LISTEN TO POPULAR MUSIC:
Why is that particular song number one on the charts? Are the words any different than other popular songs? Does the arrangement stand out? Why do you or your friends like the song? Are the songs you write similar? How do they compare? These are questions you should be asking yourself.
SHOULD I BE MORE ORIGINAL?
There is a fine line here. You want to write similar songs to the ‘hits’ but at the same time you don’t want to use the same tired phrases that everyone else is using. You want to be original but not radically different. In top 40 music it’s extremely difficult to be truly original as far as the melody but you can be creative with the lyrics. Saying ‘I love you’ can be said without saying ‘I love you’. Being creative without sounding radically different is the key.
With the popularity of the internet there are countless places to have your songs heard. Songwriter forums abound and you can receive opinions from music lovers around the world. As long as you have a ‘thick skin’ constructive criticism is invaluable. Now surface it to say that one or two opinions do not require a complete rewrite but if two dozen people say your lyrics are trite than you have something to think about.
THE BASICS OF SONGWRITING:
All popular songs have some sort of pattern. You may not first realize it but there is some sort of pattern to every song that is on the charts. Most songs will start with a verse or two. These verses will be similar in melody and syllable content. Next will come the chorus. This chorus, in many cases, will have the ‘hook’ or the repeating line that brings the verses together. Next, maybe another verse, then the chorus repeated, then maybe a short ‘bridge’ to add a little interest or diversity and then chorus repeated to fade.
The order of these patterns may be different but rest assured there is some pattern in each and every song; and these patterns (this repetition) is what turns this musical piece into a song.
Every song should tell a story, or have a message. How you tell this story is open for discussion but let’s take a quick look at a song I might write.
My chorus is my hook: ‘I just love girls, all types of girls; big ones, short ones, tall ones, small ones, I just love girls’. That’s my story; very simple: I love girls.
Now my verses should explain or detail my chorus (why do I love girls?) and it might go something like this: Verse 1: ‘I like city girls; they are so sophisticated etc. etc.’ Verse 2: ‘I like country girls; they are down to earth etc. etc.’ Now I go into my chorus; Next maybe Verse 3: ‘I like blondes, I like brunettes etc. etc.’ Now I go back into my chorus.
This song might not make the charts anytime soon but it perfectly describes a song that has a pattern. It makes perfect sense in a structural way. The verses are all similar (they describe different girls) and the chorus is what brings everything together: I love all girls
I know many talented songwriters compose both the music and lyrics; If your lyrics are your strong point don’t be afraid of working with a composer; and if your melodies are top notch but your lyrics are a bit weak then collaborate with a lyricist. Two heads are usually better than one.
JOIN ASCAP OR BMI:
Both organizations hold songwriting workshops periodically; Not only can you learn about the craft of songwriting, workshops can be a great place to network; and maybe find a collaborator if you are looking for one. More information about ASCAP, BMI and SESAC here.