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The Spectrum Of Great Songwriters

Philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously separated writers and thinkers into two basic categories – Hedgehogs and Foxes. He took this from an ancient Greek saying: “A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog knows one important thing.” As Berlin saw it, Hedgehogs – like Dostoyevsky, Nietsche, Ibsen – see life through the lens of one defining […]

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Aretha Franklin, Songwriter: An Appreciation

Aretha Franklin’s stature as a songwriter will never equal her monumental accomplishments as a singer. She didn’t write many songs (at least that were recorded), but some of the ones she wrote are really good, and her recordings turned them into classics. She couldn’t have been better served by her musicians, as well as – […]

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Two Ways To Go Deeper In Your Lyrics

Each song is a custom-made world unto itself. Of course, like in any popular art form, there are genres that most songs fit into in some way. But each song, if it works, comes into its own individual existence. Just like people. And, like people, some are more fully realized than others. When we’re writing, […]

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What To Do When Your Song… Bores You

I’m working on a song and I lose interest in it because if I’m honest I have to admit that it bores me. Not everything in it, or the main idea… but something about it doesn’t excite me anymore… if it ever did. I hate to admit how often this makes me want to give […]

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Remember… Your Songwriting Doesn’t ALWAYS Suck

There are days… there are days when I just don’t have it. I poke around for ideas and nothing comes up. My energy is off, I’m tired… I’m slumping… I just can’t get going. BUT… I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. Something in me says there’s still hope, so I’m not giving […]

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Can Your Song Work With Three Sections Before The Chorus?

Songs with a Pre-Chorus almost always follow the same basic structure: Verse/Pre-Chorus/Chorus. Sometimes the Verse will vary somewhat as it progresses, but usually there are just the three discrete and easily identifiable sections (for example, in Billie Jean, I Try, Refugee, many many more). However, in some songs the Verse has two very different sections […]

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A Way To Make Your Melody Less Predictable

Like everyone, in my songwriting I have patterns I easily fall into. Comfort zone chord progressions, rhythms, tempos, melody lines… As I pointed out last week (here), one of the most insidious of these is having the rhythms of the melody be the same, or too similar, in every phrase. This is a recipe for […]

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Is This The Most Overlooked Aspect Of Good Songwriting?

I’ve worked with a lot of songwriters. The single most glaring area of weakness I hear has to do with predictable rhythms in the melody. I’ve often said that in all its aspects melody is the most neglected part of songwriting. Neglected by songwriters, that is. And the biggest offender is not the choice of […]

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How Problems With Your Song Can Fix Themselves

I heard a great quote recently from songwriter Dan Wilson (Adele) about not worrying too much if there’s a line you can’t get right: “Just sing it a few times… It’ll probably fix itself.” It’s easy to look at a song, when you’re writing it, as if it’s something on exhibit; under glass, or in […]

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Why Imitation Is The Sincerest Way To Get Better

I started out playing music on electric guitar and soon enough found a more congenial home on bass guitar – which I still play professionally – before branching out into other things… such as writing this blog. During my first few years of playing the bass, I never consciously imitated anyone, although I was influenced […]

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Why Does It Take 7 People To Write A Song?

This is a question I get asked pretty frequently these days. Especially by songwriters who mostly write alone or with one collaborator. They see up to 9, 10, 11 writers on current hit songs and can’t understand how this occurs. It’s different in every case, but maybe I can give you an idea of some […]

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Why Good Titles Are More Valuable Than Ever

The component parts of contemporary songwriting are going in many directions at once. While some rhyming becomes more and more intricate… other rhyming gets looser; sometimes in the same song. Some melodies get longer and more elaborate… others get simpler. Lyric content and storytelling of some songs get more layered and complex… while others get […]

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9 Ways To 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, from ways I think are more common to the more idiosyncratic: The Title.  A phrase hits me in conversation, reading, listening… or […]

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4 Ways To Listen To Modern Songs… If You’re Used To Listening To 20th Century Songs

Many areas of modern pop songwriting are extremely innovative, historically speaking. A lot of songwriting elements have been radically changing and evolving in recent years; it’s an exciting time to be writing songs (not counting the financial part!). The word that comes to my mind most here is Freedom. However, if you mostly listen to […]

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The ‘Simple Chorus, Complicated Verse’ Song

There is evidence throughout pop songwriting history – at least its Verse/Chorus song part – that if you have a simple and very strong Chorus, often consisting of one or two lines… you can get away with murder in the Verses. I started noticing this as a kind of ‘formula’ when Sting frequently used the […]

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7 Steps To Your Brand New Song

Stuck? Lacking inspiration? Here’s a great way into a new song. The recipe: 1) Pick a song you like and that you admire for its craftsmanship. Any style. 2) Get as familiar as you can with singing the melody. Hum or sing it with just sounds (‘la la, ah, mm mm’ etc.). Let go of […]

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You Can’t Trust Your Memory When You’re Writing a Song

There are times when I treat every beginning-of-a-song idea for what it is – the seed of a potentially good song… who knows, maybe my best yet. Of course, most of my ideas don’t end up that way. But that’s how I have to think of them – with a belief they might end well. […]

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At What Point Does It Become A Co-Write?

When I work with songwriters as a producer or musician, in a workshop or class, or as a one-on-one songwriting coach, any suggestions I make for their song are included. There’s no question of co-writing. I’m trying to help the writer find their own way with their song. If in the process I suggest a line […]

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How To Surprise Your Listener

Working on a new song recently I was faced with a typical songwriting problem. One so mundane that I thought sharing how it looked to me, and what I’ve done about it so far (the song’s not finished), might be worthwhile. My first draft lyric for the Verses was something like – I could come […]

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The Evolution Of Rhyme

When I heard Taylor Swift’s single ‘Gorgeous’ (video below) the first thing I noticed was the almost complete lack of ‘true’ rhymes. Rhyming has gotten much looser in recent years, for some very good reasons, but this is an extreme example. And since it was written by experienced songwriters Swift and hit-making monsters Max Martin […]

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