Thursday, January 16, 2014

"...This Guarantees Your Success As A Songwriter...Or Not..."

Old saying.

Those who can, do.

Those who, can't.....

Came across this article on FB, the link posted by my FB friend, Garth Shaw.

No slouch himself when it comes to knowing great songs.

Me being me, though, with due respect to Ms. Yukiko, I have taken the liberty of adding a couple of cents to her observations based on my own experience/perspective.

And, as a value added, thrown in some songs you might find helpful as points of reference.

Happy to help.

9 Secrets to Writing a Great ChorusBy Robin Yukiko

Robin Yukiko is a Berklee College of Music grad, singer-songwriter, pianist, and music educator in San Francisco. She performs regularly and hosts the SF Singer-Songwriters’ Workshop at the Musicians Union Local 6. Robin is currently producing her second album and enjoying nerdly pursuits

One of the main tools in your songwriting arsenal is the almighty Chorus. Sometimes it comes naturally, sometimes it is elusive. Oftentimes, it gets lost in the other sections and needs a way to stand apart. Here are nine unabashed ways to make a chorus sound more like a chorus.

1. Use your hook at the beginning AND end of the chorus. Bookending it gives the listener a chance to hear it again and makes it clear that it’s important.

Two Cents-- Don't sweat the hook at the beginning or end of the chorus. If you are an unknown songwriter, the chances of your work tape/demo getting listened to all the way up to the first chorus are slim in the first place, unless, of course, you manage to pull of writing a song that sounds just enough like the current Florida Georgia Line song to keep the publisher subliminally intrigued while not writing it so much like the current Florida Georgia Line song that the publisher realizes you are trying to break into the business by writing songs that sound exactly like Florida Georgia Line.
   Meanwhile, if you are already an established, successful songwriter...."uh, I'm sorry, but we're gonna take a pass here because you didn't use the hook at the beginning and end of the chorus", said NOBODY EVER.

LISTEN TO:   "Red"   by Taylor Swift...and try to write something like that...except, maybe in a style more like Florida Georgia Line.

2. Place a solid I (one) chord at the beginning. Example: if you are in the key of C, give us a nice big C chord (or A minor) for that sense of arrival that marks a chorus. Bookend it for a classic chorus, or make it the second chord, but the ear wants it in there somewhere, especially at the start of the section. Avoid it, and your song will sound like it’s in a constant state of transition.

Two Cents--This whole chord thing is a "dependin' on".  If you are an unknown songwriter, the excitement you generate when playing your song for a publisher is going to be proportionate to the excitement generated by the current Florida Georgia Line song. If they placed a solid I (one) chord at the beginning of their chorus, then, for the love of dear God, make sure that you do, as well. If, on the other hand, they did not, then, well, duhh....also, be careful at all times to remember that they have moved on since "Cruise" and anything in your song that even smacks of that is going to tell the publisher that your writing is not only hopelessly derivative (which may, or may not, work against you depending on the publisher) but that, even worse, you are hopelessly out of date with your derivative.

LISTEN TO:   "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line...and for the love of dear God, make sure your song doesn't sound like that.

3. Write big sweeping melodies (wide intervals, long tones) or short rhythms. Whatever you have in your verse, make it the opposite in the chorus--and make it extreme. These are often the most memorable.

Two Cents--Melody, Schmelody--Everybody from A (Aldean) to Z (well, everybody) is either on, or going to spend a little time on, this horrific morphing of rap and country known as hick hop...and rap/hip hop/hick hop wouldn't know a melody if it came up and bit it on it's Daisy Duke covered, honey dripping off'n ass (or big bad booty, as the case may be). So, if you can't write a melody with a gun to your head, now's the time to get while the gettin's good. Cause, just like tomatoes, yogurt and, God willing, the Kardashians, this whole rap crap country has an expiration date.

LISTEN TO:  Anything by Colt Ford...and then ask your particular God why, in the name of all things holy, He allows bad things to happen to good music.

4. Change the feel. It doesn't have to be as dramatic as Alex Clare going into dubstep in “Too Close”. No Doubt did it in Sunday Morning to smokin' effect going from half-time reggae to four-on-the-floor(ish).

Two Cents--Of All The Things That Don't Matter, This Is Probably One Of The Things That Doesn't Matter Most-- If the groove is attention getting, chances are that it's also attention keeping. Even if the "groove" is so mind numbingly repetitive that you break a nail reaching, in a rage, for the pause/next/off button before you drive your Prius off the next cliff. (See any week's current Pop Top 40 or any thing released in the last twelve to twenty four months by Britney Spears...or Colt Ford)

LISTEN TO:  "Tornado"  by Little Big Town---a huge hit, a catchy as all giddyup song and a drum track from beginning to end that could have been, but we're assuming wasn't, laid down by a machine set on "REPEAT"

5. Keep the chorus's melody in a different range to differentiate it even more. Typically the chorus is higher in pitch, but not always.

Two Cents-- This Is Basically That "Change The Feel" Thing Again Applied To The Melody And Matter Just About As Much--the only etched in stone rule that legitimately exists in the profession of songwriting is that there is no such thing as an etched in stone rule. One need only refer back to any song that has been popular in their lifetime that has made one shake their head and ask themselves "what the fuck?"  As far as this "secret to a great chorus" is concerned, we suggest that if advice you must follow, let that advice be that offered by Sheldon Cooper and let the chorus go "wherever the music takes you, kitten".

LISTEN TO:  "Wanted"  by Hunter Hayes---nary a quiver of difference in the melodies of verse and chorus...every now and then, you might experience a little confusion as to whether you've inadvertently stumbled onto a Rascal Flatts song, but, other than that...

6. Get vague. The time for lyrical specifics is usually in your verses. Let your choruses generalize/label, say how you feel, or have a catch phrase that will mesh with your entire song.

Two Cents-- Because "Getting Vague" Is Certainly Something You Want To Do With A Song You're Going To Play For Publishers Who Couldn't Hear A Hit Song If It Bit Them On The Ass (Booty)-- One of my very talented young up and comer friends wrote and recorded a song with a clever metaphorical use of farm life and how divine intervention can replenish us, as rain replenishes the soil. He played it for an established publisher in Nashville who responded "hey, I love the song, man, but tell me....what's irrigation?"   If the lyric feels right for the chorus, vague be damned, let it fly, baby.

LISTEN TO:  "Irrigation From God"   by Eric Karge---and then contact me, I'll send you the publisher's email address so you can explain it to him

7. Add a pre-chorus or transitional bridge. Taking a few bars before the chorus to set up the change can make all the difference in defining your sections. (There are lots of ways to use this section, including making phrases twice as long or twice as short to highlight that something different is coming, especially if your chorus is similar to your verses.)

Two Cents--Yada, Yada, Yada-- again, not to worry about this scenario..."oh, damn, you know I was knocked out of my socks by this one, right up to the moment I realized you failed to incorporate a pre chorus or transitional bridge...and, by the way, do you have any idea what the hell 'irrigation' means?"

LISTEN TO:  Any random five songs in the current top 10 of any musical genre and see if you can find more than one, if any, that add a pre-chorus or transitional bridge.

8. Color. This one is a little trickier but, if you can manage it, adds extra finesse to your lyrics. Create line in your chorus which, when repeated after each verse, takes on a new meaning. This is advanced stuff!

Two Cents--Good Intentions Here But Remember Your Audience--while a few writers of literary caliber (Bob McDill, Bobby Braddock, Hugh Prestwood, et al) get away with raising the bar on lyrical depth, they are exceptions....largely because, despite the ever broadening appeal of country music, the core audience remains primarily made up of people who think that erudite is a denture adhesive, the Peabody Award is something given to people who watch the most Rocky and Bullwinkle and pickups, dirt roads, beer and the aforementioned Daisy Duke covered, honey drippin off'n asses are required to be included in hit country songs by state, if not federal, law.

LISTEN TO:  "That's That"  by Michael Johnson (written by Hugh Prestwood) and weep, weep for the state, if not federal, law that mandates the current use of pickups, dirt roads, beer and the aforementioned Daisy Duke covered, honey drippin off'n asses in hit country songs.

And finally...

9. Know when you need a chorus. Sometimes, when you have a rocking verse, all you need is a refrain (a short hook that gets tacked on like "Come Together right now over me"). Sometimes the song calls for AABA and all you need is a

Two Cents--Ah! The Disclaimer in Disguise---kinda boils down to everything we've shared with you so far...listen to what's currently popular, try to imitate, while not plagiarizing, that style and get as close as you can to Florida Georgia Line...keeping in mind, at all times, they have moved on since "Cruise".....

Serve the song and she will serve you. Happy writing!

Uh, Robin said that. Not us.

Come to think of it, though, that might be a great hook.

I'm hearing Sting.

Just needs three verses, a pre-chorus or transitional bridge.

And a groove like Florida Georgia Line.

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