Let Her Go – Passenger

Until recently you would only have heard a thoughtful, acoustic-based folk song like this on college radio stations or eclectic NPR shows. Certainly not among Billboard’s Top 10 Pop hits. But there it is, right there with Katy Perry, One Direction, and Pitbull. Wha? If you haven’t heard this song on the radio then you’ve probably heard it on a national TV commercial or featured in series like “Elementary” or “The Vampire Diaries.”

Take a look at the official video on YouTube and then let’s dive deeper into this song to see what makes it work so well and how you can use some of these techniques in your own songs.

Official video on YouTube.

Read the lyric here.
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: Folk / Singer-Songwriter  (What is a genre?)
The lyric, melody, and structure of this song are all reminiscent of the folk genre, with a nod to both authentic English ballads and the folk songs of the 1960s. If you still love to sing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” then this song is for you! There’s even a subtle group sing-along on the chorus, almost as if everyone is gathered round the ol’ campfire.

But even though the retro underpinnings are clearly there, the melody has interesting twists that give it a modern edge. If you’ve got a few old fashioned folk songs tucked away (and I know some of you do) consider giving them a facelift with these tricks. Continue reading

If I Were a Boy – Beyoncé

BeyonceThis beautiful hit ballad has a compelling title and a simple but very effective melody trick you’ll definitely want to try in a song of your own.

While record labels tend to shy away from ballads when it comes to releasing and marketing the big lead single from an album, in this case the label released “If I Were a Boy” as a co-lead single right along with the smash R&B/Pop Dance track “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” Both songs climbed to the Top 5 on the Pop charts and have continued to be listener favorites.

So, how does a slow, thoughtful ballad compete with one of those monster uptempo dance tracks? Watch the song video then read on to find out.


Writers: Toby Gad / Britney Carlson (BC Jean)
Recorded by Beyoncé

Shortcut numbers refer to my book “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting.”

GENRE/STYLE What is a genre?
This is a power ballad in the Pop/R&B style. Power ballads generally start out with an intimate, personal sound and build to a big, anthemic ending. The tempo can range from slow to medium but should never feel rushed. The BPM (Beats per Minute) is usually – though not always – 100 or below. Continue reading

You Belong With Me – Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift says she got the inspiration for this song when she overheard a male friend arguing with his girlfriend over the phone. You’ll see how this idea even ended up in the video. :-) Just goes to show that songwriting themes are all around you. Keep your ears open!

I promise you’ll learn new songwriting techniques from this huge Country/Pop hit that you’ll be putting to use in your own songs for months and years to come. The lyric details and melodic twists are exciting, fun, and an essential part of today’s hit songs in all genres.


Recorded by Taylor Swift
Writers: Liz Rose & Taylor Swift
Lyrics are available online.
The “Shortcut” numbers refer to specific chapters in my book Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting.

GENRE (What is a genre?)
This song is a perfect example of the Pop/Country Crossover style that works for both  Country and AC (Adult Contemporary) radio. It reached the #1 spot on both music charts. Why? Well, it has a  melody that features the fun twists you would currently hear in a chart-topping Pop song by an artist like Kelly Clarkson and all the lyric detail you would hear in a Country hit. Read the Melody and Lyric sections below to find out how to use these tools in songs of your own. Continue reading

Almost Lover – A Fine Frenzy

This song by A Fine Frenzy is a big favorite among fans of the youthful, star-crossed romantic singer-songwriter style. It’s a perfectly cut gem of a song with a personal, yet accessible lyric and a melody that gets stuck in your head.  It’s worth studying to learn how to write very personal lyrics that connect with listeners and create melodies that keep a slow-moving ballad compelling.

Moody, introspective songs like this one work well for film & TV. Songs by A Fine Frenzy have been featured in CSI:NY, Parenthood, House, The Vampire Diaries, Army Wives, and many, many more.

Here’s the official video on YouTube.

Recorded by A Fine Frenzy
Writer: Alison Sudol aka A Fine Frenzy
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”).

GENRE/STYLELearn more about Genres.
This solo Singer-songwriter style has become so widespread, it’s often thought of as a genre of its own. This intimate song style features the vocalist front and center with fairly minimal backup instrumentation. The lyrics are personally revealing and emotional. Listeners feel that the singer is speaking honestly about his or her life experiences. 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