For all you Folk/Rock lovers out there, this is certainly your moment. Between Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, and half a dozen other artists, Folk/Rock hasn’t been this hot since the 1960s! So dust off your acoustic guitars, your harmony vocals, get a drummer who can play a cool syncopated beat to update your sound and you’re good to go!
“Gone Gone Gone” recorded by Phillip Phillips
Writers: Derek Fuhrmann, Todd Clark, and Gregg Wattenberg
Lyrics are available online.
The Shortcut numbers below refer to specific chapters in my books “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” (“Hit”) and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” (“Film/TV”).
Here’s a folksy song that builds into a big Americana anthem. This song climbed up the Hot Adult Contemporary (Hot AC) charts. At Billboard it reached #3 on the Rock charts (which is a very broad chart these days). Figuring out what genre this song is in is a little tough but I’m going to go out on a limb and call it Contemporary Folk/Rock.
The song form is…
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS (TAG out on the bridge)
The structure of this song is pretty obvious. Why? Because there’s so much contrast between sections – and I’m not just talking about the production! This is a great song to study for contrast.
Both the pre-chorus (“Give me reasons to believe…”) and chorus (“For you, for you…”) feature a big jump up in pitch at the beginning of the section.
But, more importantly, the pre-chorus melody features an ear-catching change in rhythmic feel, giving listeners a clean break between the verse and chorus. Listen to the song – you can’t miss it! Both the verse and chorus feature a melody with a mix of long and short notes, strong and weak beats. But the pre-chorus is just straight-ahead, even beats. Even the drummer plays only on the strong beats (Beats 1 and 3). The forward momentum of the song stops just long enough to grab attention before launching into the chorus.
For more on contrast, see “Hits” Shortcut #80 and #81. And here’s an online tip on using contrast.
MELODY & CHORDS
CHORDS: In this song, chords are used to add contrast even though the chords themselves are basically the same in verse, pre-chorus, and chorus. This is accomplished by changing chords twice as fast in the chorus as in the verse, picking up the energy and adding urgency to the chorus section.
MELODY PATTERNS: The verse is built on a very clear melody pattern: Two ‘busy’ lines with a lot of notes and words, followed by two smoother, simpler, repeated phrases. Like this:
When life leaves you high and dry
I’ll be at your door tonight
If you need help,
If you need help.
Then that pattern is repeated. This is followed by another verse that drives the pattern home twice more. Later on, in the verse that follows the first chorus, the same exact pattern is repeated again. By then the verse is easy for listeners to recognize. Can’t miss it!
The chorus does something I didn’t notice at first… It flips the verse pattern. It starts with a smooth, repeated phrase followed by two busy, rhyming lines.
For you, for you.
Baby, I’m not moving on
I’ll love you long after you’re gone
A clear, easy-to-hear melody pattern is a big part of contemporary hit songs. It makes today’s syncopated melodies easy to remember (if not always easy to sing along with). Do your listeners a favor and give them a solid melodic pattern in each section. (To find out more about melody patterns read “Hits” Shortcut #88.)
Do It Now! Listen to three or four hit songs in a genre you want to write in and notice the melody patterns of short vs. long phrases, smooth vs. choppy ones. Write a melody and lyric for a song section (either a verse or chorus) that uses a clear, repeated melodic pattern.
This lyric is FOCUSED! Boy, is it focused. From the very first line, it keeps hammering home the same point. The opening verse makes a clear statement: “I’ll be there for you no matter what.” Then the rest of the lyric tells us what that “what” might be:
When enemies are at your door…
Your hope dangling by a string…
When you fall like a statue…
If your well is empty…
This lyric doesn’t develop a story or tell us much about why the singer feels the way he does. Instead, it relies on images that become more and more surprising while building in intensity and risk.
RHYMING: This is a very tight rhyme scheme. The double lines ending in rhymes are short and the rhymes comes at you fast. This can be deadly if the rhymes are familiar and predictable. And if the natural order of the words is twisted to accommodate a rhyme, the singer can suddenly lose credibility .
But these songwriters have used some clever, rhyming tricks to avoid that problem – ones that your can use, too:
=> “Near” rhymes (lights/bribe, empty/prevent me)
=> Unexpected associations (door/war, statue/catch you)
=> Perfect rhymes that rhyme a weak syllable (string/sufferING)
Relying on rhymes to provide a fresh edge to your song is a great idea but it’s definitely challenging. Think about using some of these tricks to give yourself more choices and keep a tight rhyme scheme sounding emotionally authentic.
Do It Now! Spend some time working on a lyric with a tight rhyme scheme. You could use a song of your own, write a new song, or write a new verse for the Phillip Phillips song. Try to avoid familiar rhymes and still keep a conversational, fun tone. Identify what it is you want to say, then use the three techniques I listed above to write rhyming lines that express it. Don’t let a rhyme pull you in a new direction and write something just for the rhyme! Stick to your theme.
The production starts out small – just acoustic guitar – but it builds to a huge, anthemic chorus that includes horn and string sections!
The drums are the thing to notice here. The swinging, syncopated drum performance has a ton of personality and gives the track its contemporary feel. The style and sound owe a lot to the syncopated parade rhythms used by today’s marching bands. Doubling the drums and using a loose tom sound gives it even more of that parade feel. Where’s the football stadium and tail-gate party?!! It’s a high-energy feel borrowed from a use that we associate with good times but used here to add that feel to a love song. Very smart producing!
Notice that the bridge lyric picks up on the drum idea by insisting that love is “like a drum, baby, don’t stop beating” and the tag at the end of the song is just vocal and drums. It gives the arrangement a very organic feel.
If you write a song like this, you could create the excitement and anthemic feel without the strings and horns. (In fact, I think the strings “pretty it up” too much.) Use electric guitar to play a horn part and add beef to the track. You will have to use a live drummer for a track like this. Try one of the online session drummers or www.DrumsForYou.com. Be sure to give the drummer a reference track with a feel and sound similar to what you want.
Do It Now!
Learn to play and sing this song to get the feel for the rhythmic contrast in the melody and the contemporary Folk/Rock style. Sing along with the recording until you feel comfortable. Then write a Folk/Rock song of your own… I know you’re dying to!:-)
by Robin Frederick