Here are two tips, one specific, one general, that I think will move you a lot closer to your goal of writing great songs. Regardless of whether your audience will be friends and family; industry professionals, or your live show fan base, better songs is a good thing!
1. General first: We live in an age of specialization and a “winner takes all” situation. Many businesses have closed doors because they couldn’t get on page one of Google while their competition at the #1 spot raked in millions. The pro football player who specializes in shutting down the run on third downs and is the best in the world at it? He’s worth multiple millions of dollars yearly. The guy who is “almost as good” at that same thing is selling used cars in Buffalo. That “winner takes all” mentality applies to songwriting. Most hit songwriters specialize in one genre and focus all efforts on writing great tunes aimed at what’s currently playing on radio in that genre. They focus all their money on having superb demos cut that will get a song publisher’s or artist’s attention.
If you write in multiple genres your knowledge of each type of music writing won’t likely go as deep. Meanwhile, your resources, be they time or money, will be divided. It simply is not a sound success strategy. Many times I’ve heard professionals here in Nashville say things like, “I studied country chord progressions thoroughly before I wrote my first country song.” or “I locked myself in a room for three months and studied shuffle beats.” What they did was study everything they could find on shuffle beats. How they started, how they evolved. studied great shuffle players, and didn’t stop until they thoroughly understood shuffle beats and how they’re used.
You don’t have to lock yourself in a room, but I do think the more you study the songs of the genre you write in, the better you’ll get. Start with the roots of the genre up to what’s being played on the radio now. Study chord progressions; instrumentation; vocals; how harmony is used; song form; and the most important hits that changed the genre, pushing it in a new direction.
2. Here’s a specific tip for every song you write: Don’t force too many words in a line. What I’ve seen over and over is songwriters setting up a good, solid verse framework in verse one, but in verse two, or in the chorus, one or more lines are stuffed with too many words. The demo session singer starts complaining, “This line is too wordy, it’s like a tongue twister trying to fit it in.” It can also be a tempo issue. Many times I’ve realized a song would feel better up just a metronome click or two, but doing so creates that same tongue twister problem in a specific line.
Sometimes you can simply remove “and” or some other superfluous word and the line sits just fine. Other times, that alone wont fix it because the syllables will no longer phrase properly. In that case, re-think your idea- B.E. Watson
If you have a song ready to demo, or want Mr. Watson to review it for any possible fatal flaws, including lines that are “too wordy” plus give a free quote on demoing it, send your mp3 rough and lyric to the e-mail address at: Play It Again Demos
One mistake some songwriters consistently make is failure to create a chorus section that’s distinctly different from the verse. You want that chorus to just about shout to the listener: “Okay now: here’s where I’m summing up what this song is about!”
How? A few good techniques to achieve separation are:
- Alter the line length
- Change the rhythm
- Alter the note length
You can use any one of those or combine as necessary. A lyric that has relatively lengthy verse lines but the chorus lines are short and powerful may provide sufficient contrast. A subtle change of rhythm can work and some recent hits take that to extreme such as Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road.”
We need look no further than the Florida Georgia Line hit, Cruise, for a good example of altering note length. If you sing it and tap your fingers with each syllable you’ll notice the tapping is a lot faster when you reach the chorus “Baby you a song, you make me wanna roll my windows down and Cruise …” part.
A producer has a good number of tools available to create chorus separation via the arrangement but if you can provide it in the structure of the song itself, it makes the song that much stronger and the final product that much more likely to be signed. More songwriting tips are available at the link in the menu to the right- Bill Watson