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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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The Melodies of Adele

Much has been made of the recent success of Adele – her powerful singing, throwback soulfulness, old school production, emotional directness… All true, but what struck me right away about her songs was the length and legato quality of her melodies – unusual in an era where singing (particularly on strongly rhythmic songs) is more […]

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Modern Songwriting starts with Chuck Berry

Welcome to a weekly blog I’ll be writing on songwriting- and music-related subjects! I couldn’t think of a better place to start than with Chuck Berry.  It’s easy to take him for granted at this point in musical history… but that would be a mistake.  Even though a lot of his songs (like Johnny B. […]

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