Songwriting Tips, News & More

12 Ways to Get Yourself Unstuck in Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Dec 02, 2019 @08:00 AM

by Michael Dehoyos

Songwriting-Pic1

Writing songs is a personal thing, when you need to look inside yourself and find inspiration. When you’re truly stuck, here are some unusual tips you can try; we promise they actually work!

1. Play all your radios together.

When no one is home, turn on all the radios at once when you’re stuck songwriting. You can hear some interesting overlaps, progressions, and melodies. It’s a type of absurdist music composition, known as aleatory music, where the composition relies on chance. Put on all the radios and listen out for any moments of overlap as a way to find great inspiration.

2. Ask yourself the 5 w’s

Think about the subject of your song. What is it about? Who is the main character in it? Where did they come from? Where are you hoping they’ll arrive at by the end of the song? How did they get here? What are they looking for? What do they want to achieve? Remember, what, who, why, where, when and how. Answer those basic questions and the narrative of your song will start to emerge.

3. Listen instead of talking for one day.

Take an oath of silence for a day, and you’ll notice that your brain can reset. Talking actually takes a lot out of your creative brain so when you don’t, you can focus on writing. The silence also allows all your feelings and memories to rise to the surface. Spending the day listening will also be a great way to fuel your ideas. Have a notepad to hand and jot down any interesting snippets of conversation and dialogue that you hear. Listen out for any interesting sounds or fragments of melodies you can use.

4. Set a time limit.

Time can be difficult but if you have too much, you’ll second guess everything you write. Set yourself a short time limit, for less time than you normally need. This will force you to focus and streamline your creative process. If it’s too short, you’ll find that you get absolutely nothing done, so you might want to play around with the best length! You’ll find that you get better at writing great songs quicker. You can challenge yourself further by playing with the time limit each day. The key is to keep writing throughout the whole time; don’t censor yourself!

5. Create a routine

Songwriting is all about practice. The more you write, the better you will become. If you find that you are getting stuck, try writing every day, consistently at the same time. Start with a small amount of time, maybe just 15 minutes a day. You will find that by creating a routine, your brain will become more focused and the more you practice, the more natural the process will become. You will find that the quality of your songwriting will quickly improve and so will your confidence. You will start to beat your block, by knowing you have achieved some songwriting everyday.

6. Play around with song structure

Instead of writing in the conventional, intro-verse-chorus pattern, change it around. Try starting with the chorus, maybe followed by two long verses. You can add in a hidden chorus or a solo. Be creative and challenge your usual pattern.

7. Write from a different perspective

Imagine a scene, maybe one you saw or overheard earlier in the day. Write a verse from one person’s perspective, then the next verse from another person’s point of view. This can make your song sound pretty interesting. You also don’t need to search around for ideas to start with, because you already know what happens – you have already seen the scene! You can also play around with first person and third person narratives and see where it takes you.

8. Write and rearrange words.

Write down a bunch of words that you’ve been thinking about lately, cut them up and rearrange them into different ideas. This can be done for notes, melodies, and even pictures. David Bowie famously used this method for some of his most successful songs.

9. Read and Collect

Read all different types of content- magazines, blogs, tweets, books. Anything and everything! If you have a specific topic you want to write about, focus your reading around that. If not, create a mood-board or scrapbook (you can even create a digital version on your phone) and add to it every time you read something that interests you. News stories are great for giving you current topics to write about. If you’re more of a visual person, use Pinterest and photos from gallery websites, or even better, visit a gallery and get inspiration from the images. You can write a song about the image, or the events that led up to it or that inspired it. Or go a whole different route and write about the person who painted or created the artwork.

10. Listen to Mozart.

Studies show that listening to Mozart gives you more focus by affecting your spatial-temporal reasoning. When you start a writing session by listening to Mozart, you’ll immediately be more concentrated.

11. Use a title

Choose a film, book or song title. Use that as the prompt for your song and create a story to go with it. When you have finished, go back and create your own unique song title. Maybe your song actually took a different route and the new title reflects a whole different aspect of the story? You can use random generators online to generate a title for you or you can collect titles and put them in a jar. Whenever you are stuck, pull one out and get writing!

12. Play your instrument “wrong”.

When you play your instrument the “wrong” way, you’re using an extended technique. This helps you push the boundaries of what’s possible, like playing a piano with the strings modified due to other objects.

It’s normal to get stuck in the songwriting process. If that happens, take some out-of-the-box ideas to get the creativity flowing again. Sometimes, you just need to approach something differently to allow your brain to go where it needs to.

 

Michael Dehoyos, a content marketer and editor with PhD Kingdom, likes to help others find their creativity and maximize their potential. He writes about his own struggles with writing in the hopes that he will help others improve too. In his free time, he loves to play the piano and invent new melodies. Check out: https://phdkingdom.com/

 

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

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, Song Intro, song structure, post-chorus, Pre-Chorus, Outro, rearrange words

Songwriting: Elements Of Song Structure

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Nov 11, 2019 @11:21 AM

by Alex Bruce & Karen Randle

WhatItTakesToWriteAHitSong

Structure is of course one of the central elements of songwriting. And although it’s fair to say that structure has been used (or abandoned) very creatively by many artists over the years, there are still far fewer variables and options than there are in song content i.e. Chord pattern choices, instrumentation etc.

Song structure is also similar to music theory, in the sense that it’s better to know the rules and then consciously break them, than to break all the rules by simply being unaware.

So, as for precisely how to structure your song, unless you’re writing a highly-commercialized pop song it’s very hard to give you direct instruction.

Instead, you’ll see that below, each common ‘element’ of song structure is described and explained. How many of each to use, when, in what order, and so on, are all the calls the writer must make.

Here is a typical song structure includes a verse, chorus, and bridge in the following arrangement: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro. This is known as an ABABCB structure, where A is the verse, B is the chorus and C is the bridge.

Remember, you don’t have to use every single one of these elements in every song. Think of this list as more of a palette of ingredients to select from.


Intro
Fairly self-explanatory here. Short for introduction, the ‘intro’ is the first thing a listener hears. It may be a riff, or establishing a theme that will then play out in full in the verse or chorus, but fundamentally it’s about setting the scene. One of its functional purposes is to establish the key for the vocalist too. Listen to various songs and critically question the intro’s purpose. Compare and contrast songs spanning different genres too.


Verse
Very often the first sung section you’ll hear (though not always as plenty of highly commercial songs start with a chorus), the verse is essentially the second-most-main section behind the chorus. It establishes the song’s theme, tone, lyrical style and content and ultimately sets up the chorus and continuation of the song. A great number of rock and pop songs begin Intro > Verse > Chorus, so study some and observe the role of the verse, expanding upon the intro, but not yet the chorus.


Pre-Chorus
Not always present, as some songs jump straight from a verse into a chorus. But when it is present, the pre-chorus acts like a pathway from the verse to the chorus. These sections can be at times maligned as gap-filling things designed to patch together a verse and a chorus that otherwise don’t really work together. However, when deliberately and consciously implemented in their own right they can provide fantastic build and tension and heighten the effect of the chorus. You’ll know if a song has a pre-chorus simply because there seems to be an additional section after the verse (and different to it) but before the chorus comes.


Chorus
The pay-off moment, and most-repeated section, of most songs. A song’s chorus is usually distinctive by being some combination of the following factors:
The most memorable section (or the ‘hook’)
The section that lyrically contains the song’s title
The main melodic theme of the song
A place where additional voices/instruments are added
The simplest lyrical section

The chorus is usually the section most people know and remember, and in commercial pop music is the section on which a song is almost entirely judged. It either pays for itself or it doesn’t. Even down to various pop producers and record labels having rules about the maximum number of seconds into a song that a chorus may happen!


Post-Chorus / Break / Tag
This is one of the less common elements of song structure. This shows in its 3 (and maybe more) different names, in that it is not so defined or established as verse or chorus for example.

This section is something that comes on the end of or after a chorus (but isn’t the chorus), but equally is not yet the next verse, or simply a repeat of the intro section.

Much as the pre-chorus can be a build-up to the chorus. The post-chorus can act like a warm-down or wind-down afterwards.


Bridge
The bridge is usually a songwriter’s chance to insert something totally different. It isn’t like a verse, or a chorus, or in fact any other of the sections above/below, most of which serve as a build-up or warm-down to the verse/chorus, or relate to it in some way.

The bridge is usually something quite different. Sometimes there’s a key change, a change in instrumentation, it may be acapella (voices only), or it may be a complete about turn in tone, mood and emphasis.

In pop/rock, the bridge is very often followed by a final chorus or final double chorus before the song ends. So for that reason, the art of writing a good bridge section is writing something that, when the section begins, feels totally different, but by its end point, flows naturally back into the chorus section.


Solo
Often the solo section is interchangeable with the bridge - it’s unusual to get both unless the song is very long and/or experimental.

Essentially an instrumental section, often played by instruments we might consider expressive, ‘lead’ instruments, such as electric guitar, saxophone and so on, this is a moment of instrumental expression, something different, a break for the vocalist(s) and a thrill for the instrumentalist(s).

Solos have been famously used across the decades from the very minimal, thematic, reserved iterations, to the full-blown, 3 minute long shredding guitar solos.

How the solo is executed is determined by the writer’s style, tastes, expression and intentions.

Outro
Another section that’s not always present, as many songs end after a final chorus, or in rock/blues after a guitar solo quite often too.

When an outro is present, it can vary from something quite short and simplistic, to an epilogue - a final, epic, concluding act.

It may be a continuation or adaptation of the section that has just come before it. Equally it may be a return to the theme of the intro, which provides a nice sense of symmetry.

Have a listen to 10 different songs and consider how they end, asking yourself - why is this song ending in this way? Does it refer back to another section of the song? What purpose does this outro serve? Is it a section in its own right? Do I like it? Why?

Alex Bruce is a writer for Guitartricks.com and 30Daysinger.com

 

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

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, Song Intro, song structure, post-chorus, derivative, Genres, Pre-Chorus, Outro

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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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Song Intro, song demo, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs

Songwriting Tip: How Does Your Song Stack Up?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 02, 2012 @11:40 AM

HOW DOES YOUR SONG STACK UP?

Danny Arena, Songwriter

Every now and then, I like to tape the entire country top 40 and analyze the songs in terms of song structure and various timing considerations. In this column, I wanted to share with you the results of my most recent survey.

1. Song Form. Everyone says write your song in a song form. Maybe you've wondered just how important that is to making the top 40? Well as usual, out of forty songs on this particular week when I analyzed them, every one was written in one of the well established song forms. 

Form Number of Songs in the Top 40
AAA none
AABA 9
Verse/Chorus 15
Verse/Chorus/Bridge 7
Verse/Lift/Chorus 7
Verse/Lift/Chorus/Bridge 2

As has been the case the past three years, the majority of songs in the top 40 used the simple verse/chorus structure (though some included instrumental sections). Second place was very close, with the AABA's getting the nod by a slim margin, followed closely by the V/C/B structure and the V/L/C structure. As you might expect, there were no AAA songs, although one or two a year usually make their way into the top 40.

II. Length Of Introduction. How long should an introduction to a song be? The introduction should be long enough to establish the feel and tempo of the song, and possibly introduce a motif. Anything longer, and your introduction is simply taking up valuable space in the song and probably hurting the song. 

Length of Introduction # of Songs in the Top 40
< 10 seconds 8
11 - 15 seconds 25
16 - 17 seconds 7
> 17 seconds none

Average length = 12 seconds

The fascinating statistic here is that twenty-five of the forty songs fell into the second category and no songs had introductions longer than seventeen seconds. 

III. Time To Get To The Chorus (including the introduction). Okay, so we've all heard the expression, "don't bore us, get to the chorus". Let's see how the songs in the top 40 compared on this very important timing issue.

Time To Get To The Chorus # of Songs in the Top 40
< 30 seconds 4
30 - 40 seconds 10
41 - 50 seconds 11 
51 - 60 seconds 10
61 - 75 seconds 5
> 75 seconds none

Average time = 45 seconds

There were only five songs in the top 40 that took longer than a minute to get to the chorus. Out of those five songs, three were written or co-written by the artist. Take a tip from the top 40 and get to the chorus in under a minute.

IV. Length Of Song (including the introduction). Finally, let's take a look at song length. 

Length of Song # of Songs in the Top 40
< 2:30 none
2:30 - 3:00 11
3:00 - 3:30 25 
3:30 - 4:00 4
> 4:00 none

Average time = 3:17 seconds

This category changed the most from last year. Last year, the average time for a song was right around the three minute mark. This year, the majority of songs were in the 3:00-3:30 category. It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues.

V. What It All Means. So what do all these statistics mean? While I don't recommend putting your song under a microscope during the writing of it, it is interesting after your song is written to see whether or not it falls into the "pocket". If you notice that your song takes over a minute to get to the chorus, you may want to consider getting there quicker. If your song is in an obscure song form (like one you made up yourself), be aware that not many of those make it to the top 40. In the end, there are always exceptions to the rule and knowing the above information should not be a guiding factor in compromising the writing of a song. But it can help give you a healthy perspective after the writing of the song. Most of all, just keep writing the best songs you possibly can.

Hope to see you on the charts.

-Danny

About Danny Arena:
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer and professional songwriter. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition, and serves as an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville, and an adjunct member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University. In addition, he has been invited to teach songwriting workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad, and performs his original songs regularly in Nashville at venues like the Bluebird Café. As a staff songwriter for Curb Magnatone Music Publishing, he composed several songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founder, CEO, and one of the main site developers of www.SongU.com, which provides over 70 multi-level courses developed by award-winning songwriters in addition to online coaching, co-writing, industry connections, and pitching opportunities. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

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