8 Secrets to Better Songwriting That You Must Know

8 Secrets to Better Songwriting That You Must Know

Last week, we talked about how songwriting is a free-flowing motion that can ignite all your senses. The right combination of music and lyrics can make your skin tingle all over, leave you wide-eyed; be gasping for air, leave a bittersweet taste in your mouth or even drown out the rest of the world. In short, a great song is one helluva party for your senses! 8-secrets-1

Now, we keep saying that there are no ironclad rules in songwriting. This still holds true, for as long as you understand and believe that songwriting is not songwriting if it’s not a form of expression – for yourself, or for others. It is a way to channel  thoughts, feelings, and aspirations.

Writing a song can convey the absolute truths, or even the absolute lies, from the depths of the heart. Writing a song can be the result of inspiration or the makings of one.  It all boils down to what the song expresses; if it doesn’t express anything, then it makes no sense and means nothing to your listeners’ senses, right? And if you think about it, songwriting is kind of a cycle of the senses. 

Take Eric Church, an American country music singer and songwriter. He said that the key to songwriting is just to be able to observe, and put yourself in situations to be around people, and let those ideas come to you. This is essentially putting your senses to work, observing and absorbing what is around you, allowing for everything and anything in life and in existence to be captured in a song – songs that, in turn, make your listeners’ senses come alive. And this is what you need to make it happen…

What is the Secret to Better Songwriting then?

Must you have a creative bone in your body to be able to write songs? You’d be surprised, but being creative is just a by-product of being original. Sure, some writers get by with “recycling” (or, if you prefer, “upcycling”) lyrics and melodies, but never really get to stamp their identity on any of their work. You do not want to be one of them. By all means, you can certainly draw inspiration from the big-timers, but when it gets down to the wire, your identity should still shine through.

I am confident that you are already aware that you have something original to offer, otherwise, you wouldn’t be in this industry. I’m sure that you have written songs that you are proud to call yours. The goal is to write more of those songs, put more of you on the table, less the hit or miss approach. Hence, the relevance and importance of knowing the basic principles of the songwriting process.

The Principles of Songwriting

Let us refresh our memories on the principles that I have already shared in my previous post:

  • The first guiding principle states that how you arrange the song depends on the message you want your listeners to hear. You do not have to follow the usual Verse-Chorus, Verse-Chorus, Bridge, Verse-Chorus arrangement. Be anything but generic.
  • The second guiding principle is building the energy throughout the song. The energy at the end should surpass the song’s energy at the beginning. Key transitions work best on the bridge section to the final chorus where you can transpose the chords from the original key to the desired key. Take a look at Beyonce’s Love on Top. The chorus goes through three key changes as she demonstrates her vocal power. This is the section where the energy builds up until it climaxes at the very end and you find your breath taken away just by listening.
  • The third guiding principle is to allow for contrast – occasional yet strategically positioned dips along the way, which make the song unpredictable and exciting.

So far, so good. These guiding principles give the song context, meaning, and life. Right about now, you are probably analyzing the songs you’ve written in the past, or making a mental note to apply these principles to your next songs. You’re definitely on the right track. Let’s make sure to keep you on that track with a few more principles I learned from that songwriting course I told you about.

More, More, and More

  • Keep the chord pattern simple – songs nowadays do not require too many chords.  Justin Bieber’s song Sorry runs on the chord pattern F-Am-G and a pattern change in the chorus where Dm is added after the chord pattern, then shifted to F-G on the chorus’ last line. Sam Smith’s Stay With Me is another song with a simple pattern, the chords are  Am – F – C all throughout. Savage Garden’s Truly, Madly, Deeply carries the chords C – G – F – G from start to finish.
  • Maintain the balance between chord changes and patterns. Contrast is only effective when positioned correctly; you can’t add a chord somewhere just because you can. Chord changes should somehow be predictable, not shockingly out of place. You want a coherent song, not senseless mashups (Mind you, there are many awesome mashups out there that go so naturally together, you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself).
  • The lyrics, melody, and the chords should blend in harmony. Your chords cannot be in minor scale when the lyrics of the song denote happiness or positivity. As you probably already know, minor chords are sad tones. If the lyrics in a particular section of the song require impact, then the melody that you create for that section must be in tune with the emotions that the words carry. Obviously, you would not appreciate listening to a song that talks about pain and yet carries a happy tune (unless it wanted to express irony. Ha!)
  • The chorus needs strong chord progressions. On harmony, the chorus carries the emotional impact, thus, needs strong chord progressions. On the other hand, verses take us to how the story unfolds, and require relatively weak chord progressions.  For example, the progression C – G – F can sound great on verses, whereas the chorus may sound epic if you add an Am chord for a C – G – Am – F progression. This progression is widely used by a lot of songwriters, artists, and musicians.
  • Keep the song’s hook memorable. It should be short, catchy, and appeal to your listeners. Your listener needs something to remember as soon as your song is played. One good example of a successful hook is Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. The song resonates the “uh oh oh ohs” in anyone’s ears. First time I heard it, the “uh oh oh ohs” played in my ear for a month!

There you have it! Now that this little secret has been revealed to you, what are you waiting for? Start writing your next song using these principles and tell me about it! I’d love to hear your progress. And if you come up with a party for the senses, don’t forget to send me an invite! Haha!

For any questions or comments, please, please, please, drop me a line or two! We’re just getting started. Do watch out for the next installment in the music production series and get in the gear for Song Arrangement next week! Till then!

better songwriting

What Will Absolutely Help You Be Better in Songwriting?

What Will Absolutely Help You Be Better in Songwriting?

On my last post, we tackled the importance of the pre-production process. Today, we’ll discuss the first step of this process – which is songwriting.

I love writing songs. It is when I am happiest and most creative in the music production process. It is when my brain comes up with the most insane melodies and lyrics. I really got into it during a  songwriting course I attended some time ago; I remember myself jotting down words that rhyme and connecting them (sometimes furiously) to form a single thought. Mind you, this was before the wonders of the internet, before that magical time when you could simply google what rhymes with what. I had many strokes of genius and aha moments thereafter.

Writing The Song – Express Yourself!

Later on, I had a bandmate with whom I wrote songs for several years. We were both driven by emotions, especially the gut wrenching ones. We reveled in our knack for writing songs that demanded to be felt –Songwriting ones that tugged at the heartstrings, hard.  Our songs were so full of pain and sadness; they were almost depressing. And we wrote quite a number.

And why was that? It was because we wrote songs when we were at the height of our emotions – especially during times of heartbreaks, tears, depression, and even family issues. I trained myself to write songs in moments of weakness, hurt, and pain. Man, our songs delivered the purest of emotions. Raw and unashamed and overflowing. Unfortunately, the result of my training ended up with me not writing songs consistently. I relied too much on the overflow. When I was happy and content, I couldn’t write a single line.

You shouldn’t be solely influenced by one side of the emotional equation. If you are intent on writing songs to have an album or make a name for yourself, there should be consistency in your workflow. If your focus is to write songs as part of your business goals, you should be writing songs as an intentional habit, a daily thing.

So, when you are writing a song – express yourself; create that overflow regardless, if you are in a good or bad mood!

Songwriting is like Poetry in Motion

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Martin Nievera, a very successful singer in the Philippines, once said, “Music is poetry in motion,” as he was introducing his next performance on a tv show. As I pondered on his melodious narration, I immediately acknowledged the truth behind those words. Music, indeed, takes you somewhere, or everywhere. Just by listening to instrumentals, you can be taken to a different world. How much more if there are words to express the song’s melody? That would carry you off to somewhere unimaginable.

Poetry in Motion, in urbandictionary.com, means graceful fluidity that moves with tactful elegance, an abstract noun that is direct and completely beautiful to all 5 senses. By this definition alone, a song can definitely directly or indirectly affect, even awaken, your senses. There are songs that can hurt you emotionally, and songs that can make you hungry. Some songs bring back memories from the past, while there are those that make you lust over someone. As a matter of fact, there are songs that push and encourage you to be the best, like songs being played during workout sessions, and songs used for learning and training presentation purposes.

In the essence of graceful fluidity, if you are to study a song, you will see distinct patterns on in the song arrangement – patterns that make the song flow. These patterns take listeners to a journey, from the first line to the last verse.

So, the question is, how can patterns turn songs into a seamless blend of words and melodies, transporting us to a whole new level of experience that poke at our inner senses?

Are there rules to follow in writing songs?

The Rules of Songwriting

I’d like for you to spend time listening to different songs from every genre you know. If you examine hits from today’s music and the past years closely, you’d likely see common characteristics. Is it because songwriters follow a process in writing their songs? Probably. Do they know each other and collaborate? Maybe. Are they being mentored by the same songwriting coaches? Possibly. Do you ever wonder why there are songs that describe the exact situation you are in right now?

Songwriting is a creative and artistic process that doesn’t demand we do it confined to a set of rules. If rules govern the songwriting process, it would be as boring as hell. I am not saying following rules are dreary, but in the context of artistry, music writing would hold no interest for us.  Rules are there to be strictly followed. It can be somewhat like regulations you see posted everywhere. No sleeping on the job. Curfew hours. Strictly no entry. No parking. Do not step on the grass. Post No Bill. Lights are shut at 12 MN. These are sets of rules that once broken, have corresponding consequences.

Imagine if rules are applied in songwriting, it could be like this:

  1. First rule – The title of a song should only be 5 words. Beyond that would result in too long a title.
  2. Second rule – Never entitle a song using only 1 word.
  3. Third rule – Always use words that rhyme.
  4. Fourth rule – All songs must have a bridge or it is not a complete song.

And the list can go on and on.

So don’t fret. The universe still leans toward common sense, and there are no rules in songwriting.

Principles to Live By

Instead of rules though, the art of writing a song is more governed by a set of GUIDING PRINCIPLES.  These are ideas that influence and guide you when considering the elements that you put in your song. One good example of this is song arrangement.

Most songs have the Verse-Chorus, Verse-Chorus, Bridge, Verse-Chorus, then Coda arrangement. However, you can also have a different arrangement depending on the mood or the story of the song. You can start with the chorus first, followed by two verses, then the chorus, then another verse, then a bridge, then verse chorus, then coda. Anything goes. As long as you are able to convey the message you want your listeners to hear, then it is a complete song.

Another guiding principle in songwriting is on the song’s energy. The energy at the end of the song of should be at least equal to, or exceed the song’s energy at the beginning. This is what keeps listeners interested. A songwriter should be able to build the momentum and maintain the energy level all throughout. Occasional dips are allowed, creating contrast, which makes some important elements of the song pop out.

So it is crucial that the songwriter is aware on how to build the energy, end with a bang, and keep you breathless/entranced as you listen.

The best way to progress in your songwriting skills is to be knowledgeable of the basic principles of songwriting. As you become more familiar with the guiding principles, you become more prolific in writing your songs. Hang tight and discover the basic principles of songwriting in the next installment of this series.

So what do you think? What will make you improve your songwriting skills? Please feel free to comment away! 🙂

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