Songwriting Tips, News & More

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

11 Songwriting Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Sep 19, 2019 @05:22 PM

by Aimee Laurence

JeradFinck2

There are good songs out there and bad songs, and all songwriters can probably say that they’re written their own bad songs too. The problem is if you’re writing a lot more bad songs than good songs, you might be making some common mistakes without realizing. Without further ado, here are the top 11 mistakes to avoid in songwriting.

1. Writing extremely similar songs

Some artists have a very specific style or voice, like Ed Sheeran, and they run the risk that all their songs will sound the same, in other words - derivative. If that’s your case, you need to put a lot of extra work in choosing different keys, chords, tempos, time signatures, collaborations, instrumentation, and more so that each song sounds different than another one.

2. Writing a forced Chorus

This is a common problem when a songwriter finds a great intro and verse, but then has no ideas for a chorus and forces a boring or disjointed one. The reality is that your chorus has to be the catchiest part of the song or the whole thing will fall flat. This includes not only the melody and the music but also the lyrics.

3. Having a Melody unsuited to the Chords

Your mistake might be trying to change your chords to mix it up or have a different rhythm but failing to match the melody to the chords. To fix this problem successfully, work on aural (ear) training and music theory to understand how they can work better together.

4. Being too Repetitive

If you have a really great lyric, you don’t necessarily need to keep repeating it instead of writing more lyrics. One of the biggest problems is repeating the first verse as the second verse instead of writing more lyrics. It’s still possible to write a great song with over-repetition of lyrics, but it has to be done right with a powerful accompaniment.

5. Giving up on a bad song

As mentioned, it’s normal that you’ll write some bad songs. However, you can always take some good ideas from it for another song down the road. You’ll even feel good about finishing it even if you end up not using it again.

6. Not having a Climax

One of the biggest problems with songwriting is when a song doesn’t take you anywhere. The song isn’t multi-dimensional. Whether it’s melodic or lyrical, your song needs to have an arc. The listener should feel like the song is building up to something, and have a good finale.

7. Poor Rhyming

There is divided opinion on whether your song should have rhyming to avoid obvious cliché rhymes but to still follow in traditional lyrical patterns. Others think that rhyming is not important in songs at all because it’s impossible to come up with anything original and new. The important thing is not to try to make something rhyme and it shouldn’t, and pick words that won’t be accidentally thought of as rhymes.

8. No purpose in your Lyrics

Don’t start writing your song without knowing where it’s going to go or what it’s about. Know what your song is about before you sit down to write it, and find the most meaningful and purposeful way to say it.

9. Unnecessary song sections

If you’re adding a section to a song like a bridge because it’s habit, ask yourself if you really need it. Don’t just stick with what you know because you’re familiar with it. Instead, explore different options to reach bigger potential. Find out if you want a bridge and a guitar solo, or none, or just one of those two.

10. Trying too hard to be different

Learn what it means to be unique and different without rejecting any ideas that existed before. At the end of the day, you’ll be using the same notes, words, and chords that others have used, because patterns and structures exist. Instead of rejecting them, play with them instead.

11. Not listening to Different Genres

You’ll have a better chance of coming up with unique and original content if you’re listening to a lot of different styles. Instead of hating on any type of music that isn’t yours, listen to everything without judging, and listen outside of your comfort zone.

 

Aimee Laurence, a music journalist at Essay Writing Service, writes articles about music theory and new musical trends. She enjoys sharing her passion for this topic with her readers. In her free time, she offers singing and piano lessons.


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, lyric writing, Rhyming, derivative, Repetitive, Climax, Songwriting Mistakes, Genres

How To Kickstart Becoming a Lyricist

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Sep 10, 2019 @12:41 PM

by Joel Syder

songwriting6

Without seeming patronizing, doing anything for the first time can seem overwhelming and difficult. Anything that someone has just started doing will surely require practice to gain skills. Dedication is the key ingredient here, then time.

This guide will provide you with key tips on becoming a great lyricist. These will be very effective when you are starting out but will also follow you throughout your career. To begin, some quick tips that you should recognize are: quality matters a lot more than quantity; the music and the lyrics must be inter-related; hooks are what create a catchy, popular tune; rhyme and creativity go hand in hand and finally, feedback is extremely important.

 

Collaboration will give you experience

Other lyricists can show a new writer what inspires them the most. Important subjects like linking lyric rhythm to melodic rhythm can set aside great lyrics to good or mediocre lyrics. Additionally, it is a brilliant way to get into song lyric writing as there won’t be the pressure of synthesizing whole songs alone.

 

Keep things simple to avoid difficulty

Simplicity is a golden rule in song lyric writing, closely followed by authenticity. Many great musicians who compose their own music or write their own lyrics will affirm that repetition is one of the most important factors of a great chorus. It’s not as simple as it sounds – it is in fact easier to writer lengthier lyrics and simplicity will take time to master. However, once it is mastered, catchy and popular lyrics will ensue.

 

Be considerate of conversational quality

Songs aren’t books for a reason. They are often written and sung in the way they would be spoken. When writing, it is therefore important that lyricists write as they speak. Perfect grammar is not always the way forward as this removes many possibilities to become poetic and rather abstract. Rhyming is a lot easier once grammar is not put on a pedestal; though don’t lose sight of making sense. It is very obvious to listeners when lyrics don’t follow any meaning. The best lyricists write as if they are telling a meaningful and personal story.

 

Inspiration from other artists

Read lyrics from others without listening to their songs. This will award a sense of the level of repetition, simplicity and clarity great lyrics have.

“In a set of popular lyrics, there will be a clear message – form this into the chorus – and a leading story – form this into the verses,” says Sherman Fernandez, audio producer at 1 Day 2 Write and Next Course Work.

Don’t overload songs

Popular songs often have between 100-300 words. This may seem surprising, though this is the necessary amount to convey stories and messages in concise and clear ways that are also catchy enough to get a listener sharing a song with their friends.

“Lyrics are very important for listeners to relate to music, though let the melodic rhythm also take a part on the main stage,” says Billy Holden, art blogger at Write Myx and Brit Student.

How to begin?

When stuck for ideas, the beginning is often the toughest part to get through. Start by saying exactly what you want the song to say. Use descriptive language that encompasses the five (and possibly more) senses that will bring listeners to fully experience the song, using small focuses on everyday life to bring visuals to life. This is how to bring listeners to the present moment within a song. Avoid focusing too much on rhyme and pattern. When starting out, just write and focus on the technique later.

If you are really struggling for a place to begin, it can be helpful to simply mind map ideas. More and more words and phrases will come to mind as you branch out and expand upon topics and stories. Always bring words and phrases back to the original topic. Personal stories are often the easiest to write about, and details can be changed to introduce more creativity.

One of the best things about song lyric writing is that it allows a career in music even if the writer can’t themselves sing or play an instrument. Lyric writing is personal, stylish and based on practice and commitment.

 

Joel Syder is audio expert and writer at Essay Help and Academic Brits. He enjoys helping people to write songs they love as well as creating articles about things that excite him for PhDKingdom.. https://academicbrits.com/


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

 
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Inside the Record Breaking Hit “Old Town Road"

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Aug 23, 2019 @05:58 PM

Inside the Record Breaking Hit “Old Town Road”

by Karen Randle

LilNasX

 

No one in the music industry saw Lil Nas X coming. ‘Old Town Road’ defied a long trend in hit music in an era where hits are made by big-name writers and producers, as it hit the charts as an indie artist, shocking everyone. Lil Nas X did not use any big-name songwriter or producer such as Max Martin. It all started when Lil Nas X went online to purchase the background track for a mere $30!

The ‘Old Town Road’ background music (or what we called in the industry the “beats”) Lil Nas X used only cost $30.00 off of a music licensing website called BeatStars? Even the producer of the background music - YoungKio didn't know the song was purchased by Lil Nas X until he saw it in an Instagram meme in December 2018. The track contained a sample of Nine Inch Nails' "34 Ghosts IV."

This was how Lil Nas X Reacts to 'Old Town Road' Breaking Billboard Hot 100 Chart Record: 'This Song Has Changed My Life'.

The “Trap” genre song incorporates country elements. Trap music is a style of hip hop music that was developed in the late 1990s to early 2000s in the Southern United States. The largest influences of Trap come from Atlanta, Georgia and Miami-Dade, Florida. Rap and country crossovers are nothing new; St. Louis rapper Nelly blended elements of country music in his songs back in the early 2000s, including hooking up with Nashville star Tim McGraw for "Over and Over."

BeatStars is a digital marketplace where producers and artists are able to link up without ever getting into a studio together. Artists can pay a bargain-rate fee to download a beat, leaving it open to other artists to use as well, as Lil Nas X did. If they shell out a little more, they can get an exclusive license. Lil Nas X was just another customer. The majority of the time, the artist and the producer never meet each other.

Beatstars members pay a monthly user fee but they keep 100% of their sales revenue. And instead of having to wait for royalty statements, they get paid instantly and can license the same beat to multiple artists, the company said.

Lil Nas X  said: "I went looking for beats on YouTube...when suddenly I came across a country-trap sounding masterpiece," he wrote, "I immediately knew I would make something special out of it."

"Old Town Road" was released independently as a single on December 3, 2018, during the rise of the "Yeehaw Agenda" meme, a movement appropriating cowboy fashion and culture.

The record breaking hit song credits these songwriters: Lil Nas X (also known as Montero Hill), YoungKio (the producer of the background track, also known as Kiowa Roukema), Trent Reznor (from Nine Inch Nails), Atticus Ross (producer of Nine Inch Nails), Billy Ray Cyrus, and Jocelyn Donald (professional songwriter who helped Billy with his verses).

The song gained traction in late December 2018 after becoming the "Yeehaw Challenge" meme on TikTok, where users created short videos set to the song. The challenge is credited with launching the song to debut at number 83 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts. Yes, he hit the charts without getting signed a record label, an incredible feat for a debut music artist.

On March 22, 2019, the success of the song allowed Lil Nas X to sign to Columbia Records, which now distributes the single.

However, "Old Town Road" was embroiled in controversy before the end of March. Besides the Billboard Hot 100 list, the cross-genre song made it to both the Hot Country and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop lists. But Billboard quietly removed the song from its hot country rankings, and claimed that "Old Town Road" should have never made it there in the first place because "it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version."

In the United States, the original version of "Old Town Road" ascended to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the week ending April 13, 2019; at one minute and fifty-three seconds in length, it became the shortest number-one single since "I'm Henry VIII, I Am" by Herman's Hermits in 1965 and the fifth-shortest in the history of the chart.

Turn on the radio today, and you’re likely to hear “Old Town Road.”

The song by 20-year old rapper Lil Nas X featuring country superstar Billy Ray Cyrus fuses elements of both genres, and it has catapulted to the top of the charts since its release in April.

"Old Town Road (Remix)", featuring American country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, was the first official remix of "Old Town Road" to be released. It was released on April 5, 2019 by Columbia Records. The remix was recorded in support of "Old Town Road" being recognized as a country song. The remix was eventually included alongside the original on Lil Nas X's debut EP, 7.

In December 2018, a day after the original version's release, Lil Nas X tweeted out that he wanted Cyrus on the song. Columbia Records executive Ron Perry reached out to Cyrus' wife Tish Cyrus saying that he would love if Cyrus were to hear "Old Town Road". Cyrus first heard the song over coffee on March 16, 2019 when Tish played it to him.

Cyrus responded to Lil Nas X's comments by stating that he loved the original version the first time he heard it. Cyrus also mentioned that he related to the song the first time he heard it, connecting the "old town road" to the Old Town Bridge in Argillite, Kentucky that he used to play on as a kid.

With 19 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, “Old Town Road” pulls ahead of an elite group of songs that held the record for the longest reign on top. The 2017 Latin sensation “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber and “One Sweet Day” released by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men in 1995 previously shared the record at 16 weeks, according to Billboard magazine. This is an amazing fest coming from a debut single from a debut artist.

This also means Lil Nas X holds the debut single with most weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts, at 19 weeks. Which was the previous holder? It was Debby Boone’s "You Light Up My Life", which spent 10 weeks at #1 in 1977 (a record at that time).

This genre bending song also hit on Billboard’s Country Charts as well (before getting removed for not sounding “Country” enough”) as R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Charts.


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, Recording, lyric writing, music writing, songwriting structure,, Old Town Road, Billboard Hot 100 Chart, Lil Nas X

[Expert Songwriting Advice] Learn the Rules of Song Structure

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jun 04, 2019 @10:07 PM

[Expert Songwriting Advice] Learn the Rules of Song Structure

by Mark Cawley

songwriting

The following is adapted from Mark's new book “Song Journey.”

Song structure is important if you’re a songwriter, but what I’ve found is that there is no singular way to structure a song if you want it to be a hit. There’s also some confusion around the right way to structure a song so that it connects with today’s market.

In this article, I’m going to lay out the rules of song structure, not for the purposes of boxing you in while you’re writing—but so you know what rules to break later on.

A Simple Explanation

The best, simplest way I’ve heard song structure explained is this:

  • The info, the story, and the details are in the verses

  • The pre-chorus builds the tension and makes you want to hear the chorus

  • The chorus is the BIG FAT IDEA.

  • The bridge is the scenic route on the journey

  • The post-chorus reminds you of the BIG FAT IDEA without restating it

Before we get a little more technical, this framework gives you the big picture.

Current Song Structures

There are so many ways to structure a song, but staying current is a good place to start writing hits. Listeners’ tastes change, and song structure usually reflects the changes.

In 1967, the Doors were stretching the limits of radio with seven-minute songs. These days, you’re more likely to find them in the three- to three-and-a-half-minute range, sometimes without any of the old building blocks such as bridges and pre-choruses.

A good exercise is to deconstruct the songs that move you, just for the structure.

Take notes on how the song is constructed. Next time you sit down to write, consider the song you tore apart when you build your own.

It’s an eye-opening shortcut to see how the big boys build. Keep doing this, and what you learn gets in your songwriter DNA. You get better quick.

Getting Started with Structure

If you think of the parts of your song in terms of A, B, and C, it’s easy to track:

A is your verse, B the chorus, and C the bridge.

There are more parts to consider such as the intro, pre-chorus, and post-chorus, but for now, use these three as your standard. Common forms are:

A, A, B, A, B, C, B, B

A, B, A, B, C, B, B

You don’t see many A-only songs today (think “I Walk the Line”). Early folk and country utilized this structure, but it’s disappeared as listeners look for multiple hooks.

Start with the basic forms, but mix and match. Does your song need a bridge? Would it work to start with the chorus or a part of it? Better with pre-choruses or post-choruses?

A good guide is to take notes on the song structures you’re hearing on the radio now. In coaching songwriters, I tend to see quite a few A, A, B, A, A, B, C, B, B; four verses.

I generally ask them to give some thought to paring this down to three whenever possible. Songs in most modern music are shorter these days.

Plus, it’s always been a matter of “Don’t bore us; get to the chorus.”

Check the running time of your song before you sign off on it. This can help you decide what needs to go if you’re looking at a four-minute song. Think of the listener in this case. You might want to use more repetition and less new information.

Another structure that almost feels like cheating when it works is to start your song with the chorus or a portion of it. If you can hook a listener that fast, the chances of their channel surfing in the car go way down.

Think About Moments

When I’m structuring a song, I try to think about moments. We’ve all heard moments in the performance of a song. Think of singers with big voices; Whitney Houston, Adele, and Celine Dion come to mind. They can bring out the raw emotion in a song, but you can be thinking about those moments as you create yours.

What are the real moments, the emotional highs and lows in my song? How do I want to feature them when I’m putting the song together?

You can create a moment with a modulation. Tread carefully here; you can also create a cringe-worthy moment that you can’t get back. Space (silence in your arrangement) can be built into the structure and doesn’t have to rely only on the singer.

Know the Rules, Break the Rules

Try to let the song dictate the structure rather than any rules you come across. You’re looking for happy accidents, and mixing up the structure might provide.

The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” was created by crashing two different song ideas together. Lennon had the trippy part but was stuck on finishing when McCartney played him an unfinished song of his own. The “woke up, got out of bed” section was a perfect counterpoint to what Lennon had written.

When I first read that story, the technique went directly into my toolbox.

Daniel Levitin, an American neuroscientist described what Lennon and McCartney achieved really well in his book This Is Your Brain on Music:

Music is organized sound, but the organization has to involve some element of the unexpected or it’s emotionally flat and robotic. The artist artfully manipulates our expectations with a semi-resolution that straddles surprise and release.

Yeah, what he said.

For more advice on song structure, you can find “Song Journey” on Amazon. Its currently #1 in multiple categories worldwide!

song_journey-facebook-amazon(1)

Mark Cawley is a hit songwriter who coaches other writers around the globe through his one-on-one, online service iDocoach.com. His songs have been on more than 16 million records with cuts ranging from Tina Turner to Wynonna Judd to The Spice Girls. Mark is a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, Nashville Rising Star, Belmont University’s Commercial Music program, and West Coast Songwriter events. He’s also a contributing author to USA Songwriting and Songwriter Magazine, a sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, and a mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK. Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Mark now resides in Nashville, Tennessee. www.idocoach.com


 

To enter the 24th Annual 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, Recording, lyric writing, Mark Cawley, song demo, bridge, demo recording, music writing, songwriting structure,

How Words Change as a Song Progresses

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 01, 2019 @07:00 AM

How Words Change as a Song Progresses


by Gary Ewer

Songwriter2

Over the 4 minutes of a good song, it’s normal for some things to stay the same while other things change. The kinds of things that usually get set up at the beginning and resist change would be the tempo and the basic feel of the song. The kinds of things that change would be the chord progressions, the melodies, and of course the lyrics.

How do they change? Typically, they change depending on the song’s section. A verse melody tends to be lower in pitch than a chorus melody. A verse chord progression tends to be longer and have a more “wandering” quality than a chorus progression, which is usually shorter and tonally stronger.

And you become aware that the kinds of words—the way you’d say something – will be different in a chorus than in a verse. It may not be something you’ve noticed before, but if you struggle with words, and getting your lyric to sound strong and to have an impact, you’ve got to know how words change over the length of a song.

 

Verse Lyrics

Song lyrics can be neatly categorized as being narrative, describing people, situations and circumstances, or emotional, expressing feelings and reactions to whatever the story has been about.

In general, the telling of the story or describing of circumstances happens in a verse. So you’ll want to use your verse to set up a good story, and keep emotion to a minimum.

The verse lyric of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” is a great example. He uses the verse to sing about a situation that is, at its core, quite emotional, but he keeps that emotion controlled and minimal:

Now and then I think of when we were together

Like when you said you felt so happy you could die

Told myself that you were right for me

But felt so lonely in your company

But that was love and it's an ache I still remember.

 

As you can see, there is emotion, but it's controlled and measured.

 

Chorus Lyrics

A good chorus lyric allows the listener to generate and enjoy emotions that come from the story that’s been set up in the verse. That chorus lyric may add to the story, but its chief responsibility is to allow the listener to feel something. So that’s why you so often see exclamations (“Ooooh”, “yeah, yeah, yeah…”, or “whoa.” You’ll also see that a chorus lyric might use a catchy lyrical hook (“Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive”), but in any case, its main responsibility is to have the audience feel something emotional.

The chorus of “Somebody That I Used to Know” shows that the difference between verse and chorus is usually subtle, but it’s important:

But you didn't have to cut me off

Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing

And I don't even need your love

But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

No, you didn't have to stoop so low

 

Bridge Lyrics

If your song contains a bridge, you’ll notice that those kinds of lyrics are a little different again. Because a bridge (or middle-8) is used to finish the story and to get to the point of the song, it’s common to see bridge lyrics that give a narrative style “then-this-happened” line, and follow it quickly with a “so-then-I-felt-this” kind of responding line. Or it might be a series of lines that, while adding to the story, are filled with emotion.

In the hit song “Just Give Me a Reason” (Pink, Jeff Bhasker, Nate Ruess), the bridge is a perfect demonstrator of what the lyric is supposed to do. We get an important part of the story (our relationship is a bit of a mess, but “nothing is as bad as it seems…”) – a perfect blend of story and emotion:

Oh, tear ducts and rust, I'll fix it for us

We're collecting dust, but our love's enough

You're holding it in, you're pouring a drink

No, nothing is as bad as it seems, we'll come clean

 

Why This Is Important

Whether we’re talking about music, stories, or even just real life, we generate emotions based on what we hear or experience. Emotions don’t just happen without some sort of back story. So if you use your song lyric to basically say “I feel so bad”, but you don’t give any kind of background to why, it becomes an empty emotion, and audiences will feel confused and ultimately bored.

So as you write your next song, do this:

  1. Write your verse lyric on one page and your chorus lyric on another.

  2. Read your verse lyric to yourself, and try to assess it for its story-telling qualities. It doesn’t need to be devoid of emotion, but you should be aware that its main purpose is to tell the audience what’s going on.

  3. Read the chorus to yourself, and try to assess it for the emotions it describes and generates. A good chorus doesn’t need to add to the story as such, but should express emotions that make sense when compared to the story of the verse.

When it works well, a song lyric acts as a kind of musical seesaw, where we feel emotion rising and falling. That kind of change over time is vital to keeping audiences listening and interested.

A couple of years ago I did a video that describes this important issue, using the song “Losing Sleep” by John Newman. You can see that lyric here: https://youtu.be/m4USyNw6-gk

 

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” blog. Gary Ewer is a music instructor, clinician, conductor and composer. He has been writing about songwriting on his “Essential Secrets of Songwriting” blog for the past 11 years. http://www.secretsofsongwriting.com

 

To enter the 24th Annual 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, Recording, lyric writing, song demo, bridge, demo recording, Gary Ewer, music writing

10 Tips: What It Takes to Write a Hit Song

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

10 Tips: What It Takes to Write a Hit Song

by Loren Israel

 WhatItTakesToWriteAHitSong.jpg

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

 

  1. Be up front with your story.

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

  1. Make every line count.

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

  1. Vary the length of your lines.

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

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

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

  1. Match the beat between verses.

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

  1. Give yourself a title of power.

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Make sure your pronouns agree with their antecedent.

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

  1. Sing your melody a cappella.

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

  1. Color your melody with chords.

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

[Reprint permission by Music Connection magazine]

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

 

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


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

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Song Lyrics

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

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Song Lyrics

by Natalie Wilson

 songwritingpic.jpg

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

Here are five mistakes to avoid when writing lyrics:

#1) Too Much Rhyming

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

 

Some will win, some will lose

Some were born to sing the blues

Oh the movie never ends,

It goes on and on and on and on

 

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

#2) No Coherent Story

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

 

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

 

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

 

#3) Writing Disingenuous Lyrics

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

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

 

#4) Mismatched Syllables

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

 

Take me to church

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

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

Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life

 

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

#5) There’s No Hook

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

Enjoy these tips!

 

About Natalie Wilson

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

 

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


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

One of the Biggest Lyric Writing Mistakes Songwriters Make

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

One of the Biggest Lyric Writing Mistakes Songwriters Make

by Anthony Ceseri

 Dave-Songwriter.jpg

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Looking out into the sky
The night is so beautiful

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

The sky is so magical

 

Which rhythmically works out to be:

The SKY is so MAG-i-cal,

or

ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

About Anthony Ceseri

AnthonyCeseri.jpg

Anthony Ceseri is a songwriter and performer who has traveled the country in pursuit of the best songwriting advice and information available. From classes and workshops at Berklee College of Music in Boston, to Taxi’s Road Rally in Los Angeles, Anthony has learned from the most well-respected professional songwriters, producers and performers in the industry.

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

 

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


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

5 Innovative Ways to Change Up Your Songwriting Process

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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