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

Tag Archives: writing songs

DIANE WARREN“I can’t say that I actually live what I write. It is the method actor type of writing that I do. I know what people think and feel so I write those feelings the best that I can.

“I see pictures in my mind and become the character in the song as I’m writing. It’s kind of method songwriting, where you’re the actor in the song.”

—Diane Warren

                      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, 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).


DISCLOSUREMost 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 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).

 


MIKE BATT “My advice to songwriters who can’t write anything on a given day is to just write something. Some shit. A crap verse. It might lead to an interesting chorus that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t written the crap verse.

“The skill is to identify—either then or later—what’s what, throw away the bad bit, and build on the good bit … Just put something on that blank paper to stop it from being blank.”

—Mike Batt

(in an interview with PRS For Music’s ‘M’ magazine)

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, 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).


Pharrell WilliamsEarlier this year, Grammy Award-winning Pharrell Williams urged songwriters to buck the trend toward sad-sounding songs by writing more tracks designed to make people feel happy.

Pharrell showed the way himself with his chart-topping song ‘Happy’ which was nominated for an Oscar after featuring in the animated comedy movie Despicable Me 2.

Now, leading music streaming service Spotify has unveiled a list of the world’s 10 happiest songs, based on the listening choices made by many of its 40 million active users across 56 countries.

After analyzing thousands of users’ playlists from around the world—and assessing the emotional positivity of each track—Spotify has identified the songs that feature most frequently on feel-good playlists titled ‘Happy’.

‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams takes the crown as the happiest song this summer, followed by ‘Best Day Of My Life’ by American Authors, ‘The Walker’ by Fitz and The Tantrums and Clean Bandit’s ‘Rather Be’. Other top ‘happy hits’ include Calvin Harris’s ‘Summer’ and ‘Pompeii’ by Bastille.

If you’re looking for a successful song structure and benchmark for your own ‘happy’ songs, try dissecting and analyzing the shape and form of each of Spotify’s Top 10 Happiest Songs:

1. Happy – Pharrell Williams
2. Best Day Of My Life – American Authors
3. The Walker – Fitz and The Tantrums
4. Rather Be – Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynn
5. Digital Witness – St. Vincent
6. Safe and Sound – Capital Cities
7. Summer – Calvin Harris
8. Sponge Won’t Soak – Wild Moccasins
9. Come Home – Chappo
10. Pompeii – Bastille

By putting a greater focus on ‘happy’ songs, these songwriters and artists are actually going against the tide of the last five decades.

In 2012, an academic study found that pop music has grown progressively more sad-sounding and emotionally ambiguous since the 1960s. The number of minor chord hits has doubled since 1965, the study found, and fewer hit songs are now being written in major chords.

Music psychologist Professor E Glenn Schellenberg and sociologist Professor Christian von Scheve analyzed the tempo (beats per minute) and mode (major or minor) of more than 1,000 American Top 40 songs that charted between 1965 and 2012. Their study found that in the second half of the 1960s, about 85% of songs that reached the top of the charts were written in a major mode, but by 2012 that figure had fallen to only 43.5%.

“Just as the lyrics of pop songs have become more self-referential and negative in recent decades, the music has also changed—it sounds sadder and emotionally more ambivalent,” Schellenberg and von Scheve stated in their study. They suggested that emotional ambiguity in a song is a way for some acts to convey their seriousness and complexity.

But Pharrell Williams insists that songwriters and artists should not forget about the happier side of things. He believes there’s a growing need to lift people up emotionally.

“Through the connectivity of the internet,” says Pharrell, “people are becoming so desensitized to all the tragedies and travesties [in the world], that we all need to take audiences to a lighter place.

“There’s something to be said for making music that is jovial,” he says. “Songs for people who need a break. Songs to bring joy.”

You can listen to some of Spotify’s Happiest Songs 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 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).


ED SHEERANBritish singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran is continuing to demonstrate the strong commercial potential of fusing different music genres and cross-pollinating sonic ideas and songwriting styles.

After co-writing his R&B-influenced hit ‘Sing’ with Pharrell Williams, Sheeran is now pushing the boundaries of his original folk rock sound even further by teaming up with American rapper Benjamin Levin (aka Benny Blanco). They have co-written ‘Don’t’, the second single from Sheeran’s new album ‘X’.

‘Don’t’ is also one of three songs from ‘X’ produced by Rick Rubin who has previously worked with artists such as Eminem, Jay-Z and Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Benjamin Levin’s hits include ‘California Gurls’ by Katy Perry, ‘Payphone’ and ‘Moves Like Jagger’ by Maroon 5, and Ke$ha’s ‘Tik Tok’.

Like Sheeran’s previous collaborator Pharrell Williams, Levin believes in marrying different elements together to create something fresh. “I listen to so many different types of music,” he says. “I don’t want to have any boundaries whatsoever. If someone came to me and was like, ‘I want to make a polka album’, I’m making the best damn polka album ever.”

Levin says much of his sonic inspiration comes from his home city of New York. “I love that this city isn’t pretty all the time – that it’s dirty and loud. Sometimes when you’re in the studio you can actually hear car horns and fire alarms outside—I love that.”

But very different from the ambient sounds found in Sheeran’s new home – a renovated farmhouse in the peaceful, rural landscape of Suffolk, England!

Here’s the Official Audio for ‘Don’t’ …

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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).


Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff (right)

Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff (right)

“A great song has to make you feel a certain way. Songs can make you happy and sad, they can help you fall in love. They have to do something. That’s when you get a reaction.

“There are some songs on the radio that just play and you don’t even know they’re there. You hear others and immediately turn it up. There’s something to that. It’s got to capture your ears, because that’s where it hits you first. Then it’s got to soothe your soul.”

Leon Huff

(in an interview with Jonathan Widran of SongwriterUniverse).

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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 (North America) and  HERE (UK & Europe).


American Authors, winner of the 2013 USA Songwriting CompetitionThe deadline to enter this year’s USA Songwriting Competition is this Friday, May 30.

You can enter the competition online HERE …

Entrants have a chance to win a top prize of $50,000 in cash and merchandise from sponsors such as Gibson Guitars, Epiphone, Sony, D’Addario Strings, PreSonus, Audio-Technica, and many more.

Original songs can be entered in 15 different categories: Pop, Rock/Alternative, Country, R&B, Gospel/Inspirational, Folk, Latin, Instrumental, Jazz, Hip-Hop/Rap, Children, World, Dance/Electronica, Novelty/Comedy, and Lyrics Only.

Winners will be selected by a committee of music industry judges, including music publishers, producers, A&R execs from Universal Music, Warner Music, EMI and Sony Music, and other distinguished music professionals.

The USA Songwriting Competition has been honoring songwriters from all over the world since 1995. Past winners have come from Australia, Japan, Canada, UK, Germany, Brazil and South Africa, as well as from the USA.

The winner of the 2013 USA Songwriting Competition—’Believer’ by US rock band American Authors (pictured)—went on to achieve Platinum sales. It topped the Billboard Adult Pop Song Charts and reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts. The song—which was written by Zac Barnett, Dave Rublin, Matt Sanchez, James Adam Shelley, Aaron Accetta and Shep Goodman—was also featured in the hit movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Here’s a video of the 2013 winner, ‘Believer’, by American Authors …

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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).


SAM SMITHEarlier this year, British soul singer-songwriter Sam Smith urged songwriters to be “a voice for lonely people“.

He pointed to what he sees as a gap in the music market for songs about “unrequited love”, instead of more common themes for love songs such as falling in love or breaking up.

Now Sam has released a video for a beautiful new song titled ‘Leave Your Lover’ which, he says, reflects the emotion of unrequited love in its rawest form.

“I don’t think unrequited love is spoken about enough in music,” says Sam. “I’ve been through unrequited love myself. I’ve been in love with someone who didn’t love me back and I found it hard to find songs that were about that.”

‘Leave Your Lover’ is from Sam Smith’s debut album In The Lonely Hour, released in the UK on May 26 and in the United States on June 17.

The album feature collaborations with Fraser T Smith, Two Inch Punch, Eg White, Disclosure, Zane Lowe, Tourist, and Sam’s long-time writing partner Jimmy Napes.

Here’s the official video for ‘Leave Your Lover’ …

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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).


EMELI SANDEScottish singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé recently explained her approach to writing hit songs during a special coaching session at BBC Radio 1’s Academy in Glasgow.

In a video extract from the session (see below), 27-year-old Emeli opens up about her songwriting process and shares tips on how to write a great song. She also explains how she wrote songs like ‘River,’ ‘Next to Me’ and ‘Clown’ from her debut album, Our Version of Events.

Emeli wrote her first fully-structured song when she was only seven years old, and has so far received 18 awards—including three Brit awards and four MOBO Awards. She won the coveted Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically in 2013 with her song ‘Next to Me’. The same song also picked up the PRS for Music award for Most Performed Work in 2013.

Emeli Sandé may have received huge acclaim in recent years, but she certainly knows how it feels to be a young songwriter struggling for recognition. She once commented: “I was an underdog. Nobody wanted to sign me. When people don’t believe in you, you want to prove them wrong.

“I want to encourage any underdog to achieve their dreams.”

In another pointed remark, she once said: “My song ‘Clown’ was written when I couldn’t find anyone who believed in me as an artist. Maybe those labels will think twice next time a young songwriter comes along.”

Emeli’s advice to all aspiring songwriters is to “keep going” and focus on honing your craft. “Stay brave, I think that’s a big thing,” she says. “Always be ready to go, and don’t always think about the negative. It could go amazing … Don’t give up.”

Here is Emeli’s inspiring video from the coaching session at BBC Radio 1’s Academy in Glasgow …

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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 (North America) and  HERE (UK and Europe).


SONGWRITING TIPS: Walking can boost your creative thinking, says new studyIf you feel your efforts during a writing session are exhausted—or if you’ve got songwriting block and good ideas just aren’t coming—don’t try to force-feed your songwriting process. Try going out for a long walk instead (ideally with no distractions from texts or ‘phone calls!). Or have a workout on a treadmill.

That’s the advice offered by a new study from Stanford University titled: Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking (published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in April 2014).

The study involved four separate experiments which showed that the flow of creative ideas can be substantially improved by walking on your own with no fixed route (or even walking indoors on a treadmill). The study found that most of the participants benefited from walking compared with sitting, and the average increase in creative output was around 60%.

“Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity,” said the report’s authors Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz of Stanford University. “Walking has a strong effect on creative production whether indoors or out.”

TRY WALKING BEFORE A WRITING SESSION

The study’s findings also suggest that taking a walk immediately before a songwriting session might help you to generate more ideas.

“Walking exhibited a residual effect on creativity,” said the report’s authors. “After people walked, their subsequent seated creativity was much higher than those who had not walked.”

Geoff Nicholson, author of the book The Lost Art of Walking, is not surprised by the study’s findings: “There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking.

“I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively,” said Nicholson. “Your senses are sharpened.”

Some of the most creative writers of all time—William Wordsworth, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens among them—all walked regularly for inspiration (it is said that Dickens could easily rack up 20 miles at a time, often at night).

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche also noted the special connection between walking and thinking in 1889 when he wrote: “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”

Maybe the same could apply to all truly great songs …

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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).