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You Don’t Need An ‘Idea’ To Start A Song

I’ve worked with many songwriters who’ve said to me, “I’m not writing because I just don’t have any ideas for songs.”  I can’t speak for them, but I know that when I have that thought… I’ve gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick. For me songs tend to start one of two ways.  […]

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On Christmas Songs – It’s That Time Of Year

This time of year, it’s amazing to me that everywhere I hear mostly the same handful of songs I’ve been hearing for my whole life.  Now I know that one of the main reasons they’ve lasted is that they’re so well-made.  Beautiful melodies with well-matched lyrics. Take, for example, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ […]

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Lyrics: Connecting The Dots – part 1

With a lyric, you can’t fit everything in.  Where would you put it?  You’ve usually got maybe 100 words to say all that needs to be said.  What to put in, what to leave out?  What needs to be said, what can’t be left out? In any kind of writing this is an issue – […]

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The March of Time… Signatures – and Changing Them

Lately I’ve been exporing the idea of changing the presentation of songs already written.  I’ve had the experience of writing a song, liking the ideas – melody, lyric, chords… but something still doesn’t seem right.  Of course, sometimes I can’t solve that problem!  But a few times I’ve tried changing the time signature – taken […]

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Have You Tried Converting Your Ballads Into Uptempo/Dance Songs?

Last week I wrote about the added value of uptempo songs.  This week the news is that you may have more of those uptempo songs than you realize. Meaning this: a strong ballad can often be converted pretty easily into an uptempo or dance song.  Add a 4 on the floor dance or club beat […]

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Comfort Zone Tempos & The Need For Uptempo Songs

I remember hearing songwriter/music publisher Eric Beall talk a few years ago about the value of uptempo songs, particularly in live performance.  He pointed out (I’m paraphrasing) that an artist can have a lot of slow- or mid-tempo songs on a recording but that even artists who are known for ballads can only do so […]

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The Necessary Confusion of Getting Feedback

Getting feedback – comments, notes, praise, criticism – on your songs can be very confusing. It’s helpful, probably even necessary for most of us, to run our songs by other people before we perform or record them.  Friends, another songwriter, your band, a workshop, a coach… Particularly if the song is new and not fully […]

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Ask ‘What Am I Trying To Say?’… Then Say It

Years ago I was sitting with the great songwriter Doc Pomus at a New York City music club (the recently closed Kenny’s Castaways), listening to a young songwriter sing his songs.  At one point Doc, irritated, turned to me and said, “He just doesn’t say what he means!” Years later – years of me trying […]

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It Doesn’t Have To Have Words To Be A Good Lyric

Shananana Nananana – Ba-oom – Yip yip yip yip Yip yip yip yip Boom boom boom boom boom boom Get A Job’ – The Silhouettes (Beal, Edwards, Lewis, Horton) ‘Hey Ya’ – Outkast (Benjamin) ‘Lalalalala Lalalalala Lalalalala Lalalala’ – Eminem – Without Me (Mathers, Bell, Bass, McLaren, Dudley, Horn) ‘Mamasay mamasah mamakousah Mamasay mamasah mamakousah’ […]

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Thou Shalt Not Borrow?… NOT a Songwriting Commandment

One of the things I hear most frequently from Songwriters, regarding their new songs, are comments along the lines of, ‘This reminds me of something… I think I stole this from another song… I know this is exactly like something else, I just can’t remember what…”, etc., etc… Many things you write will remind you […]

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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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