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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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What A Difference A Note Makes

Recently I was listening to the great film composer Nino Rota’s music from The Godfather movies.  I noticed how, in his melodies, he did something that John Lennon was also very good at – taking a melody that was basically diatonic (all in one scale) and mixing in a note from outside the scale to […]

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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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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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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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A Good Melody Tells A Story – without the words

A good melody tells a story – without the words. Of course I’m not saying it tells a literal story.  But a good melody often takes you on a condensed journey with a satisfying Act 1, Act, 2, and Act 3.  Just like in a traditional movie or play, Act 1 presents the situation, Act […]

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The Great Leap (In Melodies)

Recently Frank Ocean, a singer and songwriter, has become very popular very fast.  I read a few articles about him and decided to check him out.  On listening, the first thing that struck me was, this guy is really writing melodies.  Rangy melodies with bold leaps.  Of course, this is never mentioned in the ‘music […]

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Avoiding Songwriting Predictability

We’ve all heard thousands, maybe tens of thousands of songs.  Most of us now know, even if we’ve never given it a thought, more or less  what’s going to happen next in a song.  And the rhythm and phrasing of the melody is often the biggest culprit in this predictability. Here’s a comparison – When […]

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John Lennon: The Underrated Melodist

People love to categorize, and people particularly like to categorize in dualities – yin/yang, Apollo/Dionysius…  Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards… or think of many couples you know, work or personal.  One is this… the other must be that. This is probably why some don’t stay together (including L/M?) – they feel choked by their role; it doesn’t really […]

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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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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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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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The Melodies of Adele

Much has been made of the recent success of Adele – her powerful singing, throwback soulfulness, old school production, emotional directness… All true, but what struck me right away about her songs was the length and legato quality of her melodies – unusual in an era where singing (particularly on strongly rhythmic songs) is more […]

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