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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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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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Ask ‘What Am I Trying To Say?’… Then Say It

Years ago I was sitting with the great songwriter Doc Pomus at a New York City music club (the recently closed Kenny’s Castaways), listening to a young songwriter sing his songs.  At one point Doc, irritated, turned to me and said, “He just doesn’t say what he means!” Years later – years of me trying […]

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It Doesn’t Have To Have Words To Be A Good Lyric

Shananana Nananana – Ba-oom – Yip yip yip yip Yip yip yip yip Boom boom boom boom boom boom Get A Job’ – The Silhouettes (Beal, Edwards, Lewis, Horton) ‘Hey Ya’ – Outkast (Benjamin) ‘Lalalalala Lalalalala Lalalalala Lalalala’ – Eminem – Without Me (Mathers, Bell, Bass, McLaren, Dudley, Horn) ‘Mamasay mamasah mamakousah Mamasay mamasah mamakousah’ […]

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In Football-and Songwriting-the last few yards can be the hardest

One of the things that I’ve heard the legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb say is that, in at least one way, Songwriting is like football: The last few yards can be the hardest. In football, once you’re in the red zone, every inch to the goal line is a dogfight. It’s easy to let up and […]

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What’s ‘It’ All About?

One of the most common problem areas in lyric writing is the use of the words ‘it’, ‘this’, ‘that’, and ‘these’, when the listener doesn’t know exactly what these words refer to.   By their nature, these words need to point to another noun. The dangling, stranded ‘it’ is so common in Songwriting that I’ve […]

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Bring The Pain – To Your Songs

It’s natural for a Songwriter to worry about things like, “when people hear my songs, then they’ll really know how messed up I am (and who needs that?)”.  To feel shame about what comes up when you dig deep in your writing is natural… but the reticence that comes from that shame is also something […]

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Is Your Song Happening In The Present Or The Past?

When writing and developing a lyric, a relatively simple yet powerful tool  that’s often overlooked is to change the tenses of the verbs.  Are the events of the song happening in the present or in the past? The present tense is of course immediate; it throws the listener right into the action: His palms are […]

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‘It’s Having A Good Idea For A Song That’s Hard’

Lyle Lovett recently said, “I’ve always thought that writing isn’t really that hard. It’s having a good idea that’s hard.”  I can’t always agree with the first half of his statement, but I think I understand what he means by the second. One of the most disappointing things in Songwriting is to spend a lot […]

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Have You Tried Outlining Your Song?

If you have the basic idea for a song – the Chorus and/or the Title – sometimes the lyrics for the Verses and the Bridge (if there is one) fall right into line.  Other times… not so much. Often you have one verse and aren’t sure where to go with the others.  Or there’s a […]

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One Way To Break the ‘Rules’ of Songwriting: Iron & Wine’s ‘The Trapeze Swinger’

There aren’t really any ‘rules’ to Songwriting. Maybe one: Don’t bore the listener. But there are traditions and customs, things that tend to work better than others, mostly having to do with the use of structure – Verses, Choruses, Bridges, rhyming, length, etc. But one thing I’ve noticed is that when I analyze a song […]

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Your Song’s Title – A Missed Opportunity?

Most songs are Title-oriented, so getting as much mileage as possible out of the Title makes a big difference.  To illustrate this, I’m going to look at the lyrics of two songs – Bob Seger’s Like A Rock and Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown.  I recommend you give the original recordings of these songs a listen. Both […]

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Themes Obsessive & Habitual

In our lyrics, we tend to write about the same things over and over.  We all have our themes: love, romantic love, romance, sexual love, sex, loss. commitment, betrayal, optimism, skepticism, joy, anger, heartbreak, even obsession itself… among many others… They seem to embed themselves in our songs no matter how we try to guide […]

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The Delicate Balance: Music & Lyrics

Every song, by definition, balances music and lyrics.  How well a song works often has to do with how well that balance is struck. On the spectrum of great songwriting, I think of Burt Bacharach and Hal David as being at one extreme.  Complicated music, direct lyrics.  The simple perfection of David’s lyrics can often […]

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Modern Songwriting starts with Chuck Berry

Welcome to a weekly blog I’ll be writing on songwriting- and music-related subjects! I couldn’t think of a better place to start than with Chuck Berry.  It’s easy to take him for granted at this point in musical history… but that would be a mistake.  Even though a lot of his songs (like Johnny B. […]

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