Hit Songwriting: “The Other” by Lauv

LauvAlthough I usually feature songs at the top of the mainstream music charts in this section, today I want to look at “The Other” by Lauv, an artist who took a different path to success and whose work and career provide plenty of inspiration for independent artists and songwriters.

Lauv’s self-produced singles “The Other” and “I Like Me Better” have collectively had over 450 million listens on Spotify and launched a sold-out tour. Yet he has never had a Billboard chart hit as an artist. (Although after his solo records went viral, he co-wrote charting songs for Charli XCX and Cheat Codes w/ Demi Lovato.)

Produced by Lauv and co-written with Michael Matosic, “The Other,” debuted on a friend’s music blog (Oblivious Pop) and was picked up by other bloggers, spreading virally through blog aggregator Hype Machine. It just goes to prove that listeners WILL spread the word when they find good music.

“THE OTHER” – LAUV (Pop)

Writers:  Ari Staprans Leff (Lauv), Michael Matosic

TECHNIQUES TO HEAR AND TRY:

  • Flesh out a basic verse-chorus structure.
  • Build your lyric around a peak moment.
  • Keep your listeners involved with images and actions.
  • Create contrast in your melody with octaves and beat emphasis.

Read the lyric here.

Watch on YouTube.

GENRE / STYLE (What is a genre? Watch the genre video.)

“The Other” is in the Pop/Singer-Songwriter genre, but a heavy R&B influence, creates a contemporary, fresh, soul-infused sound that’s very appealing to listeners and works well for Film & TV.

R&B has left its mark on many of today’s Pop singer-songwriters, such as The Chainsmokers, John Legend, Hozier, The Weeknd, and Taylor Swift’s 2017 release “reputation.” This appears to be a blend that will stick around for awhile.

SONG STRUCTURE

This song builds on the basic Verse/Chorus structure, adding enough variety to make it interesting while giving listeners a familiar, solid foundation.

VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS / POST-CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS / POST-CHORUS / REPEAT HOOK

INTRO: The intro is short, almost non-existent. Only 4 seconds of a chord before the singer starts the first verse. Listeners like to get to the vocal right away.

VERSE 1 and 2: The verses have a common four-line pattern. They’re  conversational and easy on the ear.

PRE-CHORUS: The first pre-chorus is a single line divided into two short phrases.

I keep waiting like
You might change my mind

The second pre-chorus is lengthened by one extra phrase (“Give me one more night.”) Since the pre-chorus phrases are short, adding one line creates some variety without adding too much length. If you have a short pre-chorus like this, it might be an idea worth trying.

CHORUS: The chorus begins with the line “Who wrote the book on goodbye?” summing up the heart of the lyric and the singer’s dilemma: How do you end a relationship?

The chorus and verse are very similar: four lines each with phrases of about the same length over the same chords. This could make the song monotonous, lacking in dynamic changes. See the MELODY section below for tips on how the writers solved this problem.

POST-CHORUS (1:42): While the end of Chorus 1 keeps the momentum going by moving right into Verse 2, the next chorus ends with a post-chorus section.

The post-chorus repeats the line “No one knows” as if in answer to the opening line of the chorus: “Who wrote the book on love?” A nice trick to try in a song of your own. Ask a question and answer it.

BRIDGE (1:52): The bridge functions just as a good bridge should. It provides a musical release from the verse and chorus, and gives the listener a revealing look into the singer’s thoughts: “I’m caught in between / what I wish and what I know.” The bridge is often the most honest moment in the song, as it is here.

  • Songwriting techniques to try…

Listen to the song or watch the video and notice the song structure. Print out the lyrics and read them as you listen. Mark the song sections on the lyric page.

LYRICS

USE IMAGES & ACTIONS TO GET LISTENERS INVOLVED: In this lyric, the singer actually brings listeners into the shower with him! Here’s Verse 1:

Like a spotlight, the water hits me
Ran it extra cold to shake the words from my mouth
Though I know that no one’s listening
I nervously rehearse for when you’re around

Not only do we know what the singer is doing, these lines are filled with physical sensations (“water hits me,” “extra cold”), images we can see (“like a spotlight”), and actions (“shake the words from my mouth” “nervously rehearse”). In the opening lines, the singer brings us into his world in a way that’s immediate and involving.

When using images and actions, be sure to give listeners enough time to picture the image, feel it, and interpret what it means. Lauv uses all four lines of the verse to paint a picture of a single moment. Try maintaining a single focus for at least two lines.

FOCUS ON A PEAK MOMENT: A peak moment is a moment of decision, realization, or action. In this lyric, the singer realizes that any decision he makes is going to be painful.

Who wrote the book on goodbye?
There’s never been a way to make this easy
When there’s nothing quite wrong but it don’t feel right
Either your head or your heart, you set the other on fire

When choosing between what the heart wants and what the head tells you is the thing you have to do, there’s no choice that doesn’t end up hurting.

KEEP IT IN THE PRESENT: Notice how this lyric gives very little history. We don’t know the details of what led up to this moment, only that the lovers “fell from the peak” and, in fact, the singer says he is “trying to forget / How I landed on this road.”

Today’s lyrics offer only as much history as the listener needs in order to understand what the singer is feeling. They may not need to know the specific reasons that led to a break up or how and when two people met. What they do need to know is what’s happening right now and how the singer feels about it.

RHYMES: Many rhymes in this song are near-rhymes, only the vowel is the same. Right away, in Verse 1, we hear “mouth” and “around.” “Hit me” and “listening” are also rhymed. It’s a fresh, unfamiliar rhyming pair that’s a little less obvious than “mouth” and “around” but with enough of a relationship to give listeners the feeling of a rhyme.

The chorus rhymes “goodbye” and “feel right” in lines 1 and 3. But doesn’t rhyme the payoff line (the last line of the chorus) which ends with the word “fire.” “Fire” is not close enough to any other line ending to legitimately work as a rhyme pair.

I’m a believer in having a strong rhyme at the end of a payoff line. Rhymes give the listener a sense of completion, as does a good payoff line. The payoff line is also the line you want listeners to remember after the song is over.  Rhymes are a good way to reinforce the listener’s memory. Letting a chorus end without a strong rhyme is risky. There are so many ways in which a rhyme can add strength in this spot. Listen to this chorus and see what you think.

  • Songwriting techniques to try…

Look for peak moments in your own life or in a TV drama, film, or book. Put yourself in the moment and feel it. What’s important about this moment? What are you feeling, thinking, deciding, or doing? Write down your ideas. Describe them in visual and physical terms like Lauv does.

Keep your lyric in the present. See if you can avoid telling the listener the specific details of what led up to this moment. Instead, focus on how you feel about it and what might happen.

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MELODY

While the lyrics of “The Other” are very much in the Pop singer-songwriter style of someone like John Mayer, the melody has a contemporary R&B sound that’s quite different from Pop.

Today’s R&B melodies tend to be emotionally cooler and more restrained than Pop, Rock, or Country. They take their cue from Jazz, keeping their shades on, swaying to the beat with relaxed confidence, no matter how emotional things get. No lung-busting, anthemic choruses with soaring leaps for this style. No, no. Now, I’m not saying you’ll never hear an R&B chorus like that, but Lauv’s melody is more the norm.

So, how does the song create that all-important contrast between verse and chorus, giving listeners the build up and release of tension they love to feel?

CHANGE THE MELODY RANGE: The melody range in the chorus is the same as the verse, staying between middle C and the E below. It’s a very limited range for any melody.

By adding a parallel vocal an octave higher on the chorus, Lauv lifts the energy and opens up the vocal range. In fact the higher octave could even be considered the lead vocal on the chorus. Now the melody range is over an octave and a half.

And by doubling and tripling both the low and high octave parts, the singer adds strength without changing the soft, relaxed sound of his voice. A great trick for maintaining your cool while adding dynamic build.

CHANGE THE PHRASE LENGTHS: The short melody phrases of the pre-chorus  set it apart from the much longer phrases of the verse and chorus. Think about changing the phrase length when trying to give more clarity to your song structure. It can sometimes be the best solution!

CHANGE THE BEAT EMPHASIS: Another way this melody adds contrast between verse and chorus is through beat emphasis.

In the verses, the melody lines begin on the weak upbeat after Beat 1. (Count “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and.” The melody lines start on the first “and.”) But in the chorus, the melody lines begin right on Beat 1, a strong beat, and the most important words tend to land on the strong beats. The verse has a more syncopated feel, emphasizing the upbeats, than the stable, anchored chorus melody.

  • Songwriting techniques to try…

Emphasizing the upbeats in one section of a melody and the downbeats in another is a subtle but very effective way of creating melodic contrast between sections, letting listeners know where they are and keeping the melody structure focused. And it isn’t limited to the R&B genre. You can hear a great example in George Strait’s Country hit “I Saw God Today,”  Colby Caillat’s Pop hit “Fallin’ For You,” or “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz.

Write a melody using any of the techniques mentioned in this section -syncopation, phrase lengths, or note range – to define your song’s structure.

CHORDS

This is basically a four-chord song with a repetitive progression in the verse and chorus, so it has to rely mostly on melody and production to create contrast between sections.

The progression in the verse and chorus is: | Emin | D | C | G |

The pre-chorus is | C | Cmaj 7|

The bridge: | D | Emin | C |

You’ll find chords & lyrics here.

  • Songwriting techniques to try…

By starting on a minor chord and playing a descending pattern in a low note range, Lauv creates a melancholy feel. Try playing this progression in a higher range while moving the chords in a circular or upward direction. What feeling does it convey now? Write a chorus or verse to this progression that expresses the new feel.

PRODUCTION

The production features an R&B flavor in the rhythm track. Thsi is mixed with an Indie Singer-Songwriter vibe captured by the dark, roomy piano sound that dominates the arrangement.

There’s nothing going on that isn’t within one of these two styles. Too many genre influences can cause an arrangement to lose focus and sound confusing to the listener. This is a great example of a sound palette that’s fresh but familiar enough that listeners are comfortable.

REPETITIVE FIGURES: The descending chord progression on the piano repeats throughout the verse, pauses during the pre-chorus, then starts up again in the chorus. The pre-chorus pause interrupts the repetition, giving the listener a break before the chorus picks up the same repetitive descending progression. When you have a repetitive figure like this, try giving it a rest in a pre-chorus or post-chorus section.

DYNAMIC BUILD: At the top of the chorus, a higher piano line lifts the energy and hand claps add dynamic build to keep the track moving forward.Both drop out at the top of Verse 2. Listen through the entire track and notice where instruments are added or subtracted to change dynamic levels.

A RHYTHM TRACK TRICK: Notice the soft mute guitar playing a high-hat part. This is a great idea for creating a fresh sound: Replace a drum part with a percussive, tuned instrument, like a mute guitar, piano note, pizzicato strings, or picked acoustic guitar.

  • Songwriting techniques to try…

This is the kind of production you can do in a home studio, just as Lauv did. For practice, try reproducing parts of this production to figure out how to do it yourself. How is the rhythmic feel being created? What kind of piano sound is being used? Then play with those techniques until you make them your own.

EXTRA READING: To find out more about the songwriting techniques used in these examples read the following…

In Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting:
Shortcut 40 – Use Images, Action Words, and Phrases in Your Title
Shortcut 90 – Mix It Up With Long and Short Phrases
Shortcut 91 – Start Your Phrases on a Variety of Beats

In Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV
Shortcut 51 – Tabloid Technique #1: Focus on a Peak Moment
Shortcut 73 – Add Dynamic Energy to Your Arrangement