- Ways to makes sure you are communicating the correct emotions
Many hit songwriters with tell you that one of the most efficient ways to write a song is to start with a title. The title gives so much info and DNA for your song. It can inspire a story, give you a hook, lead you to fun wordplay, rhythms, etc. One way to keep your songwriting hat on all day is to keep a notebook full of titles. Throughout your day as you listen to things people say, or things you see….take notes and write down title ideas….or phrases that you think would make a good song title. Set a goal for yourself that you want to find 10 good song titles everyday…
By making yourself have a goal of 10 titles everyday, it helps you keep your eyes and ears open…and it helps you think creatively on a more frequent basis. Pay attention to every magazine, book and TV show to see if you can find good title ideas. I personally have multiple notebooks full of title ideas, and I also have files on everyone of my computers that have title ideas. Make it your goal to find 10 every single day….you will be amazed how many great ideas start to appear. Then on those days you don’t feel very inspired, or if you are trying to find ideas, just thumb through your book….something may jump out at you.
Here are a couple of links to help you find titles and also what to do with them once you have them. Let me know if you have any other title source ideas.
Thanks for reading, if you enjoy my blog, please let me know. Also let your friends know ~~ Chad
Almost all songwriters ask themselves or their cowriters, “What should I write about?”
Many of us try to write about things happening in our lives, but let’s face it….many of us lead pretty routine lives. Or at least we don’t have an endless well of emotions to use…not all the time anyway.
We also try to write about things that we think our listeners will connect with, so we write about love many times…but we run out of original songs ideas pretty quickly. Then we are right back at “What do I write about?” We hit blocks and sit and wait for inspiration to strike. The problem is that we don’t realize that we make inspiration happen, it doesn’t fall from the sky. Many times we just need to start writing and ideas will start to flow.
Instead of asking WHAT it write about, start asking, HOW should I write about it. There are literally millions of things to write about. Look around where you are right now. Make a list of things you see.
As an example here are some things I see right now…
iPad, fireplace, pictures of New York, sliding glass door, tree outside with snow on it, flat screen TV, fleece blanket, books, hand weights.
Next take one of those things and start digging deeper into it. So for me, I am going to select Fleece Blanket. Now I can start asking questions:
Who? Maybe a little girl is cuddled with a fleece blanket
Where? Next to a fire on a cold night
When? Maybe it was after she saw her parents fighting and she was crying
Why? That blanket is all she holds on to right now
What about it? That blanket holds her tonight and holds stories and emotions
You can also write about the object physically to get more ideas. Write about your object using each of your senses, sight, sound, taste, touch, smell and movement. What does it smells like, what does it look like, feel like, etc?
You can take a simple object and turn it into a full song by digging in and asking questions and thinking about HOW to write about it. So next time you don’t have something to write about….look around and pick something. Write. Don’t worry about if it is a great song or not, just write. Eventually you will stumble on that great song. The key is to write and get better all the time…you don’t get better by not writing…
As songwriters, we ultimately want to reach our listeners and make them have an emotional experience. Maybe that is the same emotions we had when we wrote the song, or maybe it is a totally new emotion that you just want them to have. Some songs are just tear jerkers, that doesn’t happen by accident. Some songs piss us off, some make us want to dance, some make us happy….None of that happens by accident. The writer had an intent. They knew what they wanted you to feel.
As songwriters we try very hard to get the emotion across…and many times we try to write some deep, poetic, ethereal, cosmic, make-them-think lyrics. We know exactly what we are trying to say, but does our listener? I see it many times with newer writers, they want to express a deep emotion, so they write very vague, abstract lyrics about darkness and wind and angels and sky and rain, and coming into the light…..all great metaphors, don’t get me wrong….but many times after you hear it, you will be like, “Nice, but What the Hell does it mean?” We don’t want that response….we want to make sure the listener finishes the song as says, “Wow, I totally see and feel that.” We cannot be vague.
The key to making sure our listeners are feeling our songs is to be very specific. It seems counter productive to think that in order to get deep, we have to be very much on the surface. It’s true. Listeners don’t want to think. They want to feel it. So our job as writers is to paint picture with our lyrics, and color those lyrics by using concepts of prosody in the underlying chords and music. So here are some quick tips on how to really reach into your listener and lead them down the exact path you want them to:
1. Write from the 6 Senses – Sight, Sound, Taste, Touch, Smell, Movement – - Really describe things from each sense. Be very detailed. Make them smell it.
2. Your Verse should establish WHO, WHEN, WHERE of your song. – - This helps insure that the listener understands what is going on. Be specific, but you can show and not tell directly. For example, if my Who, When and Where was a waitress, during a rain storm at a bus stop….I could Say: She had her apron and tips in her pocket as she shook the water from her umbrella and waited for the #7.
3. The Chorus Expresses the Emotional WHY of the song. This is the part of the song you can be more Vague and a little more abstract and emotional. If the verse set up the Who, When and Where effectively, it will carry over and the listener will have context for the emotion and it will help them experience it deeper.
4. What is happening musically should support and mirror what is happening lyrically. This is the concept of prosody. An example would be if your lyric talks about falling down, your melody could walk down the scale, or take an interval that drops it down. Or if the topic is hectic, you will want to use many short notes for the melody. Make the music match the words. It is like when the film score accentuates what is happening on the screen.
Those are just some quick examples. Give your listener what they need so the song makes sense quickly. If they have to think too hard, they won’t feel it.
Do you have any other ideas on how to communicate emotion more in your songs?
Many times people notice melodies and rhythms first, and then the lyric pulls them in and connects with their logic and emotion. Writing great song lyrics takes lots of practice, and there is a definite craft to it. Here are some helpful songwriting posts that can help you write better lyrics:
Hope these help!
So here are some steps that will help get you ‘unstuck.’
1. Find the main idea or message that your chorus is saying? Write that down.
2. Ask questions about the topic….Who, Where, When, How, Why? How did we get here? What happens next? Write down your thoughts and answers.
3. Analyze qualities of the lyrics: What is the….Rhyme Scheme, Number of Lines, Length of Lines, Rhyme Type, Rhythm of lines. Write down your thoughts on what is happening lyrically….qualities, traits, etc.
4. Write down the opposite qualities from Step 3. Your verse should contrast to the chorus, so creating a section that has opposite traits is a good place to start.
5. Select Who, When or Where from Step 2, and write about that from each sense, sight, sound, taste, touch, smell and movement. Really get specific and descriptive. Do not edit what you are writing. Just write for 5 minutes whatever you see or experience in your mind.
6. Underline phrases that you like from step 5. Look for lines that describe external details, or details happening outside of your characters.
7. Find pairs of lines from Step 6 that rhyme with each other.
8. Drop in lines that fit with the rhyme scheme you came up with in Step 4.
9. Read over this rough draft you have and refine it and add words to make it sound more conversational. This can be your first verse.
10. Read over what you have….a verse and chorus…..determine if you need a prechorus to bridge the 2 together. Determine if they make sense as is, or if you need a prechorus or more lines.
These steps will have you well on your way to a full rough draft of a song lyric. Of course you have more verses to write and also a bridge…..and setting it to music.
Follow this blog….I will be giving you more step by step ideas on how to start finishing the songs you come up with. Email me if you have anything you are struggling with. I will try to answer in future posts.
Songwriting is part creativity and inspiration and it is also know how, craft and skill. There are times where one of those comes easier than the other. Many of us like to wait until the creativity and inspiration flow out easily…the problem is that we end up waiting a long time, and not actually practicing songwriting. If we don’t practice, we don’t get better. I am just like many of you. I sometimes need a little push to get the ball rolling when writing songs. That is why I like to have processes that I can use that use my know how and skills. Many times just following the process is enough to spark some more inspiration. So here is a 10 step process that I use to write songs from titles. It includes some steps that use logic in order to find inspiration. I hope these will help you. Give them a shot. Try writing your next 5 songs using these steps.
10 Steps to Songwriting From A Title:
1. Find a title you like
2. Come up with 3 possible story lines for the song
3. Pick your favorite story, and write down Who When and Where the story is happening
4. Write down 10 words that describe the story or come to mind when you think about it. Write whatever words pop into your head. Don’t stop at 10, if they keep coming
5. Look up 5 of your favorite words from Step 4 in a Thesaurus. Write down some of your favorite words that you think work in your song.
6. Now take 5 of your favorite words from those you’ve collected and look them up in a rhyming dictionary. Don’t just look for perfect rhymes, look for near rhymes, family rhymes, assonance, and consonance rhymes.
7. Now find words that rhyme with the title itself. You can also find words that mean the opposite of your title.
8. Now take 5 minutes and free write from your senses about either the Who, Who or Where of your song. Write from your sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, and movement. Really try to describe each sense. Then underline or write down phrases in this writing that you like.
9. Create a rhyme scheme and song structure. Need ideas? Copy hit songs….write down where rhymes happen….where does the title fall? What is the structure of the song? How many lines are in the verse? Chorus? Bridge?
10. Now start using all the words and phrases you have collected to start telling the story of your song….and actually write the lyrics. Up to this point you have been collecting some interesting words and phrases. Use this collection to write your song.
Give it a shot. Do it even if you don’t feel inspired….all you need to start is a title, rhyming dictionary and thesaurus.
The biggest song in the country right now is “Call Me Maybe.” It is the fun, pop summer song of 2012, written and performed by Carly Rae Jepsen. It is #1 on the Hot 100 chart right now. I first started hearing it when I was in Nashville a couple months ago. It started to explode across the airwaves and dance clubs everywhere. It is one of those songs that is infectious and gets stuck in your head. Earworms, as some call them. I have been listening to it and analyzing it and finding some cool things in the songwriting structure that make it work. So I wanted to give some of my observations on qualities that you and I can use in writing our next ‘hit.’
One of the big things that sticks in your head when you hear this song is the melody. The melody is very catchy and uses one of the most powerful and essential concepts when songs become hits and that is contrast. Each song section, Verse, PreChorus, Chorus and Bridge all have contrasting melodic motifs happening. There is also some cool music theory happening as well.
Melodic Contrast: The verses – - The verses have a nearly static melodic contour that is nearly static. The verse hovers around the B note, which in this song is the 3rd degree of the G major scale. This is a trick that many songwriters use in the verse, and that is to not use the tonic note much in the verse. The tonic note is the G and it is not used much if at all in the verses. They save the tonic note for when the chorus comes around. Also these verses use rather quick fast notes, which makes it sound much more conversational. This is also a very useful and common trait of hit songs. When the prechorus comes around the melody bumps up and starts on the D note above the B in the verse, and the melodic contour contrasts to the verse because it becomes a descending contour and the phrases go down until the last line of the prechorus that builds up to the chorus. Also the notes are just a bit longer than the verse, which creates more contrast. Again this section only briefly hits the G note or the tonic. What not going to the tonic does is build up some tension, because our ears want to ‘go home’ or go to tonic, and it doesn’t happen until we get to the chorus. When the chorus comes in the notes get shorter and more rhythmic again, which contrasts to the prechorus. The melodic contour now becomes more zig zag by going down, coming up and the resolving to the tonic. It brings us home and releases all of the tension that was building in the verses and prechorus. It feels good and satisfies some of our subconscious expectations. The melody of the entire song is mostly G major pentatonic, which as I have mentioned in other posts is one of the most powerful and easy scales to use. When the song gets to the bridge it stays in the pentatonic scale, and still does a zig zag by going down and coming back up to the G, but the melody is different than the chorus and verse, and also just as catchy as the chorus, in fact at the end of the song, they repeat the bridge as if it is a chorus variation. Neat stuff happening in the melody of this song.
Lyrical Contrast and Structure: Just because it is simple doesn’t mean stupid – - The lyrics of this song actually follow many of the concepts that I have mentioned on this blog in the past. One of the big things that I noticed and loved was that the song verses do a great job of being decriptive and set up the Who, When, and Where. The 1st verse is very visual. Usually songs should be visual and have concrete details in the 1st verse, then go to more emotional and ‘big picture’ in the chorus. This song talks about a wishing well/fountain, it sets the scene that the singer is throwing wishes at night. Words like kisses, pennies, dimes, etc really are visual words that paint a picture in our heads. Then when you get to the prechorus it talks more about the night and talks about wind, ripped jeans, skin, etc. Again more visual pictures, concrete images. Then when you get to the chorus, the emotional WHY of the song is exposed. It is still visual because we know the singer is giving her number to someone she just met, but it is not quite as visual and basically wraps up the song…..I might be crazy, but here is my phone number….call me….maybe? In the second verse it explains kind of what happens next. The singer is falling is love, but the other person is taking time in actually calling back. One thing that is cool and is becoming a common trend in music now is the repeated chorus. The chorus repeats itself, so it gets stuck in our heads even more. Some contrast to keep it interesting is added by doubling the vocal track and adding additional drum rhythms and a synthy guitar-type part. This is an effective way to use repitition and still keep energy going. Also the last few lines are not the same as the first time around. Same melody, but different lyrics. The next part of the lyrics that is cool in this song is the rhyme scheme. Rhyme is very important in songs, it gives us sign posts and tells us where to start and stop. It also is a way to create contrast in the lyrics and change things up so they do not get boring. Here are the rhyme schemes that I think are happening in this song:
Verse: AAABCCCB 8 line section.
Prechorus: AAAX 4 line section (contrasts to the 8 in the verse)
Chorus: XAXAXAXA 8 lines that repeat twice – same number of lines as the verse but different rhyme scheme. (again contrast)
Bridge: XAAAXAAA 8 line section, but this rhyme scheme is almost like the opposite of the scheme in the verse, which creates lots of contrast.
2 of the most powerful tools you have when writing lyrics is the rhyme scheme and number of lines. Both can be used to create contrast and prosody, so your song stays interesting and tells the correct story.
As you know writing songs is a mix of art and craft……know how and inspiration. These have been just a few observations that I have made while listening to and studying, ‘Call Me Maybe.’ Let me know if you have any observations of your own, or if you have any questions on the ideas I talked about. ~~ Chad
My latest self guided songwriting assignment was to write a song starting with a melody first, in the C Dorian mode. I have been toying around with it for the last week and a half or so. I have not finished the song, yet. I wanted to give you an update on where I was and show you some of my thought processes while working on it. Hopefully it will help give you some ideas for your own writing. So I have made this little ‘podcast’ of what I have so far. As always, please email me or leave comments with any questions or thoughts you have. I love to hear from you! Listen below… ~~ Chad
As songwriters we always want to try to surprise our listeners with new, deep ideas. We try very hard to not sound cliche, and not do things that have been done a million times. If you are not aiming for this, you should be. But this is easier said than done. When you think about it, people have been writing about love and life for hundreds, if not thousands of years…so how do we come up with new ideas and keep the same topics fresh?
Think about the last time you heard a song that really caught your attention……Ok, I bet it was about a very common topic, but something was very original about it. Was it said in a new way? Did the lyrics paint a new picture? Did the melody do something unexpected? Whoa, wait…..there it is…..UNEXPECTED. That is the key word. Say it with me, “UNEXPECTED!”
So how do you keep your songs sounding fresh and giving your listeners something ‘unexpected?’ You have to move beyond the obvious. The obvious ideas are the easy ones, they seem to plop out of the heavens and rush from your mind like water. These are the times where you feel like you are the next Diane Warren and it is so ‘easy.’ BUT BUT BUT….those obvious, easy ideas are probably the same ideas that tons of other writers have already used or thought of. It is weird, but some ideas seem to be part of a giant shared consciousness. What do I mean by that…Well if I said the word, ‘Beach’…..TONS of people would say ‘SAND.’ Songwriters that stop there are the ones writing cliche songs….obvious songs. But what if I said ‘Beach’ and then you thought about it for awhile, and said, “broke down car.” OK, now we may be on to something….What if the car is broke down by the beach, so you walk the board walk to get ice cream instead of waiting for the tow truck on the road? Do you see what I mean? Once you get on to something start asking the questions, WHO, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, HOW, Where to next, How did we get here? Really dive into the idea and dig for those special nuggets that almost never pop up first.
So how do you apply this to your next song? Well, many of you start writing from titles. So the next time you have a great title….spend some time thinking up every possible storyline or idea you can think of. DO NOT stop at the first things that come to mind, because they come to everyone else’s mind too…..WE WANT TO SURPRISE THEM! So keep digging and do not be afraid to try out wacky, experimental ideas. You never know what kind of great breakthrough is waiting on the other side of your obvious ideas.