Learn these 4 tricks to help you write the best songs of your life. It will take you just 10 minutes to learn, too.
The First 10 Seconds
Imagine being inside the mind of a busy A&R guy or in-demand producer. It’s running over important decisions to make, artists to direct and develop, managers to call back, record execs to please, and they probably have a personal life to take care of on top of everything else. Let’s say that all the stars are lined up for you and your demo is in their hands. They pop it in the CD player and press play.
This is the crucial moment. As they say, “you only get once chance to make a first impression.” What first impression do you give?
Give your listener a musical and rhythmic hook to grab onto right away. Head over to the billboard charts and play the first 10 seconds of the top 10. Notice the elements that pull you in. Is it the beat? Is it a melody or the harmony? Notice where they fail to pull you in. After all, just because the song is on the charts does not mean it’s a great song!
Now, knowing that you don’t have the clout of a currently charting artist, don’t make your listener wait 30 seconds to get to the meat of your song. Mix an extended version for you and your friends if you must, but keep only what’s absolutely necessary for everyone else. You will gain serious points for considering the busy schedule of someone who listens to songs for a living.
The chorus is the emotional high point of your song. Therefore, it must feel like it lifts. A simple way to do this is to write a melody that reaches it’s highest note during the chorus — preferably the very first note, a natural spotlight — and write the melody of the verse to lead into the chorus from below. One of the biggest mistakes I hear is a melody that peaks at the end of the verse and then drops into the chorus where it gives the listener a sense of falling energy, the exact opposite of what we want to do.
You chorus, if it is to be memorable, should be easy to sing along with and contrast the other sections. A strong chorus needs different elements than what came before, both musically and lyrically. Give your chorus a different melody, different harmony, different lyric, and a different form than the other sections of your song. Make your chorus stand out.
I grew up in the age of Prince, the wonder-kid who played every instrument, wrote all the songs, sang all the vocals, and on top of all that, he danced his butt off. Me, I’m a mere mortal. I’m good at a number of things, bad at even more, and I excel at maybe a few diverse skills. I continually improve my weaknesses, strengthen my strengths, and for everything else that I’m not good at, I enlist the help of someone better than me.
In the process of collaboration, I get commitments and agreements in writing, I pick and choose my battles, and I still take responsibility for the end result. Do the same and hopefully you won’t end up getting screwed.
Confusing Mystery with Obscurity
Riddles are great… as long as you get permission. But if I don’t know you and you start a conversation with me as if I’m your personal cryptographer, then you had better pay me for my time. Don’t test your listener’s patience right from the start or assume that they care to do the preliminary scholarly or autobiographical research to find out what the hell you’re talking about.
Show, don’t tell is an admonition given to beginning writers who use too much exposition instead of using action and dialogue. If the writer uses action and dialogue to reveal a character, the story should be more interesting to the reader. The reader should feel like he is seeing the scene unfold before him. As a result, the reader can interpret the meaning of the story on his own.
Use the five senses to keep your listener involved and avoid writing about an experience, write from the experience. Write as if you are inside the emotion of your song. Then show us what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, smells like, and tastes like.
Understand and master these 4 elements of your songwriting and watch your listener appeal skyrocket.
Hi Graham, I’m a singer song writer. I ‘ve been writing songs for years now and I seem to be writing some great songs from the feedback I get from people. It’s comes out naturally, meaning I don’t to think of it or strategize chorus’s and verses etc. I am curous what you take is to help songwriting such as myself on the creative side as oppose to the intelectual side?
Woud love to hear your thoughts
dig good music
Graham English says
Well, if you’re doing well on the creative side, then I don’t know what to improve. If you’re having specific challenges, then we can address them and find specific solutions.
So What I would suggest is to find your weaknesses, and strategically strengthen them. If you have “craft” weaknesses, then I would pick one aspect of your songwriting and master it. If you have “artistic” weaknesses, do the same thing.
After all, creativity and intellect — art and craft — don’t oppose each other. I’m a proponent of “whole-brain” songwriting. 🙂
Thanks Graham, that is a very helpful insight.
My weakness is in my craft not my art.
I will look into your songwriting articles and see what I can learn.
peace and thanks
Graham English says
You’re welcome. Keep us all posted. 🙂
Anwalt Strafrecht / Strafverteidiger Freiburg says
Or you go simply to a tv carsting and went rich…. 🙂
Joe Harris says
I think you have some good points here. What I would wish for you to clarify however is your definition of a song. It seems like your tips for writing a good song are more about writing a marketable song, a simple song that will appeal to people who just want to get a kick out of a beat or catchy melody. This is fine, but that is not what writing good songs is about for me. I wish to write to stir emotions, not to persuade people to buy a cd.
Thats about it really thankyou,
Graham English says
Joe, you bring up an excellent point. A song is usually considered to be the melody and lyrics. A good song is a song that elicits the desired response in the listener. Marketing is all about getting your song in front of as many people as you want. So I don’t believe I’m talking about marketing specifically. But every song does have a market, whether it’s one person or millions of people. And the principles of persuasion apply to all songs and all listeners generally. That’s why these songwriting conventions have been followed as they have. Because they tend to work.
But of course, every rule can be broken!