Most experienced songwriters recognize the importance of keeping each new song sounding fresh and different by creating plenty of variety in their chord progressions. They’re aware of the danger of writing songs that are all built around the same few notes, chords and keys—a criticism that is often leveled at electronic dance music (EDM).
Now, leading British electronic dance duo Disclosure—consisting of brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence—are aiming to change all that. Their mission, they say, is to bring greater depth to EDM by using song structures, writing processes and a wider range of chords that aren’t usually found in this genre.
“We’re trying to bring class and soul into the songwriting … using jazz chords that have emotion instead of boring, stabby EDM triads,” Howard Lawrence recently told Billboard magazine. “You can play [our song] ‘Latch’ in a massive nightclub or cover it in a jazz ensemble.”
His brother Guy Lawrence added: “There are acoustic guitar covers of [our song] ‘White Noise’ on YouTube. You can’t do that with your average house tune. The only thing that makes it dance music are the beats.”
Disclosure’s music is seen as a synthesis of house, pop and UK garage, with a strong emphasis on traditional song structure (their influences surprisingly include singer-songwriters Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush).
“Our songs often feature a fat layer of choruses and verses instead of a big build up, a drop and a big pyro explosion usually found in EDM,” said Guy. “It’s more about the meaning of the song, the structure … it’s a little deeper.”
Disclosure may be breaking new ground in the EDM market, but they’re not the first to discover that you can enhance the feel of a song by using so-called ‘jazz chords’, such as thirds, fifths, sevenths, ninths, elevenths or thirteenths.
In the 1920s, the great George Gershwin reshaped popular music by taking jazz elements and certain harmonies and combining them with Tin Pan Alley pop in a way that hadn’t been done before.
In the modern era, ‘jazz chords’ such as ninths, elevenths and thirteenths are featured prominently in songs like Billy Joel’s ‘Just the Way You Are’, ‘Ebony and Ivory’ by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, and Mariah Carey’s ‘Love Takes Time’.
Carole King’s classic song ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ even uses elevenths in a minor key!
Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’—one of the most covered songs of all time—is a great example of how to make a simple tune harmonically interesting. The song doesn’t just feature ordinary majors, minors and sevenths; it also includes a mixture of fifths, thirds and seconds, and a couple of well-chosen variant chords.
“Even if chords are simple, they should rub,” says songwriting legend Jimmy Webb. “They should have dissonances in them.”
He adds: “I’ve always used a lot of alternate bass lines, suspensions, widely spaced voicings, and different textures to get very warm chords. Sometimes you set up strange chords by placing a chord in front of it that’s going to set it off like a diamond in a gold band.”
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“How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music), Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and from KoboBooks.
The legendary songwriting team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff are set to receive the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s prestigious Johnny Mercer Award at the 45th Annual Induction and Awards ceremony in New York City on June 12.
The Mercer Award is the highest honour bestowed by the Songwriters Hall of Fame. It is reserved for a songwriter or songwriting team whose body of work is of such high quality and impact that it upholds the standard set by Johnny Mercer himself.
Philadelphia-based Gamble and Huff will join past Mercer Award recipients Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Paul Anka, Kris Kristofferson, Smokey Robinson, Hal David and Burt Bacharach, and Cy Coleman.
“It will be our pleasure to welcome Gamble and Huff into the circle of superwriters who have received the Johnny Mercer Award,” said Jimmy Webb, the Songwriters Hall of Fame chairman and a fellow recipient of the Mercer award. “They have met the standard with a series of indelible melodies and lyrics, and an enviable string of number one records and gold and platinum discs.”
Over the past 50 years, Gamble and Huff have written over 3,500 songs together, including 50 pop and R&B chart hit singles. They have won five Grammy Awards and 86 BMI Pop and R&B Awards.
In 1971, the duo set up their own record label, Philadelphia International Records, and went on to create ‘The Sound of Philadelphia’ with classic hits such as The Supremes’ ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’, ‘Only The Strong Survive’ by Jerry Butler, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’, Billy Paul’s ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’, and ‘Love Train’ by The O’Jays.
Gamble and Huff were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1995.
This video charts the history of Gamble & Huff and The Sound of Philadelphia:
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“How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a paperback, or as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music) and Barnes & Noble’s Nook store.
Songwriters Hall of Fame chairman Jimmy Webb has announced that Elton John and Bernie Taupin will be the 2013 recipients of the prestigious Johnny Mercer Award at this year’s awards ceremony in New York on June 13.
John and Taupin have been one of the most prolific and successful songwriting partnerships of all time. Their award-winning relationship has spanned more than four decades and they have collaborated on more than 30 albums since they first met in 1967.
“Some catalogues are more significant than others not only because of their pertinence to the times in which they were written, but because their sheer mass is overpowering,” said Jimmy Webb. “It’s just not that easy to write 40 top 10 records. It’s kind of like swimming the English Channel with your hands tied behind your back.”
He added: “Elton’s readily identifiable melodic piano style has proven to be a perfect accompaniment to Bernie’s razor sharp lyrics about relationships and living on the edge of life both in good and bad times.”
The Johnny Mercer Award is the highest honour bestowed by the Songwriters Hall of Fame. It is exclusively reserved for songwriters or songwriting teams who have already been inducted in a prior year, and whose body of work is of such high quality and impact that it upholds the gold standard set by the legendary Johnny Mercer.
Past Johnny Mercer Award recipients have included songwriting giants: Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Phil Collins, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Paul Anka, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Carole King, Billy Joel, Jimmy Webb, Hal David, Burt Bacharach, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Paul Simon, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Stephen Sondheim, Cy Coleman, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne.
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They include English songwriter Tony Hatch, Mick Jones and Lou Gramm of Foreigner, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith (pictured), Holly Knight, and JD Souther. They will join previous legendary recipients such as Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Sam Cooke and John Lennon.
“Each of our 2013 inductees has been responsible for captivating the world with their creativity for decades, serving up a rich variety of songs for our global soundtrack,” said Hall of Fame chairman Jimmy Webb. “We are looking forward to celebrating their contributions at our Annual Awards Gala.”
The ceremony will be held on June 13 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Manhattan.
Steven Tyler and Joe Perry co-founded Aerosmith in 1970 with guitarist Ray Tabano, bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Kramer. In addition to the Songwriters Hall of Fame induction, Tyler and Perry were recently announced as the next recipients of ASCAP’s Founders Award.
Tony Hatch will be honored for his 53-year career during which he has written many memorable hits, including ‘Downtown’ and ‘Don’t Sleep In The Subway’ for Petula Clark and ‘Sugar and Spice’ for The Searchers.
Foreigner co-founders Mick Jones and Lou Gramm are being recognized for classic songs such as ‘Feels Like the First Time’ and ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’.
Holly Knight’s 36-year career has seen her work with artists like Chaka Khan, Pat Benatar, Aerosmith, KISS, Tina Turner and Cheap Trick.
JD Souther had ten of his songs recorded by Linda Ronstadt, as well as co-writing several Eagles songs, including ‘Victim of Love’.
In addition to the annual inductees, the Songwriters Hall of Fame will be announcing a number of special awards, including the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award, the Towering Song Award, the Towering Performance Award and the Hal David Starlight Award.
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Let’s be clear, songwriting is not easy. And writing hit songs is even harder. As Jimmy Webb (pictured) once observed: “Songwriting is hell on Earth. If it isn’t, then you’re doing it wrong.”
We’ve all heard about people who finished a song in the time it takes to boil an egg and it went on to earn a fortune. Country legend Hank Williams used to say: “If a song can’t be written in 20 minutes, it ain’t worth writing”. Lady Gaga wrote her first single ‘Just Dance’ in 10 minutes—the same length of time it took the Beach Boys’ Bruce Johnston to write the Barry Manilow classic ‘I Write the Songs’.
The truly great songwriters just make it look easy.
In reality, though, they have to put in hours and hours of hard work—making many mistakes along the way—in order to hone their talent and achieve their greatness. Diane Warren, one of the most successful female songwriters of all time, spent 20 years writing six days a week, 10-12 hours a day before she felt she could finally take the occasional weekend off!
The great Sammy Cahn put it like this: “Writing a song can be agony or ecstasy. It can take half an hour or half a year.”
That’s why it’s important to understand that hit songwriting is a process. It’s an art and a craft.
The initial spark that ignites your song idea is a gift. From then on, it’s all about hard work.
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