All Of Me – John Legend

This beautiful love song with its simple piano production was embraced by listeners around the globe. The song went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the U.S. and was the second-best selling song of 2014. The YouTube video has had over one billion views. That’s billion with a “b.” Proof that, even in this era of giant Dance/Pop extravaganzas, a simple song with an honest, emotionally moving lyric can hold its own.

Because the production is so bare bones, the song itself has to sustain the listener’s interest. That’s a challenge for any song, but especially a ballad. There are a number of simple but very effective lyric and melody techniques at work here, ones that you can adapt for use in your own songs.

TECHNIQUES TO HEAR AND TRY:

• Sustain melodic interest in a ballad.

• Give a personal lyric universal appeal.

Read the lyrics here: All Of Me – John Legend

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

Recorded by John Legend
Writers: John Legend and Toby Gad

Genre/Style

“All of Me” is a power ballad in the Pop genre. It’s also classified as Adult Contemporary, which is a radio format. As its name implies, the Adult Contemporary format features songs that appeal to a broad adult age range, from 25 to 55. Surprisingly, though, this melodic ballad with minimal production also topped the Pop and R&B charts.

There’s a mix of influences here and it’s a little hard to tell who is influencing whom. Certainly this song reminds me of Adele’s huge hit “Someone Like You” but that song may have been influenced by John Legend’s own Neo-Soul hit of a decade ago: “Ordinary People.” And, let’s face it, everyone here is paying their respects to Lionel Richie.

Song Structure

This song has the same structure as most of today’s biggest Pop and Rock hits, yet it doesn’t really sound like one of those hits.
The structure is:

VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS

VERSES: Verse 1 starts the song off with the line “What would I do without your smart mouth?” It’s a great opening line, immediately drawing the listener into the song with an intriguing question and a glimpse into a complex and very realistic relationship.

Verse 2 begins with “How many times do I have to tell you, even when you’re crying you’re beautiful, too.” Another unusual statement that makes us curious to hear more. Continue reading

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

Duos Are In Demand

There’s an interesting trend I’ve noticed lately, something that might be fun and worthwhile, to try yourself. Duos, usually male/female, seem to be everywhere, especially in the film & TV and college markets. From the laid back lounge of The Bird and The Bee to the plaintive singer-songwriter style of The Weepies to the tuneful Indie Pop of Sleigh Bells, Matt and Kim, She & Him, Beach House, Chairlift and more, duos are hot.

Not your parents’ duets

These days, male/female duos are not necessarily singing duets in the traditional sense. The song may feature a vocal by one partner singing about a personal experience, with harmony provided by the other vocalist as in the song “World Spins Madly On” by The Weepies.
Listen on YouTube.
Listen on Youtube.

Or one partner may be the sole vocalist while the other is primarily a producer/arranger. You can hear a good example in “Recreational Love” by The Bird and The Bee.
Listen on YouTube.

No matter how the vocals, instrumental performance, and production are split up generally  both members contribute to the songwriting and a distinctive, artistic sound. here’s a good example by Chairlift, “I Belong In Your Arms.” 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

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