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Bob Dylan’s Verbs… and What I Learned From Them

There are many extraordinary aspects to Bob Dylan’s songwriting… but today let’s consider his Verbs.  Yes… verbs. Recently I produced an artist who did a cover of Tangled Up In Blue, a great Dylan song.  But I didn’t know how great it was until I’d heard it a few hundred times (which is what happens […]

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Raising The Stakes Can Help a Lyric

One way to combat blandness in a lyric (a battle worth fighting) is to increase what’s at stake in a song, make it more dramatic. I recently was working on a new song called ‘The Bridge’.  I had the music and words for the Chorus, the lyric of which was: We came to the bridge […]

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A Quick (Usually) and Effective (Sometimes) Way To Improve A Song

I’ve found that sometimes one of the quickest and most effective ways to improve a song is to simply try changing the order of the Verses, couplets, or lines. As I write a song, the lines and Verses often seem to belong in a certain order.  Or I might be writing to a rough outline […]

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Today’s Top 5 Ways To Make A Song Better

1) Improve The Melody Play the melody by itself, on an instrument.  Play it very slowly.  Listen to it without chords or lyrics.  Does your melody tell a story of its own (without the words)? Is it too static; does it need more motion?  Does it jump around too much (much less common!)? Does it […]

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Don’t Forget About The SOUND Of The Words

As far lyrics go, where the rubber meets the road  is how the words Sing.  Why do some verses or sections of my songs ‘sing’ better, easier, than others?  Because I got the sound of the words right. The hardest-to-define aspect of a lyric, and therefore the most neglected, is the sound of the words.  […]

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When And Why Should I Put A Bridge Into A Song?

Although the Bridge of a song can be delightful, by the time it comes along the verdict on a song is usually in – the listener is already around two minutes into the song and the most important parts of it have been heard and responded to.  Similar to on Orwell’s Animal Farm, all parts […]

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Today’s Top 10 – Most Common Songwriting Mistakes, Part 2

Everyone’s heard thousands of songs.  If a songwriter isn’t on her or his game, even an ‘unsophisticated’ listener (who’s actually pretty sophisticated these days) will know what’s going to happen next before it happens.  For me, everything on this list connects to one of two ideas – Avoiding Predictability and Bringing the Listener’s Attention to […]

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Keeping The Listener Off-Balance… And Involved

The two very different great songs we’ll look at today use the same device to give both songs, in very different ways and to different ends, a momentum that never settles or lets up. Im both songs, after a buildup to the V chord at the end of each Verse, when the songs hit the Chorus […]

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Making The Lyric, When Sung, Feel Like It’s Being Spoken

It’s good to remember that writing melodies and words for songs relates very strongly to something almost everyone does without consciously thinking about it – that is, talking. In songs, in most cases we simply want the listener to hear and understand the words and the added feeling that the melody brings to them, and […]

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Against Punctuation (On A Lyric Sheet)

Not all punctuation.  I’ve got nothing against apostrophes.  But most punctuation that’s put on a lyric sheet – question marks, exclamation points, dashes, semi-colons – can and often does mislead the writer(s) of the song. Why?  Because the listener will never see the punctuation when they’re listening to the song. The point is – the […]

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Thinking Backwards From The Title, part 1

Many people who write and teach fiction, playwriting, screenwriting, etc., suggest that writers not go very deep into writing a particular piece without knowing their destination: the ending.  That is, don’t take a trip  (often a long one) without knowing where you’re going. But just as some people like to take trips (or even walks) […]

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An Explanation Of Not Explaining

I think a reader of this blog, no matter how occasional, might notice how much I emphasize actually doing the writing, as opposed to thinking about writing, talking about writing, planning to write, etc.  It’s a shift of consciousness – from thought to action.  It’s taking a leap into the unknown.  It’s not knowing what’s […]

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When Starting A Song, 10 Thoughts Worth Ignoring (At First)

1) This sucks. 2) I stole this melody from another song – I just don’t know which one. 3) This is a stupid idea. 4) This is just like that other song I wrote last month. 5) This won’t amount to anything. 6) This lyric is sappy. 7) It’s too much of a ripoff of […]

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10 Cool Things About ‘Refugee’ by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Refugee (Tom Petty/Mike Campbell) In no particular order: 1) Extremely economical songwriting – The Verse is 2 (long) lines; 8 bars long. Pre-Chorus – 2 lines; 4 bars long. Chorus – 1 line (repeated except for first time). Bridge – 4 lines; 8 bars long. An 8 bar solo follows all this and barely 2 […]

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The Song & The Songwriter’s Emotional Attachment To It: Two Different Things

Many if not most songs start with the writer having a strong emotional connection to the idea(s) in it but… I think it’s good to remember that the song itself is very different from our emotional attachment to it… though sometimes the two can feel very much the same. It’s natural to love our original […]

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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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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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