Join Tony's Mailing List

Get notified about songwriting events and gigs.

The Spectrum Of Great Songwriters

Philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously separated writers and thinkers into two basic categories – Hedgehogs and Foxes. He took this from an ancient Greek saying: “A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog knows one important thing.” As Berlin saw it, Hedgehogs – like Dostoyevsky, Nietsche, Ibsen – see life through the lens of one defining […]

Read more

Aretha Franklin, Songwriter: An Appreciation

Aretha Franklin’s stature as a songwriter will never equal her monumental accomplishments as a singer. She didn’t write many songs (at least that were recorded), but some of the ones she wrote are really good, and her recordings turned them into classics. She couldn’t have been better served by her musicians, as well as – […]

Read more

Stevie Wonder’s ‘Overjoyed’ – Under The Hood

I think Stevie Wonder’s ‘Overjoyed’ is one of the best songs of the last 50 years. Certainly one of the greatest ballads. Musically it’s masterful. It’s a pleasure to just listen and be moved… but let’s spoil everything by looking under the hood. (You need to play and sing this one. Video below)) Start with […]

Read more

Start Your Song With A Bass Line… Here Are Some Who Did

With some songs all you need, musically, is a melody and a bass line.  The bass will suggest chords but, to ‘hear’ the song, it’s not necessary to hear the chords; just the bass line. There are many songs with great bass parts that add immeasurably to the song. But this week I’m looking at […]

Read more

Why And How To Avoid The Root In Your Melody

A good melody tells a story. It doesn’t just help tell the story of the words; it has its own story. (Sometimes the melody’s story is very different from the story in the words – it can also function as subtext to the lyric). Any good melody has drama. It starts somewhere, takes a journey, […]

Read more

A Cheap Trick That Works… Sometimes

Going into a new key for your Chorus (every time; not just for the last Chorus) is considered by many many songwriters to be… well, cheating. Why? Because simply by changing key you potentially create a ‘fake’ version of the exciting lift that, in most cases, should come from the transition into the Chorus itself, […]

Read more

What To Do When Your Song… Bores You

I’m working on a song and I lose interest in it because if I’m honest I have to admit that it bores me. Not everything in it, or the main idea… but something about it doesn’t excite me anymore… if it ever did. I hate to admit how often this makes me want to give […]

Read more

Remember… Your Songwriting Doesn’t ALWAYS Suck

There are days… there are days when I just don’t have it. I poke around for ideas and nothing comes up. My energy is off, I’m tired… I’m slumping… I just can’t get going. BUT… I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. Something in me says there’s still hope, so I’m not giving […]

Read more

3 Ways To Make Your Chord Progressions Less Predictable

Something we may not think about much is how predictable the rhythms of chords usually are. Chords almost always land in the same places – on the first beat of a bar, or the first and third beat, or the first beat and the ‘and’ of two (the 8th note after beat 2). And songs […]

Read more

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

Modern Songwriting’s Freedom From Traditional ‘Continuity’

Recently a friend of mine directed me to a song by The Neighbourhood – ‘Daddy Issues’ (below). Though it’s pretty conventional musically (the lyrics are more edgy), it does have an interesting feature or two. This song does something – and does it well – that I hear more and more in songs these days […]

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