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

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