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The Spark That Starts Everything

I know some people who believe that if they have a good idea, they’ll remember it later.  And that if they don’t, it wasn’t a strong idea in the first place.  I don’t think that’s true for me.  My mind is an equal opportunity forgetter, letting go of most ideas, whatever their quality, immediately and […]

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In Football-and Songwriting-the last few yards can be the hardest

One of the things that I’ve heard the legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb say is that, in at least one way, Songwriting is like football: The last few yards can be the hardest. In football, once you’re in the red zone, every inch to the goal line is a dogfight. It’s easy to let up and […]

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A Good Melody Tells A Story – without the words

A good melody tells a story – without the words. Of course I’m not saying it tells a literal story.  But a good melody often takes you on a condensed journey with a satisfying Act 1, Act, 2, and Act 3.  Just like in a traditional movie or play, Act 1 presents the situation, Act […]

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What’s ‘It’ All About?

One of the most common problem areas in lyric writing is the use of the words ‘it’, ‘this’, ‘that’, and ‘these’, when the listener doesn’t know exactly what these words refer to.   By their nature, these words need to point to another noun. The dangling, stranded ‘it’ is so common in Songwriting that I’ve […]

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Bring The Pain – To Your Songs

It’s natural for a Songwriter to worry about things like, “when people hear my songs, then they’ll really know how messed up I am (and who needs that?)”.  To feel shame about what comes up when you dig deep in your writing is natural… but the reticence that comes from that shame is also something […]

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The Great Leap (In Melodies)

Recently Frank Ocean, a singer and songwriter, has become very popular very fast.  I read a few articles about him and decided to check him out.  On listening, the first thing that struck me was, this guy is really writing melodies.  Rangy melodies with bold leaps.  Of course, this is never mentioned in the ‘music […]

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Avoiding Songwriting Predictability

We’ve all heard thousands, maybe tens of thousands of songs.  Most of us now know, even if we’ve never given it a thought, more or less  what’s going to happen next in a song.  And the rhythm and phrasing of the melody is often the biggest culprit in this predictability. Here’s a comparison – When […]

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Getting Your Song Stolen

“If I play this song in public and it’s not copyrighted, isn’t there a good chance someone will steal it”? When working with less experienced writers. this is one of the most common questions/concerns I hear.  I encourage people to register their copyright (which, by the way, already exists as soon as your creation is […]

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Build A (Songwriting) Container

I try to be open to ideas whenever they present themselves… I scribble things down when just waking up or while walking down the street.  I always have a pen; usually paper, though sometimes the back of a receipt has to do.  So that’s one sort of habit – paying attention when an idea presents […]

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John Lennon: The Underrated Melodist

People love to categorize, and people particularly like to categorize in dualities – yin/yang, Apollo/Dionysius…  Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards… or think of many couples you know, work or personal.  One is this… the other must be that. This is probably why some don’t stay together (including L/M?) – they feel choked by their role; it doesn’t really […]

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Is Your Song Happening In The Present Or The Past?

When writing and developing a lyric, a relatively simple yet powerful tool  that’s often overlooked is to change the tenses of the verbs.  Are the events of the song happening in the present or in the past? The present tense is of course immediate; it throws the listener right into the action: His palms are […]

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‘It’s Having A Good Idea For A Song That’s Hard’

Lyle Lovett recently said, “I’ve always thought that writing isn’t really that hard. It’s having a good idea that’s hard.”  I can’t always agree with the first half of his statement, but I think I understand what he means by the second. One of the most disappointing things in Songwriting is to spend a lot […]

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Have You Tried Outlining Your Song?

If you have the basic idea for a song – the Chorus and/or the Title – sometimes the lyrics for the Verses and the Bridge (if there is one) fall right into line.  Other times… not so much. Often you have one verse and aren’t sure where to go with the others.  Or there’s a […]

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When Is A Song Finished?

Some songs get worked on for years, literally; some come together in a half hour.  How do you know when it’s time to put a fork in it? One easy way to know is when there is a deadline, particularly for recording.  As previously discussed, deadlines focus the attention wonderfully.  And recording a song has […]

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One Way To Break the ‘Rules’ of Songwriting: Iron & Wine’s ‘The Trapeze Swinger’

There aren’t really any ‘rules’ to Songwriting. Maybe one: Don’t bore the listener. But there are traditions and customs, things that tend to work better than others, mostly having to do with the use of structure – Verses, Choruses, Bridges, rhyming, length, etc. But one thing I’ve noticed is that when I analyze a song […]

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Your Song’s Title – A Missed Opportunity?

Most songs are Title-oriented, so getting as much mileage as possible out of the Title makes a big difference.  To illustrate this, I’m going to look at the lyrics of two songs – Bob Seger’s Like A Rock and Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown.  I recommend you give the original recordings of these songs a listen. Both […]

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Songwriting Productivity: The Use of Deadlines

When asked which came first, the music or the lyrics, the great lyricist Sammy Cahn famously replied, “The phone call”. There’s nothing like a deadline to spur creativity.  And internal deadlines (“I WILL have this done by Wednesday!”) are usually not as effective as external ones. The deadline can be anything – a recording session, […]

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First I Tell The Song, Then The Song Tells Me

If I’m lucky, I start out a song with an idea I like  – music, words, feel; whatever I can get – and some ideas about where I might go with it. Or I might be messing around – aka ‘writing’ – and come across something I like. This then leads to other thoughts about […]

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Themes Obsessive & Habitual

In our lyrics, we tend to write about the same things over and over.  We all have our themes: love, romantic love, romance, sexual love, sex, loss. commitment, betrayal, optimism, skepticism, joy, anger, heartbreak, even obsession itself… among many others… They seem to embed themselves in our songs no matter how we try to guide […]

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The Delicate Balance: Music & Lyrics

Every song, by definition, balances music and lyrics.  How well a song works often has to do with how well that balance is struck. On the spectrum of great songwriting, I think of Burt Bacharach and Hal David as being at one extreme.  Complicated music, direct lyrics.  The simple perfection of David’s lyrics can often […]

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