126 Shortcuts to take your songs from good to great!


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.


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:



May 16th, 2011

by Robin Frederick

Remember when you learned to ride a bike? It wasn’t easy! You fell down a lot, but you kept trying. At first you needed someone to hold on, keeping you steady. Then you used extra training wheels to help you stay upright as you pedaled. Then, finally, you were able to ride on your own. You had found that complicated thing called BALANCE. After that, it was a breeze! The process of writing songs is a lot like riding a bike. It’s all about finding a balance!

=> Balance Melody, Chords, Lyrics – Writing a song that is satisfying to your listeners involves finding a good balance between melody, lyrics, and chords. If you have a busy lyric with a lot of words, images, and ideas, then a melody that’s easy for listeners to follow might be the best accompaniment.

An extreme example of balance between lyrics and melody can be heard in the Rap genre. Lyric content and lyric rhythm have taken over, while the melody notes have become almost a monotone. The Singer-Songwriter genre is often lyric heavy and you’ll notice that, while the melodies make use of interesting phrase lengths and phrase starts, there are plenty of repeated melody patterns — lines repeated in sets of two, three, or four lines, organizing the melody so listeners can take it in easily.

On the other hand, if you have a complicated melody with lots of rhythmic interest, interval jumps, and maybe a key change in the chords, try keeping your lyric straightforward and easy to follow, maybe use more repetition in your chorus lyric than you normally would.

A good rule of thumb: As the attention-grabbing quality of one of your song elements is raised, think about reducing the others. This doesn’t mean the other elements should become simple and predictable. Instead, try organizing them in patterns so listeners can quickly grasp what’s happening.

=> Study the balance in your genre – Each genre has a balance of melody, lyrics, and chords giving it a characteristic sound. For instance, the Pop genre tends to have plenty of melodic interest while keeping lyrics focused on an emotion – asking listeners to FEEL the lyrics rather than think about them. The Country genre, on the other hand, relies on lyric stories with plenty of physical detail. Listeners need to pay attention to the lyric in order to get the full impact. As a result, melodies tend to be a little less complex than in the Pop field. This doesn’t mean you can write a boring melody! You’ll still need to keep your listeners interested. But you might want to use fewer melodic twists than you would in the Pop genre.

=> Balance craft and inspiration – Balance is also an essential part of your approach to songwriting as a whole. Finding a balance between inspiration and song craft can help you express your deepest thoughts and feelings and in a way that listeners can understand and respond to.

Inspiration is the heart of your songwriting. It’s what guides you, tells you what’s important, and delivers that brilliant line out of the blue. But inspiration can be a very personal thing and it may not always be there when you need it. Sometimes, it can even deliver inspired lines for a different song! But, if you balance it with a good amount of song craft, you can get the most from your inspiration, communicating effectively and surrounding those inspired gems with lines that support them.

=> It takes time to find your balance – Just like riding a bicycle, it takes practice to learn what good songwriting balance feels like. When you learn a new melody or lyric writing technique, don’t expect to immediately fold it into your songs and smoothly ride off into the sunset. There’ll be some wobbles and falls. You might scrape your knees a few times. But, just like you did when you were a kid, get back up on your bike and try again. Once you get the feel, you’ll be flying down the sidewalk with the wind in your hair in no time!

=> Get some training wheels – The best songwriting “training wheels” are hit songs! These songs already have good balance, the kind that listeners are comfortable with. This week, learn how to play and sing one recent hit song that you like. (You can find the current radio charts at http://www.BDSradio.com.) Notice the balance between lyrics, melody, and chords. How is the melody organized? Which melody lines are repeated and how many times? When do the lyrics simply repeat and when do they demand attention? Try writing a song with a similar type of balance.

Best of all, like riding a bike, once you learn what balance feels like, you never forget!

You’ll find more songwriting tips on my website: www.RobinFrederick.com

Copyright 2011 Robin Frederick.
Based on “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” available at Amazon.com.


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.


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.


November 28th, 2010

by Robin Frederick

based on “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” available at Amazon.com

Current hit songs in all mainstream commercial genres tend to stick to a few basic chords and lean heavily on repetition. For accomplished musicians there’s a real temptation to overwrite. You may be better off if your chord palette is limited to C, D min, F, and G!  You can hear this type of chord progression in big four-chord hits like Kris Allen’s “Live Like We’re Dying” where the basic approach works best. So, how do they make that work?

The secret to the success of today’s repetitive chord progressions lies in the way the melody relates to them. The chord progression often provides the solid, steady foundation on which a rhythmically interesting melody can be built. Nickelback’s “Photograph” and “Far Away” are great examples of rock-steady, repeated four-chord patterns with melodic phrases that begin in between the chord changes. This is the trick that keeps these repetitive chord progressions interesting: the melody DOESN’T emphasize the beat on which the chords change.

If you write your songs while playing chords on guitar or piano, there’s a natural tendency to start singing a melody/lyric line when you change a chord. Try it for yourself. Sit down with your guitar or at your keyboard and play an F chord for four beats, then a G chord, then resolve to the C chord for eight beats, changing (and playing) the chord on the first beat of the measure, like this:

| F / / / | G / / / | C / / / | C / / / |

Now sing any melody – just make something up. Play the chords as you sing, always playing or changing the chord on the first beat of the measure. As you continue to play and sing,  notice the tendency to start a melody phrase when you change a chord.

This is a habit you want to break. Sure, you’ll still start SOME melody lines at the same time as you change a chord, but you want to give yourself a choice. Now, play the same chord progression in the same way but start your melody on the Beat 3 or Beat 4. Do this a few times, then mix in a couple of short phrases that begin on Beat 2. Practice until you feel comfortable starting your melodic phrases on a variety of different beats.

Add some color to your chords

That simple three-chord progression you’ve been playing is probably starting to sound a little toooo simple by now, so how about adding a little texture and color. Instead of a basic three-note chord you’re used to, try adding another note to one of the chords–how about adding a D note to the C chord. This note will fill in the space between the C and E notes, giving the chord a more complex, interesting sound. You can also try playing a D minor chord instead of the G chord.

To play around with chords, go online and look for a “chord finder.” (See Section 4 below.) They’re free and they’re fun. A chord finder will show you how to play many different chords with different textures and colorations. Don’t stray from a basic repetitive chord progression but add a few extra notes to the chords to create some added interest.

Sing a note that’s not in the chord

Besides locking the phrasing of the melody into the chord changes, we often fall into another habit -starting a melody on one of the notes in the chord, or emphasizing the notes in the chord in the melody. This is another habit you can break and it will help you add excitement and a fresh sound to your melody. Try emphasizing a note (holding a note, starting a phrase on a note) that ISN’T in the chord. It might be the note that’s between two notes of the chord or just above or below one of the notes in the chord. You can hear this in the refrain lines of Sarah Bettens’s “Rescue Me.” This is a song that seems simple and has a very simple chord progression but there’s something compelling and interesting about the melody. The most important lines feature notes that are outside the basic three notes of the chords.

Try it!

To check out the way melodies and chords relate to each other in today’s hit songs, learn to play and sing a couple of recent hit songs that you like. Notice…

> On which beat the chords change

> When the chord progression repeats and when it goes to a new progression

> Where melody/lyric phrases begin and end

Try writing a song with a similar chord progression to one of the hits. (These repetitive, basic songwriter progressions are not copyrighted.) Use some of the ideas I’ve listed here! Have fun!!!

Copyright 2010 Robin Frederick. Based on the book :Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting: 126 Proven Techniques for Writing Songs That Sell!” available at Amazon.com.


June 26th, 2010

Have you ever noticed how some people can describe a simple everyday occurrence and make it sound hilarious or tragic or just plain interesting, while another person can tell the same story and have you snoring with boredom in an instant? If the language you use is vivid and fresh even a familiar event or idea can come to life but if it’s trite, overused, and predictable–in other words, if it’s filled with clichés–even the most exciting story can become dull.
People often speak in clichés.
It’s an easy form of shorthand that doesn’t require much thought and ensures that everyone knows what you mean.  For example, here’s a simple description of a common experience that’s filled with overused phrases. (They’re underlined.)
“I guess I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning; I just couldn’t seem to get in gear. I took the bus to work. It was so crowded people were packed like sardines. I was late getting to the office and the boss was hopping mad. The day seemed to drag on and on. I thought five o’clock would never come!”
While this paragraph gives you an idea of what the speaker’s day was like, it doesn’t make you feel the boredom and frustration. Familiar phrases such as “packed like sardines,” “hopping mad” and “seemed to drag on and on” have been so overused that they’ve lost their emotional impact. Listeners no longer picture the images or notice the comparisons.
Avoid clichés and still be universal.
A universal lyric is one that reaches out to a lot of people.  Sometimes songwriters think that writing a universal lyric means they have to use a lot of generic language, dumb down their lyric, or write what people expect to hear. That’s not the case at all. Generic, predictable lines just waste space because listeners don’t really hear them. Here are four ways you can get rid of overused, predictable phrases in your lyrics.
1. Use a fresh or unexpected comparison: Comparisons are a great way to add energy to a description. there was a time when “packed like sardines” was vivid, fresh, and funny. Listeners really pictured it when they heard it and it made them react. Eventually, so many people liked it and used it that the idea became stale and listeners stopped reacting.
You can create new comparisons that associate one idea with another in ways listeners haven’t heard before. For instance, you could express exhaustion by saying, “I felt like a balloon that was losing air. Floating an inch off the ground, being kicked around.” Or describe a crowded bus: “People were wedged together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.”
2. Give it a character: When you give human characteristics to an inanimate object, it literally brings it to life for listeners. Try personifying an object in your story: “Some days are criminal. They ought to be locked up.” Of course days are not criminals and no one can literally “lock up” a day but listeners are able to understand that this is what the day felt like.
3. Twist a cliché: You can use a cliché if you surprise the listener by creating a different payoff or explain it in a way that offers a new insight. Instead of “the day dragged on and on,” you might try, “the day dragged on and dragged me down.”
4. Change the order of events: Keeping to the logical progression of events is what listeners expect; it’s a cliché story structure. While you don’t want to alter things so much that the story becomes unclear, you could start with the end of the day, with the feeling of exhaustion, then work backwards, showing listeners what led up to it.
To hear good examples of lyrics that express universal ideas while avoiding or reworking clichés, listen to “Cannonball” by Damien Rice, Sarah McLachlan’s “World on Fire,” and John Mayer’s “Gravity.”
The Cliché Game
Rewrite these clichés using any or all of the four techniques listed above.
– I depend on you; you’re my ace in the hole. 
– You think you’ve got it made, but soon you’ll change your tune. 
– We fight like cats and dogs but things work out in the end. 
– The more I learn about you, the less I know. 
– I’ve got to get my feelings out; it’s now or never.
You can keep on playing. Find more clichés online at web sites like http://www.clichesite.com. Practice rewriting them to get in the habit and exercise your creative muscle. Keep a list of your rewritten lines and refer to it next time you’re looking for a song title or idea. Use one of your rewritten clichés as the basis for a song lyric.
Copyright 2010 Robin Frederick. Based on the book “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting: 126 Proven Techniques for Writing Songs That Sell” available at Amazon.com.


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.


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.


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.


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.


May 25th, 2009

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

Most songwriters sit down to write when they are going through an emotional time, when feelings are running high. Many great songs — many hit songs — have been written from a songwriter’s private life – the joy, love, grief, and anger of the writer’s own relationships.

So, what happens when a songwriter who has been writing solely from personal experience begins to (or wants to) earn a living from their writing? Let’s say you’re a singer-songwriter with a record deal and you have to write ten new songs for an upcoming album… or you’re a staff writer with a publishing deal who needs to write on demand. Can you rely on your life to provide enough material to keep the songs flowing? Probably not. Even if you could, it might not be the kind of life you’d want to live!

Here are a couple of ideas that can help you get around this problem:

> Use the past.
You already know that as a songwriter you need to write from your heart; you want to express your own thoughts and feelings. If your life isn’t currently filled with drama, try reaching back into the past for an event that still resonates for you, a conversation, person, or situation that has stayed in your memory. If you’ve already written a song or songs about it, consider looking at it from another angle. Try putting yourself in the other person’s place and seeing it from their point of view or use something you’ve learned since that time to add a fresh perspective.

> Imagine a situation.
Shakespeare didn’t have to endure a visit from the ghost of his dead father in order to write Hamlet. By imagining himself in Hamlet’s situation, he was able to create dialogue filled with honest emotions that have moved audiences for hundreds of years. A good writer, whether of plays, songs, or novels, doesn’t have to experience every situation himself in order to write about it truthfully.

The poet John Keats called this ability to project oneself into another’s emotional life “negative capability.” By this he meant a writer’s ability to lose his own ego and become the character he’s writing about. I just call it empathy. A good writer is one who can feel what others are going through and identify with their emotions. As soon as you can do that, you can write about it.

We all experience empathy when we lose ourselves in a good movie, book, or TV program, when we cry over a sad ending or care about what happens to the hero. You can use these empathic feelings as the basis for new songs.

Do It Now!
Choose a situation from your past or watch a dramatic TV show or movie and pick a scene that interests you. Write out the situation in your own words. Try to get inside the emotions of someone in the scene — really BE there. Imagine your surroundings, the past that led up to it and what might happen next. What emotions are you feeling? What you want to say and do in this situation. Make a list of phrases and ideas that describe what you’re feeling. Choose one of these phrases and make it the title of your song. For a variation on this idea, choose your material from a cable news channel and base your song on real people and events.

In my book, “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting,” there are several techniques that will help you develop a complete lyric from your title (Shortcuts #44 – #47), then use the lyric to suggest the raw material for a melody.

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