I wrote an article several years back (that I just added to this blog site) called “7 Steps to writing a song you’re proud of” and I was surprised at the amount of readers who found it. In that article I talked mostly of “my” process on how to get a song from inside you out into one that you are happy of.
In this blog, I want to explain some common ideals that are present when trying to write songs to be commercially viable. Please note that these views, while fairly standard, are just my opinion and they are not written in stone. Many have bent these rules slightly and if you’re not interested in writing “radio friendly” songs, then this isn’t for you.
OK. Let’s start.
To be clear, I have a love, hate relationship with radio. Most of the really big stations are monopolized by major corporations and with payola’s and money running the show, it’s almost impossible for independent musicians to get heard. However, thanks to the internet there are now many more opportunities for your music to get out there. So, you have many chances to find fans. But in order to do so, you should understand a few things.
1). Most people are in a hurry. And in today’s world, we get things given to us immediately. So when writing a song, you should get to the Chorus as soon as possible.
2). Intro’s should never be very long. Again, people want the meat and not the salad. I usually have a 4 bar intro and for the most part I recommend not going any longer than that. Sometimes it’s even cool to start a song immediately with vocals.
3). As I mentioned, get to the Chorus soon. Sometimes doing 2 verses before the first Chorus is fine but make sure you don’t leave your fans waiting too long. Unless the Chorus is to die for then they might be willing to forgive you.
4) Usually after the 2nd Chorus a common theme is to go into a bridge (a third and unique melody that goes slightly in a different direction musically and lyrically). It’s often refreshing for a listener to hear a bridge when it’s done right. A great bridge often leads back into a final Chorus effortlessly. Often the last chord in a bridge will be the 5th chord of the root (if the song is in D then the last chord in the bridge might be an A or A7 so when the Chorus hits, the listener is unconsciously relieved with the root chord D returning and therefore more punch when the Chorus comes back).
5). I could write a lot on chords and chord changes but that’s a whole different blog. Let me say that for the most part, 3 chord songs have made artists millions of dollars but there is something special about adding more color (chords). You can often replace a major chord with its relative minor (for example turning G into Em etc). Only you and your friends who are listening will know what works best for you song. But don’t be afraid to try alternative chords underneath your melody. It might even make you find a better melody. Experiment.
6). The Golden Rule of radio? Keep your songs short. 3 to 3 1/2 minutes is usually enough to get your song across. Yes, Stairway to Heaven, American Pie, and Hotel California are classics and they’re long. But how many others do you know of? The listener and the radio equally don’t have time for songs like that. If your song is over 4 minutes I bet it’s too long for both parties.
7). Here is just one example of what a song could look like:
a) verse 1
c) verse 2
d) Chorus 2
f) short solo over chorus or verse chord progression
g) Last Chorus X 2
Sometimes you can have 2 verses before the first Chorus as I mentioned earlier.
8). Lyrics. This is tough. Why are 95% of all the songs out there written about love? Because that’s the emotion most songs bring. You can bet, everything you’re going to write about has been written about. The idea is to find a different way to say what has already been said. Find a catch saying that captivates people and work a song around that. Whether you hate country music or not, it is usually full of amazing lyrics. Have a listen to the way the songs are penned. Sometimes taking a common phrase and twisting it is popular (For example, instead of “Better luck next time”, you could say “Better luck next guy”). ….You get the idea.
So again, let me clarify that I’m just sharing my opinion. Some of you might not agree with what I have to say here. That’s fine. At the end of the day, songwriting is a craft like guitar playing which requires a lot of work, a lot of hours, and a lot of heart. You might have heard industry professionals say that until you’ve reached over 10,000 hours of practice in your craft, you’re not ready. Granted some are just born good. Most of us though, work at it. Enjoy it though because it’s such a wonderful thing to do.
If you want, click on this link and download 20 of my songs for free. (3 of these songs are in consideration for major motion pictures, another won best song of the month on ABC radio, and many have received radio play). If you don’t mind me saying so – my latest release “THESE DAYS” has received a lot of praise from fans and critics alike. Yes, I’m still trying to write a song that some 20 year old famous singer will buy but until then I’ll enjoy the process because I love it so.
I hope you write a song that you are really proud of. Better yet, one that makes it on the radio.