Songwriting Tips, News & More

5 Songwriting Tips to Turn Good Songs into Hit Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Oct 29, 2014 @05:15 PM

5 Tips to Turn Good Songs into Hit Songs

by Jason Blume 

Hit songwriter Jason Blume breaks down how a perfect pitch leads to a smash hit

 songwriting

I recently hosted one of my monthly BMI Nashville Songwriter Workshops, where each of the 50 attendees had an opportunity to pitch one song to a successful publisher. Typically, at these workshops, with few exceptions, every song played was perfectly crafted. The writers have mastered the use of current song structures; the lyrics made sense and were well written; rhymes were where my ear expected them to be; and the melodies worked well with the chords—avoiding any dissonance. Yet the publisher took copies of only five songs—10 percent of those that were pitched.

It was a good reminder that “perfectly crafted” is a starting point, but it isn’t enough. In order to rise above the competition, our songs need to go beyond the expected, pushing the creative envelope and differentiating themselves from the hundreds—if not thousands—of other well-written songs that are all vying for a coveted slot on a major label artist’s recording.

A publisher once told me that when he plays songs at meetings with record label executives, he needs his songs to “slap them out of their A&R trance.” The same holds true when pitching songs to record producers and recording artists. The publisher went on to explain that these industry pros are bombarded with songs—mostly written by published songwriters with track records—so all of the songs under consideration are good, but only those songs with that extra something jump out of the pile and demand attention.

Similarly, writers who play their songs for publishers, in the hope of securing a publishing deal, need to take into account that the publisher probably already has an extensive catalog of songs, and possibly staff writers, for which he or she is responsible. There should be compelling reasons for a publisher to choose your song over the competition—elements that instantly announce that your song is unique and exceptional and that it is destined to become a smash hit that will elevate an artist’s career to the next level.

Imagine that every song needs to score a minimum of 100 points to become a hit. Some of those points will typically be earned by the lyric, some will be awarded because of the melody, while others might come from the musical backing track.

So… what elements can you add to your songs to provide those extra points that compel artists, publishers and record label executives to choose your songs over the competition and carry them to the top of the charts? The more components we include, the more points we rack up and the better chance for success. Let’s look at some ways to separate songs from the pack—and transform them from good to wow!

Include Unique Melodic Elements and Unexpected Melodic Intervals
A memorable melody is essential—but only those melodies that feel fresh and original will rise above the competition. There are several ways to ensure your melodies grab attention. The tools described below can take a song to the next level.

Listen to the intervals used in Kris Kristofferson’s classic, “Help Me Make it Through the Night.” The note choices in the first line are anything but predictable. Similarly, listen to Neil’s Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done,” and note the unexpected note and chord choices. A more contemporary example is Pink’s hit “Try” (written by Busbee and Ben West), which incorporates unexpected melodic intervals that allow the artist to soar vocally, matching the intense emotion of the lyric.

Stock melodies won’t contribute to a listener choosing your song over the competition.

Add Instrumental Hooks
By adding instrumental hooks—catchy instrumental melodic phrases—you give your listeners another reason to latch on to and connect with your song. For example, the distinctive tenor saxophone line sampled from Balkan Beat Box’s “Hermetico” provides some of the most memorable moments in Jason Derulo’s smash hit “Talk Dirty.”

It accomplishes this both by incorporating an instantly recognizable lick—and introducing a sound that’s fresh, attention grabbing, and not typically heard in hip-hop. The baritone sax part heard in the verses contributes yet another special element. Similarly, the catchy tenor sax line woven through Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” was one of the most distinctive elements of that number one hit.

I’m not implying that using saxophones is the magic bullet. Hit songs have included instrumental melodic hooks that were played on keyboards, banjos, electric and acoustic guitars, accordions, fiddle, bass guitar, harmonica and countless other instruments. It’s interesting to note that in Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” the added melodic hook that helped propel this song to the top of the charts was performed by a combination of instruments and vocals—without lyrics.

Including unique, memorable instrumental motifs, and instruments and/or sounds that go beyond the expected can take your songs to the next level.

Incorporate Fresh Rhythms
There has been a recent trend of infusing hip-hop rhythms into contemporary country songs. This can be found in hits such as Blake Shelton’s “Boys Round Here” (featuring Pistol Annies), Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kinda Night.”

Regardless of musical genre, one of the most effective ways to separate your songs from the pack is to craft melodies that give the vocalists interesting rhythms to sing. This is often accomplished by incorporating syncopation.

There are countless examples of hits that use this technique. Some exceptional ones to study include Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart,” Eli Young Band’s “Drunk Last Night” and Lorde’s “Royals.”

Melodies that go beyond stock, predictable rhythms differentiate themselves from the competition.

A Fresh Lyric Concept and Title
It’s obvious that building your song on the foundation of a strong lyric concept—an idea that millions of listeners can relate to—is important. But to elevate your song from good to exceptional, explore a new angle in your lyric, a fresh approach or a novel way to express your concept. This can be done in both the title and the individual lines of lyric.

Notice how intriguing the titles and corresponding concepts are in classic songs such as “Billy Jean,” “Hotel California,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Take This Job and Shove It” and “Proud Mary.” There are also countless examples of contemporary hits that have unique titles and lyric angles, such as “Roar,” “I Hope You Dance,” “(What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You) Stronger,” “From a Distance,” “Alien,” “I Kissed a Girl,” “The House That Built Me” and “I Drive Your Truck.”

At the time I wrote this article, seven of the top 10 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart had one-word titles, demonstrating their popularity. Hits with one-word titles have included: “Problem,” “Rude,” “Fancy,” “Cruise,” “Crazy,” “Wanted,” Stay” and “Domino.”

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ GRAMMY-nominated hit “Same Love” blazed new territory with a lyric that tackled the topic of same-sex love and marriage. It’s interesting to note that the chorus of that song is sung from the first-person perspective. By avoiding “preaching” to the listeners, and not telling them what they should think or feel, the song evoked emotion by allowing its audience to empathize with the singer.

If you were a recording artist seeking material, would you choose a title and concept as interesting as one of those listed above—or a more mundane idea such as “Oh, Baby I Love You,” “You’re the One I Need,” “I Miss You”? A great title and an equally strong concept can be the ticket to take your song to the top of the charts.

Incorporating Nonsense Syllables/Non-Lyric Vocal Hooks
A publisher at one of my workshops told the attendees, “When you add a ‘na-na-na,’ an ‘oh, oh, oh,’ ‘hey, hey, hey,’ or some other sounds the audience can sing along with, you increase your song’s chances of being recorded ten-thousand-fold.” I’m guessing it might not help quite to that extent, but his point is an important one.

One of the catchiest and most memorable elements of Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert’s number one duet, “Somethin’ Bad,” is the “oh, oh, oh” sung during the intro and included throughout the song. Similarly, Bruno Mars featured a hook sung on the syllables “oh, yeah, yeah, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” during the intro of his GRAMMY-nominated “Locked Out of Heaven.”

The use of non-lyric vocal hooks is not limited to any specific genres, and exceptional examples of these can be heard in Lady Antebellum’s “Compass,” Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” Britney’s “Till the World Ends,” Feist’s “1-2-3-4” and Keith Urban’s “Long Hot Summer.” While it won’t be right for every song, this tool is an important one that can help sear your song into listeners’ brains.

In summation, if you don’t give an artist, an A&R executive, record producer, music publisher—or your listeners—a compelling reason to choose your song over the competition—they won’t. Think outside the box and give your songs those extra points that can turn them from good songs to hit songs!

 

[Reprinted with permission from BMI Music World Magazine]

Jason Blume’s songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Azar, and John Berry (“Change My Mind,” a top 5 single that earned a BMI “Million-Aire” Award for garnering more than one million airplays). In the past year he’s had three top-10 singles and a “Gold” record in Europe by Dutch star, BYentl, including a #1 on the Dutch R&B iTunes chart. Jason authored three of the best selling songwriting books, 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting, and is in his nineteenth year of teaching the BMI Nashville Songwriters workshops. A regular contributor to BMI’s Music World magazine, he presented a master class at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and teaches songwriting throughout the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, the U.K., Canada, Bermuda, and Jamaica. He is also a winner of the USA Songwriting Competition (in 2002). 

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, A&R, Jason Blume, hit songs

Songwriting Tip : MAKE Your Song a Hit

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 15, 2014 @06:21 AM

MAKE Your Song a Hit

 by Dave KusekSongwriter, songwriting

 

It’s one thing to write a hit song, but getting people to hear it is another story. There are thousands of “hit-worthy” songs out there that most people never even hear. It’s unfortunate, but you can start changing that trend by taking a more proactive role in the marketing of your song. This is an active business. Chance are you won’t randomly get found and thrust into the spotlight. You need to MAKE your song a hit. You’ll have to start small, but starting at all will put you ahead of the pack.

 

Make your song a Hit

 

Marketing the Process

The process of songwriting is one of the best opportunities to connect with an audience. Of course, if you’re writing songs with hopes they are used by another artist, this strategy may not be useful to you. Keep in mind though that unless you have a publisher with connections on your side, your song may never get to that high profile recording artist. Try your best to get that connection, but don’t make waiting a habit. Sitting on an unreleased song forever isn’t going to get you very far.

 

People love the process. Try posting “rough-drafts” of your song on YouTube or make Vine clips for Instagram or Twitter with short lyrical sections.

 

People love a story. I’m sure you’ve listened to lyrics and found yourself speculating about their meaning or what drove the songwriter to put those thoughts and emotions into song. Try writing blogs about the inspirations you’re feeling as you write. Stories give you the opportunity to connect with people on a level that goes beyond music. Maybe you experienced a profound event or a death. Maybe you have a passion for hiking and were inspired by that feeling of accomplishment you get at the top of a mountain. Whatever it is, people can connect with those stories. Tell yours. We want to hear it.

 

Stories that go beyond music also allow you to shine in a much less crowded space. In the music industry you’re just another songwriter in the crowd, but in the world of hiking you can be the star. Take this concept a step further and use those stories to get coverage for your song outside the music space. Eileen Quinn draws her inspiration from sailing and, as a result, was able to get coverage from sailing magazines and blogs.

 

These updates throughout the entire process keep you in the front of your fans minds.

 

Start Networking

 

Songwriters can sometimes feel isolated from the rest of the music industry. Recording and touring artists have to be out there interacting with people. You don’t have to stay behind the scenes - this year, make it a goal to get out there and meet people. Remember that this is a personal business. Emails aren’t going to cut it. Call people up, invite them to your show, meet them for coffee.

 

You don’t have to go on a full-blown tour, but try playing some smaller, singer-songwriter type gigs in more intimate environments where people can really connect with your song. Connect and collaborate with local bands. Maybe they’d be interested in covering one of your songs. Or, even better, maybe they know someone who could get your music in front of a publisher.

 

Try to get connections to people outside the traditional music industry. YouTube personalities, bloggers, and amateur photographers are just some of the options available to you. Many people who run YouTube channels are always looking for new music to use in the background of their videos. These people are tastemakers - their following really trusts their opinion - and just having your music there is enough to get their followers to check you out.

 

The key with everything is to start small. It takes time to get the opportunities that will really make your career. But writing a great song and just waiting for your big break won’t make a hit. Get out there, be proactive, and start taking the first steps towards the songwriting career you deserve.

 

About Dave Kusek:

If you’re ready to take a more active role in your own songwriting career, check out the New Artist Model online course. Sign up for the mailing list and get access to 5 free lessons.

 

 For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, hit songs, Dave Kusek

One Thing a Day for My Songwriting Journey By Doak Turner

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jul 15, 2011 @03:26 PM

One Thing a Day for My Songwriting Journey

by Doak Turner

 

Doak Turner

If I told you that you could do 300+ things for your songwriting journey between today and this time next year – would you think that I am crazy or what?

As a songwriter who lived outside of Nashville until moving in October 2002, I would follow a plan that really helped me stay focused and stay on my songwriting journey. I made trips to Nashville for (6) years before moving to town. I called it simply, "Do One Thing a Day for my songwriting." Those "things" have enabled me to develop a great network in Nashville of friends and industry professionals, to be prepared when I moved to Nashville with the craft and business of songwriting, to write better songs on my songwriting journey, and to really keep my songwriting goals focused over the years prior to moving to Nashville.

One thing a day includes making a phone call or e-mail to a songwriter to set up a co-write session, or an industry professional to ask a songwriting business question, or someone in the local songwriting workshop to discuss an upcoming event. Or, I might make plans for my next trip to Nashville, plans for an upcoming workshop meeting and guest speakers for the local events. I would also contact the media for those local songwriting events. Sometimes I would talk to a couple of out-of-town or out-of-state friends who are on the songwriting journey to share ideas, goals, challenges and successes. Sometimes a call would be needed to say hello to someone whom I haven't spoken to for a while, who always encouraged me in life, and to share what was going on in my life, even thought that friend was not a songwriter. They are (and still continue to be) great, positive friends who believe in me.

Other kinds of one thing a day include opening my hook-book to write a hook that I had just found reading a book, a conversation overheard during the day. My hook-book contains “Hooks” – thoughts and ideas for songs that I use when writing and co-writing songs. Or, I might find a hook from watching a movie or TV, from the preacher's sermon, a newspaper, or magazine. Sometimes, the hook "came to me from the sky," or wherever those hooks come from, and seem to find our songwriter's antenna, move into our head, and then down our arm onto the paper. I also open the hook book to review ideas I've written in it, to see if I could write another verse or chorus to something I had started previously, and maybe even complete a song in my hook book. Looking at music sites on line can be very helpful by finding ideas from artists and songwriters, learning and networking on-line with myspacemusic and other sites from organizations and songwriters. 

I might play the guitar or keyboard - even for a couple minutes a day - which is another excellent thing to do that may inspire an idea. I would learn another melody that can lead to a song, learn a new chord or strumming pattern, or work to improve a song that I've written. If I have more than a couple minutes, then I play the instrument and visualize myself playing my songs to an audience, a concert hall, one of our local venues, or playing live in the venue if that is my ultimate goal. Keeping the guitar on a stand instead of in the guitar case makes it much easier to play! So have them in as many rooms of your house as possible – you may pick one up for a couple minutes and strum a melody that you haven’t thought of yet – starting another song!

One thing a day also includes reading just a chapter - or even one or two pages - of a songwriting book a day to increase my songwriting skills. Hey, folks - we all know what our favorite room to read is - so go ahead and have a songwriting book in there at all times! If I read a little before going to bed, I often make it a songwriting or industry publication for my bedtime stories. I read the "how to" songwriting books, biographies about people in the songwriting or music industry, or any book or industry magazine that enables me to learn one thing per day. American Songwriter Magazine, Music Row and Performing Songwriter are a couple magazines to have around the house. It's is a great investment for my songwriting journey. I highly recommend every songwriter reading “The Craft and Business of Songwriting – Third Edition” by John Braheny. If you read just (2) pages a day – you will learn something new every day about songwriting! The book by Douglas Waterman “Song – the world’s best songwriters on creating the music that moves us” is another great book to have at your desk or nightstand – somewhere easy to pick up and read – maybe just ONE interview a day with a great songwriter will make a difference on your journey!

Some other things that I did while still in Charlotte, NC and you can too is to attend and get involved in the local songwriting community. I was the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) coordinator in Charlotte from 1996 - 2002. I was fortunate to have two great co-coordinators for the last year in Charlotte, as I had my condo on the market and was making plans to move to Nashville. I know from personal experience that it's great when songwriters ask what they can do to get involved with the local songwriter workshop.

I highly recommend networking in your local community by attending the music events and singer/songwriter nights. This is an excellent place to meet new co-writers and friends that have the same interests as you and inspire new songs.

One thing a day should include time to review your goals. I wrote my goals down and placed them where I could see them every day. I still do this. That way, I can pause for a minute, look and make sure I have done one thing that day for my songwriting journey. Visualize your goals happening with your songwriting. But, the most important thing for you to do each day is - Have Fun on Your Songwriting Journey!

Doak Turner is a songwriter in Nashville, TN. He has songs on independent CD projects, former 6-year local coordinator in the NSAI Charlotte workshop, produced several successful songwriting events, a writer for www.musicdish.com in the “Song Works¨ section of the site, and editor and publisher of The Nashville Muse. 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, hit songs, doak turner, one thing a day