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

Tag Archives: songwriting hit formula

John Legend

John Legend believes gaining success as a songwriter is as much about working hard as it is talent.

“It sounds obvious, but there’s this mistaken belief that everything is about talent, but talent has to be cultivated and developed,” he once told Q magazine. “If it’s not nurtured, pushed and challenged it’s not going to happen.”

Legend says he’s proud of the fact that he started work on his career when he was little more than a toddler and insists he will never apologise for being demanding. “I was four and I begged my mom to get me piano lessons,” he told Q. “I was a precocious little kid. There was a lot of music in our house so I think me wanting to play was me trying to be a part of what was going on. It was a chance to perform.”

With his music inspired by the classic soul and R&B music he grew up listening to, Legend says his songwriting process is “almost the exact opposite” of how most other writers work. He believes the music should drive the lyrics.

“Some people start from a poetry base,” he says. “They’ll write a bunch of lyrics, then try to put them to music. I try to develop a compelling musical idea and make the words fit into it.”

He explains: “I usually start playing a melody and find the chords I like. Then I start singing something to it to see what works.

“I usually write the chorus first because that helps guide me into where I want the verses to go. Then I start fooling around with chord progressions for the verse.”

Most established songwriters would agree with John Legend that hard work is the key to success. The initial spark that ignites a song idea is a gift. From then on, it’s all about putting in the hours to get it right. And it calls for an exceptional level of self-motivation and self-belief, as well as talent.

The truly great songwriters just make it look easy. In reality, though, they have to put in hundreds of 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, says she spent 20 years writing six days a week, 10-12 hours a day before she felt she could finally take the occasional weekend off!

# # # #

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 Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

“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, a UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

FRONT COVER - JPG - 10-8-16 - FINAL“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

Advertisements

 

Benny_Andersson - photo by Nicho Södling

“So many songs are now written by committee … Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like”, which won Song of the Year at this year’s Grammys, was credited to eight writers.

“I don’t understand how that works because, for me, a song starts with a melody combined with chords. I arrange the song with bass and drums after the song is finished, not the other way around.

“If I start with the drums and the bass and then add some chords, randomly, and then try to write a melody … I don’t know how that works. I don’t get it.

“What that lacks, I think, is a ‘sender’. If someone likes my music, that’s me; it’s me sending it to you. If there are seven or eight people behind it, are they all honest? Do they all mean it?”

— ABBA’s Benny Andersson (in an interview with Music Business Worldwide magazine)

Photo by Nicho Södling

# # # #

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 Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

“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, a UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

FRONT COVER - JPG - 10-8-16 - FINAL“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

 


SONGWRITING TIPS: David Bowie's 'cut-up' method of writing lyrics

When 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 came 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 used it for igniting anything that may have been 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, then mix them up and reconnect them.

“You can get some pretty interesting idea combinations,” 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.”

The ‘cut-up’ 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

In the early 1990s, Bowie developed a more advanced version of his ‘cut-up’ technique when he teamed up with Gracenote co-founder Ty Roberts to create the Verbasizera custom program for Apple’s Mac which is now regarded as an early form of AI-based songwriting.

The Verbasizer randomized portions of Bowie’s inputted text sentences to create new ones with new meanings and moods. It would cut up and reassemble Bowie’s words electronically, much like he had done with paper, scissors and glue back in the 1970s. Bowie made use of the Verbasizer to create the lyrics and liner notes for his 1995 album Outside.

“What you end up with is a real kaleidoscope of meanings and topic and nouns and verbs all sort of slamming into each other,” Bowie explained in this 1997 documentary about the Verbasizer …

# # # #

“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 Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

FRONT COVER - JPG - 10-8-16 - FINAL

“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 Rakuten’s 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).


Foo_Fighters_-_Rock_am_Ring_2018-5671 Andreas Lawen, Fotandi

Photo: Andreas Lawen, Fotandi

As experienced songwriters know, you only have a limited amount of time in which to grab a listener’s attention and create a lasting impression on them. If your song structure and lyrics are too complicated and difficult to understand, listeners may find it hard to grasp what you’re trying to communicate to them … and they could soon lose interest in the song.

The Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl compares this challenge to trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. “You have to try to find a melody and lyric that will braid together and create four minutes of memory that you’ll have for the rest of your life,” he explained in a recent Billboard Chart Beat podcast.

“To me, the challenge is always trying to craft a song that is simple in a way that people will connect to it emotionally,” he said. “Even just a melody … that’s a funny thing. A lyric is one thing, but there’s something that a melody can do … just the sound of a minor scale, or a major scale rising in a chorus. The notes will twist your heart.”

As Dave Grohl acknowledges, 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 make them feel something and take them on an emotional journey.

The great George Gershwin once described songwriting as “an emotional science”, and scientific studies have shown that a wide range of notes can imply joy or uneasiness, while a narrower range of notes can suggest tranquillity, sadness or triumph.

Major chords often convey happiness or joy, while minor chords are associated with sadness. Using a mix of minor chords and major chords can add extra depth and colour to a song. But chord progressions should not be so complicated that they don’t flow properly and end up wandering aimlessly.

And remember, a song should contain only one story, or one message, told from a single point of view. Lyrically, you can avoid confusing the listener by using the viewpoint character’s thoughts and perceptions to drive the song.

New songwriters, who are still developing their craft, often fall into the trap of believing that every line of their song has to be clever or tricky in order to make an impression on the listener. What they should really be focusing on is making sure that the structure of their song is clear, simple and easy to follow. This will make it easier for people to feel an emotional connection with the song.

As Dave Grohl suggests, even within a simple song form the use of certain chord progressions and recurring sequences of notes can have an emotional effect on the listener. The Foo Fighters’ classic song “Times Like These” is a great example of this …

# # # #

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 Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

“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, a UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

FRONT COVER - JPG - 10-8-16 - FINAL“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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


 

Paul_Weller_S4_0054_SMALLER-920x584From Paul Weller’s emergence as a songwriting force with the power punk of The Jam in the 1970s to the soul sounds of The Style Council in the 1980s—followed by many diverse solo albums since—he has continually evolved his approach to songwriting. Weller warns that writers who don’t seek new challenges risk simply repeating themselves and could start to bore their listeners as a result.

“No matter what age you are, there’s always something else to learn,” he told Another Man magazine in a recent interview. “I just want to keep finding new things—new ground. You have to keep moving forward.”

Weller believes it’s essential for songwriters to set themselves a goal with each new song. “I might have an idea, however vague it is at the time, of where I want to try and take the music,” he told Another Man. “Sometimes you get there, sometimes you don’t – and sometimes you end up with something that isn’t what you set out to do, but is something else again, and something that surprises you because you didn’t realise you could go there.”

He added: “It’s a question of setting yourself a certain amount of challenges. Otherwise it’s too easy to get caught in a cycle of doing the same things over and over again.”

When new writers achieve an important breakthrough and discover a songwriting ‘formula’ that really works for them, they are naturally tempted to stick to it on every song. The innovation could be the result of a particular chord progression—or the use of a specific climactic chord change or a musical phrase—and it helps them create a new kind of song that evokes the best response they’ve ever had from listeners.

While they may want to take advantage of this winning ‘formula’ to help them establish their own distinctive sound and style, they should be careful not to end up writing songs that are all built around the same few notes, chords and keys. Each new song may sound great on its own, but there’s a danger that a writer could end up with a collection of songs that all sound alike—especially if he or she puts them together on the same demo submission, or on a showcase album, or on their own website and YouTube channel.

Paul Weller believes that being open to collaboration with other people is one way of constantly exploring new things and “expanding your own world”. For example, on his latest solo album, True Meanings (his 14th studio album), Weller has teamed up with other talent such as Lucy Rose, Conor O’Brien from Villagers, and Erland Cooper.

It has resulted in yet another new ‘sound’ for Paul Weller, as this beautiful track, ‘Gravity,’ demonstrates …

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 Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

“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, a UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

FRONT COVER - JPG - 10-8-16 - FINAL“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

 


Ed_Sheeran_2013 - Photo - Eva Rinaldi

Photo: Eva Rinaldi

“If you don’t wanna be bigger than Adele, you’re in the wrong industry … I don’t want to be the male Adele. I want to be Adele.”

–Ed Sheeran

# # # #

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 Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store and Rakuten’s KoboBooks.

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

“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, a UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and KoboBooks.

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

FRONT COVER - JPG - 10-8-16 - FINAL“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store. It is also available from Apple’s iTunes Book Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and KoboBooks.

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


TAYLOR SWIFT, 2013

“Songwriting is still the same uncomplicated process it was when I was 12 years old writing songs in my room,” said Taylor Swift in a recent interview with Harper’s BAZAAR magazine.

She said: “There are definitely moments when it’s like this cloud of an idea comes and just lands in front of your face, and you reach up and grab it.

“A lot of songwriting is things you learn, like structure, cultivating that skill and knowing how to craft a song. But there are mystical, magical moments—inexplicable moments—when an idea that is fully formed just pops into your head.”

Instead of allowing ideas to bubble to the surface naturally from their subconscious, many new writers tend to try too hard and end up forcing the creative process. They try to cram too much into a song—making it way too long and unnecessarily complicated, and leaving the listener feeling confused.

As Taylor Swift suggests, it is important to avoid over-thinking or over-writing your songs. Sometimes, the chords, melodies and lyrics that come to you instinctively are the right ones. So don’t spend forever searching for the perfect melody or lyrics. Don’t keep on going until you end up with way too many notes and words.

Just make sure your song form is clear, predictable and easy to follow. Keeping it simple will make it easier for people to remember the song.

In other words, know when to quit.

As Sting once remarked: “Songs have to be simple. It’s not like you have a huge canvas to paint on or a novel length to fill. You’ve got to tell the story in two verses, a chorus and a coda and that takes some skill.”

# # # #

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 also across Europe. It is also available as a Kindle ebook in the United States and in the UK and Europe. Read more about the book HERE (USA) … HERE (UK) … HERE (CANADA).

“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, a 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), HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).

FRONT COVER - JPG - 10-8-16 - FINAL“How [Not] To Write Great Lyrics! – 40 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Writing Lyrics For Your Songs” is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble 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), HERE (UK), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).