April 10, 2009
A lot of songs that I hear online (and elsewhere) have the major problem of losing momentum at some point in the song. To me, this is one of the worst things that can happen. Think of it like you were talking to someone in person, telling an important story. What you don’t want to see is them looking at their watch, or at something going on behind you! That means you’ve lost their interest, which is a Bad Thing.
There are a number of ways to lose the momentum of a song. One is to repeat a song segment without development (”second verse, same as the first” is another Bad Thing). Another is to have lengthy “dead zones” between the verses of your song, the dreaded “wait for it to come around on the git-tar” effect. Here’s my advice for avoiding this: don’t repeat the whole song intro between the first and second verses.
When you’re writing your song, start by trying it with no space between the verses. OK, the lyrics will overlap, you have to breathe, whatever, it was worth a try. Then try it with just one bar in between. Musically awkward? Sometimes. But you will rarely need more than two bars of “link time” between verses, so don’t use four - or eight!
(An expanded version of this Mini-Tip appears in my eBook Cheap Advice On Songwriting.)
March 13, 2009
It’s natural to want to write songs that sound like the current hits or to follow the lead of a favorite band or subgenre that’s in favor at the moment. But if you want to stand out as a songwriter, perhaps you should cast your net a bit wider, so to speak. Older song styles may be outdated or little remembered, but that doesn’t mean they’re invalid!
It’s not too unusual for current songwriters to hark back to the Beatles or other Titans Of the Sixties, but in this article I’m going to suggest going waay back. I’m going to suggest listening to songs that were hits before your mother was born (though she was born a long, long time ago) and then writing your own song in a similar style. If you end up recording your “retro” song, this might well extend to the instrumentation and production as well (or not).
Read the rest…
January 30, 2009
People like to joke about “three-chord songs,” the implication being that a song containing only A, D, and E chords must be too simple-minded to bother thinking about, much less listening to. And what kind of songwriter only knows three chords?
It’s obvious that there are plenty of great songs that have only three chords! But it’s also true that a really sophisticated melody is likely to need a really sophisticated set of chords - and more than three - to go with it. Being kind of simple-minded myself, I sometimes go in the opposite direction: how few chords can I use in a song? For me the answer is always the same: “One.”
I consider it a challenge to craft a song based entirely on a single chord and still have it be interesting and compelling. The objective is to have nobody actually notice that it is only one chord until you point it out. “Oh yeah,” they say. “I guess it is all one chord!”
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December 19, 2008
In the Ancient Days, it was fairly common for pop bands to record a biographical song telling the real or partly imagined story of the band. Like “being on the road,” this just seems to be a topic idea that often occurs to a songwriter who is in a band. I’m not aware of many recent examples (anyone?), but who could forget Creeque Alley by The Mamas and the Papas:
When Cass was a sophomore, planned to go to Swathmore
But she changed her mind one day
Standin’ on the turnpike, thumb out to hitchhike
“Take me to New York right away”
When Denny met Cass he gave her love bumps
Called John and Zal and that was the Mugwumps
McGuinn and McGuire couldn’t get no higher
But that’s what they were aimin’ at
And no one’s gettin’ fat except Mama Cass
(Note the many “in” references to fellow starving musicians who would later become rich and famous.) Even teenybopper titans Paul Revere and the Raiders contributed The Legend Of Paul Revere (is everything on YouTube?), which begins:
In a little town in Idaho
way back in sixty one
A man was frying burgers
gee - it seemed like lots of fun
But to his friend the bun boy
he confessed its misery
I think I’d like to start a group
so come along with me
The rest, of course was history, although the exact identity of Revere’s “bun boy” is left unrecorded.
Read the rest…
November 14, 2008
Home Recording, Songwriting
Here is a cool, if off-the-wall, project idea that combines songwriting with recording. Do you ever tire of always writing songs that are basically “vocals, with instrumental backing,” as it used to say on the old 45s? Why not branch out and do something avant-garde once in a while? One easy way to create a song that is unusual if not downright strange is to write and record a pastiche.
What is this pastiche of which I speak? The dictionary says that a pastiche is “an incongruous combination of materials, forms, motifs, etc., taken from different sources; a hodgepodge.” In this article, though, a pastiche is “an instrumental backing track with an unrelated audio track dubbed in over it.” Sounds crazy, or possibly stupid, huh? Well, that’s the avant-garde for you. But read on.
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October 24, 2008
If you’re someone who enjoys making up their own songs and then recording them, like I am, you’ve probably had the experience of wanting to write a brand new song, but coming up dry when you actually sit down to do it. I know I have! Maybe it’s because everything you come up with to play seems familiar, like you already made up that pattern. Or maybe the chords are OK and you may even have a “la la la” melody part, but nothing is coming to you for the lyrics to actually be about.
Sound familiar? Well, before you get frustrated and start wondering whether you will in fact ever write another original song, here are four tips that might help get your creative juices flowing the way they should.
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September 5, 2008
The day Bo Diddley died, I suddenly realized that of all of the hundreds of songs I have written over the years, there was not a single one that used the so-called “Bo Diddley beat,” you know, that bum-pa-dum-pa-dum, BUM BUM beat that you hear in songs like Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stones. I thought I had tried everything, but I had never used that beat! This had to change.
When I finally sat down to write my “Bo Diddley beat song,” I made the fateful decision to write it on the bass guitar, which I don’t usually do, to avoid if possible having it come out as just my version of Not Fade Away or some other song I had heard a million times.
As Mr. Monk would say, here’s what happened. I came up with a bass riff in A that definitely had the Bo Diddley beat and I used that for the verses of the new song. For variety, I threw in a 4-bar link that was only half Bo Diddley to serve as a refrain and then added an 8-bar bridge with no Bo Diddley and a different overall feel. Finally, I wrote a set of lyrics, based on two lines that I already had in mind to start the song. I called it “Just Like A Man.” Ta da!
Well, when I wrote the song, it seemed to indeed be a “Bo Diddley beat song.” But when I went to record it, things went in a different direction.
Read the rest…
August 26, 2008
If you’re like me, when you finally write down the last line of lyrics for that new hit song you’ve been working on all weekend, the first thing you want to do is to run into your home studio and record the thing. Or maybe you’ll take it to band practice that night and have the lads spend some time working it up.
It’s the next week, with the song already demoed or rehearsed, before you realize that actually the bridge should repeat again after the solo, or the third line of the chorus has a clunky word in it, or the intro is too long, or, or, or…. So now what?
To avoid the pain of redoing a demo or making the band learn a new version of the song at every session, I recommend that you leave the lyric sheet and chord chart for your new song lying about in easy reach and play it through several times every day. As you play you can “sanity check” the lyrics, chords, and arrangement. You may be surprised at how many tiny changes you find yourself making! Once you’ve played it the same way without changing anything for several days in a row, then maybe it’s ready for the world.
[An expanded version of this Mini-Tip appears in my eBook, Cheap Advice On Songwriting.]