Join Tony's Mailing List

Get notified about songwriting events and gigs.

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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. […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more

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. […]

Read more

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 […]

Read more