Are You a Dreamer or a Hallucinator?

What are you doing in your professional aspirations to turn you from a thinker to a doer?

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Songwriter dreamerI don’t deal a lot with the business end of songwriting. Not on this blog, and not much in real life. That’s because I’m more invested in actual musical composition. I’m interested in what makes music sound good, and what can be done to make it sound better.

There are others whose focus is on the business end of the industry. These are people who know what it takes to package and sell a product, who know how to identify and then target an audience.

If your intention is to become a better songwriter so that you can make a successful career out of it, you’re going to need to learn how to do both, at least at first. The music industry is brutally unforgiving of anyone who is a thinker but not a doer.

The music industry is also brutally unforgiving of people who hallucinate instead of dream.

A hallucinator is someone who sees or otherwise experiences something not real, but believes it is real. In the music industry, the term hallucinator is most relevant when applied to singer-songwriters who believe they are on track to building a successful career, but are actually doing none of the things that would make that a reality.

They are thinkers, not doers.

Thinking is risk-free. Thinking simply requires imagination. And it’s just as easy to imagine impossible things as it is to imagine possible ones.

Thinking requires nothing of you. It’s every bit as easy to imagine success as it is to imagine failure.

Dreaming is good; hallucinating is not. You can’t make it in business if you don’t dream. You won’t make it in business if you hallucinate.

I believe strongly in dreaming, because you need to be able to imagine success for yourself as a first important step to a wonderful future. But hallucinating is aggressively negative, and aggressively destructive. Hallucinating means that you are on track to be successful, but with an added angle: you are doing nothing to make it a reality.

As a singer-songwriter, you need to be:

  • improving your songwriting skills;
  • identifying and targeting your audience;
  • building your audience base;
  • turning your music activities into a career.

Improving on any one of those steps requires an improvement in the previous step. Getting better means asking yourself three things:

  1. What CAN I do?
  2. What WILL I do?
  3. What DID I do?

The first two questions are relatively easy, as long as you ask the right people.

The third question turns you from a thinker to a doer. The third question is harder.

Because if your answer to Question 3 is “I did nothing”, you’re simply a thinker, not a doer.

And the problem with Question 3 is that you can be doing things, but doing all the wrong things. The best answers to Question 3 come from learning from the ones who can truly help you. We must learn from the success of others.

So if you are hoping to make songwriting work for you as the basis of a career, you need to stop what you’re doing, look at those 3 questions, and ask yourself: What can I do, what will I do, and what did I do.

Your level of success will come from the quality of the answers you give to those 3 questions.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

12 Chord Progression Characteristics that Music History Teaches Us

All chord progressions, regardless of genre, work pretty much the same way. Here are 12 features of progressions common to all music.

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Guitar Chord ProgressionsIf pop music is your only area of interest, you might be forgiven for thinking that the way chord progressions work is the result of pop music history. But in fact, the way we use chord progressions is practically unchanged from the way they were used in the early 1600s, and certainly since the time of J.S. Bach (1685-1750).

What follows is a list of 12 tips — you might say characteristics — for creating and using chord progressions. If your interests expand to other genres outside pop music (and I certainly hope they do), you’ll see that these characteristics pertain to all chords regardless of the genre or style.

  1. A strong progression is one that points to one particular chord as being the tonic chord – a kind of “home base.” It’s usually easily identified by ear, especially in very strong progressions like: C  Am  Dm G  C (C is the tonic.)
  2. A fragile progression is one in which the tonic chord is not so easily identified. The strong sense of tonality is usually pleasantly vague, as in this progression: Em  F  Bb  Dm (It’s hard to identify a tonic, though it doesn’t necessarily bother us that we can’t.)
  3. Strong progressions work well in choruses, but actually they will work well in any section of a song, including the bridge.
  4. Fragile progressions are the kind that work well in verses and bridges. The characteristic twists and turns partner well with lyrics that describe or intensify the story.
  5. Chorus progressions are usually shorter and stronger than verse progressions.
  6. Many songs in verse-chorus format will feature mainly minor chords in the verse and switch to major for the chorus. It’s a good way to create some harmonic variation in the overall sound of a song.
  7. A chord progression, taken in its entirety, can exhibit signs of both strength and fragility along its length. So progressions can be seen as “mostly strong”, “mostly fragile”, or changing as it proceeds.
  8. A predictable chord progression is not necessarily a bad thing. Since chords are simply one partner in a larger partnership of song elements, you’ll find that songs can be very creative and innovative while still using a pleasantly predictable progression.
  9. Every key, whether major or minor, has seven naturally-existing chords that can be found by building triads above each note of the scale. Any chord that doesn’t naturally exist in a key is called an altered chord.
  10. Chords that place a note other than the root (i.e., the letter name) of the chord at the bottom is known as an inverted chord. In pop terminology, it is often referred to as a “slash chord”, owing to the way it is notated: F/C is called “F slash C”, meaning that an F major chord should be played with C as the lowest sounding note.
  11. When chord progressions are transposed to other keys, all chord functions will transpose as well. This means that a progression in C major can be transposed to D major by moving all chords up a whole tone. The progression, and all of its functions, will be the same as the original progression.
  12. Harmonic rhythm refers to how long a chord is held before moving on to the next one. It is an important part of the design of a chord progression. There is usually a predictable pattern in use in every song.

Because the way we use chords is essentially identical to the way famous composers (Bach, Mozart, Brahms, etc.) used progressions, it can be interesting to take the chords from a favourite classical tune and write a new melody over them.

If you’d like some ideas for where to start with this, check out this post I wrote a couple of years ago.

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Writing Lyrics That Grab at the Heart Of Your Audience

There are important differences between lyrics and poetry, differences all lyricists need to know.

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Poetry and lyricsIf you’ve been writing songs for a while, you hopefully know one thing already: lyrics and poetry are not necessarily the same thing. We hold poetry in high regard and admire the creative talents of our best poets. But even excellent poems can fail as a lyric, and there’s a good reason why.

Poetry often needs to be read several times in order to transmit its message to the listener. And while the best lyrics often have the same requirement of needing many reads in order to make its fullest impact, a good lyric usually has the additional requirement of needing to make a swift, cursory impression. There usually needs to be something powerful about it on an immediate level, a way of quickly touching the heart of the listener right away.

Your lyrics will work best if you use words and phrases that you would typically use in conversation, as opposed to words you might use in a written story or essay.

In researching for this blog post, I came across a website published by Hamilton College (New York). They’ve produced a web page for their students that describes the essential qualities of delivering a good speech, contrasting them with what we expect from a written form of our language.

Their suggestions for giving a speech end up being excellent guidance for writing good lyrics. To paraphrase the advice given in their document, “Delivering a Presentation: Spoken vs. Written Language“:

  1. Use words and phrases that pertain to people and relationships as a way of generating stronger listener interest.
  2. Use more personal pronouns such as “I”, “we”, “you”, etc.
  3. Use shorter sentences and shorter fragments of sentences, to make your lyrics easier to follow.
  4. Repeat words, phrases and sentences to emphasize important ideas. (This happens naturally in song choruses.)
  5. Use common, everyday words in order to make a stronger connection to listeners.
  6. Use casual words, contractions, etc., to better simulate ordinary speech.
  7. Avoid stodgy, uninspiring phrases such as “as previously mentioned”, “the former”, “the latter”, etc.

Good lyrics have a way of pulling the audience in immediately, of making them feel the story, not just hear it. Good lyrics will make an audience feel that they could place themselves in the story, replacing you as the character, and truly experiencing the emotions and events.

So no matter what poetic devices you make use of — alliteration, repetition, rhyming, using metaphors, etc. — be certain that the words and phrases you choose sound casual, as if you might hear someone saying those words. It’s crucial to making an emotional impact on your audience.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Designing a Hook for a Song

A hook can make your song stand out from the crowd. Here are tips for designing an effective one.

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Music - Song HookWe speak of hooks as being a major component of pop music, but in fact a hook can be an important part of music from any genre. Every time you remember something about a piece of music that sounds iconic and immediately distinct, you’re probably noticing its hook.

So the first notes that the choir sings in Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” is a hook, and a very good one at that. Also, the main climactic melody of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”,  and also the opening piano figure of Duke Ellington’s “C-Jam Blues“.

The hook is whatever you remember about a song when everything else has faded from memory. Not every song will have a strong and noticeable hook. In that sense, the entire song — the way it’s designed and the way all the components compliment each other — is sometimes enough, and a strong hook isn’t really necessary. The chorus of Lennon & McCartney’s “All You Need Is Love” is an obvious and strong hook, but you don’t hear anything quite so obvious anywhere in their song, “Good Night” from the White Album.

To design a hook means 1) deciding where it’s going to go (i.e., what it’s going to do for your song), and then 2) actually creating it. Let’s start with the first part: deciding where it’s going to go.

There are three main purposes, and therefore three “locations”, you might say, for a song hook:

  1. The chorus. A chorus hook, like we find in “All You Need Is Love,” places the song title front and centre. Just the singing of the title alone is likely to bring most listeners back to it time and time again.
  2. The intro. An intro hook, like we find in Maroon 5’s “One More Night“, presents a short melodic/rhythmic idea that introduces the song. It is then brought back time and time again as the song proceeds, as background and as connectors between various sections of the song.
  3. The instrumental background. A hook that works as an important and noticeable instrumental layer, like Stevie Wonder’s clavinet opening of “Superstition“, first pulls the listener in, and then sits in the background (though very noticeably so) and continues to play an important role.

There are other kinds of hooks, which more resemble sound effects: shouted out words, like the funny-voice opening of “Wipe Out“, the vocalized song title in the instrumental hit from the late ’50s, “Tequila,” and so on.

Having a main hook, as all the songs listed above demonstrate, does not preclude the possibility that other hooks might also exist within the same song. The chorus of “Smoke on the Water“, for example, is a pretty solid hook on its own, even though we all know its stronger guitar intro hook.

When it comes to actually creating a hook, here’s what you need to keep in mind:

  1. Hooks often have a catchy melodic shape. “All You Need Is Love” is the exception here, which simply repeats the same note five times. Most of the time, a good hook will benefit from an enticing melodic shape, and the guitar opening of “Smoke on the Water” is a good example.
  2. Hooks often have a catchy rhythm. Hooks are strengthened by the presence of a syncopation or some other rhythmic device that plays in and around the basic beat. “Superstition” is a great example.
  3. Hooks are short. Most of the time, a hook needs to be taken in and absorbed by the listener as an entity that can be sung (or at least thought of) in one breath.
  4. Hooks are attractive. This is a quality that’s hard to define, and it goes without saying that making something attractive is the goal for writing anything within a song. But a hook is your make-or-break chance to grab the audience and excite them.

The best hooks sound like they’ve been created spontaneously, and they can do a lot to captivate your audience. A good hook can be compromised by bad song design, so don’t ever use a hook to hide a song with problems. If your verse seems weak and uninteresting, adding a strong chorus hook will help, but it’s best to dig into the problems your songs might have, and fix them. A song that’s already good makes a hook sound even better.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

5 Ways to Make the Chorus an Object of Attention

The success of a chorus is more important than the success of any other part of a song.

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Brian Wilson - Love and Mercy

It makes a lot of sense to start the writing of a song by working out — even if just in sketch form — what you’re going to do in the chorus. It’s the equivalent of a visual artist saying, “I’m going to paint a picture of a mountain.” You know that there are going to be other things in that picture other than the mountain, things that are crucial to the painting’s success. But the main object of attention will be the mountain, and then everything else that all serves to make that mountain look amazing.

In songwriting, the chorus is usually the object of attention. When all is said and done, it’s the chorus that is going to be remembered by the listener, long after other parts may fade from their memory. Songs with a weak verse can still survive nicely if they have a good, singable, memorable chorus. Songs with a weak chorus need to be fixed.

Here are several things you can do, either at the songwriting or production stage, to ensure that your chorus is strong, and grabs an audience’s attention. They don’t all need to be done, as these aren’t rules as much as they are common traits that can be seen in many hit songs. But for songs that have choruses that lack flair, they’re worth experimenting with:

  1. Make sure that the general range of the chorus is higher than the verse. Find the lowest and highest notes of the verse, and compare them to the lowest and highest notes of the chorus. The chorus should be noticeably (but not necessarily dramatically) higher. Example: “Love Me Again” (John Newman); “Love and Mercy” (Brian Wilson)
  2. Elongate the note durations on the song title. When you sing the song’s title (that usually happens at the beginning or end of a chorus), allow longer notes to enhance the emotional content of the words. Example: “Royals” (Lorde)
  3. Simplify the rhythms of the chorus melody. Cleaning up the rhythm, and limiting the number of rhythmic devices (syncopation, etc) that you use in a chorus makes it more singable and more memorable. Example: “Home” (Philip Phillips)
  4. Create a prominent climactic moment in the chorus melody. Most of the time a good chorus needs to have a moment that peaks a little higher than the other notes, even if it’s not a moment of particular drama. That so-called “climactic moment” adds considerable structure to your song. Example: “Earth” (Imogen Heap)
  5. Write tonally stronger, more repetitive melodies and chords for the chorus. Verses can wander a bit, but choruses need to use concise progressions that target the tonic chord. Example: “We Are Young” (fun. feat. Janelle Monae)

It’s a good suggestion to always ask yourself, at the completion of every song you write, “What are people going to remember when most of this song fades from their memory?” If you can’t answer that question, you may need to do some rewriting based on one of the five suggestions above.

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The Big Bad Music Industry Isn’t Usually Stacked Against You

Delusional thinking is rampant in the songwriting world. How are you marketing yourself?

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Recording Studio MixerIn the songwriting world more than almost any other world (plumbing, for example), delusional thinking is rampant. It is truly amazing the number of people who think that the music industry is purposely ignoring their incredible musical talents. What else could account for the fact that after 20 years, they’re still an unknown?

The truth is that for the most part, the music industry is structured in such a way that they usually get it right. You can argue that not enough money goes to the artist, and that’s possibly fair criticism.

But when it comes to the issue of good, great, or even excellent songwriters getting “ignored”, that usually has more to do with the ineptitude of the songwriter, not the evil-ness of the industry.

And by ineptitude, I’m speaking of their woeful skill level with regard to properly marketing themselves. These are people who either don’t really understand what the industry is looking for, or refuse to believe that there are tried & true procedures for getting widespread recognition for what they do.

The analogy of the plumber is a good one here, because there are very few delusional plumbers. If they’ve got business, it’s because they’ve built their clientele over time, customer by customer. They have to be good, but they have to market themselves properly.

I’m well aware that telling some songwriters that you don’t just get “discovered” isn’t what they want to hear. They like the magical feeling of believing that someday Hollywood will call and say, “We NEED your music.”

For those people, it might be more useful to imagine that you are indeed a plumber looking for customers. What are the steps that every up & coming plumber knows? They need to first become a good plumber. Getting good training, and working with a good plumber and watching them work is crucial.

Then they get good tools. Professionals don’t get work if they don’t have everything they need in their toolbox. And finally, they market themselves appropriately. Good plumbers don’t rely solely on word of mouth. They advertise in their area, expanding as they deem appropriate.

And there is very little that’s delusional about it. You get discovered in the plumbing world if you’re good at what you do, and then get the word out.

In the music world, getting the word out starts with building an audience base. If you’re sitting at home, writing great songs that are sitting on your computer, you’ve already messed up the first step.

If you aren’t a singer, you need to partner up with someone who is. That’s because eventually, someone needs to hear your song in order to show an interest in it. Demos these days need to be good.

And then get advice from industry personnel who are willing to offer it. Joining an A&R company is one standard way of promoting yourself.

But the steps before promoting yourself are many, and involves getting a good product that others will be interested in hearing. So you need to write a good song, and then get a good recording, which means getting it well recorded, well produced, well mixed and well mastered.

And none of that matters if you aren’t building an audience base, chiefly with live performances. This is the part, by the way, that makes it all better than being a plumber. For you, the world is your potential market. Plumbers are usually limited to the city in which they live.

And the other way to make big it is to write a good song, record yourself singing it in your bedroom, put it on SoundCloud, and then moan that the big bad music industry is stacked against you.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

Good Song Design: Move From Less Predictable to More Predictable

Predictability can be an important part of what keeps listeners hooked to your music.

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synthesizer songwriterAll good songs are a mixture of predictable and unpredictable events. We don’t like thinking that our music is in any way predictable, but in fact, even complex music with abstract lyrics and odd melodies and chords will be balanced somewhat toward predictable.

The alternative is to have everything you write be unpredictable, but that usually results in music that doesn’t please anyone. The best songs are a balance of the two characteristics, with that balance rather heavily toward the predictable end.

There is a general principle that’s well-worth keeping in mind as you write your songs: good music tends to move from less predictable to more predictable features as you move from verse to chorus. Once you start in on verse 2, of course, you move back to less predictable, and the sequence repeats.

So what does that mean for the individual elements you tend to find in most songs? Here’s a list:

  1. Chord progressions. Verses work well with either tonally strong or tonally fragile progressions, but most verses sound good with a tonally fragile one. (A fragile progression is one that leaves the specific key a bit ambiguous. Read more here.) Once you reach the chorus, the chords should strengthen and shorten, and generally be more predictable.
  2. Melodies. A verse melody can ramble a bit and take a longish journey, but once you reach the chorus, the melodic ideas should simplify and become more predictable and repetitive.
  3. Lyrics. A verse lyric usually tells a story, so to the extent that the story isn’t known yet can be somewhat unpredictable. Once you reach the chorus, however, the emotional outpouring should be what the audience was expecting, and in that sense will be more predictable than the verse.
  4. Rhythm. Backing instruments in a verse will often feature interesting rhythmic interplay and syncopations, emphasizing beats other than the strong 1 and 3 of a 4/4 time signature. Once you get to the chorus, rhythms should become stronger, simpler and more predictable.

As you can see, the most common procedure is to move from unpredictable elements in the verses to more predictable ones in the chorus. It feels right to the listener. And that means, of course, that over the length of a song the audience will experience a moving back-and-forth from less to more predictable.

That fluctuation from less to more predictable is an important part of what is known as the contrast principle. It’s usually what keeps audiences hooked in to your song.

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5 Tips for Fixing Problems In a Chord Progression

Some problems with chord progressions are easily fixed with these 5 tips.

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Acoustic GuitarThere are clear reasons why some chord progressions work while others don’t, but understanding the reasons means you need to understand a bit of chord theory. If you don’t have at least a moderate background in theory, it’s often going to seem that creating progressions that work is the result of a random search.

There is nothing random about good progressions. It starts with knowing what key you’re in, and moves on from there.

But knowing the key you’re in comes back to music theory. If you don’t know a lot of chord theory, you’re likely not going to know how to identify the key of your song.

All of these problems are solvable if you take some time to learn theory, but until that happens, here are some tips for fixing problems with a chord progression. Most of these fixes will work even if you don’t have a music theory background.

  1. Think of a progression as a journey away from and back to the tonic chord. And the simpler you make that journey, the better. Good progressions don’t need tons of chords. Choose 4 or 5 that work well together, but more than anything, make the tonic chord a prominent part of the journey.
  2. Be sure to use lots of root movements of 4ths and 5ths. Every chord has a root. It’s identified by the main letter name of the chord: the root of Gmaj7 is G; the root of C/E is C. A progression where the roots often move a 4th or 5th away is going to be strong and satisfying: C  F Dm  G  C. Ones that don’t often sound confusing C  Dm  F  Em  F  Dm  Bdim...
  3. Inverted (i.e., “slash”) chords usually need a reason for being there. An inverted chord means that a note other than the root is the lowest-sounding note. C/E means that the chord is C, but the lowest note will be E. Using an inverted chord should be done with some thought and care. Simply throwing them in anywhere can cause problems. So this sounds not so good: C  G/B  F  G/B  C. But this sounds really quite fine:  C  G/B  Am  C/G  F. Why? Because the first example causes odd augmented-4th leaps in the bass, but the second one creates an enticing descending bass line.
  4. Shorter progressions are less troublesome than longer ones. A long progression can be fine, but can lead to listener confusion. Shorter progressions provide a solid musical “landscape” for your melody to sit on. Especially with choruses, shorten up your progressions.
  5. Non-chord tones should usually “resolve”. A non-chord tone is a note that doesn’t usually exist in the normal version of the chord you’re playing. For example, Gsus4 means that instead of playing a normal G chord (G-B-D), you’ll raise that middle note to give you this: G-C-D. But once you’ve chosen to play Gsus4, you usually need to follow it with the normal triad-version of the chord: G. So this progression has problems: C  Gsus4  F  Gsus4  C. This fixes the problems: C  Gsus4  G  F  Gsus4  G  C.

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The Emotional Motivation To Sing Your Songs

Ever wonder why someone else would want to sing your songs?

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Emotional singerThis may seem odd, but do you ever look at your most recently-written song, and wonder what the motivation might be for someone else to sing it?

It may be crystal-clear in your mind why you wrote the song, and it may be satisfying you in some way, but now look at it from someone else’s perspective: Why should anyone else want to sing your song?

The vast majority of songs written, regardless of genre, are an intricate mix of objective observation and emotional reaction. But it’s the emotion that sells it to the listener. A song about losing your lover is going to get far more attention and interest than a tribute to the quadratic equation.

And that’s not just because of relevance. It’s because people respond in a far more poignant way to an emotional appeal than an intellectual one. In that sense, the best songs require the listener to buy in to the emotional message of the song, and they usually do that willingly.

And that applies to potential singers of your music, not just listeners. Your song may seem relevant and interesting to you, but does that extend to the singer? Is there enough emotional motivation for them to sing it to their audiences?

Emotion is a crucial component, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Every time you finish a song, you need to ask yourself:

  1. Does this song’s topic have the potential to resonate with most people listening to it? The strongest topics are ones that have universal appeal, often touching on some aspect of love.
  2. Would the emotional content of my song motivate someone else to want to sing it? Is there a message with a broad-enough appeal to which other audiences could relate? Is it something that other audiences could get emotionally connected to?
  3. Are the lyrics relevant to common human experience? Not all songs have to be relevant on every level, but the ones that speak to issues of love or social justice are good ones for building a broad audience across many demographics.
  4. Does this song sound like something others could sing about? Is the message too personal and contrived to be only relevant to me as the writer? If, for example, you write a song about a fictitious character you created for a story you wrote years ago, what’s the motivation for someone else to sing it?

It’s not that hard to find topics that relate to large groups of people, and that is in fact your job as a songwriter. You should be well aware of the need to write music that tugs at the heartstrings of your audience.

But if you hope to write songs that inspire other singers to perform them, you need to ask yourself: Does my music provide the emotional motivation for them to do so?

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Written by Gary Ewer – Follow Gary on Twitter 

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Beautifying Melodies With a Few Well-Placed Leaps

Three quick ideas for making a melody beautiful and memorable.

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John LegendGeneralizing in the world of songwriting can be a bit dangerous. Just as soon as you say, for example, that pop songs need to be 3-4 minutes long or no one will listen, along comes a “Hey Jude” or a “Bohemian Rhapsody” that makes you say, “Well, except for those songs.”

But generalizations can be useful as long as you don’t get overly pedantic about it. If you spend as much time as I do looking at songs from the past 5-6 decades and actually looking for commonalities and generalizations, you notice some useful ones.

When it comes to the structure of song melodies, you’ll notice the following:

  1. Songs that are opinionated, or state things in a forthright kind of way, tend to use lots of repeated notes, and start phrases on strong beats. Examples: Like a Rolling Stone” (Bob Dylan), “Southern Man” (Neil Young), and “Respect” (Otis Redding).
  2. Songs that tell a story, tend to use lots of stepwise motion (moving from one note to the one beside it). Examples: “Tom Dooley” (traditional), “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (Gordon Lightfoot).

And love songs? If you really want to pull at the heart strings and make people feel emotion, you’ll want to make sure your melody does the following:

  1. Use a good number of melodic leaps, especially upward-moving ones. A great example: “Love of My Life” (Freddie Mercury).
  2. Centre the song in the singers mid-range, using the outer ranges for emotional effect. Example: “Somebody Like You” (Adele) We get to hear the impact that her upper range makes in the second half of the chorus. Also, listen to “Falling Slowly” (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova)
  3. Use longer note values in the melody line of the chorus. As a song moves into the chorus, holding notes longer tends to emphasize the emotional effect of the lyric. Examples: Paul McCartney: “Silly Love Songs“; John Legend, Toby Gad: “All of Me

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

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