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‘Maybe I’m The Only One Who Feels This Way…’

‘Maybe I’m the only one who feels this… or thinks like this… or sees it this way… or likes it sounding like this.’   When writing, that’s often followed by, ‘So let me make it more like something I’ve heard before, something safer’.  Very common thoughts, I believe, when deciding what subject to write about, what […]

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Listening (Not Going) To ‘Rehab’

Listening again recently to Amy Winehouse’s really good song ‘Rehab’, I was struck by several straightforward but notable things about it. Right from the beginning, we’re dropped into the middle of a dramatic story that someone is telling (‘They tried to make me go to rehab, I said ‘no, no, no!’).  How can you not […]

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“Shame isn’t for writers. You have to be shameless.” – Philip Roth

The great Philip Roth was talking about being shameless in the writing, not in one’s personality.  Maybe it would be clearer to say that you want to write as if you were shameless – because the places where the shame is are where some of the best material comes from. It’s exposing it to air […]

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Get the Throat Clearing Done Before The Song Starts!

One of the most common problems/mistakes I run into – in my own songwriting and in other writers I work with – is what I call ‘throat clearing’ – starting the lyric with hemming and hawing about marginal things (clearing your throat) before really getting down to saying what you need to say.  This can […]

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Song Structure: A Way To Express What Is More – Or Less – Important In Your Song

Good structure in a song takes your attention to where the writer wants it to be.  It’s the songwriting equivalent of good storytelling in a movie or a play.  The teller of the tale leads you to the strongest and most crucial and revealing parts of the story and prepares you for them, or for […]

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The Songwriting Channel – Tune In

Guess what?  The Songwriting Channel is on – it’s playing your shows, it’s ‘friending’ you, it’s writing you tweets, it’s calling your number.  But you have to tune in.  You have to pick up. On TV there’s always something broadcasting on Channel 9, day and night.  But you’ll never see or hear a bit of […]

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There’s Always A Good Reason To NOT Write

There’s always a good reason to not write.  Some of them: To respond to the many obligations, commitments, and distractions of life; to take a passive break from them – a movie, TV, the web; to enjoy the company of family and friends; to empty an email inbox that inexorably refills itself; even the absolute […]

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The Most Common Songwriting Mistakes – Part 1 (Titles)

Titles are important because the way we hear a song is organized around the phrase of words, melody, and rhythm that’s repeated most often – which usually includes the title.  So it makes sense, in most cases, to organize our song to support and strengthen what we’re emphasizing the most.  (If it’s not what we […]

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Where Do Songs Come From? How Do You Start A Song?

The beginnings of songs are mysterious and varied; they start in many different ways.  This week I’m going to go through some of the ways in which this first impulse happens for me.  I’ll go from ways I think are more common to the more idiosyncratic:   The Title.  A phrase hits me in conversation, […]

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Lyrics: Connecting The Dots – Part 3 (David Byrne)

Continuing to think about the many different ways songwriters connect the dots in their lyrics, let’s look at And She Was – written by David Byrne, recorded by Talking Heads. Here’s Verse 1, Pre-Chorus, Chorus:      And she was lying in the grass      And she could hear the highway breathing      And she could […]

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Lyrics: Connecting The Dots – Part 2 (Frank Ocean)

Super Rich Kids by Frank Ocean has been my favorite for a few months now.  In this song Ocean uses many and varying songwriting devices with tremendous freedom and confidence – and he pulls it off. It’s a great song all around, but today we’ll mostly look at what he’s up to in the lyrics.  […]

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The ‘Problem’ Is Not Really A Problem

When I’m working on a song, I try to write down everything that comes to my mind.  When the voice in my head says, ‘That’s stupid’ or, ‘That stinks’, I try to ignore that voice.  But not because it’s wrong.  I ignore it because, as John Cleese said, “Any drivel can lead to the breakthrough”. […]

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What A Difference A Note Makes

Recently I was listening to the great film composer Nino Rota’s music from The Godfather movies.  I noticed how, in his melodies, he did something that John Lennon was also very good at – taking a melody that was basically diatonic (all in one scale) and mixing in a note from outside the scale to […]

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The ‘List’ Song – Part 1

The ‘List Song” – not quite as ubiquitous as it used it to be, but still enormously effective.  It’s always been one of the most useful ways to put together a song.  For songwriters, it’s a gift. Why?  Because once you’ve got a good Title and made the decision on how you’re going to contrast […]

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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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