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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How to Write Really Great Songs...by DeDe

Okay, now that I have your attention, my name is DeDe, and I'm a singer songwriter from Texas.  However, (as you may have guessed!) I 'm certainly NOT going to be able to tell you how to write great songs in one blog, no matter how experienced a songwriter I am!  However, I can give you some basics, so here they are:

First of all, you have to write songs that other people can relate to, and that will move people. They also should be about things you've experienced yourself.  For example, real life experiences like:  love, breaking up, having fun, friendship, a certain relationship, learning lessons, etc.  You should be carrying and jotting down ideas daily in a notepad, notebook PC, or phone for this very purpose.  For example, I went to a class on relationships and they said that love is really about giving.  So I jotted down "It's All About Giving" as a potential song title/idea.  Here are 5 questions to ask yourself:  Do people or can people relate to this song idea/title?  Do people want to hear about this song idea/title?  Can I write enough interesting things about this song idea to make it into a complete song?  Am I able to use this song idea/title to tell a story?  Will it illicit emotions in the listener?  If you answered "YES" to all the above, congratulations, you have the start of a great song!

For example, "I lost my Jimmy Choo shoe, and now I'm hoppin' mad"-Get it? Hoppin!...Well.  Sadly, that's not really an interesting story to most people, sorry!  We just don't care about your shoe, (even if it was really gorgeous and/or overpriced)! You also just can't write that much about an inanimate object, I'm sorry to say, unless it's like the moon or something really poetic. So stick to emotions and experiences that you can tell a great story about.  It is okay to talk about the girl or guy you lost- or even your mother or father...but again, keep it interesting and relatable as to why you are talking about something like that.  And please, please DON'T be depressing! (a BIG pitfall of teen songwriters in angst!)  Also try to find unique ways of saying things and avoid cliches like: "she was like the sun"or "he was the love of my life", etc.  Saying "she had a smile that could outshine the sun", or "I belonged to him, from the moment our eyes met" is much more interesting for example...(These are some actual examples from some of my songs, so please don't steal my stuff!)

Also, you have to have a story that builds on itself. You can't write one line about that great girl you lost last year, and the next line about what you love about your new job.  It has to make sense, and also needs to tell the listener a story that makes them want to stick around to hear what happened next! Also, keep it as simple as possible (stick to one short story that you can tell in 1 song!).  A bad topic for a song story idea would be World War II or something, it's just too broad!  And I have a favor to ask: please also use words that rhyme- whatever scheme you use.  I like them to rhyme, most of the time- at least every other line (okay so that was an example of a rhyme!), but also so true.  Your song should rhyme, and tell a story, stay simple, and what else?  It should also be in matching meter.

Besides not telling a story at all, (or maybe a boring and not real cohesive story) with their songs, this is where a lot of new songwriters totally jump ship- thereby sending their songs permanently to a deep salty ocean grave.  Meter is something you need to use, and if you don't know what it is, you have to learn it correctly and apply it, or frankly, your songs will stink. All it requires is the discipline to put the same number of syllables in line 1 that you have in line 2, or line 3, or whatever your meter is.  For example: "She sells sea shells by the sea shore" has 8 syllables.  So your next line would have 8 syllables (or you can do every other line with 8 and the other 2 lines with another meter scheme, like 9 which I used below for example):

She sells sea shells by the sea shore (8 syllable meter)
Is she a saint or is she a bore?  (9 syllable meter) And wasn't I nice to use the word "bore"?! :)
I've only seen her once before  (8 syllable meter)
But I sure wish she'd knock on my door.  (9 syllable meter)

It can be whatever meter length you have in mind, but all the verses and lines, should at least "match", and not be random in length.  Plus as an experienced songwriter, a shorter meter is less complex and easier to use, and usually sounds better.

Lastly, song structure is another important feature of songwriting. You should have the same (or very similar) meter between all of your verses, and also for each chorus that comes around (the chorus can be in a different meter from the verses, but all chorus's should probably be the same!)  Likewise, you should also have the same (or very similar) melody too each time a verse (or chorus) rolls around, otherwise you risk losing the listener.  This is because with music it's all about the repetition. Our minds like repetition and are drawn towards it -think "It's a Small World After All"...I rest my case. However, as a general rule, the chorus should also have a different melody from the verses; this is just good songwriting and creates some variety for the listener. The typical structure of songs has changed a lot during the years, but today there's one structure (and a few variations of this structure) that like 90% of all pop & country songs you hear on the radio use:
Intro
Verse 1
Chorus
Verse 2
Chorus
Verse 3
Bridge
Chorus
(Tag) Optional

There are variations of course, like omitting the first chorus and doing verses 1 and 2 in a row, but this is the basic way to write today's popular music.  There also needs to be a hook which is at home in and anchors the chorus. The average time the hook repeats should be around 5-7 times minimum throughout the song. For example, if my hook is: "I'm so glad he's mine", I'd repeat this hook 7 times or more throughout the song, mainly in the chorus, and at the end of each chorus to get listeners "hooked" on what I'm trying to say. You can also repeat the hook in the tag at the very end:
Chorus: He's got a smile like a ray of sun
Reminds me of when we'd just begun
And I'm so glad he's mine.  (Hook)
His sparkling eyes so full of sunshine
His heart of gold and his skin so fine
And I'm so glad he's mine, (Hook)
Yeah, I'm so glad he's mine. (Tag/Hook)

So, in review: first you need a good story, keep it simple, avoid cliches, use a consistent rhyme scheme and meter scheme, use proper song structure with a verse, chorus and bridge, and a be sure you have a great "hook" in your chorus.  Now that you have all the basics, let's get out there and write some really great new songs, okay??  And, please feel free to send me a sample of your writing in the "comments" below, and I'll help you with any areas that may need attention, okay?

Also, I would appreciate it if you would Subscribe /go to to my Music Stuff Blog, scroll down, and hit the "Join this Site" button on the lower left hand side of the page so you can get updates, okay?
Take care and all the best music to you!
DeDe :)
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