Writing Songs of Social Commentary

U2No matter what song genre you’re writing in, at some point you’re likely to find yourself wanting to express your thoughts about your generation, your community, society, or the state of the world in general. Given the unsettled times we’re living in, it’s not surprising that songwriters are turning toward their art to express feelings of solidarity, uncertainty, pride, indignation, or hope for the future. Whatever your thoughts or feelings are about the world, a song is a great way to express them.

What are songs of social commentary?

The words “social commentary” are not, in themselves, either positive or negative. These songs are a means of expressing an opinion, observation, or message, the way you see and feel about things, especially things you feel strongly about. For example, one person might look at a community and see the good that comes from a sense of belonging, while another might see a close-minded group banding together to keep outsiders at a distance. What’s your view? What’s your experience? Your observations may be lauded or they may be unpopular, but it’s still up to you – and no one else – to say what you want to say, to make your opinion heard.

Songs of social commentary are not limited to politics or protest. They can help us define a sense of purpose and place, identify with those who are like us and not like us, chastise and forgive, identify our strengths and our failings, and help us work our way through an ever-changing world.

Most importantly, a song of social commentary seeks to persuade, to convey the songwriter’s observations, beliefs, or experiences in a way that allows the listener to see and understand the world as the songwriter does. In doing so, the hope is that through songs we can understand each other a little better.

THEMES
This list includes a few of the most popular themes that come up in commentary songs. Each theme can be expressed in individual terms: its effect on one person or on the singer. Or painted with a broader brush: its effect on a whole society or the world. I’m sure you’ll think of more themes, so feel free to add your own, ones that have meaning and energy for you. Continue reading

Writing Songs for TV Commercials

More commercials than ever are using songs, many from independent artists and small labels. It’s a lucrative market that offers great exposure if you’ve got what they need. Advertisers look for songs that express the energy and emotion they’d like consumers to associate with their product.

Let’s take a look at three songs that have been featured in national ad campaigns for major brands within the past year. Listen to the songs, watch the ads, read my analysis, and then see if you can write and record something in a similar style. Continue reading

Cathy Heller: Songs for TV Commercials

Cathy Heller Cathy Heller is a go-to artist when it comes to licensing music to TV commercials. Her songs have been featured in major ad campaigns for McDonalds, Walmart, Petco, Quaker, KFC, and many others. For years, Cathy has been successfully pitching her own music and helping other artists do the same. In this podcast I ask her how she does it.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

Here’s a convenient “Table of Contents” for the podcast. Continue reading

Like I’m Gonna Lose You – Meghan Trainor & John Legend

Megan TrainorQuestion: How do you follow up a platinum, career-launching single like “All About That Bass”? Answer: With two more relentlessly catchy, upbeat songs that build on a similar radio-friendly, retro-blend sound.

Which is exactly what Meghan Trainor did. But after the third single – as much fluffy fun as it was – listeners were bound to wonder if things weren’t starting to sound a little same-y. Time for something new. Trainor hit the sweet spot with a ballad/duet with John Legend that slides perfectly into Trainor’s throwback sound while revealing more emotional depth.

TECHNIQUES TO HEAR AND TRY:
• Blend vintage and contemporary song elements.
• Maintain lyric focus.
• Make your melody memorable by using patterns.

Read the lyrics here: Like I’m Gonna Lose You – Meghan Trainor w/ John Legend

Buy it now or listen on your preferred music site (Spotify, Rdio, Apple Music, etc.).

Watch on YouTube

Recorded by Megan Trainor and John Legend
Writers: Meghan Trainor, Justin Weaver, Caitlyn Smith

GENRE/STYLE  (What is a genre?)
This is a great example of a retro-blend song that drops neatly into today’s Adult Contemporary/Pop genre. Producer Chris Gelbuda calls the overall album style “Doo-Wop/Pop Throwback” and references “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King as an influence on this particular song. I’m reminded of classic Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell duets like “Your Precious Love” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.” From the moment John Legend enters on Verse 2, there are references this classic duet sound.

Underlying all this rich, vintage Soul is a poetically modern lyric, an unusual lyric theme, a loop-style rhythm track, and a punchy, dry mix. All of which give this song a contemporary edge. Continue reading

Film and TV Songwriting Playlist

Since writing my book on songwriting for the Film & TV market, I’ve been studying the kinds of songs that do well in commercials, TV shows, and movies. Recently I began putting many of them into a Spotify playlist and I’d love to share it with you. I’m adding to it all the time.

All of these songs have been used in prime time TV dramas, national TV commercials, or films. I tend to favor the kinds of songs that can be recorded in a home studio or relatively inexpensively in a pro studio. There are even a couple of recognizable hit songs here, but in each case the song was introduced to the public via television or film.

You can click here to go to the complete playlist on Spotify. Or just go to your Spotify app and search for Film and TV Songwriting.

Listening to this playlist will give you a good idea of some of the kinds of songs that work well as underscore in TV dramas and commercials, adding energy, emotion and atmosphere. Of course, many more types of songs are used, including Rock, Hip Hop, Blues, and Country. This is just a place to get started. If you’d like to learn more about film and TV songwriting, here’s a post that will give you some tips.