Question: How do you follow up a platinum, career-launching single like “All About That Bass”? Answer: With two more relentlessly catchy, upbeat songs that build on a similar radio-friendly, retro-blend sound.
Which is exactly what Meghan Trainor did. But after the third single – as much fluffy fun as it was – listeners were bound to wonder if things weren’t starting to sound a little same-y. Time for something new. Trainor hit the sweet spot with a ballad/duet with John Legend that slides perfectly into Trainor’s throwback sound while revealing more emotional depth.
TECHNIQUES TO HEAR AND TRY: • Blend vintage and contemporary song elements. • Maintain lyric focus. • Make your melody memorable by using patterns.
Recorded by Megan Trainor and John Legend Writers: Meghan Trainor, Justin Weaver, Caitlyn Smith
GENRE/STYLE(What is a genre?)
This is a great example of a retro-blend song that drops neatly into today’s Adult Contemporary/Pop genre. Producer Chris Gelbuda calls the overall album style “Doo-Wop/Pop Throwback” and references “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King as an influence on this particular song. I’m reminded of classic Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell duets like “Your Precious Love” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.” From the moment John Legend enters on Verse 2, there are references this classic duet sound.
Underlying all this rich, vintage Soul is a poetically modern lyric, an unusual lyric theme, a loop-style rhythm track, and a punchy, dry mix. All of which give this song a contemporary edge. Continue reading →
Sometimes a single, unlikely word can spark a hit. Lorde describes seeing the word “Royals” written on the uniform of a Kansas City Royals baseball player. It triggered a response – not to the baseball team, but to the word itself. ”Royals” is a word that’s loaded with associations – wealth, luxury, power, and privilege. It evokes stories of legendary kings and queens, as well as today’s celebrities. And it stirs up interest in just about everyone, which makes it a perfect word on which to build a song. Let’s take a look at Lorde’s mega-hit and find out how to create a hit song from a single word. Here’s the official video on YouTube.
“Royals” recorded by Lorde Writers: Ella Yelich-O’Connor (Lorde), Joel Little You can 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: Singer-Songwriter (What is a genre?)
This song has sold triple Platinum and made it to #1 on Pop charts around the world. It doesn’t sound like most Pop hits, though. Definitely not Katy Perry or Kelly Clarkson. Instead it blends a singer-songwriter style lyric and melody with a groove and tempo that owe a lot to Hip Hop, giving the song a cool Urban edge.
When blending genres like this, be sure you’re familiar with both of the styles you’re working in. Your song and/or production need to draw on authentic elements from each source rather than being an accidental mish-mash that may or may not really capture a genre. Listen to your favorite artists in each style as you write. Draw on those elements that appeal to you, or study an artist who is already blending those styles. Continue reading →
I really love the feel, the energy, and the emotion of this song. I guess a lot of other people do, too, because it’s a platinum-selling single that’s been at the top of both the Top 40 charts and the Country charts. It’s also a master class in how to express an abstract emotion in a concrete way that makes listeners, well… smile!
“Smile” recorded by Uncle Kracker
Writers: Jeremy Bose, Blair Daly, J Harding, Matthew Shafer
Lyrics are available on the Internet.
Shortcut # refers to my book “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting.”
This song was a bit of a sleeper when it was first released in 2009 as an Adult Contemporary single, but came back with a roar in 2010 when it went to the top of the Country charts. It crossed over from Country and went back up the AC charts and this time it made it into the top ten! Just goes to show: You can’t keep a good song down!
Here’s yet another excellent example of the VERSE / CHORUS / VERSE / CHORUS / BRIDGE / CHORUS hit song structure – the basic, contemporary structure that drives so many of today’s hit singles. This song has a catchy, emotionally uplifting chorus, a peak moment in the bridge, and verses that lay out the situation.
Don’t shy away from this common structure in songs of your own because you’re worried that you’ll end up sounding like everyone else. There are a million ways to make it your own. In this song, Verse 2 is shorter than Verse 1, cutting out the repeated melody at the beginning of the verse. The second chorus leads right into a fun, Beatles-style bridge with no pauses at all. Continue reading →
This hit song by Matt Nathanson has had over a million and a half downloads at iTunes. Nathanson’s songs are regularly featured in TV shows like One Tree Hill, The Vampire Diaries, and NCIS. He writes songs that come from the heart and connect with listeners by being both totally believable and completely entertaining.
Recorded by Matt Nathanson
Writers: Matt Nathanson, Mark Weinberg
Lyrics are available on the internet.
Shortcut # refers to my book “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting.”
One of the things that attracted me right away to this song is the hip-swaying, easy-going rhythmic groove. There’s a sensual feel to this groove that underscores the intimate physicality of the lyric. If you play guitar, try playing along with this song and learn the strum he’s using. You can hear it clearly at the top of the song. If you play keyboards, look through a library of rhythm loops for one that has a similar feel and try playing the chords along with the loop. This type of groove (based on 16th notes with a laid-back, swinging feel) is very current in both the Pop and Country genres (Shortcut #113). Try writing a song to a groove like this. Once you get comfortable with it, you’ll start to notice how this groove affects the melody you write. More on that in a minute. Continue reading →