Songwriting: Faster & Better

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could keep your songwriting moving forward all the time, if you could start new songs and finish old ones, if not at lightning speed at least at a comfortable pace? You’d have more songs to pitch and maybe songwriting would be more exciting and fun to do. You bet it would.

We all want to be more creative, have more songs in our catalog, and feel satisfied that we’re getting things accomplished. It’s just that reality doesn’t always work out that way. More often than not…

  • We don’t have any good ideas for new songs.
  • We’re not sure what kinds of songs we should be writing and for what market.
  • We get stuck working on one song that’s in trouble.
  • We’re scared our songs aren’t good enough so we don’t finish them.

We all know that the quality has to be there, but I bet you could write more songs and keep the quality at the level you want or even improve it. Here’s a whole bunch of ideas for writing FASTER and BETTER. Continue reading

July/August 2015 Songwriting Newsletter is out!

Songwriting TipsMy July/August newsletter is fresh off the cyber-press. I’ve got a songwriting tip for you that’s practically a whole eBook. I got so excited about it that I just couldn’t stop writing.

Song Tip: “Write a Song in Four Drafts” – In this article I’ll walk you through a songwriting process that will take you from initial melody or lyric idea to completed song. You’ll be doing it in four drafts, each one laid out for you step by step. In each draft, you’ll blend your inspiration with rewriting techniques that add plenty of listener appeal. It’s  not the only way to write a song, but it sure works. Plus, you can apply these ideas to any songwriting process in any genre.

James BayStudy the Hits“Hold Back the River” recorded by James Bay. This gorgeous Folk/Rock hit uses some simple songwriting techniques to work its magic. Imagery in the title and octaves in the melody create a powerful blend of emotion and energy. You can apply these ideas in many of your own songs. I’ll show you how.

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Beautiful Day – Joshua Radin

Joshua RadinI usually feature a hit song from the music charts in this section, but this time out I want to take a look at an artist who has built an extremely successful career on Film & TV placements, Joshua Radin. More than 40 of Radin’s songs have appeared in top TV series, including Bones, Parenthood, Grey’s Anatomy, Beauty and the Beast, Hart of Dixie, 90210, and the list goes on. You won’t find his songs on the mainstream music charts, nevertheless, he has sold over 2.5 million singles and 700,000 albums.

Radin’s songs are atmospheric, mood-based, and emotionally evocative rather than attention grabbing radio hits. They tend to feature refrains instead of big, over-the-top choruses, as radio singles do. The production is simple but carefully thought out, with chiseled performances that lock into a groove.

Each song is a gem filled with insight, fresh twists, and beautiful payoff lines that are perfect for film and TV uses. If you’re a singer-songwriter looking at the Film & TV market, here’s an artist who’s worth studying.

TECHNIQUES TO HEAR AND TRY:
Turn a simple idea into a compelling lyric.
Add interest to a melody with unpredictable phrasing.
Create an arrangement that supports your lyric concept.

Read the lyrics here: Beautiful Day – Joshua Radin

Buy it now or listen on your preferred music site (Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, etc.) or watch on YouTube

Recorded by Joshua Radin
Writers: Joshua Radin & Kenneth A Pattengale

GENRE/STYLE  (What is a genre?)
The song’s genre is Contemporary Folk/Rock. It fits right in with songs by Passenger, Phillip Phillips, Ed Sheeran, American Authors, and Iron & Wine. “Beautiful Day” has been featured in three primetime TV series and a Subaru commercial. Radin recently released a second version of this song featuring Sheryl Crow. You can reference either one since they’re essentially the same. I like his solo version better.

In many of his songs, Radin pays his respects to the Singer-Songwriters of the 1960s. The relaxed, conversational vocal style and harmonies, image-filled lyric language, and strummed acoustic guitar track are reminiscent of Folk Singer-Songwriters like Simon and Garfunkel. Yet Radin’s songs fit right into today’s Indie Folk renaissance. If you’re a fan of the ’60s Folk scene but want to pitch your songs to current projects, listen to Joshua Radin for techniques that will help you update your sound without losing heart and soul. Continue reading

Grenade – Bruno Mars

Here’s a Pop/R&B gem with an irresistibly hummable melody and a raw, emotionally over-the-top lyric. It’s also a very interesting blend of styles: a contemporary, driving melody with classic R&B elements in the chorus.

Recorded by Bruno Mars
Writers: Wyatt / Levine / Lawrence / Mars / Kelly / Brown
Lyrics are available on the Internet.
Shortcut # refers to my book “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” available at Amazon.com.

GENRE – R&B/Pop (What is a genre?)
The song is a great blend of retro and modern styles. The Motown influence is unmistakable in the chord progression, melody, and and production. Take a listen to the refrain of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” (“…there’s some sad things known to man…”) to hear the warm, rising chords and melodic style used at the end of Bruno Mars’s chorus. But the unusual transitions between sections, the addition of a pre-chorus, and a complex, full-blown chorus clearly give the song a modern sound. Continue reading

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) – Kelly Clarkson

This is just the kind of song that every American Idol finalist and semi-finalist hungers for – and so do record labels and publishers. The melody has a huge range, which works well for singers with big voices, and there’s plenty of passion and excitement in the lyrics. If you’re interested in today’s melodic Pop/Rock genre, this is a song that’s worth studying. It offers a master class in contemporary melody and lyric craft.


Read the lyric here.
The Shortcut numbers refer to specific chapters in my books “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” (“Hit”) and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” (“Film/TV”).

Recorded by Kelly Clarkson
Writers: Jörgen Elofsson, Ali Tamposi, David Gamson, Greg Kurstin.

GENRE: Pop/Rock and Pop/Dance
This is a great Pop/Rock song that went to #1 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary (AC) chart. It also made it into the top ten on the Hot 100, Pop, and Dance Club charts. It has enough pumping beat to work in the Dance Clubs and enough lyric depth and craft to make it stands alone as a Pop/Rock song. It’s a great combination.

SONG STRUCTURE:
At 3:42, the song is on the long side, but once it gets rolling, there’s no stopping it! The basic song structure is:

VERSE / FULL PRE-CHORUS /  CHORUS
VERSE / HALF PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS / REPEAT 2nd HALF OF CHORUS

The verses in this song are short, just four lines. This is a good thing because the chorus (beginning with the line “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”) is quite long. It’s double the length we would expect, repeating the phrase “What doesn’t kill you…” four times in each chorus – that’s fourteen times before the song is over! Continue reading