Writing With Images: John Mayer
& Sara Bareilles

Using images in your lyrics  is a quick and powerful way to connect with listeners. Let’s take a look at a couple of strong image-based song lyrics. To find them, we need look no further than today’s successful singer-songwriters. This style relies heavily on the use of images to express personal experiences and emotions.

SONG #1: “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” – John Mayer
Writer: John Mayer

Read the lyric here.

Watch on YouTube.

 

IMAGES IN THE SONG

THE TITLE IMAGE: The title of this song is an intensely powerful visual image. Who can resist picturing this couple and the destruction happening around them? Continue reading

Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran

Ed SheeranEd Sheeran is definitely paying his respects to Van Morrison here. The vocal style, the blue-eyed soul groove and melody, and the personal, honest lyrics all recall hit singles like Van’s “Into the Mystic.” But there are contemporary elements, too – an emphasis on current melody phrasing patterns and tight lyric focus that appeals to today’s listeners.

This song is a co-write with Amy Wadge, a songwriter Sheeran has worked with before. In fact, he wrote an entire EP of songs with her called Songs I Wrote With Amy.  It’s a great example of a first-rate songwriter who certainly doesn’t need a co-writer. There are many reasons to collaborate: speed, new ideas and techniques, another writer’s perspective, and more.

TECHNIQUES TO HEAR AND TRY:
– Keep your lyric focused on your theme
– Use your melody to make a  basic chord progression

 sound fresh
– Create a simple but effective instrumental arrangement

Read the lyrics here: Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran

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

Watch on YouTube

Recorded by Ed Sheeran
Writers: Ed Sheeran & Amy Wadge

GENRE/STYLE (What is a genre?)

The song’s blend of Blue-Eyed Soul and contemporary singer-songwriter propelled this song to the top of the Mainstream Top 40 charts in the U.S. and global hit status. It has the kind of positive, love-themed lyric and easy melody that suggests it’s likely to be a standard on Adult Contemporary (AC) radio for years to come. Continue reading

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

Classic – MKTO

mkto“Retro-Blend” is definitely the phrase du jour. Today’s Pop charts are sounding more and more like the music charts of long ago, from the Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks” to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” to Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven.”

Retro-influenced songs like these evoke the best of yesterday blended with today’s melody, lyric, and production techniques.

Two of the latest hits to pay their respects to the oldies are Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and MKTO’s “Classic.” If you can remember dancing to Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5, then you’ve got a big head start on this style. But the commercial magic is in the blend of old and new. Today’s listeners want it ALL. So let’s a take a look at a Pop hit that delivers the best of yesterday and today. It’s “CLASSIC”!

Recorded by MKTO
Writers: Evan Bogart, Andrew Goldstein, Emanuel Kiriakou, Lindy Robbins

Read the lyrics here.

The Shortcut numbers below refer to chapters in my books “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” (“Hit”) and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” (“Film/TV”).

GENRE
The genre is retro-blend Pop. This track is obviously paying its respects to the Jackson 5’s  “I Want You Back.” The tempo is very close and the feel of the groove is similar. There are little sections of the melody that suggest the Jackson 5 original and touches in the arrangement, especially the rhythm electric guitar.

This is a perfect example of a song you’ll find a little further down on the Pop charts. That’s why it’s important not to stop with the top five or ten songs. Keep digging for those gems – the ones that make you say “I wish I’d written that!” These are the songs you want to learn from.

STRUCTURE
The song structure is…
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS

The pre-chorus starts with the line “I want to thrill you like Michael.” The section builds anticipation and energy going into the chorus which is just what a pre-chorus should do. Continue reading

Play It Again – Luke Bryan

There are always a whole lotta party-all-night, feel-good songs on the Country music charts, especially in the summer. It’s a theme with tons of appeal for Country listeners.

The songwriting on all these hits is solid, of course, but, after a while you might start to notice a certain same-ness to the lyrics. They all seem to have pickup trucks, beer, and girls in shorts. So, wouldn’t it be cool if you could  write a hit song with this commercially appealing theme and set yourself a little apart from the crowd? Let’s take a look at a  Country hit that does exactly that.

“Play It Again,” the summer 2014 hit song recorded by Luke Bryan, has the required tailgate and girl in shorts but the song brings this girl to life in a way that’s vivid and believable. You get a real sense of both the singer’s character and the girl’s. The song plays out like a series of scenes, fun to watch and easy to get caught up in.

Take a listen to the song on YouTube. I chose a video with lyrics rather than images so you can run your own mental movie while you listen. Notice how the song paints pictures for you.

Artist: Luke Bryan
Writers: Dallas Davidson & Ashley Gorley
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”).

GENRE/STYLE

The genre is Contemporary Country. (What is a genre?)

SONG STRUCTURE
The song structure is…
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS Continue reading