As you can imagine, we hear a lot of songs on a week to week basis. People ask us daily for our thoughts on their songs and we work with artists trying to help them move to the next level with their songwriting. In all this work we see a lot of the same things happening in songs. So I thought it might be good just to lay out a few things that might help beginning songwriters as well as songwriters who have been at this for a while find more success.
This may seem obvious right? We are Christians, so we write songs about God, or worship, many things that relate to Christian life. But many times we see a real lack of coherency. The songs are usually copied from other Christian songs that writers may have heard at some point, or written for a use they had on an occasion.
In truth, it's very hard to hear songs that have some kind of originality. This is very hard in these times where we want to worship so we sing something that sounds like another worship tune, but slightly different because we are trying to write “in the genre”.
My main hope when someone shows me their song, is that I hear something different. Something that gets me because I've never heard it said that way before.
“You've gotta be original, because if you're like someone else, what do they need you for?” - Bernadette Peters
This is another casualty of the modern pop song. Have you ever heard or seen the video of the guys doing medley of songs that all have the exact same chords?
Sometimes we get so in love with 1-4-5 that we don't notice every song we are writing is some or same combination of these chords. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of combinations and things you can write to three chords or maybe a combination of four chords that you play a lot. But eventually this can make your writing sound the same from song to song.
Try something different. Anything. Insert a chord into every song that you haven't used before, or a chord that isn't in any other part of the song. Change things up. This is key to growing as a writer.
“The only thing that I miss lately in all music is somebody that will put out a melody that you can whistle. It doesn't seem like there's anything happening like that.” - Merle Haggard
This won't be a clinic on melody but I do want to say something here on intervals. Good melodies have intervals between each note. By this I mean it's not just the same note sung one after the other. Sure, as a gimmick it can be done from time to time. But in good songwriting great melodies soar. They are singable and hooky because they have meat to them, and aren't just monotone or follow the chords up or down.
By interval I mean that there are leaps up and down to a melody, and those leaps are what make the melody memorable, and…whistleable.
We usually come up with lyrics and leave them alone, glad they are done and wanting to just sing the song. But good lyrics are often written and rewritten. Make sure people understand what you mean. Play it for someone and make sure they get it and that it is saying what you want it to say.
This goes along with the subject, and how do you say something in a way that it hasn't been said before. An original way of poetically saying something so that people hear it in way that really affects them. It also has to be something you believe in, and really helps if it’s personal to you.
“Lyrics are kind of the whole thing; it's the message. Something might have a beautiful melody but if it's not the truth coming out of your mouth, it's not appealing.” - Alison Krauss
This is something near and dear to my heart. We help people make a lot of what we used to call demos. Nowadays we called them masters because it is so easy to make a recording sound very good. But even if you just have your phone, you can record a nice easy demo with just your guitar and voice. Or maybe piano and voice.
For showing songs to people, it doesn't necessarily take lots of money or equipment to make a decent scratch demo. I usually tell folks to just play and sing into their phone so I can get a sense of the song. Don't feel you need to spend money at a studio so you can show a producer…and then spend money at a studio. It doesn't make sense.
There’s a lot you can do to become a better songwriter, and the best thing is to write about 100 songs. Work with others, get feedback, write different kinds of songs, and get recordings of your songs made so you can keep getting better.
“By giving the public a rich and full melody, distinctly arranged and well played, all the time creating new tone colors and patterns, I feel we have a better chance of being successful. I want a kick to my band, but I don't want the rhythm to hog the spotlight.” - Glenn Miller
Have a great week!
Eric Copeland is a music producer, but thinks of himself most as a songwriter. So he takes all these points seriously with every artist he works with, and with his own songs! For more on what his company Creative Soul does, check out http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com
“Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value. It is a process; it's not random.” - Ken Robinson
“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” - Coco Chanel
“Melody is the single most important thing to any song, period. I don't care what anybody says, it trumps everything. Not because that's my opinion but because I think it's actually indisputable fact. The human brain retains melody easier than it retains words. It's that simple.” - Ryan Tedder
“Melody is king, and don't you ever forget it. Lyrics appear to be out front, but they're not; they're just an accompanying factor. If they're good, you're really in good shape. Lyrics are written to be rewritten.” - Quincy Jones
“What makes a great song - you don't put it into words. You feel it. The perfect lyric. The perfect melody. It makes you feel something.” - Diane Warren
“There's a melody in everything. And once you find the melody, then you connect immediately with the heart. Because sometimes English or Spanish, Swahili or any language gets in the way. But nothing penetrates the heart faster than the melody.” - Carlos Santana