126 Shortcuts to take your songs from good to great!

Posts Tagged ‘lyrics’

WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART OF SONGWRITING?

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

by Robin Frederick

I share so many of my own songwriting gripes and difficulties in my articles and books, by now everyone pretty much knows what I wrestle with. But I often wonder what OTHER songwriters find difficult about songwriting. So, I decided to take a poll on my Facebook site. I’ve had over 180 responses so far. (In just a moment, I’ll give you a link to the poll so you see the results and weigh in, if you haven’t already.)

The question was “What do you think is the hardest part of songwriting?” I started out with just 4 categories – Lyrics, Melody, Chords, Song Structure – the usual suspects. I asked people to vote for the ones that were hardest for them and I invited them to add their own categories – which they promptly did! They added challenges like “Getting started,” “Making an old idea more contemporary,” “Getting song ideas down,” “Communicating with listeners,” and more. They’ll get no argument from me! These are all difficult aspects of songwriting and I’m always looking for ways to make them easier.

TO SEE THE POLL & VOTE: CLICK HERE

YOU ARE NOT ALONE
The most important insight I took away from the poll is that EVERYONE has trouble with at least one aspect of songwriting – often the same areas I have trouble with! Even successful songwriters know what it’s like to hit a wall! But pro songwriters have one advantage: they can work their way through the problem by relying on their command of song craft.

Songwriting is part inspiration and part hard, slogging work. The inspiration part is always fun. We all love that moment when a great line just pops out or the idea for a song is born in a flash of energy. But relying on inspiration alone to carry you through is not enough, especially if you’d like to market your songs to the music or film & TV industries. When you decide to make a living (or even a little extra income) from songwriting, you need to be able to bust through those trouble spots. Song craft can help you do it. So, here are 5 short song craft tips in the areas that poll takers say are the hardest:


#1. LYRICS I’ve been posting so many lyric tips lately, it’s hard to pick just one but try this… Listeners love to feel they’re witnessing an intimate, personal moment. Drop the listener right into the middle of a situation by using dialogue lines. “Go ahead. Keep talking!” or “Don’t turn away just when I need you” or “Let’s get out of here. Run away with me!” Mix these with emotional images, sensations, and details. Examples: “You’ve slammed the door a thousand times.” or “Your skin is warm and soft beneath my touch.” Pump up your action words: Instead of “You left…” try “You slithered off…” or “You skipped away…” phrases that convey more emotional energy. Rewrite a lyric using these ideas to create a lyric with more impact!

#2. MELODY When writing melody & chords at the same time, we tend to fall into patterns, like starting lines when the chord changes. Try recording or sequencing a chord progression first. Then write a melody to it. Experiment with starting on different beats, singing a phrase through a chord change, or adding syncopation by emphasizing upbeats.

Change the notes and rhythm patterns of your melody until you’re happy with it. Record it then take a break. Come back later with fresh ears and listen to it. If the melody feels too predictable, try lengthening a line, starting on a different beat, or adding a pause in an unexpected place. If the melody feels unfocused or hard to remember, try repeating a line more often. Finding the right mix of repetition and variation of melody lines is the key to writing catchy, memorable songs.


#3. FINDING A UNIQUE IDEA There aren’t a lot of new, never-before-heard song ideas. To give listeners something they haven’t heard before, try a unique approach to your theme or a new angle. Try a different attitude towards a situation (“You left me & I’m so glad!”) or an unusual Point of View. Remember The Beatles’ “She Loves You”? THAT was a fresh point of view – It wasn’t about “me,” it was about “she” and “you” – the singer was present as a friend. Pick a question or concern we don’t often put into words: Blake Shelton’s “Who Are You When I’m not Looking?” is a great example. Look at your honest reactions to situations and people and you’re likely to find new ways of saying things. You can also get ideas from TV shows, books, and tabloid newspapers. Don’t write the obvious. Look for something surprising!

#4. GETTING EMOTIONS INTO YOUR SONGS Instead of telling a story, go deep into a single moment when the emotions reached a peak. Put yourself into that moment and imagine it as vividly as you can. How does it feel? What do you say or do to express the feeling? Describe it in physical terms. (Like walking thru fire. Riding a wave. Flying. Falling.) The more you use physical images and senses to describe an emotion, the more the listener is able to experience it and share it with you. This type of emotionally focused lyric works very well for both radio and film & TV.

To find physical ways to describe emotions, play a simple “association game.” Choose an emotion and associate it with a color, a season, an object, a physical sensation. Then make a list of all the things that association reminds you of. Keep building wider levels of associations until you have three of four levels. Then write lyric lines using these associated images and sensations to express the emotion. (If you have my book “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV,” you can find out more in Shortcut #53.

#5. DEVELOPING / FINISHING THAT GREAT IDEA Just like an artist sketches the idea for a painting in pencil before applying the final paint, try roughing out a sketch of your song. Get an idea of the flow, the path of the WHOLE song before trying to write those perfect lines for your first verse.

Create the outline of your song based on a song structure. The most popular structure is: Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus.  Write a line or phrase in each section giving a rough idea of the content. For instance, the chorus will include your title, so write it there. Add another line to support it emotionally. Then write a line for each verse and the bridge, a line that indicates what you’re going to say in that section. Try answering a question suggested by the title in each song section. What do listeners need to know in order to understand the title, what it means, how it feels. If you sketch out your song, you won’t end up repeating the same thing over and over and you won’t run out of things to say!

Copyright 2011 Robin Frederick.

Based on “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” available at Amazon.com.

by Robin Frederick

You’ll find more songwriting tips on my website:

http://www.robinfrederick.com

INCREASE POTENTIAL FILM & TV USE FOR YOUR SONGS

Monday, January 17th, 2011

by Robin Frederick

For every song that’s placed in a film, TV show, or commercial, many are auditioned – often hundreds – but only one is chosen. The song that will get the job is the one that most effectively heightens the impact and memorability of the scene for viewers.

Is a character discovering real love for the first time? A song can be used to underscore and enhance that feeling for the audience. Is the film set in a small town in the 1950s? A song can vividly recall the era. Always remember: the song serves the needs of the scene.

With that in mind, it may seem a little strange that a majority of the songs that are placed in film and TV are written and recorded first, then pitched to these projects. Often, the songs are part of an artist’s or band’s CD. While the song is being written and recorded, there’s no way to know if, or how, it will eventually be used in a film or TV show. BUT you can craft your songs to increase your chances of a placement in this market.

WHAT MAKES A SONG WORK FOR FILM & TV?

Lyrics: A good lyric for film and TV is universal enough to allow the song to be used in a variety of scenes while still maintaining integrity, originality, and focus. Of course, no song will work for every scene but some themes and situations occur more frequently in film and TV shows, such as falling in love, overcoming adversity, becoming an individual, plus conflicts of all kinds as well as celebrations. If you choose one of these as a general theme for your song  and you focus on the emotions that come up, you’ll be more likely to get a placement. Watch a few TV episodes and look for common themes. Chances are you’re already using some of them in your songs.

Imagery, emotional detail, and a fresh approach to your theme will add muscle to a universal lyric, making it more appealing to film and TV. On the other hand, too many details, like place names, proper names, dates, or a story that’s too specific to your own circumstances, will limit the uses.

Music: Filmmakers have always used instrumental music to communicate mood, energy, and atmosphere to the audience, from soaring love themes to the high anxiety of a fast-paced action cue. As songs have grown in popularity with viewers, they’re being used to replace some of that instrumental music. A song that works well for film and TV is one that, like an instrumental cue, uses melody, chords, tempo, and rhythm to evoke a single mood or energy level.

If you’ve written an uptempo song about a wild party or a slow song about lost love, you’re already using tempo and rhythm to express energy. Songwriters often do this instinctively. You can hone that ability for the film and TV market, by making a conscious effort to make your music even more expressive and usable. Like a film composer,  choose a pace (tempo) and groove that physically express the energy level you want, then back it up with melody and lyrics to support that energy. Got an upbeat, bouncy groove? Add a syncopated melody with plenty of unexpected leaps between notes and a lyric that’s filled with fresh, fun images. If your song’s theme is young love, it could be used in hundreds of scenes in which a couple of teens or twenty-somethings meet and fall in love.

Like an actor, a song in a film, TV episode, or commercial has a role to play. The theme, lyric language, musical arrangement, and singer’s voice must work together to create an emotional moment for the audience.  Watch films and TV shows that use songs. Here are just a few primetime TV dramas that use between two and ten songs per episode: The Vampire Diaries, Grey’s Anatomy, Smallville, Friday Night Lights, One Tree Hill, 90210, Life Unexpected, Gossip Girl, and there are many more. You can find a complete list at TuneFind.com.

As you watch these shows, notice how the songs underscore, reinforce, or deepen the viewer’s experience of the characters or situation. These are often strong songs that can stand alone as songs, expressing the artist’s creativity and message, yet they offer the film and TV industry what it needs. This is the sweet spot where you want to be. You’ve got good songs; now make them good film and television songs!

Start studying the market by listening for songs in TV commercials, TV series, and films. Could you write a song like that? Download a TV episode with a song in it  – iTunes offers episodes of most popular TV series for just $1.99. Watch the scene a few times, then turn the sound off and write a song of your own that enhances the mood, atmosphere, or energy.

For more  songwriting tips, visit RobinFrederick.com

Copyright 2010 Robin Frederick.

Based on “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” available at Amazon.com.

KEEP YOUR LISTENER BY YOUR SIDE

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

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

When I’m coaching songwriters, they often give me a lyric to read while I listen. This is useful because I like to make notes as the song goes along but I have to be careful to remember that the average listener won’t have that lyric page in front of them. Sometimes I grasp the meaning of a song only because I’m reading the lyric or because the songwriter has told me something about the song before playing it. But when that song is played on the radio, the writer won’t be there to say, “Here’s why I wrote this song…” or “Let me just explain what happened….”

Here are some ideas that will help your listeners understand what you’re saying and stay involved in your song.

BE CONSISTENT: Sometimes a songwriter knows what he or she meant to say but fails to make it clear because some of the lines are giving conflicting messages. For example, if the verse lyric says: “I’m leaving. I can’t live with your lies,” then the chorus states: “I’ll stay no matter what you do,” listeners will have to stop and figure out how both of those things can be true. While they’re thinking, your song has moved on and you’ve lost them.

MIX POETIC PHRASES WITH DIRECT STATEMENTS: If your lyric style leans toward evocative, poetic lines that suggest rather than tell, try adding a clear, direct statement every few lines. Rob Thomas does this very effectively in his huge hit, “Ever the Same.” (Lyrics are available on the Internet.) Notice how his opening four lines are filled with vivid, poetic images, which are then followed by the statement: “And I couldn’t tell you but I’m telling you now / Just let me hold you while you’re falling apart.” Suddenly, it’s crystal clear what this song is about and listeners aren’t left to figure it out.

LISTENERS NEED TIME: Give listeners time to register what your lyric is saying. It usually takes them a minimum of two lines to absorb an image or idea. So if you write a line that describes your love as being like a prison, try to follow that with another line that describes the prison or tells listeners what it feels like to be imprisoned by love. That will give them time to register the image, the feeling of a prison, and link it with the idea of love.

To test your lyric, play it for friends (and strangers) without giving them a lyric sheet. Don’t give them any explanation or introduction to the song. Afterwards, ask them to tell you their impression of the song. See if they picked up on the general situation and emotional message. It’s alright if they didn’t pick up on specific details or exact ideas, just so long as they felt the emotions and got involved in what was happening.

It’s easy to forget, when you’re focused intensely on a lyric, writing and reworking it, that listeners have to process a lot of information in a very short time. If you give them too much information or give it in a way that’s too hard to understand, they may lose interest. Try to keep them in mind while you’re writing. Anticipate their questions. See if you can hear them saying, “Hey, wait for me. I didn’t quite catch that!”

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

GIVE YOUR SONG A MEMORABLE TITLE

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

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

The title of a song is almost always a featured line in the song itself, often the first line or last line of the chorus, making it the line that listeners remember long after the song is over.

A good title is intriguing, evocative, and memorable. The best titles sum up the heart and soul of a song, recalling the whole experience for listeners, making them want to go back and listen again.

Keep it brief. Long titles can work but may be difficult for listeners to remember. These longer titles may be familiar phrases (“I Just Called to Say I Love You” “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”) which are easy to recall. To be safe, stick to five words or less.

Make a statement. One way to be memorable and catch listeners attention is to write a title that makes a strong statement. Nickelback’s “Gotta Be Somebody” is a good example. There’s a sense of urgency built into this phrase, giving the singer something to dig into emotionally.

Use an Intriguing phrase. Beyonce’s recent hit “If I Were a Boy” does exactly that. Don’t you want to know what Beyonce would do if she were a boy? Sure, you do! So the title makes you want to hear the song. Shinedown’s “The Sound of Madness” also has an intriguing title. What does it mean? What does madness sound like? What is this song going to be about?

Try an evocative image. A song title like “Mud On the Tires” works because it’s loaded with associations. The title of this Brad Paisley Country hit features an image that suggests off-roading fun, maybe a wild ride through the fields, or drive to a hidden fishing hole, all of which evoke fond memories and desires in this audience. If you choose a title like this, be aware of your listeners’ expectations and keep them in mind when writing.

Action words add drama and energy. If your title feels like it’s just sitting there, try phrasing it in a more active way. Instead of “I Love You,” try something like “Throw My Arms Around You.” Not only does it replace a familiar statement with an fresher one, it adds the energy of the word “throw.” It also suggests questions that your lyric can answer: What’s the situation? Why does the singer want to do this? How will it feel? How will the other person react?

As most songwriters know, there are many songs with the same (or very similar) titles. Make yours stand out from the crowd by using one of these techniques!

For songwriter tips, games, and hit song analysis, check out my web site: http://www.robinfrederick.com

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

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.

START YOUR SONG WITH A UNIVERSAL THEME

Monday, September 14th, 2009

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

Some songwriters spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for inspiration. Waiting for an idea. Just waiting. Well, I don’t want you to wait. I want you to start doing, writing, creating. Now.

One of the things songwriters most often seem to wait for is an idea that will launch them into the deep emotional waters of a song. Not only is it unnecessary to hang around hoping an idea will magically appear, it can lead to repetition and stagnation of your creative muscle. It’s funny how, once an idea has worked, it tends to reappear over and over again.

So, here’s an idea…

You might have noticed that songs use many of the same themes that drive other types of dramatic entertainment. Just check out the list of top ten romantic films of all time or today’s favorite contemporary TV dramas. While hit songs tend to focus on relationships and emotions rather than car chases and shoot-outs, they share many of the same dramatic elements: Who is involved? What will happen next? You can use popular movies and TV shows to lead you to themes that pack a big emotional punch both for you and your listeners.

Yes, I’m telling you to watch TV and go to the movies. Remember, it’s important for you to be present emotionally in your song so start by looking for a scene that draws your emotional attention. When did you find yourself getting involved with a character? When did you identify with the character? What was the peak emotional moment for you in this character’s story? Any of these points in a storyline can provide a theme for a song. For example, here’s a scene: The lead character sits alone in a dark room after seeing an ex-lover who is now involved with someone else. If you were watching this scene and you felt moved by it, consider creating a song based on it. Use your imagination to create dialogue, images, background, and specific examples, whatever you need for your song. And you don’t have to limit yourself to romantic themes; you can write social commentary or character songs based on drama and action scenes.

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

CREATE A DEVELOPMENT PATH FOR YOUR LYRICS

Monday, April 6th, 2009

by Robin Frederick (author of “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting”)

It can be tough to find the balance between giving listeners too much information too quickly and not giving them enough or repeating information they’ve already heard.

As you write your verses and bridge, keep the path through your song clear. Make sure things are moving forward, not going in circles or repeating the same thing over and over.

Here are some development paths your song might take. Notice that each path leads the listener into and through a situation, keeping the momentum rolling forward and giving new information as it goes along.

The chorus is integrated into the song as a natural extension of the verses and bridge. (The vast majority of hit songs are written from the point of view of the singer—the first person “I”—so I’ll use that approach in these examples.)

Path #1 – Deal with a problem.

Verse 1: This is the problem.
Chorus: Here’s how I feel about it.
Verse 2: This is what I tried to do about it.
Chorus: Here’s how I feel about it.
Bridge: This is how I hope to find a way through this.
Chorus: Here’s how I feel about it.

Path #2 – Give us a history.

Verse 1: I remember the great beginning of our love.
Chorus: This is what it felt like.
Verse 2: Things changed. Everything is different now.
Chorus: This is what it felt like.
Bridge: Can we get back to the way things were?
Chorus: This is what it felt like.

Path #3 – Build it up.

Verse 1: I took a chance.
Chorus: Now my life has changed.
Verse 2: I risked everything for happiness.
Chorus: Now my life has changed.
Bridge: It was worth it.
Chorus: Now my life has changed.

You can find more development paths by listening to well-written hit songs. You’ll notice that some songs share similar paths. It’s how the path is personalized by the songwriter that makes it unique and gives it strength. A path is just the outline of a song. How you flesh it out is up to you. Make each path your own with the details and emotions of your specific situation and characters.

Based on “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” by Robin Frederick. Available at Amazon.com. Copyright 2009 Robin Frederick. All rights reserved.

Write Your Songs in a Genre

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Robin Frederick (author, Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting)

 

Most of the time, when you start a song, you’re thinking solely about what you want to say, and that’s the best way to approach your songwriting. However, by keeping a little corner of your brain focused on the genre you want to write in, you can add strength to your song, the kind of strength that could help your song find its audience.

 

Like ice cream, songs come in different flavors: strawberry, chocolate, peach, and rocky road. And, like ice cream flavors, there are very real differences between the four mainstream music genres — Country, Pop, Rock, and R&B/Soul — and each one appeals to a different audience. 

 

So, why is this important to you as a songwriter?

 

When listeners tune into a radio station that plays Country music, they expect to hear a range of songs that share a certain sound. Jazz stations play something that sounds different from the Country music station. Listeners who tune in to a Jazz station are expecting to hear the kinds of chords, melodies, and lyrics that are characteristic of today’s Jazz genre. If they get a Country song instead, they won’t be happy! Radio stations need to keep listeners satisfied if they want them to stick around. If listeners are expecting to hear songs with a Country sound, that’s what the station needs to play, if they’re expecting Jazz, then Jazz is what the radio station gives them. 

 

If you write a song that straddles Country and Jazz — let’s say you throw a few cool jazz chords into your Country song — you may have trouble finding a publisher for it or an artist who will record it. Why? Because publishers, record labels and artists all know that radio airplay is essential if they want to reach their audience and sell records. 

 

If you are an independent artist, recording your own songs, you can take plenty of chances with your album cuts but you’ll still need a couple of songs that can get on the radio if you want to reach a wider audience. In at least two songs, try to aim for a general sound that characterizes your genre. 

 

 

CHOOSE A GENRE AND GET FAMILIAR WITH IT

Spend some time listening to current hits in the genre you want to write in. If you like Country music, listen to the top 20 current Country hits and study the chords, melodies, and lyrics to see what they have in common. What is it that Country audiences are excited about right now? Whether you want to write Rock, Pop, R&B/Soul or Hip-Hop, check out the current radio airplay charts to see which songs are getting the most play. These are the ones that listeners are eating up! 

 

“But,” I hear you say, “these songs being pushed hard by mega-record labels. That’s the only reason they’re hits!” Sure there’s plenty of money behind all of these songs — the big record labels can afford to buy plenty of ads and lots of promotion –but ultimately money can’t push a song to the top of the charts, only listeners can do that! 

 

You can find up-to-date Radio Airplay Charts at RadioAndRecords.com. Click on “Charts” and check out the ones you’re interested in. (If you don’t know which charts you’re interested in, check out a few. This is essential research for songwriters!) 

 

Make a list of the songs and artists in the top 15 or 20, then go over to iTunes or any legal download site and listen to the excerpts. Pay a couple of bucks to download the ones you like best. Don’t pick the DUDS you don’t like! Choose songs you wish YOU’D written.

 

Once you’ve found a genre you like and a couple of songs, listen to them carefully and study your genre. Look for the general, broad characteristics of your genre by asking the following questions as you listen.

 

LYRICS:

What themes are featured?

What kind of language is used: direct, slangy, poetic?

What sorts of characters turn up in these songs, including the singer? 

How does the lyric tell the listener what’s happening?

 

MELODY:

How much contrast is being used between sections?

How does the melody let you know when you’re in the verse and when you’re in the chorus?

How much repetition is used, how much variation in the melody line?

 

CHORDS:

Do you hear basic three-note chords primarily?

What other kinds of chords are being played? 

How frequently are the chords changing?

 

These are just a few of the questions that will help you study your genre. No one wants to sound exactly like everyone else but you DO want your song to incorporate enough of a genre’s characteristic sound so that it will fit into a radio format. Blend it with your own style to make sure YOU still sound like YOU but give it an extra push toward radio. 

 

Based on “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” by Robin Frederick

Copyright 2008 Robin Frederick. All rights reserved.

From Inspiration to Finished Song

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Robin Frederick (author, Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting)

 

Another great question from a songwriter…

 

Q: “I find that I have an easy time finding a first verse and chorus (or rather, it finds me) but I’ll have trouble coming up with two more verses or a verse and bridge. The lyrics tend to sound forced and I feel trapped. Is that just how it goes when you’re trying to stick to a form?”

 

A: For a lot of songwriters, this is how a song gets started. The first verse or chorus of a song may come to you full-blown, music and lyrics together. But what happens next? That rush of inspiration has exhausted itself and now you have to write more verse lyrics and, harder still, they have to fit your existing melody. 

 

Songs have a limited amount of lyric “real estate.” In fact, you’ve only got a handful of lines in which to communicate a lot of information to your listeners. If you find you’re having trouble figuring out what to write, it’s probably because you’re not sure what you’re writing about

 

Take a look at the inspired lines that launched your song. Write them out and across from them, in a couple of sentences, explain what these lines mean. This can be harder than it sounds! Once you have a clear explanation, make sure all the lines in your lyric work together to convey the meaning you intend. If you’ve got a line that sounds wonderful but doesn’t contribute to the message, try saving it for another song. Replace it with a line that supports your theme. 

 

As you develop your lyric, keep your listeners in mind. Remember, they don’t have any idea what you’re talking about! They only know what you tell them in your lyric. What information do you have about the situation or relationship that you haven’t told your listeners yet? Here are a few questions that can lead you to a lyric that grows organically from your first verse: 

– What has happened in the past that brought the singer to this point? 

– What is likely to happen next? 

– If the song is about a relationship, what has the other person said or done to make the singer feel this way? 

– How have the singer’s feelings changed because of the situation? 

 

Write down your answers to some of these questions. Then make a list of words, ideas, short phrases and images that are related to your answers. Don’t think about rhyming or polishing these lines – they’re just ideas, the raw material for the rest of your song. 

 

If you keep these lines short, just a few words per phrase,  you should be able to fit them into your verse melody then fill in around them. Play with the order of your phrases, drop them into the melody in different places. When you find something you like, lock it in and move onto other lines. 

 

Once you have a rough idea for your second verse, repeat your chorus, then move on to the bridge. The bridge lyric frequently offers a peak emotional moment in a song. Use this spot to reveal the singer’s deepest desires, give us a fresh insight into the theme, or share the singer’s hopes for the future. The bridge melody can provide contrast that grabs the listener’s attention. For example, if your verse and chorus cover a wide note range and have a lot of melodic motion, try limiting the range of the notes in your bridge, use a lot of repetition and focus on the rhythm of the notes.  

 

After the bridge, repeat your chorus. Now, you have a rough version of a song that grew organically from your inspired first verse and chorus. Record a rough version and give it a rest! Come back later with fresh ears and polish some of the melodic and lyric lines. Repeat this process until you feel the song effectively communicates the emotions and ideas that originally  inspired it!

Holiday songs -it’s a gift!

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Robin Frederick (author, Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting)

We’re heading into the holidays which is the cue for all of us songwriters to begin scribbling like mad. Holidays are a time of festivities and nothing brings out the festive spirit like songs and music! Beloved holiday songs are part of our holidays year after year after year. After a while, though, wouldn’t it be nice to hear a new “standard” or expand the old tradition to include something a bit more up to date? That’s where you come in!

Get in the holiday spirit to write your song: Be on the lookout for the details and emotions that evoke the spirit of the holiday. By using what you see and experience, you imbue your song with those touches that bring it to life. Begin jotting down ideas for your lyric. Look for fresh twists on holiday themes. For instance, when you’re shopping for presents or going to a holiday party, notice what the people around you are doing, what they are saying. How are the children reacting? What behaviors are different? What are you feeling?  

Write a Christmas song at Christmastime:  There’s nothing harder than writing a Christmas song in July! But that’s just when publishers and music libraries are looking for material for upcoming TV specials and films. So be ready ahead of time with what they’ll be looking for.

Write a song about a holiday that doesn’t have a lot of songs already: How about a Thanksgiving song? A halloween song? A hanukah song? These holidays each have their own special magic and yet the catalogue of songs is fairly slim (compared to Christmas, anyway).

Write a song just for your family and friends: A song is a wonderful gift to family and friends. Include their names and the details of your own holiday traditions. Play it each year to add to your special celebration of the holiday.