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.)
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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November 29, 2008
Most home recording engineers are accustomed to recording a metronome-like “click track” to keep all the parts on the beat as the song is built up. The click track serves as a “rhythm guide.” It gets erased when the track it’s on is needed, which is OK because by then the drums are usually on there keeping the beat.
Let’s take this “guide” idea a little farther. Some of my more exotic arrangements are rather complicated, with repeated segments (a little different each time, natch), shortened or lengthened lines, very long solo sections, untoward key changes, etc. When I’m recording tracks for this song - the rhythm guitar, let’s say - the hardest part is remembering which segment is coming up next (is it the bridge?) and exactly when the change occurs (now? now?). This makes it hard to concentrate on the music. What I need is someone to signal me somehow when these changes are coming….
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July 8, 2008
If you are writing a poem with several stanzas, you don’t want to have a lot of repetition of words and phrases from one stanza to another. With the focus entirely on the words, the poem will be carried forward only with new ideas and new formulations. The structure of a stanza typically is duplicated in the next, but that structure is now occupied by an entirely new set of words and phrases.
With song lyrics, especially for rock or pop songs, this rule does not necessarily apply. With musical elements as well as words to carry the song forward, repetition and parallel elements between verses can provide that sense of structural familiarity that listeners like at the same time as the music and arrangement provide a sense of “progress” through the song.
The presence of music and melody allows you to utilize word structures, like repetition, that would not be viable in a free-standing poem. The realization that repetition is actually desirable for certain kinds of songs can make the job of lyric writing much easier! With appropriate development and use of musical textures, the fact that large parts of the verses are the same will not even register.
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June 21, 2008
Many songs start off with some sort of “intro” segment. Others jump straight into the first verse. But there are always a few that start with a prolog, an introductory segment that is often slower or with a different musical texture from the rest of the song. An example from the Ancient Days would be “Do You Want To Know A Secret” by the Beatles, with its “You’ll never know how much I really love you” opening. More recently, the neo-pop girl group The Pipettes used a prolog in their song “It Hurts To See You Dance So Well.” Maybe you can think of additional examples.
So, have you ever written a song with a prolog? Maybe you ought to give it a try! One possibility is to graft a prolog onto the front of a song you’ve already written. In fact, it is usually easier to write a prolog after you have the rest of the song in hand anyway, since then you know what you are “setting up.”
One of the best things about having a prolog in a song is that you get to have two nifty beginnings instead of just one! The second beginning, where you start the actual song, can be especially dramatic if the prolog ends with a pregnant pause….then bang! in comes the verse.
[A longer version of this tip appears in my eBook, Cheap Advice On Songwriting.]
June 16, 2008
Have you seen any of those “Director’s Cuts” DVDs featuring a slightly different version of an already-released movie? These “cuts” are almost always longer than the original film (sometimes much longer), usually because the director has restored beloved scenes or pet subplots that had been excised in the editing stage.
American poet Walt Whitman continuously revised his classic Leaves Of Grass from its initial publication in 1855 right through the “Deathbed Edition” of 1892. The original version had 12 poems in 95 pages. The Deathbed Edition contains almost 400 poems and runs to 488 pages.
In 1989, Stephen King released an updated edition of his classic 800-page novel The Stand. The new edition had over 1100 pages. King explained that the extra space gave him more room to tell the story he had in mind.
The 1968 song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly is 17 minutes and two seconds long.
I mention these examples to demonstrate two characteristics of highly creative people:
* They love to create (and create, and create, and create).
* They hate to un-create, i.e. to omit or destroy anything they have created.
The problem is that it is often difficult for the creative person to realize that the movie, or the book, or the song, has become too long and needs to be trimmed back before it collapses under its own weight.
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