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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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Where Do Songs Come From? How Do You 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.  I’ll go from ways I think are more common to the more idiosyncratic:   The Title.  A phrase hits me in conversation, […]

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Lyrics: Connecting The Dots – Part 3 (David Byrne)

Continuing to think about the many different ways songwriters connect the dots in their lyrics, let’s look at And She Was – written by David Byrne, recorded by Talking Heads. Here’s Verse 1, Pre-Chorus, Chorus:      And she was lying in the grass      And she could hear the highway breathing      And she could […]

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Lyrics: Connecting The Dots – Part 2 (Frank Ocean)

Super Rich Kids by Frank Ocean has been my favorite for a few months now.  In this song Ocean uses many and varying songwriting devices with tremendous freedom and confidence – and he pulls it off. It’s a great song all around, but today we’ll mostly look at what he’s up to in the lyrics.  […]

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The ‘Problem’ Is Not Really A Problem

When I’m working on a song, I try to write down everything that comes to my mind.  When the voice in my head says, ‘That’s stupid’ or, ‘That stinks’, I try to ignore that voice.  But not because it’s wrong.  I ignore it because, as John Cleese said, “Any drivel can lead to the breakthrough”. […]

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The ‘List’ Song – Part 1

The ‘List Song” – not quite as ubiquitous as it used it to be, but still enormously effective.  It’s always been one of the most useful ways to put together a song.  For songwriters, it’s a gift. Why?  Because once you’ve got a good Title and made the decision on how you’re going to contrast […]

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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 heard […]

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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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