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The Greatness Of Becker & Fagen (Steely Dan)

I join the world of popular music and beyond in mourning the death this week of Walter Becker, partners with Donald Fagen in a songwriting/recording team responsible for some of the greatest songs and recorded music of the 20th century, much of it under the band name Steely Dan. Becker & Fagen were originals. They […]

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The Chords of ‘Wichita Lineman’ Blew Me Away

The recent loss of Glen Campbell – a music business legend if there ever was one – got me thinking about and listening again to my favorite of Glen’s hits – ‘Wichita Lineman’, written by Jimmy Webb (it’s also by far my favorite Jimmy Webb song). This led me to breaking down the music of […]

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Who Says You Can’t Rhyme ‘Orange’?

Rhymes are perfect, or ‘true’, when they have the exact same sound at the end – like round/sound, fine/line, game/same, etc. Anything else you might traditionally call a rhyme would be a ‘false’, or imperfect, rhyme. That’s where the vowel sound is the same or similar, but the following consonant isn’t exactly the same… like […]

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When I Stopped Using My Song’s 1st Verse To Clear My Throat

When beginning a conversation, especially with someone you don’t know well, it’s normal to spend a little time on pleasantries, polite chitchat… It breaks the ice. “How’ve you been? How’s your husband/wife? How are the kids? How’s work?” Etc. After that, unless some earth-shattering event is reported, you move on to the business at hand. […]

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What Happens When You Discover Your Title? Focus Happens.

Irving Berlin’s classic songwriting advice to “repeat the Title as often as possible so people know what to ask for when they go to buy it” doesn’t hold nearly as true anymore (as I discuss here). But there are still a lot of other good reasons to write Title-based songs… I’m going to concentrate on […]

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Is Writing A Song A Hero’s Journey?

Recently I was watching a video in which author David Mamet talked about writing drama (plays, screenplays). He made a direct comparison between the journey of the hero of the story and that of the writer writing it. In stories, the hero’s role is to meet challenges, deal with them, and hopefully surmount them. In […]

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Developing Songwriting Mindfulness

What does it mean to be a Songwriter? Well… if you write songs, you’re a songwriter. That’s the simple answer. The quality of the songs may be open to eternal debate… but if you write ‘em… There’s also a state of mind involved. Songwriters think and see the world like a songwriter. That is, we […]

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Where To Place Your Title

If you’re writing a Title-based song – where the Title is the most important lyric in it and it’s the phrase or word you most want listeners to remember – then it’s critical to put the Title in a memorable place in your melody. This can be at the high point of the Chorus melody […]

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How To Use Every Chord In The Book and Still Have A Hit Song

One of the things most current hit songs have in common, other than non-stop melody lines, are simple chords. If you listen to the songs on the charts now, most have only a few chords – and almost all those chords are triads. At the moment (June, 2017), it’s even rare to hear chords with […]

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Songwriting Tools Are Not Rules

There are a lot of truisms in songwriting – old school rules of thumb that remain valid and useful today in many, if not most, kinds of songwriting… things like ‘Verses should match one another in their melody, rhythm, and scan’, or ‘Lyrics should be sung the same way you’d pronounce them when spoken’, or […]

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Don’t Let The SOUND Put You Off Current Pop Songs

Some people born in 1990 listen to certain current pop recordings and can’t relate to the way they sound. That goes double for someone born in 1975, maybe triple for someone born in 1960, etc. This is because of things like differences in the way songs are put together now, the rhyming… And, most especially, […]

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Great Songs With Titles That Are Questions?

There have been many great songs whose Titles are a Question. Why does this work as well and as often as it does? A question expresses a need; a need to know. Since feeling an overwhelming desire for someone or something is often at the core of good songs, a question can be a great […]

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5 Ways To Evaluate Your Songwriting

Why evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your songwriting, an exercise that can be somewhat painful? Mostly because improvement is absolutely possible if specific areas are identified and worked on. Think of it like a bodybuilder (which I’m not). If you do enough steady work on your arms, your abdomen, etc., you’ll see improvement; you’ll […]

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The World’s Best Songwriting Tool

There are many elements that make up a good or great song. Music: melody, harmony, rhythm… Lyrics: story, meaning, characters, the sound of the words… Structure: finding the most suitable ‘container’ for the idea and then taking full advantage of it… And, in all these areas, understanding listeners’ expectations of genre and style, and utilizing […]

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Two Ways To Improve A Melody

1) Play or sing the melody, accompanied by only the bass notes (no chords). You can do this on the piano – play the melody with the right hand and the bass notes with the left. Or you can just sing the melody while playing the bass notes on any instrument that has some low […]

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How To Find Your Intro

They’re important. They’re the first thing people hear. But Intros – aka the part before the singing starts – are often taken for granted. When they work, they get the listener intrigued, involved, curious… Like with any good story, you want them thinking, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ What makes good intros is harder to […]

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Who Should Win The Argument In Your Song?

When you have a team working together, especially a talented one, not everyone’s going to agree. A lot of different ideas fly around. Ideally, at some point there will an agreement that one idea is the best one, and that’s the one that ’wins’ – the group goes with that. This is often how successful […]

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Staying Open To Last Minute Changes In A Song

Once I get a new song rolling I usually have some idea of where it’s going. This idea functions like directions on a map; it gives me a sense of how my journey will go, making it easier to move forward. It’s mostly intuitive, and it helps. Sometimes it makes sense to keep with my […]

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Under The Hood Of An Exceptional Song, part 3 (production)

This Max Martin/Ali Payami production sounds very full but, relatively speaking, there aren’t as many elements as you’d think. The parts are not numerous… but something changes in some way each time they come around. As Max Martin says, “I like it when a song is like a journey, building up along the way. That […]

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Under The Hood Of An Exceptional Song, part 2 (lyrics)

The lyrics of ‘Chained To The Rhythm’ celebrate the surface qualities of the song (dance, party, escape) and also critique them. The title itself embodies this duality – ”Chained To The Rhythm’. Good thing? Bad thing? Both? It’s easy to take the song on the surface level. Plenty of the lyrics support it and, on […]

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