Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Write Not Just Any Song, But A HIT Song!

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 04, 2013 @01:56 PM

Write Not Just Any Song, But A HIT Song!

Q & A With Songwriter Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick, songwriter

Interview by Lorenz Rychner

 

Robin Frederick is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records, executive producer of more than 60 albums, and an in-demand lecturer on the music industry. She has written and produced hundreds of songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. In her two books, Shortcuts to HIT Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV, both of which we reviewed in this magazine, we found a treasure trove of good advice of the kind that can only come from someone who knows whereof they speak. Ms. Frederick has that kind of track record.

In this issue of Recording we focus on the recording songwriter, and we asked Ms. Frederick to address the kinds of questions that we trust will be on many readers’ minds.—LzR

Q: I want to make some money—how do I know what songs to write to make that happen?

A: Like any business, you need to give the music industry something they can sell in today’s market. The best way to do that is to study current hit songs. If you have a genre in mind when you write, it will help a lot when you’re ready to approach the industry. To find a genre you’re comfortable with, check out the music charts online and in music industry magazines. Look for hit songs you like. (Don’t study the ones you don’t like!) If you’re not familiar with these songs, listen to them on iTunes or a stream-on-demand music site. Ask yourself what it is about the song that appeals to you. How does it make you feel? Is there a lyric or melody technique you could try in a song of your own?

Q: How can I “emulate” a song without stealing from it?

A: Studying hit songs is the quickest way to pick up new songwriting techniques. You’re not looking to write a new song based on the hit—it’s a way to learn and practice songwriting craft. Songwriting is a lot like learning to ride a bicycle. You’ve got to get a feel for it, find your balance, before you can really ride on your own. Emulating a hit song is a little like putting on training wheels. It will help keep you on track and heading in the right direction as you develop new skills.

To practice songwriting with a hit song as a guide, find an existing hit with a well-defined structure—easy to identify verse and chorus sections—and a good hook. The hook is usually the first or last line of the chorus. It should be memorable and sum up the overall feeling of the song. Learn to sing the hit song’s melody. Once you can do that, write a lyric line of your own that you can comfortably sing to the hook melody of the hit. (Again, the hook is probably the first or last line of the chorus. If you’re not sure which one, then just pick one to work with.) Wherever the hook appears in the original, repeat it in your “training” version.

To  get a feel for how your lyrics sound when sung to a contemporary hit, fill out your chorus. Write more lines that support your new hook, its meaning, its emotion. Be sure they fit comfortably into the hit song melody. You don’t have to stick to every note and syllable, just get close.

Now, write a lyric for the verse. It should lead to your chorus, supporting it with more information about what the singer is feeling or experiencing. Notice whether the hit song uses images to paint a picture. Try using images in your lyric. If the hit song features conversational phrases, then you do the same.

That’s really all you need to do for this exercise. Now you’ve got a feel for the way a hit song is structured, how the lyric expresses the theme, and how it feels to sing your lyrics to a contemporary hit melody. You’re starting to “ride the bicycle.” Just remember, the hit song is copyrighted. You can’t use any part of the melody or lyric in a song of your own. The best idea is to use this as an exercise. Study successful songs and you’ll be successful!

Q: I have trouble writing melodies to go with my lyrics. Any suggestions?

A: You can use the natural melody of speech to help you find the melody that lives in your lyric. Just speak your lyric out loud with a lot of emotion. The more emotion you put into it, the more melody you’ll hear! That’s because we use the melody of speech – the pace, rhythm, volume, and pitch—to express our feelings. Try it for yourself: Say the phrase “Oh, no” in a high, fast-paced tone. Now, say it again in a low, descending voice. The first expresses anxiety, the second sadness or resignation. The words didn’t change, just the melody of speech.

What’s the emotion you want to express in your lyric? Speak the lyrics with that emotion in mind and see where the melody takes you. Then preserve the pace, the pauses, and the overall up and down movement of the pitches. Try exaggerating them to create a basic melody. It’s a good idea to record this raw melody idea so you can come back to it later. You can add chords and a rhythm track to hear how your melody would sound in a song. Feel free to play with it, change notes, add a pause, start on different beats. If you get too far away from your original idea, just go back to your recording.

Q: My friends like my songs but people in the music industry tell me they’re not commercial, my lyrics are too hard to follow and I don’t write big choruses...

A: If you’re looking to pitch your songs to the mainstream, commercial radio market—either for yourself as an artist or for someone else to sing—then you really do need to keep your listener in mind at all times. Give them enough information to make them feel that they’re right there with you experiencing what you’re experiencing. For instance, if you’re using a lot of poetic imagery, you might want to alternate that with some straightforward, conversational lines to make sure the listener doesn’t get lost. Your friends know you, they know what happened to you and how you feel, but radio listeners are complete strangers. To evoke a response from them, you might need to strike a balance.

Big choruses are important because they grab and hold the listener’s attention. For radio airplay that’s a must-have. However, there is a market that doesn’t require big choruses: songs for film & TV. This fast-growing market often prefers a simple, strong refrain line to underscore the emotion in a scene, rather than a full-blown chorus which could distract the viewer.

Q: What’s the winning formula for a hit song?

A: There really isn’t a formula. But there are song craft techniques that have proven to connect with listeners, and these are essential if you want to reach a broad audience—song structure, melodic contrast, lyric imagery, are a few. That said, the first thing you (and every songwriter) should do is express what you feel with honesty. Do that first, then go back to see if you can broaden the appeal by adding more song craft to support your theme and give it more universal appeal. Adele is a great example of a hit songwriter who blends personal songwriting with craft in a way that’s compelling for listeners.

A successful song applies song craft in a creative way, so the song sounds fresh. For instance, I love what’s happening with melodic contrast and momentum in many current hit songs. These are two techniques that listeners really love, so you should be looking at them. But it’s how you use these within your song that will make it both original and commercial. Song craft is a challenge to your creativity; it’s not there to stifle it.

Q: I don’t know what to write about.

A: There are some themes that are universal. Most people have been in relationships, enjoyed times of celebration, and most have experienced loss. These emotions are universal, not the specifics of what actually happened. Try writing a song that evokes a feeling. How did you feel when a relationship broke up? What did you feel physically? What kinds of images paint a picture of those feelings?

You can also look outside yourself for song ideas. Watch a movie or TV drama. Choose a scene and write a song that expresses the feelings, the situation, or attitude of one of the characters.

Try a different angle on a familiar theme. There are lots of songs about how bad it feels to break up with someone. How about a song about the plus side? If you’re a shy person, try writing a song from the point of view of a confident, outgoing party animal!

Q: I have trouble with my hooks, they’re just not catchy enough.

A: A good rule of thumb: Keep your hook short to make it more memorable. You could use a simple, conversational phrase, just a few words. In my book I cite three that were successful hits: “You had a bad day” (“Bad Day” by Daniel Powter, Billboard #1 for 5 weeks in 2005); “Truth is I never got over you” (“Truth Is” recorded by Fantasia, #1 for 14 weeks on Billboard Adult R&B Airplay chart), “You’re gonna miss this” (“You’re Gonna Miss This” recorded by Trace Adkins, #1 on Hot Country Songs).

Once you have a short phrase, imagine what your listener will want to know when they hear that hook, what questions will they be wondering about? What kind of a bad day and why? Gonna miss what? This tells you what the rest of the lyrics should be about—filling in the rest of the story that the hook hints at. Think of your hook as a mini-version of your song.

Q: I have trouble making my verses and choruses different enough, they all sound the same.

A: For a radio hit, your chorus has to grab attention, to shout from the rooftop “Here I am!” No more explaining, no more background information—this is the heart and soul of your song. To make sure listeners notice the chorus, use one of the most effective song craft techniques—contrast. Contrast gets attention!

If your verse is fast-paced and wordy, consider smoothing out the pace of your chorus. Hold out the notes a little longer, give the melody a more fluid feel. If your verse is in a low note range, try putting the chorus in a higher note range. A sudden jump upwards of even a few notes will catch attention and raise the emotional intensity of the song.

In fact, you’ve probably noticed that hit song choruses are often in a higher note range than the verse. That’s because when we get emotional, our voices tend to rise. By putting the chorus in a higher note range, you make use of a natural response. Listeners automatically hear more emotion in a chorus that’s in a higher note range.

Q: I can’t seem to come up with a good melody that doesn’t already sound like a lot of existing songs.

A: You’re not alone; this happens to all songwriters! A melody that sounds like a lot of others, one that’s generic or clichéd, is often just the first melody you came up with. But successful songwriters don’t stop there. They treat it as raw material, a place to start, not the final melody of the song. In fact, you can rewrite a melody, just like you rewrite a lyric.

First, take a look at the individual lines of your melody. Are they all starting on the same beat? Try varying the start times of your phrases. Starting a line on the 3rd beat of the bar or an upbeat is a great way to add a fresh sound. (The “and” in “one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and” is an upbeat.)

Are all your lines a similar length? If so, here’s a quick fix that really works and will give you melody a contemporary edge: Add a couple of notes and words to the end of one line and run it into the next, creating a single long line. Or you can start a line earlier, eliminating the pause at the end of the line before. Varying the line lengths will add interest to your melody. Eliminating pauses will add momentum.

Rewriting is both fun and creative. Enjoy yourself and try new things. Remember, if you don’t like the direction your song is going, there’s an “Undo” button. Just push it and get back to where you started. Then try something else. There are endless possibilities!

For more about Robin Frederick, visit her website at www.robinfrederick.com. Her books are published by TAXI Music Books at www.songwritingbooks.com.

This article is printed with permission from Recording magazine. For more information on recording magazine, go to: http://www.recordingmagazine.com

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit song, Melodies, Lyrics, songwrite, Robin Frederick, A&R, Rhino Records, hook, syllable

Muscle Music Marketing For Your Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 16, 2009 @04:16 PM

Muscle Music Marketing For Your Songwriting
By Molly-Ann Leikin

Most creative people are terrible at business. We're all very, very sensitive and take it personally when someone is abrupt or rude as we nervously try to promote our uncertain selves.

The guy who makes one more phone call, one more time, gets the meeting. The most persistent musicians are the ones with the deals.

We hate hearing that because we're all looking for fairy godmothers to rescue and discover us, but Toto, there is no fairy godmother. No matter how much we want or need one, it's on each of us to switch gears and become the cool-headed champions of our own art.

Nobody will ever love our work more than we do. Not our mothers, dads, wives, husbands, ex-husbands, ex-husbands twice removed, significant or insignificant others.

The good news is that in my book, "How To Be A Hit Songwriter", there are three whole chapters devoted to the creative marketing your music and lyrics. And in the Fifth Edition of "How To Write A Hit Song", just published, there are two.

One of the best recommendations I can make is to call, speak to and/or meet one new music person every day. Not just when you feel like it. Every day. Keep a list with phone numbers and email addresses. At the end of the year, you'll have 365 contacts. Sure, it's easier staying home under the bed, hoping hoping hoping to just mail it in, unsolicited, but you have to leave the comfort of your creative space and get out into the world where the people are you need to meet. The chances are good that the next Sony CEO won't knock on your door desperate to go potty, hoping for a diet Coke, with shaved Bavarian ice, in the bargain.

Don't you owe it to your music to learn to be as good at business as you are at writing, singing and performing? When you are, you'll have the whole package. Then nobody can stop you.

© 2009 Molly-Ann Leikin

Molly-Ann Leikin (rhymes with bacon) is a songwriting consultant in L.A. with a house full of gold and platinum records plus an Emmy nomination. She is also a Eurovision finalist (American Idol in Europe). Three of her clients have Grammy nominations, another won an Emmy and so far, 5041 others have placed their work, with Molly's help, in movies, TV, on CD's and in commercials.
The author of "How To Write A Hit Song" and "How To Be A Hit Songwriter", Molly's website is www.songmd.com and her toll-free number for the USA and Canada is 800-851-6588. You can also reach her at songmd@songmd.com


Tags: Songwriting, how to write a song, hit song, hit songwriter, song contest, songwriting competition, songwriting contest, songwriting partner, writing partner, collaborator, American Idol, Melody, Melodies, writing songs

How Songwriters Can Write Hit Song Melodies, Part 3

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 02, 2009 @07:10 AM

HOW TO WRITE HIT MELODIES, Part 3, by Molly-Ann Leikin

Molly-Ann Leikin, songwriter

When I write a song, I always write the melody first, one note at a time. While I have limited chops as a keyboard player, I do hear melodies in my head. I keep a recording device of some kind with me all the time - in my car, in my purse, next to the bed, even in the shower - so that whenever I get an idea for something, I just record it, la la la'ing. Sometimes I even call my voicemail, and sing to myself. I constantly revise the notes, going over and over and over them. You may work differently, but just remember that songwriting is a process, and what comes out in the first draft is just that - a first draft - and usually needs several more to reach the finish line. I'm lucky because I feel a little click in my gut when I know something I've written is finished. But I don't have anything to do with chords or programming until much later.

After writing the single notes of the chorus, I work backwards to write the individual notes of the verse, again, one note at a time. When I am finally happy with both the verse and the chorus, I go looking for the chords to put around them. That way, I'm not inhibited by my lack of musicianship or intimidated by the technical aspects of programming. I just write the song. Once the melody's down pat and the lyric I write to the melody clicks and I have the chords that go around the notes, then I start thinking about "how do I hear this produced, what instruments do I feel, what record on the radio sounds like what I'm going for." But it all starts with the individual notes of the melody. I know from working with so many talented, developing writers that they start with too much ambition and too much technology and not enough bare simple note-by-note creativity. So if you find your melodies aren't as strong as you would like them to be, or that the marketplace requires, then I suggest you try some version of my way of writing songs and adapt it to your personality. When you change the process, you can change the result.
© 2009 Songwriting Consultants, Ltd.

~Molly-Ann Leikin (rhymes with bacon) is a song marketing consultant in California, who, for a modest professional fee, works one-on-one to help you find the right writing partner and then helps you market your finished work to all the right people. A Eurovision finalist (American Idol in Europe), Molly is the author of "How to Write A Hit Song, Fifth edition", (June, 2008) from which this article is excerpted, and "How to Be a Hit Songwriter", both published by Hal Leonard. She has a house full of gold and platinum records plus an Emmy nomination, has written themes and songs for over four dozen TV shows and movies, including "Eight is Enough" and "Violet" that won an Oscar. From the USA and Canada, you can reach Molly, toll-free, at 800-851-6588, or from anywhere in the world, at www.songmd.com. Please note: Molly does not accept unsolicited material. © 2009 Songwriting Consultants, Ltd. For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, please go tp: http://www.songwriting.net 


Tags: Songwriting, how to write a song, hit song, hit songwriter, song contest, songwriting competition, songwriting contest, songwriting partner, writing partner, collaborator, American Idol, Melody, Melodies, Molly-Ann Leikin

How Songwriters Can Write Hit Song Melodies, Part 2

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Apr 01, 2009 @02:42 PM

HOW TO WRITE HIT MELODIES, Part 2, by Molly-Ann Leikin

Molly-Ann Leikin, Songwriter

In writing a melody, it's critical to keep your audience surprised.  Since we speak English in iambic pentameter, it's natural to assume we can write in the same meter.  Unfortunately, it's deadly boring.  So I suggest you deliberately vary the lengths of your lines, and the number of notes in each, along with the number of lines or bars per section, to avoid your song sounding predictable.  After all, it's your job as an artist to tell your audience something they aren't expecting.    

The range of most contemporary singers is an octave and three - the interval from middle C, for example, to the E an octave above it.  If you write a tune with a range greater than that, you'll be hard-pressed to find a singer with the chops to handle it.  My song, "An American Hymn", which I wrote with Lee Holdridge, was only recorded once in twenty years until Lee figured out how to revise the bridge melody, reducing our octave and five to an octave and three.  Now the song is recorded at least once a month.    

Most hit "power" ballads, such as Daughtry's "Home," end their verses on notes lower than the ones on which the choruses start.  To create tension and drama in their melodies, I urge my clients, and you, to go up into the chorus, not sideways or down.  Doing the latter is like letting air out of a tire.  So go up and stay up.  And although some contemporary songs break the rising-into-the chorus rule, you can bet their rhythmic hooks at the beginning of and throughout the choruses are strong enough to overcome the melody's drop, and keep us listening.  

~Molly-Ann Leikin (rhymes with bacon) is a song marketing consultant in California, who, for a modest professional fee, works one-on-one to help you find the right writing partner and then helps you market your finished work to all the right people.  A Eurovision finalist (American Idol in Europe), Molly is the author of "How to Write A Hit Song, Fifth edition", (June, 2008) from which this article is excerpted, and "How to Be a Hit Songwriter", both published by Hal Leonard.  She has a house full of gold and platinum records plus an Emmy nomination, has written themes and songs for over four dozen TV shows and movies, including "Eight is Enough" and "Violet" that won an Oscar. From the USA and Canada, you can reach Molly, toll-free, at 800-851-6588, or from anywhere in the world, at www.songmd.com.  Please note:  Molly does not accept unsolicited material. © 2009 Songwriting Consultants, Ltd. For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, please go tp: http://www.songwriting.net 


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