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STUDY HIT SONGS TO LEARN YOUR CRAFT

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

by Robin Frederick, author of “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting”

Most hit songs demonstrate at least three or four techniques you can use to broaden the emotional impact and commercial appeal of your own songs. That’s why it’s a great idea for aspiring songwriters (and even successful pro’s) to study recent hits!

It’s important to study songs you admire, not the ones you can’t stand! Look for those hit songs that move you, the ones that appeal most to you, and then ask yourself what that song is doing that draws you in. Of course there are times when I go through the Top 20 songs on the music charts and don’t hear anything that particularly attracts me. In that case, I’ll go back to songs from the previous year or so to look for ideas.

Keep a list of hit songs you like in the genre you’re interested in. Country songs are different from R&B and Rock and Pop. You’re going to hear different approaches to lyrics and melody in every genre. If you’re not sure which genre you want to write in, spend some time exploring each of the four mainstream styles. You can find current music charts and stream the Top 20 songs for free at Billboard.com. Just click on “Charts” at the top of the page, then select the style you want.

In the Hot AC genre, I like Nickelback’s “Gotta Be Somebody,” a big hit in early 2009. Chad Kroeger really knows his craft and this song proves it. Lyrically, he states the theme in the opening lines of the first verse and every lyric line after that leads the listener toward a chorus that sums up the emotional message at the heart of this song. (You can find the lyrics for this song online.)

Melodically, this song is also very strong. Notice in the pre-chorus how Kroeger uses four short phrases that echo each other rhythmically, building tension to the final phrase which he extends by a few extra syllables (“forever with”). This is a great way to build anticipation leading up to your chorus. Then check out how he creates forward momentum in the chorus melody by allowing only very short pauses, just long enough to grab a breath before roaring right into the next line.

In the Country genre, I like Montgomery Gentry’s “One In Every Crowd,” also a hit earlier this year. This is great example of a lyric with plenty of visual detail, a fresh take on the theme, and a powerful melody that builds dynamically through the verse and pre-chorus to a big emotional release. (Lyrics are available online.) The “Hey y’all” secondary hook adds plenty of fun but don’t mistake that for the chorus; it’s just icing on the cake. It doesn’t payoff the verses well enough to work as a stand-alone chorus. If you’re interested in the Country genre, this is an excellent song to study.

For more ideas and analysis, check out my web site at RobinFrederick.com. Just click on “Study the Hits”; you’ll find a detailed look at many of today’s most successful songs.

(c) 2009. Based on “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting: 126 Proven Techniques for Writing Songs That Sell” by Robin Frederick. Available at Amazon.com.