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NEW Video blogpost: ‘Why Are Songs Different Today?’

Thank you for reading my weekly blogposts! I’m starting something different this week: a series of short video posts called ‘Ask Tony’, answering questions sent to me by songwriters. Watch the first video below (it’s less than 3 minutes long). If you have any songwriting questions, please email them to me at  asktony@tonyconniff.com. Also, any […]

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When To Start Your Song With The Chorus

Most commonly, Verse/Chorus songs start with the Verse and build into the Chorus. This allows the song to begin its story or situation, and to build up drama and excitement, ideally climaxing at the Chorus. Almost all songs involve some kind of story, or a situation that’s summed up in the Chorus, or a question […]

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Can You Write A One-Chord Song?

Have you ever tried writing a song with just one chord? This is an assignment I give occasionally in songwriting workshops and the results, particularly given how limited the idea can seem at first, are often really good. Lacking harmonic variety, successful one-chord songs seem to put a strong emphasis on the groove of the […]

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Jay-Z and Bruce Mythologize Themselves In Their Songs… You Can Try It Too

I recently finished one of the best books on Songwriting I’ve ever read: ‘Decoded’ by Jay-Z. It combines autobiography, thought-provoking observations, and a lot of deep-dive analysis of his own lyrics – which themselves contain a lot of autobiographical and observational elements. The forensics he does on his lyrics are fascinating. On one level he’s […]

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What A Difference A Note Makes (In A Chord)

In a song I’m currently working on, there’s an 8 bar section where I started with this simple progression: || C | G | F | G | C | G | Aminor | F || Once I had the melody pretty well worked out I started fooling around with these chords; trying different variations […]

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How To Use A Minor Chord… When The Ear Expects Major

I’ve recently been listening to a couple of songs that I really like that use the same harmonic idea, though in different ways – a Vminor chord when your ear expects a Vmajor chord… and it’s really cool. Two points about these recordings. They’re both from ‘neo-soul’ artists. And also… they’re both English. To my […]

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Some Ways To Learn From The Songs You Love

Recently I came across a quote from artist/songwriter Aloe Blacc. What he said seemed almost too obvious… then I realized he was talking about things that may seem so obvious – to some – that they don’t get said enough. “Make a list of songs that you think are great, whether it be great for […]

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It’s Usually Good To Know What Your Song’s About

I post songwriting-related quotes on Facebook regularly; not always because I agree with them but because I think they say something worth considering. I recently posted a quote from Taylor Swift, which I put up because I thought she expressed a pretty good songwriting approach: “Think, ‘What would I say to him right now if […]

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Let Us Now Praise Smokey Robinson

Let’s take a moment to praise one of the 20th Century’s great songwriters, universally acknowledged – Smokey Robinson. He’s still very active at the age of 76. Going back to 1957 (almost 60 years!), Smokey was Berry Gordy’s original partner on the creative end at Motown Records (originally call Tamla). Often with his frequent partner, […]

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Songs, Like Art, Can Range from Realism to Abstraction

I don’t know much about art but… wait for it… On the wall at my studio I have, among other things, a print of a painting by Mark Rothko. I like Rothko’s work. The pulsing blocks of color connect with me. But if you asked me what his paintings ‘mean’… I couldn’t tell you. I […]

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Like ‘I Took A Pill In Ibiza’, Your Ballad Might Be A Dance Hit

Most people know Mike Posner’s ‘I Took A Pill In Ibiza’ from the SeeB EDM dance remix, released a year ago, that became a worldwide megahit, rising to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, with over 460,000,000 hits on Youtube. When I first heard this version, I thought it was OK, but that the production […]

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What Makes Rihanna and Drake’s ‘Work’… Work

The more I listen to “Work’ by Rihanna (featuring Drake) – the video’s below –  the more I like it and the more interesting I find it. It’s a vibey understated groove in Jamaican Dancehall style that’s moody and simple, but with subtle variations. The chords are a 2 bar repeated pattern (||:C#minor D#minor | […]

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The Quickest Way To Bring Fresh Ears To A New Song

Deep into a new song, at some point it becomes hard, almost impossible, to get a clear perspective on what I have. As excited and engaged as I may be, the various alternatives for  Verses, lines, words, melody variations, chord choices, etc. can become a blur. I’ve found that the best way to hear music […]

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Why You Sometimes Like Songs With Bad Lyrics

In a song, everything is sound. So, before we even perceive the content of lyrics – the literal meaning and the emotions attached to that meaning – we get a feeling from the sound of the words. Those words may say something that’s coherent and substantial. But they also may not – and that might […]

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When In Doubt… Follow The Melody

A songwriter for whom I’m producing an album recently asked for my ideas about what chords to use to bring a song, in which he’d modulated from one key to another, back to its original key. My immediate response was, ‘Try doing it with the melody’. I suggested that he find an elegant way to […]

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Inside An Indie Song That Became A Hit

‘Lost Stars’, sung by Adam Levine in the movie ‘Begin Again’, is a powerful and touching song*.  It also has some really crafty aspects to its songwriting that are worth taking a look at (and listen to – below). I’m going to focus here mainly on the melody and harmony. The song’s melody consists, with […]

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How To Set Up a Chorus Like Justin T. & Max Martin

Justin Timberlake’s smash ’Can’t Stop The Feeling’ delivers 4 minutes-plus of happy happy joy joy pop dance music. It was written and produced by Timberlake with the colossal hitmakers (it’s hard to overestimate their prowess in this area) Max Martin and Shellback. We’re going to concern ourselves here with one relatively small but not insignificant […]

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Don’t Give Away Your Chorus Before Its Time

This post is about avoiding something that I think can hurt a song – I watch out for it in my own writing and I notice it in many songs of writers I’ve worked with. To cut to the chase, the ‘antidote’ to this potential damage can perhaps best be summarized this way: Don’t give […]

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The Importance Of Being Picky… Very Picky

I’ve written various posts related to how important it is to write without judgement… to let ideas flow out as much as one can, knowing that their quality will usually vary unpredictably. And to, for the moment, take the ideas as they come, without judgement. But today I write about the importance of being picky… […]

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How To Pull Off A Classic Pop Song

It’s rare when a song feels modern but also catches a believable retro vibe. These songs are often big hits! Released in early 2015, ‘Sugar’ by Maroon 5 is a recording like this. It’s a pure pop song, nothing on its mind but love, sex, and dancing. It recalls a classic soulful feeling in a […]

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