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

Tag Archives: songwriting method

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If you try to force too many messages into one song, you could end up being overloaded with verses, warns former Buffalo Springfield and CSN star Stephen Stills who wrote the rock classics ‘For What It’s Worth’ and ‘Love the One You’re With’.

Stills believes writers should never be afraid to take a pair of scissors to their songs. “If I’ve got too many verses,” he says, “I’ll cut out two verses and then take the meaning of the song and condense it.”

Unfortunately, many new writers tend to try too hard and end up cramming too much into a song—making it way too long and unnecessarily complicated … and leaving the listener feeling confused.

That’s why it’s so 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 words. In other words, know when to quit.

That’s something that Dave Matthews – lead singer, songwriter and guitarist with the Dave Matthews Band – admits he finds hard to do. “I take it too far sometimes,” he once told Rolling Stone magazine. “When I listen to my favorite songwriters, they have such simple melodies and chords. I occasionally manage to stop at the right time, but all too often I keep on going until I have way too many notes and words.”

These days, a hit song tends to comprise just one story told from one point of view. So stay focused. If you have several unrelated points that you want to get across to listeners, try putting them in separate songs.

And don’t try to be too tricky with your chord progressions. Just concentrate on creating music and lyrics that can hold the listener’s attention … and write a melody that is easy for them to remember.

In short, don’t sabotage your songs by being too smart for your own good.

Here’s Stephen Stills with a perfect three verses-plus-chorus classic ….

Stephen Stills photo: SolarScott

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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, 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), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).

 


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Max Martin, one of the most successful songwriters of the last 20 years, is set to receive this year’s Polar Music Prize Laureate when the Stockholm-based event celebrates its 25th anniversary in June 2016. The award will be presented by Sweden’s King Carl XVI.

Previous winners include Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder and Burt Bacharach.

Stockholm-born Max Martin (real name Martin Sandberg) said: “If you can somehow influence popular culture, shape it in some way, when something becomes bigger than just a song, that’s the greatest thing for me… this is what I love about music. You can reach so many people.”

Things really took off for him in 1995, when he started working with the Backstreet Boys, receiving a writing credit on the boy band’s platinum single ‘Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)’. He followed that success with Robyn’s ‘Show Me Love’ and ‘Do You Know (What it Takes)’, both of which also charted.

Since 1999, Martin has written or co-written 21 US Number One hits (most of which he also produced or co-produced) – including Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed a Girl’ (2008), Pink’s ‘So What’ (2008), ‘Hold It Against Me’ by Britney Spears (2011), Maroon 5’s ‘One More Night’ (2012), and Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ (2014).

Martin is the songwriter with the third-most Number One chart single credits – behind only Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

Many of the stars who have achieved chart success with Martin’s songs have already started paying tribute to him. “He sets the scene to be really creative,” said Katy Perry.

Britney Spears – for whom Martin wrote ‘Baby One More Time’ – said: “I think you are a genius; you’ve been a part of my career from my beginning.”

Pink said: “You blow my mind and I’m really proud of you,” while Justin Bieber added: “No one deserves it more, you are a master.”

The Polar Music Prize was founded in 1989 by the late Stig Anderson, who was the publisher, lyricist and manager of ABBA. The name of the prize stems from Anderson’s legendary Swedish record label, Polar Music.

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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, 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), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).


Take That -2015Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) – the UK-based organization which licenses recorded music that is broadcast or played in public – has released an official chart of the ‘Most Played Love Songs of the 21st Century’.

Based on PPL’s exclusive UK airplay data, the chart collates songs about love, longing and adoration played on UK radio stations between 2000 and 2015.

Snow Patrol’s 2006 Grammy-winning song ‘Chasing Cars’ tops the list, followed by ‘Rule the World’ by Take That (pictured) in second place and ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ by Kylie Minogue at number three. Power ballads, romantic film soundtracks and up-tempo dance tunes all feature on the list.

Here’s the full list of PPL’s ‘Most Played Love Songs of the 21st Century’:

1. Chasing Cars – Snow Patrol
2. Rule The World – Take That
3. Can’t Get You Out Of My Head – Kylie Minogue
4. Crazy In Love – Beyoncé Feat. Jay-Z
5. I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing – Aerosmith
6. Livin’ On A Prayer – Bon Jovi
7. I Wanna Dance With Somebody – Whitney Houston
8. Bleeding Love – Leona Lewis
9. Rather Be (Feat. Jess Glynne) – Clean Bandit
10. Just The Way You Are – Bruno Mars
11. There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart) – Eurythmics
12. (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life – Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes
13. Haven’t Met You Yet – Michael Bublé
14. Drive By – Train
15. Someone Like You – Adele
16. Truly Madly Deeply – Savage Garden
17. Lady (Hear Me Tonight) – Modjo
18. Heaven Is A Place On Earth – Belinda Carlisle
19. Mirrors – Justin Timberlake
20. Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
21. Hey There Delilah – Plain White T’s
22. Can’t Fight The Moonlight – Leann Rimes
23. Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) – Spiller
24. She Will Be Loved – Maroon 5
25. You To Me Are Everything – The Real Thing
26. True – Spandau Ballet
27. You’re Beautiful – James Blunt
28. It Must Be Love – Madness
29. She Moves In Her Own Way – Kooks
30. Stars – Simply Red
31. I Say A Little Prayer – Aretha Franklin
32. Wherever You Will Go – The Calling
33. The Power Of Love – Huey Lewis And The News
34. If You’re Not The One – Daniel Bedingfield
35. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart – Elton John & Kiki Dee
36. Stand By Me – Ben E King
37. Uptown Girl – Billy Joel
38. With Or Without – You U2
39. We Found Love – Rihanna Feat. Calvin Harris
40. When You Say Nothing At All – Ronan Keating
41. Hero – Enrique Iglesias
42. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic – Police
43. You Give Me Something – James Morrison
44. I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) – Aretha Franklin & George Michael
45. You Can’t Hurry Love – Phil Collins
46. Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
47. When You’re Gone – Bryan Adams
48. Life Is A Rollercoaster – Ronan Keating
49. Take My Breath Away – Berlin
50. Everlasting Love – Love Affair
51. Son Of A Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield
52. Dreams – Gabrielle
53. Ain’t Nobody – Rufus & Chaka Khan
54. Never Too Much – Luther Vandross
55. Oh, Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison
56. She’s The One – Robbie Williams
57. If There’s Any Justice – Lemar
58. Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
59. Love Is All Around – Wet Wet Wet
60. Halo – Beyoncé
61. Eternal Flame – The Bangles
62. Up Where We Belong – Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes
63. Fill My Little World – The Feeling
64. Yellow – Coldplay
65. Lovely Day – Bill Withers
66. Dilemma – Nelly
67. Grenade – Bruno Mars
68. Thank You – Dido
69. Kiss From A Rose – Seal
70. I Wanna Be The Only One – Eternal Feat. Bebe Winans
71. Best Of My Love – The Emotions
72. Run To You – Bryan Adams
73. Lego House – Ed Sheeran.

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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, 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), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).


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“I just go to the studio and there are 24 lyrics [from Bernie Taupin] waiting for me and I look through them and see which one I want to start with, and then I try and write a song. I never, ever know what the lyrics are gonna be upfront.

“When I first started writing with Bernie [49 years ago this year] it was exactly the same as it is now: I would get a lyric, I would go away, and write the melody and play it to him … then the band come in and learn it and we put it down.

“I don’t try to analyze it. It’s a strange approach, but it works.”

— Elton John (during an interview on ABC TV’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! show)

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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, 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), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada).


HOW MANY SONGWRITERS

“I write the songs that make the whole world sing” wrote Beach Boy Bruce Johnston in his award-winning 1975 song which became a global hit for Barry Manilow. Today, the lyric would probably have to be reworked as: “WE write the songs …”.

That’s because the number of chart songs written by solo songwriters has fallen dramatically since Johnston created ‘I Write the Songs’. Back in 1975, 51 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 were credited to a single writer. The figure had fallen to 32 by 1995, just 14 in 2005, and only a handful in 2015 — most notably Fetty Wap’s ‘Trap Queen’ (written solely by Fetty Wap, aka Willie Maxwell) and ‘Take Me To Church’ by Hozier.

There has been an increasing shift to ‘music-by-committee’ in recent years. Today, many producers of artists who don’t write their own songs are finding that the best way to consistently generate hits is to use the American TV ‘writers room’ model — with large numbers of pop writers working in teams.

Of course, songs created by more than one writer have been around since the dawn of Tin Pan Alley. Historically (with the exception of Holland-Dozier-Holland), hit songwriting teams have mostly been duos — with one partner responsible for composing the melody and the other charged with writing the lyrics.

Words-and-music duos have been responsible for some of the greatest songs of the past 100 years: Richard Rodgers and lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, George and Ira Gershwin, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, and many more.

The  increase in the number of writers attached to a hit song  — especially in the pop genre — is particularly evident with the so-called track-and-hook approach to song creation. This basically involves a split between the writing of the beat (track) and the hooks (melodies) instead of the traditional ‘words and music’ delineation.

Today, songwriting partnerships can be almost as large as a soccer team. In fact, ‘Uptown Funk’ — the Mark Ronson hit assembled from a variety of sources — has eleven different writers attached to its credits.

Britney_Spears_2013English boy band One Direction had an average of five songwriters per track on their hit album Take Me Home. Britney Spears went two better with her track ‘Ooh La La’ which was featured in the Smurfs movie, The Smurfs 2. According to The Hollywood Reporter, ‘Ooh La La’ was the result of a seven-way collaboration between Lukasz Gottwald, Joshua Coleman, Henry Walter, Bonnie McKee, Jacob Kasher Hindlin, Lola Blanc and Fransisca Hall.

As a result of this trend, there have been calls for limits to be imposed on the number of writers who can legitimately claim to be responsible for a hit — especially when it comes to submitting songs for awards. The British Academy of Songwriters Composers & Authors (Basca), for example, wants to restrict the number of writers allowed on works submitted for its annual Ivor Novello Awards to six.

Leading British songwriter Graham Gouldman — whose many hits include ‘I’m Not in Love’ (10cc), ‘Bus Stop’ (The Hollies) and ‘For Your Love’ and ‘Heart Full of Soul’ (The Yardbirds) — believes the current situation has become “ridiculous”.

“Historically, songwriting partnerships have been between two people,” Gouldman recently told The Independent newspaper. “Now the drum programmer wants to get a credit for creating the drum part. There are bands I know who divide each song into bars and someone says, ‘I created five bars and they are repeated three times so that’s 15 bars’. Someone might say that their 10 per cent is the most hooky part of the song. It’s impossible to quantify these contributions.”

John Seabrook, author of the excellent book The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, believes the TV ‘writers room’ approach can be traced back to Sweden in 1994 … to the hit-factory model created by Cheiron Studios co-founder Denniz Pop (Ace of Base, Backstreet Boys) and his protégé Max Martin (pictured below).

According to Seabrook, an important part of Denniz PoP’s vision for Cheiron was that songwriting should be a collaborative effort – with songwriters assigned different parts of a song, such as the central chord progression or riff, the chorus, the bridge and the hook. The teams of writers were then expected to willingly share credit.

MEP 14“The track-and-hook method of songwriting is at the basis of a lot of these changes,” says Seabrook. “A track is almost a canvas with some background painted into it, and different people add hooks and a bridge and a chorus and slowly it becomes a song, rather than springing fully formed from the imagination of a Burt Bacharach, sitting at the piano.”

This development is also changing the traditional method of trying to get an artist to cover songs. Instead of pitching songs on spec to a producer or an A&R exec, major labels now often convene so-called ‘writing camps’ for their biggest artists. These communal songwriting sessions typically involve an array of musicians from different genres — all with the same aim of trying to get a piece of a song on the limited track listing for a top-tier album.

So what is the optimum number of writers required to create a hit song in 2016?

At least four … and possibly half a dozen. That’s according to research conducted by Hit Songs Deconstructed, which specialises in analysing the craft and trends that shape today’s chart-topping hits.

Hit Songs Deconstructed found that about half of the Top 10 hits in Billboard’s Hot 100 in 2015 were written by teams consisting of five or more songwriters, compared with teams of at least four writers in 2014. Its research showed that 199 credited songwriters were responsible for crafting the 59 songs that charted within the Hot 100 Top 10 in 2014.

“If you plan on writing a hit song, you’d better find a writing partner,” suggests Hit Songs Deconstructed’s founder David Penn.

(Main photo: KidBilly Music)

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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, 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), HERE (Australia) and HERE (Canada)


LAMONT DOZIER

“Knock on every door, and write seven days a week. I know that sounds kind of harsh, but let that be your priority. Write, write and write some more.

“Your work ethic has got to be to the bone. Writing songs should be your first love, and give it all the time it needs until you feel like you’ve accomplished or gotten the song that you think is worthy of letting the world hear.”

—Lamont Dozier (in an interview with American Songwriter magazine)

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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)

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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)


GARTH BROOKSCountry superstar Garth Brooks recently learned the hard way that if you’re going to record and store song ideas on your phone you have to make sure you always keep the phone backed up … otherwise you run the risk of losing everything.

And that’s exactly what just happened to Garth Brooks. He lost six months’ worth of new music ideas for his next album when the personal cell phone on which he’d recorded them decided to stop working.

“All the new stuff I’ve been working on for six months was on a phone that’s been fried, and I can’t get the phone to come back up,” said Brooks. “It’s like losing your briefcase back in the Nineties! This is what happens when the old guy gets into technology …”

Brooks says he’s now counting on an IT tech specialist being able to somehow extract the memory from the dead phone and rescue his ideas for what would become his tenth album. Brooks fears the fried cell phone may have set back production on the new album which is intended to be the follow-up to 2014’s Man Against Machine.

The country legend’s experience is similar to that of Metallica’s longtime lead guitarist Kirk Hammett. He recently lost his iPhone which contained more than 250 unused Metallica song ideas and riffs for the band’s next album. “I was crushed. It didn’t get backed up,” said Hammett. “When it happened, I was bummed out for about two or three days. I’m still looking for it to this day …”

Hammett added: “All you musicians out there who use your phone, make sure it’s backed up, right?”

In 2013, British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran lost a phone which contained the only recording of his new, unreleased album (later released under the title x). Fortunately for Ed, the missing phone was eventually found in the back seat of a limo that had transported him to an awards ceremony in London.

So new songwriters beware!

If that potential hit song you’ve just written has been entrusted to digital media, make sure it is backed up. And if it’s the only copy of what could be your breakthrough song, play extra safe … and back it up more than once!

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


A portion of music manuscript for Happy Birthday's predecessor, 'Good Morning to All' (courtesy of University of Louisville).

A portion of music manuscript for Happy Birthday’s predecessor, ‘Good Morning to All’ (courtesy of University of Louisville).

‘Happy Birthday To You’ is a staple of birthday parties around the world, but, until now, it couldn’t be sung in public or in TV shows and movies without paying a sizeable licence fee.

Now, though, a US federal judge has ruled that music publisher Warner/Chappell does not hold a valid copyright to the song.

Warner/Chappell has been collecting royalties on the song since acquiring the copyright in 1988 for some $25m (£16m). The publisher has reportedly been making around $2m a year from royalty payments whenever the song is used in a film, TV show, advertisement or any other kind of public performance. According to the Internet Movie Database, ‘Happy Birthday To You’ has been featured in nearly 150 films.

Judge George King has ruled that the original copyright (filed in 1935) was only granted for specific piano arrangements based on the original melody, and did not grant any rights to the lyrics.

The tune was composed in 1893 by two Kentucky sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill. They called their version ‘Good Morning To All’ which later evolved into the ‘Happy Birthday’ version which is now popular all over the world.

The case against Warner/Chappell was launched in 2013 by Rupa Marya and Robert Siegel, who are making a film about the history of the song. The music publisher wanted to charge $1,500 (£970) for the right to use the song in the film, but Marya and Siegel maintained that the song was in the public domain and should not be subject to copyright fees.

The ruling now puts the song in the public domain fifteen years before the copyright was due to expire in the US in 2030.

So here it is … royalty-free! And if it’s YOUR birthday today, happy birthday from all of us at The Hit Formula  …

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