SONGWRITING TIPS AND ADVICE ON THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS FOUND IN ALL HIT SONGS

Tag Archives: singer-songwriter

Bob DylanSince the 1980s, a debate has been raging about whether an artificially intelligent computer system could ever be truly creative. Could computer algorithms ever be used to write a ‘real’ hit song – even if the machine was programmed and trained just like a human songwriter … and given enough data and fed hundreds of chart hits by its programmers?

An old adage says that a monkey sitting at a typewriter could eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare. By the same token, could a computer ever create a work of art that could match the creativity of Beethoven or Mozart? … Or Bob Dylan?

IBM has cleverly used this debate as the basis of a new US TV commercial for its cognitive system IBM Watson – an artificially intelligent computer capable of answering people’s questions posed in natural language.

In the TV ad, IBM’s ‘Watson’ is seen discussing songwriting with Bob Dylan …

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Photo: Eva Rinaldi

Photo: Eva Rinaldi

“I’ve only ever written songs from the heart. I don’t really see the point in making music if it’s not an expression of self or a form of therapy.

“I could go three months without writing a single song and in one week I’ll write twenty. But I never want to write a song just to have a hit. I write a song because I want it to make me feel better. Other people have different ways of letting off steam. Mine is writing songs.

“It’s like when you’re angry with someone and you write an email or a letter to that person, and you write everything down … but you don’t give it to them. Songwriting is my way of getting out anger, aggression, happiness and love. It’s just about getting it out – and making you feel better.

“So it’s never been about the audience or pleasing people, or trying to fit in. It’s just been about myself and my love for music.”

—Ed Sheeran (in an interview with Charlie Rose of PBS)

MORE SONGWRITING TIPS

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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 and also as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple's iTunes Store, Barnes and Noble's Nook store, and from KoboBooks.com.

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, a 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.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) and  HERE (UK)


SONGWRITING TIPS: David Bowie's 'cut-up' method of writing lyricsWhen David Bowie released his twenty-fourth studio album, The Next Day, in 2013, a journalist asked him to explain his thinking behind the new songs, each of which featured unusual, cryptic lyrics and surreal imagery.

Bowie responded by sending the journalist a list of 42 words which supposedly provided the framework for the critically-acclaimed album.

Here are those 42 words:

Effigies … Indulgences … Anarchist … Violence … Chthonicum … Intimidation … Vampyric … Pantheon … Succubus … Hostage … Transference … Identity … Mauer … Interface … Flitting … Isolation … Revenge … Osmosis … Crusade … Tyrant … Domination … Indifference … Miasma … Pressgang … Displaced … Flight … Resettlement … Funereal … Glide … Trace … Balkan … Burial … Reverse … Manipulate … Origin … Text … Traitor … Urban … Comeuppance …. Tragic … Nerve … Mystification.

Quite a confusing lyrical framework for an album that ended up including song titles such as: ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, ‘Love Is Lost’, ‘Where Are We Now?’, ‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘The Next Day’.

Maybe the answer can be found in a 2008 interview with Bowie. In it he described how he often comes up with interesting lyric lines by employing the ‘cut-up’ writing technique used by postmodernist author William S. Burroughs in his controversial novel Naked Lunch.

‘Cut-up’ is a literary technique designed to add an element of chance to the creative process.

It involves taking a finished line of text and cutting it into pieces—usually with just one or two words on each piece. The resulting pieces are then rearranged to create a brand new text.

The cut-up concept can be traced back to the Dadaists of the 1920s, but it was developed further in the early 1950s by painter, writer and sound poet Brion Gysin—and then popularized in the late 1950s and early 1960s by Burroughs.

David Bowie explained: “I use it for igniting anything that may be in my imagination … You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects, creating a kind of ‘story ingredients’ list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four or five-word sections; mix ’em up and reconnect them.

“You can get some pretty interesting idea combinations like this,” he said. “You can use them as is or, if you have a craven need to not lose control, bounce off these ideas and write whole new sections.”

This technique is also said to have influenced Kurt Cobain’s songwriting. And Thom Yorke applied a similar method on Radiohead’s 2000 album Kid A. Yorke reportedly wrote single lines, put them into a hat, and drew them out at random while the band rehearsed the songs.

Here’s Bowie explaining his cut-up technique in the 1975 BBC TV documentary Cracked Actor

So there you have it … If you want to get all Bowie-esque and create some unusual and intriguing lyrics, simply reach for your lyric notebook and a pair of scissors – and start cutting and pasting!

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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 and also as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple's iTunes Store, Barnes and Noble's Nook store, and from KoboBooks.com.A 5-star rated book at Amazon, “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. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music), Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) and HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).

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“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music), Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) and HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).

SURPRISING RHYMING – AN ALTERNATIVE RHYMING DICTIONARY FOR SONGWRITERS AND POETS

“SURPRISING RHYMING” – The Alternative Rhyming Dictionary for Songwriters and Poets – is available from Amazon as a US paperback, a UK paperback, and across Europe. It is also available as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle store in the United States, the UK and Europe, as well as Apple’s iTunes Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) … HERE (UK) … HERE (CANADA).

 


While a song’s title is often its strongest selling point, and the best way to attract the attention of music publishers, A&R executives and record buyers alike, coming up with a highly distinctive lyric line within a song can also instantly draw listeners in and hook their interest.

Most top songwriters confess to being envious of certain lyric lines written by other writers. The latest to join this group is US singer-songwriter Bruno Mars who has revealed the iconic lyrics that he most admires. They include lines from Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’, ‘You Sexy Thing’ by Hot Chocolate, and ‘Big Poppa’ by The Notorious B.I.G.

The Grammy award-winning writer has admitted that he wishes he had come up with lines like: “They try to make me go to rehab, but I say No No No” … “I believe in miracles since you came along. You sexy thang. You sexy thang you” … and “Cause I see some ladies tonight who should be havin’ my baby….”.

Bruno recently admitted that he finds it difficult to come up with new material. “You know how hard it is to write a big song?,” he said in an interview with GQ magazine. “It’s so hard to do. Might be one of the hardest things to ever do.”

Which classic lyric line do you wish you had written?

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How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is now available from Amazon’s Kindle Store for only US$7.22 or GB£4.78.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) and HERE (UK).

Also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music).


Emeli Sandé – who recently won two Brit awards for ‘Best British Female’ and ‘Best British Album’ – could be in line for more prizes at this year’s prestigious Ivor Novello awards in London on May 16.

She has been nominated for two awards: ‘Best Song Musically & Lyrically’ (for ‘Next To Me’, which she co-wrote with Hugo Chegwin, Harry Craze and Anup Paul) and PRS for Music’s ‘Most Performed Work’ award (also for ‘Next To Me’).

However, she faces stiff competition in the ‘Best Song’ category from Jake Bugg’s ‘Two Fingers’ and ‘Laura’ by Bat For Lashes (pictured below, right).

The annual Ivor Novello Awards are presented by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA), in association with the UK collection society PRS For Music.

The event will also see prizes presented for ‘Songwriter of the Year’, ‘Outstanding Song Collection’ and ‘Outstanding Achievement’.

The awards are judged by the British writing community and are designed to celebrate, honour and reward excellence in songwriting and composing. They are regarded as the most important awards for UK music writers.

Watch the official video for Emeli Sandé’s ‘Next To Me’ HERE…

Watch the official video for Jake Bugg’s ‘Two Fingers’ HERE…

Watch the official video for ‘Laura’ by Bat For Lashes HERE…

Which song do you think deserves to win this year’s ‘Best Song’ Ivor award?

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How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is now available from Amazon’s Kindle Store for only US$7.22 or GB£4.78.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) and HERE (UK).

Also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music).


Taylor SwiftA new US TV commercial for Diet Coke shows Taylor Swift writing her latest single ‘22’ – supposedly being inspired by the can of Diet Coke that the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter is seen enjoying throughout the ad.

Filmed in Nashville, the TV ad – titled ‘Music That Moves’ – also features performances by Taylor’s fans singing and dancing along with the new song.

“Taylor is a true artist, deeply involved in the full creative process, from writing to production to release,” says Stuart Kronauge, general manager, Sparkling Beverages, Coca-Cola North America.

“The ‘Music That Moves’ ad shows Taylor in her natural element – penning lyrics that one day will speak volumes to millions of fans the world over … all while sipping on a Diet Coke. The commercial serves as a peek behind the curtain at an extraordinary day in the life of a true American superstar.

“Whether you’re writing a hit song like Taylor, or simply singing along, Diet Coke helps you Stay Extraordinary.”

You can judge for yourself HERE…

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How (Not) To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is now available from Amazon’s Kindle Store for only US$7.22 or GB£4.78.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) and HERE (UK).

Also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music).


For a song to become a great song, it must be able to reach out and touch listeners and stimulate an emotional response within them. It should take them on a memorable and emotional journey. It should make them feel something.

That’s why Amy Grant, the Nashville-based Christian singer-songwriter, believes the greatest compliment a songwriter can receive is to have someone tell you that your song captures exactly what they’re feeling inside.

“The challenge of a songwriter is to articulate – in an accessible way – things we go through, if what you are trying to do is to make people feel connected to their own life, ” says Amy. “I’m inspired by specific situations and try to capture in a song what people feel.”

On May 14, the six-times Grammy award winner will release her first full album of all-new songs in 10 years.

Titled How Mercy Looks From Here, the new album was produced by Marshall Altman and includes guest vocalists James Taylor, Carole King, Sheryl Crow, Will Hoge, and Eric Pasley (who wrote the only song on the album not written by Grant). Amy’s husband, Vince Gill, also makes an appearance.

Watch the official video for Amy Grant’s 1991 hit ‘Good For Me’ HERE…

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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) and Barnes & Noble’s Nook store.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA),  HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).


Bernie_Elton_By_Bill_Claxtonsm-294x250Songwriters 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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How (Not) To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success’ is now available from Amazon’s Kindle Store for only US$7.22 or GB£4.78.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA) and HERE (UK).

Also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music).


Most songwriters would agree that keeping your songwriter’s antenna switched on to the world around you at all times is the best way to come up with great song ideas.

Being observant and keeping your mind constantly open for new ideas through your experiences, thoughts, feelings and observations can lead to some interesting songs.

But flicking through stacks of old thrift shop photographs does it for New York singer-songwriter Elisa Flynn (pictured above; photo by Elizabeth Graham). She finds that random second-hand photos of strangers can inspire lots of innovative ideas.

“I once picked up an evocative and weird picture of a woman in the woods balancing a tuft of moss on her wild, orange hair,” Elisa told Courier Life’s Brooklyn Daily. “It inspired me to write a song about the woman being lost in the woods and how she wants to stay there.”

Try looking at old photos of people you don’t know, and ask yourself Who? What? Where? When? How? and Why?-type questions about each photo. The answers to these questions may generate words, phrases and lyrical themes that could stimulate some interesting song ideas!

Of course, a good title or a lyric line can also come from overhearing a conversation on a train or in a café … or an event that you witness … or while you’re waiting at a traffic light. Similarly, a headline in a newspaper, on a website, or a billboard might spark a great idea for a song.

What is the strangest source of inspiration you’ve ever found for one of your songs?

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How (Not) To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success’ is now available from Amazon’s Kindle Store for only US$7.22 or GB£4.78.

Read a sample of the book HERE (USA) and HERE (UK and Europe).

Also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music).


When you start working on a new song don’t think about what you’re doing intellectually, just go with the creative flow and have fun, urges Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman. She calls it “creative flow songwriting”.

Beth recently told PRS for Music’s ‘M’ magazine: “The creative flow is just like oxygen flowing everywhere and people absorb different amounts of it depending on their capacity.  I believe it’s where the best stuff comes through.

“One of the things I do when I teach a songwriting workshop is to encourage everybody to become more of a sponge for that creative flow.”

It’s an approach that has certainly worked well for Beth. She has written hits for artists such as Elton John, Neil Diamond, Emmylou Harris, Bette Midler, Bonnie Raitt, Trisha Yearwood, Roberta Flack, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Her songs have also been featured in countless movies and TV shows.

“Of course it’s important to learn all of the technical skills of how to tighten up a song and how to recognize when a song could be better,” she told ‘M’, “but when I’m writing – especially when I’m starting the process of writing – I’m not looking at it intellectually. On the front end, I don’t want my brain driving the car.”

She added: ”I follow that creative flow blindly until something pops through, and it’s so much fun. I’ve learnt to trust it and I think that’s how the greatest songs are written.”

Here’s Beth Nielsen Chapman’s full interview with ‘M’ magazine…

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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) and Barnes & Noble’s Nook store.

Read a FREE sample of the book HERE (USA),  HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).