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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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Inside A Classic Christmas Song

Around this time of year I like to take a look at one of the Christmas songs that are perennials. The holiday classics have a place in our lives unlike any other songs. We hear them – more or less the same ones –  every year. Their listeners cut across all demographic boundaries. And every […]

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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 […]

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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. […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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Melody: Keep The Shape, Change The Inversion

Sometimes I get the shape of the melody right, but not the register. Let’s say we’re in the key of ‘C’ and the first phrase of the melody starts on the root, goes up, and then back down – the notes being C D E G E G D C. Try singing those notes in […]

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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 […]

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The Chords of ‘Wichita Lineman’ Blew Me Away

The recent loss of Glen Campbell – a music business legend if there ever was one – got me thinking about and listening again to my favorite of Glen’s hits – ‘Wichita Lineman’, written by Jimmy Webb (it’s also by far my favorite Jimmy Webb song). This led me to breaking down the music of […]

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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 […]

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Developing Songwriting Mindfulness

What does it mean to be a Songwriter? Well… if you write songs, you’re a songwriter. That’s the simple answer. The quality of the songs may be open to eternal debate… but if you write ‘em… There’s also a state of mind involved. Songwriters think and see the world like a songwriter. That is, we […]

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Where To Place Your Title

If you’re writing a Title-based song – where the Title is the most important lyric in it and it’s the phrase or word you most want listeners to remember – then it’s critical to put the Title in a memorable place in your melody. This can be at the high point of the Chorus melody […]

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How To Use Every Chord In The Book and Still Have A Hit Song

One of the things most current hit songs have in common, other than non-stop melody lines, are simple chords. If you listen to the songs on the charts now, most have only a few chords – and almost all those chords are triads. At the moment (June, 2017), it’s even rare to hear chords with […]

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Songwriting Tools Are Not Rules

There are a lot of truisms in songwriting – old school rules of thumb that remain valid and useful today in many, if not most, kinds of songwriting… things like ‘Verses should match one another in their melody, rhythm, and scan’, or ‘Lyrics should be sung the same way you’d pronounce them when spoken’, or […]

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Don’t Let The SOUND Put You Off Current Pop Songs

Some people born in 1990 listen to certain current pop recordings and can’t relate to the way they sound. That goes double for someone born in 1975, maybe triple for someone born in 1960, etc. This is because of things like differences in the way songs are put together now, the rhyming… And, most especially, […]

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5 Ways To Evaluate Your Songwriting

Why evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your songwriting, an exercise that can be somewhat painful? Mostly because improvement is absolutely possible if specific areas are identified and worked on. Think of it like a bodybuilder (which I’m not). If you do enough steady work on your arms, your abdomen, etc., you’ll see improvement; you’ll […]

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The World’s Best Songwriting Tool

There are many elements that make up a good or great song. Music: melody, harmony, rhythm… Lyrics: story, meaning, characters, the sound of the words… Structure: finding the most suitable ‘container’ for the idea and then taking full advantage of it… And, in all these areas, understanding listeners’ expectations of genre and style, and utilizing […]

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