Join Tony's Mailing List

Get notified about songwriting events and gigs.

Think Out Of The Songwriting ‘Box’: Drop A Bar!

We’ve all heard tens of thousands of songs.  If a song is extremely predictable, most listeners, even the most musically disinterested or uneducated among us, can feel instinctively what’s going to happen next.  If a song follows the same exact pattern that’s been heard thousands of times before, unless it’s unusually well done the listener […]

Read more

Returning To My List Of Song Titles

Some songwriters won’t even start a song without a Title they feel good about. I understand the thinking behind this – what’s the point of investing a lot of time and energy into a song when you don’t even know if you’ll end up with a strong ‘Big Idea’?  And in most popular songs, across […]

Read more

‘Write it down, no matter how dumb it seems at the time.’

I wrote a note to myself the other day – ‘Write it down, no matter how dumb it seems at the time.’  I often have this thought when working on a lyric. For me it happens something like this:  I have an idea that makes me cringe; it’s so stupid/awkward/obvious/obscure/pretentious/disconnected, etc.  Although I don’t keep […]

Read more

Let The Words Change The Melody Sometimes

A very common songwriter’s dilemma is to have a melody line and a lyric for that melody… the melody seems right, and the lyric is saying what I want it to say… but they don’t quite fit together. Often the lyric is a little short or long… and that’s what I work on adjusting.  But […]

Read more

One Quick Way To Start Writing a Song From Scratch

Here’s one quick way to get started from scratch on writing a new song: Take a song (of someone else’s) you currently enjoy listening to… or even a song that you don’t particularly like but has a section, or even just a moment or two, that jumps out at you… maybe even just because it […]

Read more

News Flash: Melodies Can Improve!

It may seem overly obvious to state that melodies, like all other aspects of a song, can be improved with continued work and attention.  But I’ve found – with myself and many other writers I’ve worked with – that developing and improving the melody can be one of the most self-deceiving and elusive, yet rewarding, […]

Read more

Staying Off The Downbeat – with The Clash

When I react to a song emotionally, at some point I get interested in looking for the craft-related reasons why it’s working for me.  The other day I was listening, for the nth time, to The Clash’s ‘Train In Vain (Stand By Me)’, written by Joe Strummer & MIck Jones – great song, great record… […]

Read more

Writing Something Is Better Than Writing Nothing

Yesterday I posted a quote about writing (from William Stafford) – “When you get stuck, lower your standards.”  This is an interesting thought that, as I understand it, goes to the heart of what writing is. He didn’t say, “When you get stuck, put out your CD/upload/publish/record (with lower standards) anyway.”  He’s talking about writing.  […]

Read more

Sing The Words Like You’d Speak Them

This week I’m writing about one of the basic principles of Songwriting… but one that too often gets lost in the shuffle, particularly given how wide open lyric-writing options are at this moment in time. Sometimes called Prosody (inaccurately, imho), it usually means singing words as you would speak them – putting the melody and […]

Read more

“What Should Come Next In This Song?”

Maybe I’ve written a Chorus… now what will the Verse be?  Or I have a Verse but not yet a strong sense of musical direction for the Chorus.  Or it feels like the song needs a Bridge… but that the Bridge could go almost anywhere… Here are two questions I ask myself – one more […]

Read more

How To Harmonize A Simple Melody Creatively – by NRBQ

Top New York City guitarist Larry Saltzman recently reminded me of a song I love – NRBQ’s ‘If I Don’t Have You’ (written by Joey Stampinato & Skeeter Davis).  This song seems to me melodically and harmonically lush in a way that we often think of as ‘Beatle-esque’ – that is, it reminds us of […]

Read more

When Bad Tempos Happen To Good Songwriters

I’d bet that most songwriters have their ‘tempo comfort zones’.  Many of us, including me, tend to write most of our songs at a few similar tempos. These tempos are like any habit – not always good for me, but what I’m used to…  Comfortable for me, if not the listener. Why is this a […]

Read more

Bob Dylan’s Verbs… and What I Learned From Them

There are many extraordinary aspects to Bob Dylan’s songwriting… but today let’s consider his Verbs.  Yes… verbs. Recently I produced an artist who did a cover of Tangled Up In Blue, a great Dylan song.  But I didn’t know how great it was until I’d heard it a few hundred times (which is what happens […]

Read more

Raising The Stakes Can Help a Lyric

One way to combat blandness in a lyric (a battle worth fighting) is to increase what’s at stake in a song, make it more dramatic. I recently was working on a new song called ‘The Bridge’.  I had the music and words for the Chorus, the lyric of which was: We came to the bridge […]

Read more

A Quick (Usually) and Effective (Sometimes) Way To Improve A Song

I’ve found that sometimes one of the quickest and most effective ways to improve a song is to simply try changing the order of the Verses, couplets, or lines. As I write a song, the lines and Verses often seem to belong in a certain order.  Or I might be writing to a rough outline […]

Read more

Major 7th Chords – Due for a Songwriting Comeback?

Listening to how great it sounds in Frank Ocean’s ‘Super Rich Kids’ made me realize how underutilized the major 7th chord is in contemporary pop music.  Major 7ths have always had a place in what used to be called soul music, and in jazz, and they still do.  But it’s a sound worth considering in […]

Read more

There’s Always a Good Reason To NOT Write – Creating a Songwriting Practice

Near the beginning of most new Songwriting workshops or classes I do, I emphasize this point: ‘There’s Always a Good Reason To NOT Write‘. I think it’s kind of a universal truth for writers. Very few of us have people begging for new songs.  Most of us lead pretty busy lives.  Work, money, family, marriage, […]

Read more

Today’s Top 5 Ways To Make A Song Better

1) Improve The Melody Play the melody by itself, on an instrument.  Play it very slowly.  Listen to it without chords or lyrics.  Does your melody tell a story of its own (without the words)? Is it too static; does it need more motion?  Does it jump around too much (much less common!)? Does it […]

Read more

Don’t Forget About The SOUND Of The Words

As far lyrics go, where the rubber meets the road  is how the words Sing.  Why do some verses or sections of my songs ‘sing’ better, easier, than others?  Because I got the sound of the words right. The hardest-to-define aspect of a lyric, and therefore the most neglected, is the sound of the words.  […]

Read more

(Bass) Substitutions Allowed – On The Songwriting Menu

Early in the process of writing a song I usually start playing just the melody of the song, by itself.  Then I play the melody accompanied by just the bass notes.  I believe this often tells me more about the strength of my basic musical idea than hearing the entire chord/harmony. Not that the full […]

Read more