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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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Why Your Musicians Don’t Know Your Lyrics… And Why It May Not Matter

A big part of my preparation and education, if you want to call it that, for being songwriter was (and is) playing hundreds and thousands of songs on gigs, in recording sessions, in Broadway shows. A lot of covers, a lot of originals. I was a bass player – a sideman – and I still […]

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The Greatness Of Becker & Fagen (Steely Dan)

I join the world of popular music and beyond in mourning the death this week of Walter Becker, partners with Donald Fagen in a songwriting/recording team responsible for some of the greatest songs and recorded music of the 20th century, much of it under the band name Steely Dan. Becker & Fagen were originals. They […]

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Who Says You Can’t Rhyme ‘Orange’?

Rhymes are perfect, or ‘true’, when they have the exact same sound at the end – like round/sound, fine/line, game/same, etc. Anything else you might traditionally call a rhyme would be a ‘false’, or imperfect, rhyme. That’s where the vowel sound is the same or similar, but the following consonant isn’t exactly the same… like […]

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When I Stopped Using My Song’s 1st Verse To Clear My Throat

When beginning a conversation, especially with someone you don’t know well, it’s normal to spend a little time on pleasantries, polite chitchat… It breaks the ice. “How’ve you been? How’s your husband/wife? How are the kids? How’s work?” Etc. After that, unless some earth-shattering event is reported, you move on to the business at hand. […]

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What Happens When You Discover Your Title? Focus Happens.

Irving Berlin’s classic songwriting advice to “repeat the Title as often as possible so people know what to ask for when they go to buy it” doesn’t hold nearly as true anymore (as I discuss here). But there are still a lot of other good reasons to write Title-based songs… I’m going to concentrate on […]

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Developing Songwriting Mindfulness

What does it mean to be a Songwriter? Well… if you write songs, you’re a songwriter. That’s the simple answer. The quality of the songs may be open to eternal debate… but if you write ‘em… There’s also a state of mind involved. Songwriters think and see the world like a songwriter. That is, we […]

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Where To Place Your Title

If you’re writing a Title-based song – where the Title is the most important lyric in it and it’s the phrase or word you most want listeners to remember – then it’s critical to put the Title in a memorable place in your melody. This can be at the high point of the Chorus melody […]

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Songwriting Tools Are Not Rules

There are a lot of truisms in songwriting – old school rules of thumb that remain valid and useful today in many, if not most, kinds of songwriting… things like ‘Verses should match one another in their melody, rhythm, and scan’, or ‘Lyrics should be sung the same way you’d pronounce them when spoken’, or […]

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Don’t Let The SOUND Put You Off Current Pop Songs

Some people born in 1990 listen to certain current pop recordings and can’t relate to the way they sound. That goes double for someone born in 1975, maybe triple for someone born in 1960, etc. This is because of things like differences in the way songs are put together now, the rhyming… And, most especially, […]

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Great Songs With Titles That Are Questions?

There have been many great songs whose Titles are a Question. Why does this work as well and as often as it does? A question expresses a need; a need to know. Since feeling an overwhelming desire for someone or something is often at the core of good songs, a question can be a great […]

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5 Ways To Evaluate Your Songwriting

Why evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your songwriting, an exercise that can be somewhat painful? Mostly because improvement is absolutely possible if specific areas are identified and worked on. Think of it like a bodybuilder (which I’m not). If you do enough steady work on your arms, your abdomen, etc., you’ll see improvement; you’ll […]

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The World’s Best Songwriting Tool

There are many elements that make up a good or great song. Music: melody, harmony, rhythm… Lyrics: story, meaning, characters, the sound of the words… Structure: finding the most suitable ‘container’ for the idea and then taking full advantage of it… And, in all these areas, understanding listeners’ expectations of genre and style, and utilizing […]

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Who Should Win The Argument In Your Song?

When you have a team working together, especially a talented one, not everyone’s going to agree. A lot of different ideas fly around. Ideally, at some point there will an agreement that one idea is the best one, and that’s the one that ’wins’ – the group goes with that. This is often how successful […]

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Staying Open To Last Minute Changes In A Song

Once I get a new song rolling I usually have some idea of where it’s going. This idea functions like directions on a map; it gives me a sense of how my journey will go, making it easier to move forward. It’s mostly intuitive, and it helps. Sometimes it makes sense to keep with my […]

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Under The Hood Of An Exceptional Song, part 2 (lyrics)

The lyrics of ‘Chained To The Rhythm’ celebrate the surface qualities of the song (dance, party, escape) and also critique them. The title itself embodies this duality – ”Chained To The Rhythm’. Good thing? Bad thing? Both? It’s easy to take the song on the surface level. Plenty of the lyrics support it and, on […]

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Don’t Be Afraid To Repeat The Title

Something I encounter quite often… songwriters who are not inclined to repeat, within the Chorus, the Title of the song. Sometimes repeating isn’t appropriate, of course. But I think it’s always worth keeping in mind as an option in a Title-based song. The last thing I want is for the Title (by definition the most […]

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Video blogpost: Why Do I Sometimes Like Songs With Bad Lyrics?

Thank you for reading my weekly blogposts! This is the next in a series of short video posts called ‘Ask Tony’, answering questions sent to me by songwriters. Watch the video below (it’s 2:20 long). If you have any songwriting questions, please email them to me at  asktony@tonyconniff.com. Any suggestions are also welcome. And, at […]

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To Get Past The Cliches, You’ve Got To Explore

Many of us writers get very discouraged when our first version of an idea comes out profoundly cliched, as it often does. It’s easy to feel that this mundane result is an indictment – an indication of a lack of talent, originality, musicality, dexterity, cleverness, soulfulness, and the like. In truth, it’s usually just an […]

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