Royals – Lorde

LordeSometimes 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

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

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

Study the Hits – Songs by Adele

Songs by AdeleAdele had three back-to-back #1 hits on the AC radio charts – “Rolling In the Deep” “Someone Like You” and “Set Fire to the Rain”) Her powerful, expressive voice is a huge part of her success but her vivid, emotion-driven songs provide her with the perfect vehicle and it’s the combination that makes it happen. Adele has also been embraced by the Film & TV market, too. You can find a partial list of TV shows that have used her songs at It’s a long list!

I’m going to do something a little different in this “Study the Hits” post. I want to take a look at all three songs. They share similar lyric and melody writing techniques, yet they all sound quite different. I’m sure you’re familiar with these songs but I’ve included the videos to refer to as you read. Or… just watch and enjoy! 🙂

Set Fire to The Rain – Adele
Written by Adele and Fraser T Smith

Rolling In the Deep – Adele
Written by Adele and Paul Epworth

Someone Like You – Adele
Written by Adele and Dan Wilson

Lyrics are available on the Internet.
Shortcut numbers refer to my book “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” (“Hit”) and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” (“Film/TV”). Both are available at

GENRE (What is a genre?)
Adele’s songs appear on the Adult Contemporary (AC) and Hot Adult Contemporary (Hot AC) radio airplay charts. Her melodic writing style, emotional lyrics, and strong vocals appeal to a wide demographic, from teens to 50-somethings, which makes her perfect for the AC radio format. Although she’s considered a singer-songwriter she has co-writers on all three songs.

Each of these three songs sounds quite different, but all feature the same commercial song structure:


Adele will often start the chorus right at the one-minute mark, which is just the right spot for a radio single. That’s about how long listeners are willing to wait for it. To keep listeners with her through the verse and pre-chorus, she fills the lyric with emotional details that draw them into the situation. Continue reading