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Songwriter’s Challenge: Write a Standard Form Song

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Beginners Guide To Song Form Part 2

After receiving such great feedback from you guys, we’ve decided to continue the songwriting form series. Last time we touched on the AABA format using Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” as an example, and today I want to focus on the most popular song structure-ABABCB.

Understanding Song Structure Basics: ABABCB Song Form

The ABABCB Song Form:

The most common song form is the ABABCB form, which is a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus song. The “A” section is the verse, where the story is told. The “B” section is the chorus, which is the hook and the highlight of the song. A standard verse chorus can often become tiresome, so adding a “C” section, also known as the bridge, adds variation. The bridge is a musical departure from the expected-often summing up the song-thus supplying new momentum to the final chorus. Some popular examples for ABABCB songs are “What’s Love Got To Do With it” by Tina Turner, “Girl” by The Beatles, and “Hot N Cold” by Katy Perry. (more…)

Songwriting Tips: You Can’t Force Inspiration

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Have you ever tried writing a song on a deadline? There may be any number of reasons why you’d put a due date on songwriting. You could be trying to write a song for a TV or film licensing opportunity that has a deadline. Or maybe you have a show coming up and you wanted to make sure you had a brand new song to perform for your fans. It could be that you’ve set up a meeting with the A&R department of a record label and you want to show them some new stuff that shows off your new musical direction.

For me, it was because my band had a recording studio booked for a certain date and we wanted to make sure we had enough songs to put on an album (and then some). For our first two albums, we hit the studio after we had written ten songs and recorded two ten-song albums. This time around, we wanted to be able to pick and choose out of 15 or 20 songs so we could piece together and record the best album we had in us.

When a producer wanted to work with us, we chose a time to record that fit in both of our schedules. It was the fall, and we would be recording in the spring. We only had a couple songs ready then, but there would be plenty of time to write enough to reach our goal, right? Our singer and principal songwriter agreed, adding that he works best on a deadline. He does, after all, compose music for commercials and is regularly required to provide timely songwriting.

It didn’t take long for us to learn another lesson from the “songwriting tips” page of the musician’s handbook:

You can’t force inspiration.

You see, when he would write music for commercials, it wasn’t the same as writing songs for the band. It was easy to get something finished when he didn’t have a personal stake in the songwriting; when you make background music, you can resort to cliches and various techniques that create a good commercial product but not necessarily a heartfelt song that you personally believe in.

And then the inevitable happened: he hit a dry spell. Not a major one, but he ran into the same issues that every songwriter runs into once in a while. He just wasn’t feeling it. And when he wasn’t feeling it, he couldn’t be expected to write a great song. He probably could have forced out a bunch of songs, but they wouldn’t have had the same impact as the tracks that he really believed in.

The solution: give yourself a little time to breathe.

After telling us about the situation he was in, we decided to ease up a little on our constant attempts to write and rehearse new material. We scaled back our rehearsals from three times a week to two times a week, and our singer took a break from trying to write songs for the band. In essence, he took a little time to breathe. We all did. As collaborative songwriters, we relied on our singer to get us started but we were burning ourselves out as well. We took a break.

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Songwriting Tip: Intros

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Did you ever wonder about what the most important part of a song is? Your initial thought might be that it’s the chorus or the hook… I’m not here to say that the chorus is not important…  It certainly is. But it’s worth noting that a chorus won’t mean much if the listener never hears it. People have short attention spans when they’re listening to music, so you’ve got to catch their attention as soon as possible with your song. That means the introduction had better be memorable, or at least quick enough to let the song get to something memorable as soon as possible.

So because it’s a first impression, and first impressions are crucial, the intro just might be the most important part of your song. That’s why it’s imperative that you don’t write it off–spend as much time crafting a great introduction as you do crafting the rest of the song.

Did you know that when music industry people–like A&R and radio DJs–listen to a demo, they usually only give it about 30 seconds before they skip to the next track? That means a song had better really get going well before the 30 second mark to make them want to listen more. It also means that your demo should probably include songs that get right into the good stuff and have great intros.

Use a hook in the introduction

If you hope your introduction will make people want to keep listening, put something memorable in it–an instrumental hook, a really cool guitar part, a catchy melody, etc. There are no rules to what you can and can’t include, so do whatever makes it stand out!

Studio Pros artist Rich Marcello does this in his song “Mary.”  The introduction includes a catchy little acoustic guitar lead that quotes the main hook of the chorus.  It’s just long enough to give us a taste of the melody, then leads right into the song’s first verse.  Listen to it here:

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Songwriting Tip: Lyrical Themes

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

A successful song usually has great lyrics that stick to a central theme or idea. “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos has a theme of an unrequited love, while “Fix You” by Coldplay is full of sympathy and comforting words. Great lyrics tell a story or create a mood, sucking the listener in with every successive word.

But writing great lyrics can be easier said than done. If you don’t try to contain your thoughts to a particular theme, you run the risk of going off on tangents and losing the focus on the song. Losing focus means you might lose the attention of the listener… And you never want to do that!

Tell a story

Storytelling is a common device among songs. Direct storytelling can make it easy to keep yourself within the confines of your song’s theme. Take the song “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan. It’s about the alleged wrongful trial and conviction of a man in the ’60s, and the lyrics follow a straightforward narrative style. As the song progresses, you hear more of the true story as Dylan sees it; other songs make up fictional stories and tell them directly through their lyrics.

But storytelling doesn’t have to be quite as cut and dry. In the song “American Pie” by Don McLean, the lyrics don’t spell out a story per say, but they have a story-like quality to them (and they’re all related to the central theme of the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper). In other songs, the lyrics tell the story of a turning point or defining moment of a person’s life.

Whether or not you actually narrate a story or simply recall the tale of a moment in your life, your lyrics should take the listener on a journey from start to finish, leaving them feeling like they learned or experienced something from the song.

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Writing a Music Bridge

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

A music bridge is a new section of a song that differs from the verses and choruses.  A great bridge can really take your song to the next level, but sometimes we’re so focused on the verses and the choruses that we forget how powerful an amazing bridge can be.

A memorable song bridge can break up the monotony of simply switching back and forth between verses and choruses. It can be a great place to bring the dynamic level up or down in the song. It can fit nicely along with the feel of the verses and choruses, or it can throw the listener into unexpected new territory. There’s no one way to write a bridge, but here are some opportunities that you might want to capitalize on when it comes to writing the third section of your next song.

Introduce a new chord progression

A bridge allows you to bring a new chord progression into your song that hasn’t been heard before. Since the verses and choruses should generally stay consistent with each other, a bridge allows you the freedom to introduce something new. You might draw inspiration from (or use chords from) other sections of the song, or you could go the daring route and try something completely different. The sky’s the limit!  A good example is ”Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison

Change keys

Sometimes artists will modulate to a different key for their bridge. This can really make the section stand out from the rest of the song, and it keeps the listener interested in hearing more of the song. After you change keys, you have the option of getting back to the original key when the bridge ends, or simply staying in the new key for the rest of the song.  An example of a key-changing bridge is “Summer of 69” by Bryan Adams.

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Hit Songs Need Clean Music Production to Be Heard

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

So many talented songwriters and composers love melodies and harmonies so much that they layer as many into their song as they possibly can. They want the best music productions for their songs, but think that adding more and more instruments and parts will make their production sound great.

Unfortunately, it won’t!

Less is more

Have you ever noticed that some of the biggest hits of all time only have three or four instruments on them? Lots of classic Beatles songs just have a couple simple guitar parts, bass, drums and vocals. Nirvana and Green Day have had monumental hit songs, and neither group is more than a power trio. Even “Billie Jean,” one of Michael Jackson’s biggest hits, is a simple production with few instruments.

If you have too many parts, melodies and counter-melodies, it can prevent your song from being catchy and memorable. If you try singing two melodies that are played together in a song, it’s pretty much impossible… And if you can’t do it, neither can your potential fans.

Don’t let too many parts get in the way of your song’s catchy melody

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Rhymes: A Lyric Writing Tip

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Who doesn’t love a good rhyme?

There’s really no way around it: if you’re going to be writing songs with lyrics, you’re going to end up coming up with rhymes. Rhymes help a song sound cohesive and consistent, poetic and memorable. Rhymes are usually part of the art of a song–it’s really just a poem set to music, and most poems rhyme. It’s true that your song doesn’t have to rhyme (I’ll touch on that below), but since most of the time it will, you’ll want to have a good strategy when it comes to writing your verses and choruses.

As a songwriter myself, I’ve run into plenty of tight places when trying to write rhyming lyrics. Here are a few things I’ve come across that might help your songwriting process as well.

Use a rhyming dictionary

Sometimes I write what seems to be the perfect line for a song, only to realize to my horror that I can’t think of anything that rhymes for the next line. After I mentally run through the alphabet in a desperate attempt to think of any word that might possibly work, I usually give in and pick up my handy little rhyming dictionary. These books take the ending sounds of words and give you a list of every word in the English language that rhymes with it. Not only does it save time I would spend agonizing over what word to choose, but it gives me all sorts of options that I never would have thought of. I’d highly recommend picking one up (or using an online rhyming dictionary), as it may come in handy.

Half-rhymes

Many songwriters and poets utilize partial rhymes in their stanzas. These are words that don’t technically rhyme, but they sound similar enough that they might as well rhyme (and no one will accuse you of cheating if you use them). For example, you could easily take a line that says “when will it all change” and follow it with something that says “it only stays the same.” “Same” and “change” do not rhyme–but they have a similar vowel sound in them that makes them work together in some lyrical situations. Although, I will add that rhyming “change” with “same” is pretty common, so while you can pull it off it may not end up being the most original thing you’ve ever written!

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Songwriting Contest: What You Need to Know

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Did you ever wonder if your song has what it takes to win a songwriting competition?

There are many contests out there to choose from, including the International Songwriting Competition and the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Boasting celebrity judges and thousands of dollars worth in prizes, winning one of these competitions could not only help you financially, but it could potentially bring great exposure to your music.

I used to think I should just send my songs to every competition possible, cross my fingers and hope you win one. But with typical entry fees around $30 per song and hundreds, maybe even thousands of other songs competing for the same prize, I realized that any songwriter would want to do everything they can to make sure their song is the best it can be–and that it can hold up to the stiff competition!

So the first question is this: what do the judges look for when deciding which songs are the best? The good news is, most good contests will publicly list the criteria they judge your song’s merit on. The bad news is, these categories can be vague and don’t give too many hints as to what makes one song better than another. I decided to come up with a few pointers to get you started in the right direction.

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Writing a Great Chorus

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

It’s happened to all of us: you go an entire day with the chorus of a song in your head, unable to make it go away. You listen to the song over and over again, you listen to other songs to get it out of your head, but try as you might that tune is stubbornly stuck in your brain for good.

Infectious catchiness is the hallmark of many a great song. Usually, the catchiest part of the song is referred to as a “hook.” Not unlike the hook of a fishing pole, a song’s hook catches your ear and reels you in, making you remember the tune forever. Most of the time, a song’s hook is featured in the chorus. The chorus is the section of music that repeats itself several times and usually contains the theme of the song. A catchy chorus is essential in songwriting, but what exactly makes for a great chorus?

As with anything creative, there are no hard and fast rules for how to compose an optimal chorus for your song. And while there are great tips and guidelines to follow, there isn’t any one way to guarantee that your chorus is a good one. But while there are no rules in music, there are certainly a few things you might consider as you’re writing a song and hoping to have a global hit on your hands.

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