consider this when I coach songwriters and lead workshops, I suggest that a song is very much like a three act play. Some of the story – be it a literal tale or an emotional or spiritual narrative – is revealed in the first act, which most often is the song’s first verse and chorus. The second act usually the second verse and chorus is a new beginning; more of the story is introduced and then summed up in the second chorus. The remainder of the story is then told in the third act often the bridge and final chorus.

In my own work, if I then see that I reveal too much, too soon in my songI make changes. One technique espoused by a friend of mine is to take the first verse and make it the second verse… and to write a new first verse that is more of a prologue… so that the story has somewhere to go! Likewise if the song is slow to develop, I have the option of trying my second verse as the first verse. Experiment!

Bottom line: a song is not a painting. It doesn’t exist all at once. It has a beginning, middle and end, and it needs to flow, rise and fall throughout its lifespan. (In filmmaking they call this advancing the narrative.)

So let’s say I’ve got my song sounding good and I’ve got my story unfolding in a nice way. There’s still one question I ask about my lyric and that is, “Are all the lines in my lyric relevant to my theme?” In other words, does my whole lyric support the point or theme of my song? If I have some filler lines or phrases I’ll probably want to work on the song a bit more.

Finally, I have found that considering the above questions gives me a context for my writing. There are numerous details I can attend to, but if I don’t place the work of re-writing into this larger context, then all my work on the details likely won’t bring about the hoped for result.

In closing, I’ll share a technique I use over and over in the process of finishing or re-writing. If I’ve come to feel that I’ve been trying too hard to complete something that I’m using too much mental muscle because I’ve lost the creative thread then it’s important that I step away from the song, let it rest and come back to it fresh.

The single most helpful way I know to do this is to make a rough recording of the song, singing only the words I’m happy with and humming in places that might need a stronger lyric. It’s important that I don’t force words that don’t sound right or make sufficient sense. Then and this is keyI listen to my rough recording at bedtime. (And by that I mean listen last thing before I turn off the light.)

It’s amazing how often the right words will bubble up from the subconscious the next day… or soon thereafter.
 

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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[Songwriting Advice] How to Write Song Hooks That “Hook” You in

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 05, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] How to Write Song Hooks That “Hook” You in
by Jason Blume

How to Write Song Hooks.jpg

The more you have, the better your chances of having a hit...

What constitutes a hook? Any element of a song that grabs a listener’s attention and “hooks” them in. With there being so much competition for our listeners’ attention, including multiple hooks throughout our songs has become more important than ever.

According to an article in The Atlantic magazine, “A short-attention-span culture demands short-attention-span songs. The writers of Tin Pan Alley and Motown had to write only one killer hook to get a hit. Now you need a new high every seven seconds—the average length of time a listener will give a radio station before changing the channel.” In that same article, Jay Brown, co-founder of Jay Z’s Roc Nation label, was quoted as saying, “It’s not enough to have one hook anymore. You’ve got to have a hook in the intro, a hook in the pre, a hook in the chorus, and a hook in the bridge, too.” Mega-hit songwriter/producer Ester Dean, with hits by artists including Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, echoed this sentiment almost word for word.

Note that some people refer to a song’s chorus as its hook, using the word “chorus” and “hook” interchangeably. But hooks can be in any section of a song. Let’s take a look at some of the various types of hooks we can incorporate into our songs.

Instrumental Hooks
Including musical hooks—catchy melodic phrases that repeat throughout our songs and do not include lyrics—can help keep our listeners engaged. In some instances, such as those listed below, an instrumental lick serves as the heartbeat of the song.

It would be hard to find a more iconic musical hook than the one that is the basis of the Rolling Stone’s seminal hit “Satisfaction” (written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards). Keith Richards’ driving guitar lick is every bit as memorable as the melodies Mick Jagger sings.

“Layla” (recorded by Derek and the Dominos and written by Eric Clapton and James Beck Gordon) is fueled by Clapton’s iconic lick. This musical motif is heard during the song’s intro and repeatedly throughout the chorus. It is interesting to note that the song ends with an entirely different instrumental segment.

Notice the use of multiple instrumental hooks in Vanessa Carlton’s self-penned hit “A Thousand Miles.” The song opens with an instantly identifiable musical phrase played on piano. It also features a piano interlude between the lines sung in the verses, as well as an additional hook (played by strings) in the pre-chorus.

A strong case could be made that in the aforementioned songs, the instrumental hooks are the songs’ most memorable and important components.

Signature Licks
In many cases the musical hook is introduced at the onset of the song. In these cases, they can also be considered signature licks. In my article for BMI’s The Weekly I defined a signature lick as a memorable melodic motif—an instantly recognizable musical phrase—that is heard at the beginning of the song. It is also sometimes heard throughout the song, especially during the turnaround, the musical interlude between the end of the first chorus and the subsequent verse.

Unique Instrumentation
The instruments chosen to perform a riff or a lick can make a major contribution to the song sounding hooky and differentiating itself from the competition. The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” is a prime example. It features a catchy lick paired with the sound of an electro-theremin to create a hook that played a big role in propelling the song to countless critics’ “Greatest Songs of All Time” lists.

An excellent example of a musical hook made more memorable by the sound of the instruments playing it can be heard in Little Big Town’s first #1 single and CMA Country Song of the Year, “Pontoon” (written by Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, and Luke Laird). The catchy lick, played by a mandolin and mellotron synthesizer, is heard during the song’s introduction, throughout the verses, and in the song’s turnaround.

In American Idol winner - Phillip Phillips’ “Home” (written by Phillips with Drew Pearson and Greg Holden) an instrumental section essentially takes the place of a chorus and is the most unforgettable part of the song. It is interesting to note that the melody of this section is performed primarily by vocals singing the syllables “ooh” and “ahh” and includes no other lyrics.

“Wipe Out” (written by Bob Berryhill, Pat Connolly, Jim Fuller, and Ron Wilson, and performed by the Surfaris and covered by the Ventures), one of the most recognizable songs from the sixties, was probably most famous for its use of a drum pattern as a hook.

Another instantly identifiable drum pattern serves as an exceptionally effective hook in Imagine Dragons’ “Believer” (written by Daniel Reynolds, Justin Tranter, Benjamin Arthur McKee, Daniel Wayne Sermon, Robin Lennard Fredriksson, and Mattias Per Larsson). This pattern provides a melodic hook throughout the entire song, except for the breakdown section.

Non-Lyric Vocal Hooks
Sounds such as “ah,” “oh,” “ooh,” “hey,” and “I” can create powerful hooks when sung to memorable melodies. One of the most memorable elements in the Bee Gees’ disco classic “Stayin’ Alive” (written by Maurice, Barry, and Robin Gibb) comes each time they sing the phrase “ah ah, ah ah,” followed by the title.

Nonsense syllables, such as “rah rah, ah-ah-ah, ro mah ro-mah-mah,” and “Gaga oh-la-la,” are sung by Lady Gaga to establish an utterly unique hook that burns into listeners’ brains in her massive #1 hit “Bad Romance” (written by Lady Gaga and Nadir “RedOne” Khayat).

And there is no overestimating the contribution of “yeah, yeah, yeah” to the Beatles’ “She Loves You” (written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney).

Catchy Rhythms
Listen to the songs referenced below and you’ll hear how unique rhythms can become a song’s most hooky element. The syncopated rhythms heard throughout Jason Mraz’s breakthrough single “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” (written by Mraz with Lauren Fownes, Scott Spock, and Graham Edwards) create a hook in and of themselves.

The catchiest, most memorable moment in the Supremes’ iconic hit, “Stop! In the Name of Love” (written by Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, and Eddie Holland) is the pause after the word “stop.”

A “Money Note”
An unexpected, ear-grabbing note can serve as a powerful hook. The “money note,” as it is sometimes called, refers to that “wow” note that can be largely attributed to a song’s success. It can be a high or low note, as long as it demands attention. For a great example, listen to the low note that accompanies the word “low” in Garth Brooks’ “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” (written by Dewayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee).

Lyric Hooks
While most people associate hooks with melodic elements, lyrics can be hooky, too. A compelling story that keeps a listener waiting to learn what happens can keep our audience hooked in. Great examples of story songs include “Ol’ Red,” recorded by George Jones, Blake Shelton, Kenny Rogers, and written by Don Goodman, Mark Sherrill, and James Bohan) and “Lola” (recorded by The Kinks and written by Ray Davies).

A unique title or a phrase within the lyric can also serve as a hook. Listen to Sugarland’s clever “It Happens” (written by Kristian Bush, Bobby Pinson, and Jennifer Nettles) to hear an exceptional example of a lyric hook.
 
Summary
Note that in all of the referenced songs the hooks are heard repeatedly. While we want to serve up multiple hooks, we also want those hooks to repeat throughout the song, so they become familiar to the listeners.
 
Whether your hooks are comprised of memorable instrumental phrases, unique sounds, nonsense syllables, unexpected rhythms, attention-grabbing titles, money notes, they are the tools you can use to hook in your listeners—and keep them on the line.
 

[Reprinted by permission from BMI]

Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on three GRAMMY-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies.

Information on the 23nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, pitching songs, songwrite, song demo, Jason Blume, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Instrumental Hooks, Catchy Rhythm

Songwriter: Give Yourself Goosebumps

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Apr 03, 2017 @08:00 AM

[Expert Advice] Hey, Songwriter: Give Yourself Goosebumps!

by Diana Williamson

SongwriterGoosebumps.jpg
When you were a kid, did you ever have a sleepover with friends where you told scary stories? You’d convince each other there was a ghost in the attic or a spirit coming through the Ouija board. You’d conjure up frightening things to give you and your friends a rush. Stirring up a cauldron of emotion is also helpful when trying to make magic with your art. For tips on how to tap into these creative emotions again, check out the following tips from a top-selling songwriter and author. She can help you to tap into a flow of energy—your unique passion—to fuel your songwriting.

• Look for a situation that gives you a rush, gets your blood pumping or causes butterflies, like meeting an attractive stranger out of the blue. Then write about it.

• When you can capture those special moments on the page, you’ll know you’ve got something. When you give yourself goosebumps, you are pretty much assured that you will be giving the listener the same.

• It can’t be forced. The Muse is a wayward beast. She has to be seduced to stick around or she’ll flee at the first footfall. Ever hear a song and find yourself turning it up without thinking? Or maybe some strains of music coming from a passing car bring you back to a special place and time? That’s what it’s all about. You want to move your listener to laugh or cry or, best of all, be inspired.

• Arousing deep emotion is the ultimate for a songwriter. “The Way We Were” is such a touching, evocative song that it’s been voted one of the top 10 film songs of all time on every list imaginable. It was not only a hit on the radio but had an unforgettable visual connected to it. Every time you hear it, you can picture Barbra Streisand trembling as she meets up with Robert Redford.

• Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie says he wrote “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” their best-selling single, in 15 minutes. He’s also said he can barely take credit for it because he felt like he channeled it. He tapped into a dark, rarely explored emotional theme about following his lover into the afterlife. And he did it in such a hauntingly beautiful way that it wasn’t morbid; instead it was comforting and enchanting at the same time.

• And it doesn’t have to be about love. Other strong feelings, such as anger, can also be a great motivating force. If you deny an emotion, it just springs up anyway, so give it a voice. Channel it into a song. When Phil Collins wrote about a ruthless ex-lover in “Something in the Air Tonight,” he sent his rage into the world like a speeding locomotive. It’s powerful stuff.

• Songwriters live for the moment they get struck by the lightning bolt of inspiration. The beauty is that it can come at any time and from anywhere. You’re driving down the street and see an old gent cradling his wife’s hand and you start thinking about that line you had for a ballad. The song starts writing itself and the next thing you know you’re pulling the car over to jot down some words before they slip away. We’re not talking about the craft and hard work of rewriting here, though of course that’s essential. But that’s another article. We are talking about those sacred moments when you’re in the zone, and everything flows.

• Songwriters never really go on holiday. You can be lying on the beach in Barbados, frolicking with a fruity cocktail when the tourist next to you starts talking loudly on her cell phone about her new lover. As she throws out phrases left and right, you can’t help but note the line, “This ain’t my first rodeo.” Next thing you know you’re looking about for a pen and tapping out a rhythm on your blanket. But let’s face it, you probably won’t be able to stay on the beach forever. Soon you’re back in the real world and if you’re not careful you might find yourself tired, stressed or just plain running on empty. This can lead to a pesky phenomenon commonly known as writer’s block. But there is a cure. Like a farmer letting his field lie fallow every seventh year before planting again, sometimes you have to give your creativity a break. “Don’t abuse the Muse.”

• And while you’re at it, don’t abuse yourself, either. If you start beating yourself up, you’ll be your own worst enemy. Take your mind off your writing so you can come back to it refreshed. Obviously if you have a deadline, you have to work through it. Waiting for the luxury of inspiration to hit isn’t always a viable option.

• There are many ways to unwind and replenish your creative juices. Movies allow your brain to rest while rejuvenating you with all sorts of storylines and visuals to stir creativity.

• Hiking, walking or working out is another way to boost your energy level. Prolific novelist Charles Dickens walked up to 30 miles a day. He said he would “explode” if he didn’t; it was his way of turning his brain off between bouts of writing. Ludwig van Beethoven was another avid walker. He always carried a pen and paper with him in case an idea struck.

• Ernest Hemingway once said you should “let the pressure build” until you have no choice but to write it down. That way, you’re driving with fuel, not running on fumes and forcing the phrases out. Just let that pressure cooker blast off its rocker as words fly onto the page. Whatever it takes to get inspired, do it and do it some more. Your writing—and your listeners—will thank you for it.

[Reprint Permission by Music Connection magazine]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

DIANA WILLIAMSON is the author of 101 Tips and Tricks of Successful Songwriting, available on Amazon. She’s written two No. 3 Billboard Hot Club Chart hits and placed songs in over 50 films and TV shows through her company, The Music Library. You can visit her at: 101tipsandtricksofsuccessfulsongwriting.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, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, writing lyrics, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, Death Cab for Cutie, Ernest Hemingway, Diana Williamson

[Songwriting Expert Advice] What's Up With Today's Melodies?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Mar 24, 2017 @06:33 PM

[Songwriting Expert Advice] What's Up With Today's Melodies?
by Jai Josefs

 melodies.jpg

Melody writing has changed radically in the 21st century, and successful writers know exactly what that change is and how to incorporate it. Their songs sound fresher and more contemporary and, as a result, are the ones that more frequently get signed to film/TV licensing deals as well as publishing deals. Let's examine specifically what the difference is.

Every melody contains two elements – pitch and rhythm. The pitches are the actual notes that are sung while the rhythm is where those notes land in time against the groove. In the 20th century more emphasis was put on interesting pitches and their relationship to the chord progression. But in the 21st century the rhythm of the melody has become the primary focus for creating listener appeal. That's why so many songs today can use only a simple chord loop (instead of the rich variety of chords used in the 20th century) and still remain thoroughly engaging and compelling. Listen to the first 15 notes of Ed Sheeran's recent hit "Shape of You" for example. All 15 are the exact same pitch, but the intricate rhythm completely engages you and captures your attention.

Writers tend to be influenced by the songs they listened to in their formative years when they first discovered music. So the instinctive tendency of veteran writers who don't stay current is to write in the 20th century style that emphasizes pitch over rhythm. On the other end of the spectrum, some friends of mine recently sent their 16-year-old daughter to study with me, and at her first lesson I asked her to play something she had written. Her creative process was totally instinctual and she didn't even know a verse from a chorus, but at first listen what she played sounded like it came right off the radio. That's because the only melodies she had been exposed to in her young life were contemporary and rhythmically based. For those of us who have been around a bit longer, it's crucial that we investigate these modern melodic techniques so we can incorporate them into our writing.

A good way to begin that process is by analyzing the melodies of today's hit songs. To illustrate how melody writing has evolved, I'm going to compare two songs written on the same theme – female empowerment. The first one was written in the 1970s in the traditional style of that era. The second is a recent breakthrough hit from 2016.

Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" has a very simple melodic rhythm. Almost all of the notes are eighth notes (two notes per beat) and the phrasing is relatively uncomplicated. The verse consists of two shorter phrases followed by a longer phrase all of which start exactly one beat before the beginning of the measure. Then that same pattern is repeated. There is a bit more variety in the chorus, but the phrasing is still basic and repetitive and most of the notes are eighth notes.

Let's contrast that with Daya's recent hit "Sit Still Look Pretty" (if you're not familiar with it give it a listen – it's also brilliant lyrically and has some very cool and remarkable rhymes). The verse phrases instead of being grouped in twos or threes like the basic short-short-long, short-short-long pattern of "I Am Woman" are actually in patterns of five that go short-short-short-long-long, short-short- short-long-long. In addition they all start in different places. The first and third begin after the downbeat of the measure, the second is entirely in the last half of the measure, and the fourth and fifth start before the measure with 16th note pick-ups. Then we hear the pre-chorus where the melodic rhythm shifts to all 16th notes (four notes per beat) for the first three phrases followed by a fourth phrase that is all eighth notes. The chorus that follows begins right on the downbeat with a phrase that lasts for two full measures – twice as long as any phrase we've heard so far. It's then followed by two off-beat 16th note phrases that are half a measure each and the hook/title which is one measure long. Notice the constant variation in eighth and 16th notes, phrase starting points, and phrase patterns. This creates a dynamic melody that is always fresh and grabs the listener's attention. In terms of melodic rhythm and phrasing "I Am Woman" is like an old Chevy, and "Sit Still Look Pretty" is more like a Ferrari.

If you want to write songs that are relevant today, it's a great idea to listen to more tunes by contemporary hit artists like Ed Sheeran and Daya and focus on analyzing how they use melodic rhythm. It will make your songs sound exciting and up-to-date, and hopefully lead to more placements and airplay.

JaiJosefs.jpg

Jai Josefs http://jaijomusic.com/ is a world renowned songwritng coach as well as a successful songwriter/producer. He has taught songwriting at UCLA, the Songwriters Guild, and dozens of seminars and conferences throughout North America. He is also the author of “Writing Music For Hit Songs” which is used as a text on contemporary music composition at universities worldwide. Many of his students have gone on to successful careers in the industry and secured major label record deals, publishing deals and placements in film and television.

Jai has also had a successful career as a songwriter/producer himself working with such well-known artists as Jose Feliciano, Little Richard, and Pam Tillis, and doing projects for such companies as Universal, RCA, Motown, and Disney. In addition, his original songs have been featured in over 60 TV shows on every major network as well as over 20 major motion pictures with such stars as Harrison Ford, Billy Bob Thornton, Jessica Lange, Mark Wahlberg, and Denzel Washington.

Jai currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area where he leads a monthly workshop called SongShop, details of which can be found here:

http://jaijomusic.com/songshop-songwriting-workshop/

He is also available for private coaching in the Bay Area and worldwide via Skype.

 

 

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


 
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It’s Never Too Late to Write a Great Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 15, 2017 @08:00 AM

 [Songwriting Expert Advice] It’s Never Too Late to Write a Great Song 

by Sara Light

I’m still learning.” – Michaelangelo, at age 87

Songwriting is a craft that you can begin working on at any stage in your life. Unlike recording artists, who often have pressure to look and dress a certain way or to be a certain age, songwriters never have to “look the part.” Even in Nashville where it’s common for a songwriter to become “famous” among the locals, nobody cares how old they are, if their vocals are perfectly pitched, or what size dress they fit in.  They can show up to play a gig at the famous Bluebird Cafe in a t-shirt and old jeans (not even black ones) and their songs speak for themselves.
Group20photo20in20the20round203

Great Nashville songwriters like Harlan Howard, Richard Leigh, Bobby Braddock, Tom Shapiro, Jeffrey Steele, Al Anderson and Gretchen Peters were, or still are, cranking out hits for young recording artists in their 50’s and 60’s (and that list is just off the top of my head). Singer songwriters like Elton John, Sting, Dylan, Springsteen, Billy Joel, and Cyndi Lauper all continue to write new material and reinvent themselves well into their prime. So, if you’re reading this and have a desire to write songs, nothing is stopping you. I would only add as a caveat that you have to be willing to continue to learn, to grow, and to be open to your surroundings…but that’s not rocket science.
For a little more inspiration, here’s a short list of diverse folks who accomplished great things at a more “mature” age. I culled this list from Goodreads.com and a couple of Google searches and admittedly haven’t fact-checked it, but it seems right to me!

*J.K. Rowling was 30 years old when she finished the first manuscript of Harry Potter.
*Mark Twain was 40 when he wrote “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, and 49 years old when he wrote “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
*Rosa Parks was 42 when she refused to obey the bus driver’s order to give up her seat to make room for a white passenger.
*Suzanne Collins was 46 when she wrote “The Hunger Games.”
*Charles Darwin was 50 years old when his book On the Origin of Species came out.
*Leonardo Da Vinci was 51 years old when he painted the Mona Lisa.
*Ray Kroc Was 53 when he bought the McDonalds franchise and took it to unprecedented levels.
*Dr. Seuss was 54 when he wrote “The Cat in the Hat.”
*Colonel Harland Sanders was 61 when he started the KFC Franchise.
*Ronald Regan entered politics at age 55 and eventually became the oldest person to ever become President, at the age of 69.
*Artist Paul Cézanne was 56 years old when he was given his first art exhibition.
*J.R.R Tolkien was 62 when the Lord of the Ring books came out.
*Peter Roget invented the Thesaurus at age 73.
*George R.R. Martin was 63 when HBO purchased the television rights for his A Song of Ice and Fire series and launched the mega-hit “Game of Thrones” for which Martin actively writes and produces.
*Grandma Moses started painting at age 76. Three years later her art was hanging at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City! Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

GrandmaMoses.jpg
Write on, friends!
Sara

 

 

Sara Light is a professor at SongU in Nashville, TN, USA. Go to: www.songu.com

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


 
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Structure Creates Expectations

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 08, 2017 @08:00 AM

 [Songwriting Expert Advice] Structure Creates Expectations

by Pat Pattison

patpattison.jpg

Lyric structure creates expectations. That’s what it’s for. To take you on a journey, and, as any good mom knows, to get the kids all revved up about what they’re gonna see, to build up excitement as the trip gets closer. Then to watch their eyes get bigger as they stretch their necks trying to see around the corner. Almost there…

Or sometimes she tells you to just get in the car. You’re going somewhere, but she won’t tell you where. It’ll be a surprise. Moms are like that sometimes. So is structure.

Moms are supposed to provide structure, to organize things so the kids have the right kind of journey, whether to Pirate’s Cove or through life. You’re the mom. You get to choose what kind of trip you want your song to take.

Let’s go.

 

Valentine

Chanelle Davis

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

 

These first two lines create little, if any, expectation. You could be going anywhere. If the next line had been

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

Someone to say he’s mine

 

Then we’d have expectations. We now know what should come next: a line to match and rhyme with line 2. The principle at work is the Principle of Sequence. Since line 3 mimics line 1, we expect line 4 to mimic line 2. Something like

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

Someone to say he’s mine

Someone who wouldn’t go

 

Now it feels done.

 

Of course, that’s not how the lyric really goes at line 3. It’s:

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

And hear a little midnight saxophone

 

Mom is being coy here. The line lengths (measured by the number of stressed syllables) are:

 

I ónce had a Válentíne 3 stresses

Sómeone to wálk me hóme 3 stresses

And héar a líttle mídnight sáxophóne 5 stresses

 

Ignore the rhyme just for now, and concentrate on the line lengths: They feel unstable and tell us to keep going, though it’s not entirely clear where. Though, from the twinkle in mom’s eye, it feels like the line lengths should be going somewhere like:

 

I ónce had a Válentíne 3 stresses

Sómeone to wálk me home 3 stresses

And héar a líttle mídnight saxophone … 5 stresses

Da DUM da da DUM da DUM 3 stresses

DUM da da DUM da DUM 3 stresses

Da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM 5 stresses

 

But, of course, there’s that pesky rhyme, dragging its feet by hanging on to line 2:

 

I once had a Valentine x

Someone to walk me home a

And hear a little midnight saxophone a

 

Now we’re not sure what to do. We’re getting mixed stop/go messages from mom. She’s really got us set up for a surprise:

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

And hear a little midnight saxophone

I got kisses in the night

From my Valentine

 

Not what we expected at all. It feels a little incomplete – a little disappointing. After all that suspense, all we get are two short lines that rhyme. It feels as though we thought we had something to look forward to and it didn’t really happened – it stopped short.

 

Probably feels like you would if you once had a valentine who disappointed you…

 

Then we start again:

 

Used to drink my chardonnay

And smoke my cigarette

We danced around the room just silhouettes

I sang Auld Lang Syne

For my valentine

 

Same trip. At least we’d been warned what would happen. It feels like two complete sections, both of which feel misty and soaked with longing.

 

Note especially the two lovely ambiguities:

 

Used to drink my chardonnay

 

Since there’s no pronoun here, the subject could be “I,” “he,” or “we.” All three work, and stack up on each other to give us a picture of the relationship. He was drinking her

Chardonnay and smoking her cigarette. He was a taker, not a giver. But of course, she drank and smoked too, and remembers it fondly. That’s when ambiguity works best: 2 or more meanings, all of which work. “Ambiguity” is, for me, a positive term. It’s productive. It deepens meaning. It’s contrast is “vagueness,” a negative term which promotes confusion – which doesn’t commit to anything specific.

 

The second ambiguity:

 

I sang Auld Lang Syne

For my valentine

 

“For” could mean:

 

  1. I performed it, I sang it to him,

  2. I sang a farewell song.

 

Again, both of them work – the best kind of ambiguity: two or more meanings, each of which adds something to the song.

 

By the end of this verse, it feels like we’re probably wandering through an AABA song form. So now, of course, the music moves us away, and, after an interlude, we hear this:

 

Love does funny things

And when it gives you wings

 

Unlike the first two lines of the song,

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

 

These lines,

 

Love does funny things

And when it gives you wings

 

Feel like a unit. If we traded a “w” for a “t,”

 

Love does funny things

And then it gives you wings

 

We’d feel like everything was solid. Alas, that pesky “when” asks us to keep going. But notice, it is the content that pushes forward here, not the structure. The content says “I won’t be finished until “when” is resolved. And now we hear,

 

Love does funny things

And when it gives you wings

You're a fool for thinking you can fly

 

Now the content is resolved, but the structure is, for the first time, clearly telling us where we’ll go next:

 

Love does funny things a 3 stresses

And when it gives you wings a 3 stresses

You're a fóol for thínking you can fly b 4 stresses

 

The third line is screaming to be matched, ideally by

 

Love does funny things a 3 stresses

And when it gives you wings a 3 stresses

You're a fóol for thínking you can fly b 4 stresses

DUM da DUM da mark c 3 stresses

Da DUM da DUM da heart c 3 stresses

Da da DUM da DUM da DUM da cry b 4 stresses

 

Or at least by something like,

 

Love does funny things a 3 stresses

And when it gives you wings a 3 stresses

You're a fóol for thínking you can fly b 4 stresses

Da da DUM da DUM da DUM da cry b 4 stresses

 

But what really happens…? Though mom is chirping away about how much fun we’re going to have and how we’ll remember this trip all our lives and isn’t it wonderful to be so excited, suddenly, poof, she stops the car, and says we’re not going anywhere. We turn around and go back where we started:

 

Love does funny things

And when it gives you wings

You're a fool for thinking you can fly

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

And hear a little midnight saxophone

I got kisses in the night

From my valentine

 

Yikes! Us kids howling in the backseat to keep going and whining “It’s not fair!” Mom meanwhile is driving us home without an explanation.

 

Here’s the whole trip:

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

And hear a little midnight saxophone

I got kisses in the night

From my Valentine

 

Used to drink my chardonnay

And smoke my cigarettes

We danced around the room just silhouettes

I sang Auld Lang Syne

For my valentine

 

Love does funny things

And when it gives you wings

You're a fool for thinking you can fly

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

And hear a little midnight saxophone

I got kisses in the night

From my valentine

 

What a perfect journey for the feeling of the song. You thought you had someone special and fell in love, thinking you could fly. Then the strong feeling that something more had to come of it, and then when it didn’t, you couldn’t even finish telling the story. So you interrupt yourself and return to your original thought, like you’ll be repeating it over and over for a long time.

 

Something special happens with rhyme here. Remember that we could have kinda finished the bridge by adding only one line?

 

Love does funny things a 3 stresses

And when it gives you wings a 3 stresses

You're a fool for thinking you can fly b 4 stresses

Da da DUM da DUM da DUM da cry b 4 stresses

 

Pretty much the same thing is accomplished here:

 

Love does funny things

And when it gives you wings

You're a fool for thinking you can fly

 

I once had a Valentine

 

So the unrhymed 3rd line of the bridge “targets” sonically to the title of the song, increasing its visibility and deepening its emotion by turning the spotlight on “Valentine,” which now turns mildly ironic. (See “The Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure” on “strategic positions” and “sonic targeting.”)

 

In most AABA forms, we usually expect the 3rd verse to tie everything up – to make a new and final statement. Here, we’ve already seen the 3rd verse – we started with it, though now we’re looking at it through new eyes and with more emotion. We’ve felt the disappointment of an interrupted love affair.

 

The interrupted bridge conspires with the song form, the repetition of the first verse rather than an expansion into the new thought of a 3rd verse, to create a character who will live with this bittersweet feeling forever, always regretting, always feeling like something wasn’t finished. Always going backwards time and again, just like the song form. Just like the interrupted bridge.

 

Nice trip, mom.

Here is the audio link to this song:

https://soundcloud.com/chanelledavis/valentine

 

Pat Pattison is a professor at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA.

 

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


 
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The Best AND Worst Advice For Successful Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 01, 2017 @08:00 AM

 

The Best AND Worst Advice For Successful Songwriting

by Mark Cawley

MarkCawley-Songwriter2.jpg

This is delicate stuff for me. I coach writers all over the world; some with wildly different goals, talents, and dreams. For me it’s not as much nuts and bolts as trying hard to find real life examples of a successful path--and an equal amount of cautionary tales.

As with any advice, I would start with considering the source. Is the person qualified to give direction? For me, I always wanted to hear from someone who was in the trenches. Someone who had actually been where I wanted to go. I like to flip to the back of the book and read the credits before I start “how to”-ing.

Just by virtue of doing what I do, as long as I’ve done it, I’ve built up quite a stash of hard-earned wisdom (with plenty of mistakes mixed in).

 

Let’s start with the best advice:

1. Jump! When you’re stuck, complacent, or just bored creatively; shake things up! For me this has meant actually picking up and moving to L.A., London, and Nashville over the years. Sometimes with no plan and certainly no plan B! It can be scary, but you’re an artist and that’s what artists do sometimes. They jump into the unknown. Every jump I’ve ever made has made me a better, and more aware songwriter. It’s as important to live and experience things as it is to study and practice your craft.

2. Study the Great Ones. Like most writers I know, I learned by deconstructing songs. How are they put together? Why do some relate to so many people and become hits? Just the process of breaking down songs and putting them back together gets in your DNA as a writer and is bound to make you better.

3. Network. This can be a hard one for us introverts but I promise, those connections you make will come back time and time again to be invaluable. I still connect with writers I wrote with 20 years ago. They’re great co-writers but more importantly, great friends and you need friends to survive in this business.

4. Be Fearless. Maybe the best advice I ever got. The best cuts I’ve ever had came from songs that were written without a “net”. If I surprised myself and loved the result, chances are someone else will.

5. Be a good hang. You’re in it for the long run and believe it or not, the writing community is smaller than you think! Being prepared, considerate, and a good listener makes you someone people want to work with again. Word spreads!

 

Now the worst advise:

1) Have a plan B. To do this job you have to not be able to not write. See #1 above.

2) Only write what you know. You can argue this, as I have with several of my coaching clients. “The only true songs are the songs written from my own personal experience”. That’s the argument . I would argue that unless your life is unbelievably interesting and eventful, the well will run dry quick. Great to write from real life but it’s also pretty cool to make something up sometimes!

3) Focus on being creative, someone else will do that messy “business” part. I tried that, doesn’t work. Be a student of the business, it’s your career and no one is going to care about your career like you do.

4) Follow the songwriting rules. Obviously, learn ‘em. So you can break ‘em! Like any craft, you want to learn the ABC’s...but then you want to invent some of your own.

5) Great art requires suffering. I’ve written some of my best sad songs when I was insanely happy and some of the most upbeat ones when I was down. If you just write every day, you’ll experience it all. Promise.

 

About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals through iDoCoach.com. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. . He is also a judge for Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to  USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriter Magazine, sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , Mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK, a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops including ASCAP, BMI and Sweetwater Sound. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 20 years in Nashville, TN.

  

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


 
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Three Tips for Writing Better Song Intros

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 08, 2017 @08:00 AM

Three Tips for Writing Better Song Intros

by Cliff Goldmacher

Tips-For-Writing-Song-Intros.jpeg

In an era of significantly shorter attention spans and increasingly distracted listeners, you, as songwriters, have an even greater responsibility to grab your audience as quickly as possible. The first and best place to do this is in your song’s intro. This can be done partly in your songwriting and partly in the production of the song demo. By writing better song intros, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting your listeners into your song right away.

 
1. Keep your intro short and to the point
I’ll start this article with a story. I was backstage at a music conference a few years ago listening to two panelists chatting before going on stage to do a song critiquing session. One of the panelists was a seasoned conference veteran and the other was relatively new to the game. The new panelist was asking the older panelist what he should do as he’d never done a critiquing session before. In response, the older, more experienced panelist said “If you can’t think of anything to say, tell them to cut their intros in half.” In other words, it’s a common mistake to make your song’s intro longer than it needs to be. I get it. As writers, we love the idea of setting the scene and creating a mood before we get to the verse but, unfortunately, it’s a luxury we can’t afford. Perhaps your mom will listen – and enjoy – a long, winding introduction to your song but unless your mom also happens to run a record label, it’s probably a better idea to keep your intro short. It’s our job to make every note count and the best way to do this is to use only as much runway as is absolutely essential to set the scene.


2. Use a catchy instrumental hook/riff
Think of the intro to Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” You know immediately what the song is from the first notes of the opening riff. There’s no reason you shouldn’t consider a similar approach in your own songs. A catchy intro riff is the perfect way to no only grab your listener’s attention but make your song is memorable so that it can be recognized almost instantly when it begins to play. The “hookier” you can make your songs the better and an intro riff is exactly the right way to go about it. A common device is to replay that intro riff at various points throughout the song like after each chorus and in the outro as well. The trick here is to make sure that while the riff is catchy, it’s not too repetitive. One way to avoid this is by modifying the intro riff by a note or two when it comes back around so that it’s recognizable while not overdoing it. Another way to avoid needless repetition is to leave out the riff in the body of your verses and choruses.

Creating a memorable intro lick is as difficult as writing a great melody or a meaningful lyric. A few was to help yourself along might be to start the song with a great groove or feel and to mine your chorus melody for direction. Anything you can do to get the various parts of your song to relate will make the overall cohesion of your song that much better. Finally, intro riffs sit in that murky area between songwriting and production where they’re not melody and lyric but they are an integral part of your song’s identity. That being said, it’s well worth your while to keep them in mind when demoing your songs.

 
3. Use dynamics
The hallmark of a polished and professional song demo is not only the great recording quality and performances of the musicians and vocalist but the dynamics. In other words, the way a song expands and contracts with volume and intensity does wonders when it comes to getting – and keeping – a listener’s attention. Often, coming out of the gate with a big, splashy intro is a great way to catch your listener’s ear but it’s also the subsequent dip of volume into the verse that serves to highlight just how dramatic/memorable the intro actually was. Secondly, carefully consider which instrument you’re going to use to convey your intro riff/hook. Sometimes the song calls for a bolder statement of theme like from an electric guitar while at other times it can be more a more subtle piano figure. Depending on the song, it can also be extremely effective to have multiple lead instruments play the hook/intro lick in unison for a more “orchestrated” feel. As I mentioned earlier, keep in mind that when it comes time to play in the verses and even the choruses, it’s better to let the melody of the song (i.e. what the singer is singing) take precedence and the lead instruments should take a back seat.
Conclusion

When it comes to your song intro, you only have a precious few seconds to make an immediate and lasting impression on your listeners. This is important not only for pitching your song to the music industry decision makers but also for anyone who you’re hoping will respond well to your song. Keep your intros short and impactful and you’ll have gone a long way towards achieving your goal.


Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.cliffgoldmacher.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars.


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


 
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