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Establishing the track number for the album's title song might be one of he most vital things in production. Historically, sound engineers had two main reasons to put the main track in the middle of a record. First of all, the vinyl's edge was far too quick to get worn out, so putting the hit songs at the top of the tracklist was out of the question. Secondly, the vinyl's circular middle was known to have a poorer sound due to its perimeter.
What started as a practical solution has eventually grown into a trend that is still more or less being followed to this day, with the majority of modern artists choosing to place their title songs between 3rd and 5th on the tracklist.
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Today I've been listening to and singing 'Protection' by Massive Attack and Tracey Thorn. She has such a beautifully resonant voice - like they managed to get a microphone inside her throat, so thick even when she goes up her range. I'm really tempted to try to make my own cover, because it's in a good key for me and I think I would probably learn a lot from her.
The lyrics are here, and they're so beautiful and heartfelt, but the thing that made me wonder is the complete lack of detail.
The first verse is:
This girl I know needs some shelter
She don't believe anyone can help her
She's doing so much harm, doing so much damage
But you don't want to get involved
You tell her she can manage
And you can't change the way she feels
But you could put your arms around her
No details about the girl. No details on the requirement for shelter. No details on the people that she doesn't think can help her. But it works.
Is the amount of detail that I should put in a song genre-specific? Is 'pure and heartfelt' a special case, like a special effect - is it plenty or nothing with mediocrity in the middle? I remember someone on here making the point that the 'furniture' shouldn't just be thrown into the song unless it's relevant to the plot or used for a rhyme. You want the right detail, the stuff that elaborates about the characters or the setting gracefully and makes the setting feel real, I get that. But how much should I use?
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Since I started this I should go first.
The most recent interesting song I've heard is This Is America thanks to Spanish Buddha, which we've already discussed in another forum. Thank you SB. Since it is a cultural touchstone I appreciate you pointing it out. I won't feel so clueless if somebody mentions it now.
The most recent song I played on purpose was this morning I played Memphis Soul Stew by King Curtis, from Live at the Fillmore 1970. King Curtis was arguably the best R&B horn player (sax) and this was a special band put together to back up Aretha for her Live at The Fillmore album, and King Curtis's live also. When Little Feat used to tour they played this song just before the band came out. This is a song that will wake you up.
So I've been asked about copyright and if I have permission to use the beats I'm using and stuff (In the comments in BANQUET). I have just contacted the places I am using and asked, I'll be waiting on responses. Emails were sent at roughly 10:30 Tasmania time, on the 3rd of May.
But I still feel like it was unnecessary, I'd love to hear from anyone exactly what the big deal is. I am not writing that out of spite, I would honestly like to hear and learn. I would understand if I was making money off the tracks, but I won't be. As well as that, I did do some research prior and it was 50/50 about whether or not you needed permission.
1. It's a mixtape, that means an unofficial release and the only people who ever know it exists will be people who search for it.
2. Everything will be creditted where necessary.
3. No money will be made.
4. I see it as a win/win. Sure, I get free promotion by using the beat but so does the underground artists who the beat belongs to. If someone likes an instro they hear in my track, they look in the credits and can be directed to the real artists.
5. Even if I get permission and the artist say yes, all they'll do is say 'but you can't sell it and it must be creditted.' The only difference between what I was doing and that was not asking. Of course, they could say no, but does anyone have any suggestions as to why???
Maybe this is an issue because of demographics, age differences, attitudes...I'm not really sure. I can see how using someone else's work is an issue, but to me it isn't as serious as some of you seem to think. Anyway, I'd like to hear your say.
And one other thing: its not only beats I'm planning on using. I was going to use some samples from THE SIMPSONS GAME at the end of BANQUET, there's a line about "slugs sucking up sexy sleaze with a smile" which I kind of think fits in with the theme. Thing is, from my research the massive businesses won't bother chasing you for an uncredited/no permission sample. They make enough money and it isn't worth their time and resources to chase down someone like me. Thoughts on that?
Can I also just clarify that people know what a mixtape is? It's an unofficial release usually used to promote yourself when you start out (though as I prefer underground stuff, it's not really about promoting, its about getting stuff out there). A mixtape uses beats by other artists and is full of samples, for example check out SAVILIAN KID OR KONCEPT MIXTAPE (I admit the lyrics to his stuff suck). It samples beats from heaps of artists. Often they are only used in rap, they arent as serious in other genres though do occasionally pop up. A rap mixtape will usually have no original production. Everything is done by you: album art, liner notes, pressing and all that (if you want, mine will just be digital). You basically spend money making it that you won't make back.
I didn't mean to drag this out so long but yeah, hope to hear some thoughts on the copyright thing and has anyone had similar issues, either with not getting permission or using an uncredited sample?
- Understanding the Thought Process Behind Drum-Part Creation -
Whether you compose through electronic means or utilize an actual drum kit, it’s helpful to know what works best, what doesn’t & why. Regardless of method, the thought process behind creation is the same.
Brief audio snippets (green text) are scattered throughout this article. Opening the links as “new tabs” allows you to hear the example while you’re reading the corresponding description.
As a starting point, I’ve put together a short-list of variables. These are things I take into consideration when structuring drum parts for a new song.
- What’s the genre of the song?
For a multitude of reasons, I don't begin structuring a final drum part until song-basics are pretty well set.
By basics, I mean:
- A rough idea of lyrical content & subject matter
- Backing chord patterns (basics of the song's musical movement)
- Tentative song structure (intro, verse, chorus, bridge, etc.)
Those basic components tell me what type of song I'm dealing with. Regardless of personal preference, the drum part you craft should be an appropriate match for song & genre.
For example, a typical metal drum line probably won't fit well in a country/pop song.
By itself, the part may sound cool & impressive. More-so, if you happen to be a fan of metal. The thing is, no one will ever hear it by itself! It’ll only be heard within the context of the song.
Bottom line - writing new parts is always about how they affect the song as a whole, NOT about the part itself. As a drummer, I was slow to learn that lesson. As a songwriter, it was immediately obvious. Perspective is an amazing thing!
Genre is a vague concept. Because of that, it's not unusual for a song to straddle several. Proper arrangement choices (including drum parts) can help push that song in one direction or another.
Let’s look at a specific example (audio snippet #1) …say your song straddles country & pop. You could push it in the direction of country by employing twangy guitars and a country sounding drum part.
- How is the movement of the melody structured (meter, flow, rhythm)?
Remember…melody is the single most important part of any song! Whether it's sung or played instrumentally, that melody & its appeal have a huge effect on the song's likability. If you're the songwriter, this is your money-maker.
Protect it at all costs! If you're the drummer, you need to recognize & accept a harsh reality. Your drum part will NOT be the reason that listeners like the song! It can certainly be a contributing factor, but it will NOT the big reason.
I was a drummer long before I became a songwriter, so I've stood on both sides of this argument. Drummers prefer challenging parts…songwriters want parts appropriate for the song.
And while I do empathize, it all boils down to this…“arrangements are created as support for songs”, not the other way around. What matters most is how your part effects the song as a whole.
Moving right along, try to craft something that compliments the melodic movement of the song. Once you have a specific part in mind, try playing it along with the melody.
If others are involved in the project, ask for their input. If you’re working alone, songwriter/musician forums can be useful for obtaining outside perspectives.
- What type of arrangement do you have in mind?
I'm not suggesting the whole arrangement be set-in-stone before starting the drum part, but it’s helpful to have at least a rough idea.
- Do you plan to use piano?
- Are you thinking of multiple guitar tracks?
- Might additional percussion be a good fit (congas, tambourine, shaker, etc.)?
What I’m getting at is this…whatever ideas you do have for the arrangement, factor those into the creation of your drum part.
I’ll list a few more in-depth examples:
A) If you plan a busy arrangement…with lots of instrumental movement, a simpler drum part may be better. A song isn't a contest for dominance! If you have cool ideas for intricate piano parts & a tasteful signature guitar track,
your drum part should allow those parts to shine through. No, the drums don’t have to be boring! Just build the complexities into simpler song sections. Those piano & guitar parts I referred to…let's say they’re intended for the verses & bridge.
That means your chorus sections can employ a more sophisticated drum part. Varying the dominant instrument from section to section adds variety to an arrangement. It also makes the dominant instrument more noticeable.
When that chorus section rolls around & the drums start kicking butt, that change immediately grabs the listeners’ attention.
B Sometimes arrangements are sparse. It’s not unheard of to strip instrumentation down, utilizing only bass & drums for the verse sections. This type of arrangement presents the perfect opportunity for creative drum parts.
You can experiment with intricate syncopation, polyrhythms…really flex those creative muscles.
Limited, simple instrumentation = fewer potential conflicts.
C) If some parts of your arrangement are already fixed (final), do those parts heavily accent specific counts? Do several parts accent the same counts? I ask these questions because it is possible to over-do accents.
Too much duplication can make an arrangement sound stiff.
D) What impact, if any, would you like drums to have on the songs’ development.... beginning-to-end?
I’ll clarify that question a bit by breaking it into smaller parts:
a) Would you like the song to build as it progresses?
If you do, drums are an easy way to achieve that end. It's not uncommon to bring them in gradually, layering in additional complexity & momentum as the song progresses.
b Would you like a specific section of the song to jump out & grab the listener’s attention? (snippet #2) One way to achieve that is to hold back much of the instrumentation (including all the drums).
The song you hear playing in the background does exactly that. "The Real World" begins with a verse comprised of a single guitar & vocal, adds an organ around the half-way point,
then smacks you all at once with the entry of drums, bass, piano, a second guitar & doubled vocal.
c) Would you prefer drums to play a minimal part in the songs’ development?
One way to achieve that is with a consistent sounding drum track. Something with the same feel start-to-finish. "Rain King" by Counting Crows is a great example of consistency.
d) Would a change in drum tempo, from half time - to full time be useful? (snippet #3)
It’s a common method for varying the feel of a song. Say your song is set at 120 BPM. The beat used for your verse sections can be made to feel as if it's being played at 60 BPM, while the choruses are played full-time (120 BPM).
Selecting Beat Patterns
Have you ever heard a song on the radio & been instantly being drawn to it? For years I accepted that experience at face value, never bothering to ask myself why. Then I began writing songs. As a writer, I discovered it was in my best interest to explore those whys.
Why am I attracted to some songs more than others? For me, the answer has a lot to do with the feel & flow of a song. Both of which depend upon beat & rhythmic choices.
You may have noticed that the subtitle for this section is plural - ”patterns”. Ideally, you will select MORE THAN ONE.
It's not uncommon to use 2 or 3 variations of a basic pattern for the verses of a song, then select something entirely different for the choruses.
Bridge sections are often assigned unique patterns, to help set them apart from the rest of the song.
Before leaving this section, I’ll share a few commonly used methods for building in variation. (*All examples assume a right-handed drummer.)
1) You can vary the specific part of the drum set being played by the right hand from section-to-section. (snippet #4) For example - hi-hat for the verses, ride cymbal for the chorus sections.
It's a small change, but the impact on the overall texture of the song can be quite dramatic. For additional variety, you can sprinkle in a few hi-hat openings, as this example does in the verse sections.
2) You can vary hi-hat technique within a given song section. Playing it tightly-closed produces a very crisp, structured sound. Playing it semi-opened gives you a looser, free-floating feel. It's common for harder-driving songs to use the 2nd option.
Pop rock & country tend to employ the tightly closed version, but often combine the 2 techniques. For example - tightly closed most of the verse, then semi-opened for the final measure or two. That small change produces a shift in texture just prior to entry of the chorus. The variance also serves to announce the coming of a change. It often precedes a cymbal crash, which punctuates the actual change in sections.
3) You can employ a basic right-hand rhythm, then utilize misc. percussion to embellish the feel of the pattern. For example - a quiet 1/4 note right-hand hi-hat (1-2-3 & 4 counts), then on a separate track record a tambourine or soft-shake to fill-in the straight 1/8 note feel. That gives it a busier, more constant overall texture. It also adds variety & depth to the rhythmic feel.
4) It’s common in metal & hard rock genres for the right hand to play a straight pattern on the edge of a crash-ride cymbal. This technique produces an effect comparable to a prolonged crash.
When it’s combined with the heavy rates of compression that are commonly used in those genres, it adds a blurred, heavy edge to the song.
I have one final piece of beat-pattern advice to pass on to non-drummer songwriters. Please…when you put together a song demo, DON’T select a single mechanical beat & use it beginning-to-end.
IMHO nothing makes a demo sound more amateurish! It doesn’t have to sound like Neil Peart, but it does need some variation.
Remember…every part of an arrangement impacts the listener’s impression. That includes your drum track!
The Story on Rolls (Fills)
You’ll find that opinions vary on….
· when to use a roll
· what type is most appropriate
· how complex they should be
For drummers, many of those decisions are determined by personal style.
Since most non-drummer songwriters lack percussive expertise, they tend to be guided by listening experience.
For this tutorial, I’m going to stick to basics & allow plenty of room for personal discretion.
Beats serve primarily to establish rhythmic feel, but rolls are used for a variety of functions:
1) Prevent monotony - In other words, to break up the consistent flow established by your beats, making the overall rhythm track more interesting.
2) Serve as fills… much as lead licks, keyboard or bass riffs do. Rolls are frequently placed between lyric/melody lines to help fill gaps & maintain the momentum.
3) Indicate (announce) a coming change, as demonstrated by the next audio clip.
Some examples being….
- the start of a new vocal sequence
- a change from verse to chorus
- a shift in dynamics…quiet to loud, or visa-versa
Rolls are also used in combination with lead licks, or other fill elements. (snippet #6)
When they’re employed in this way, caution should be exercised. You want to avoid timing conflicts between fill instruments.
Bottom line – it’s harder to pull-off, but very cool when it’s done cleanly!
It’s common to alternate fill instruments. You can use a drum roll this time, a guitar lick next time, keyboard run, and so on.
This will get you even more variety, with the added benefit of making each fill instrument more prominent.
Listeners notice them more because they’re the only instrument presenting variation at that particular moment.
To Crash or Not-To Crash
Cymbal crashes are useful tools when employed tastefully.
Here are a few examples of common applications:
- to accent, or call attention to a specific count within a measure
- to add dynamics to a section of music by boosting the high-end frequencies & overall volume of that specific section
- to mark a change in the structure of the song (for example, moving from the verse to chorus)
- in combination with rolls, particularly longer, more elaborate ones…to break them up, reinforce accents and add color, as shown in the brief demonstration below
"Arrangement 101" resource pg.
- Try a tempo synced tremolo on your reverb return.
- Humanize your shaker and percussion loops by automating a transient designer. Back off the attack in quieter sections and vice versa.
- Present your hook in an almost subliminal way by loading a sample of it into an IR reverb and sending a rhythmic element to the reverb.
- Stereo trick for mono tracks: duplicate the track, hard pan, use a compressor on one track and an expander on the other.
- Strings: double the part a few semi tones up/down and tune it back to the target pitch. You’ll blend different samples = more real sounding.
- Cut out the reverb for a few seconds to create an almost claustrophobic feeling! Check the verse on “A Sorta Fairytale” by Tori Amos.
- Any melody line (or vocal instrumental) can be made richer by adding a harmony, sending it to a reverb, and muting the dry sound.
- Make a pad or shaker track with verb 100% wet followed by a gate. A dry snare triggers the gate and gets a very interesting reverb tail!
- On drum reverbs, use a transient designer and turn up the attack. It gets you a tighter reverb and punchier drums without spiky transients.
- A track needs more presence? Try brighten up the reverb instead of the dry sound. How does it sound different? How does it work in the mix?
- When using several rhythmic loops, try moving them slightly (in samples or ms) to mess with phase. Interesting tonal artifacts often appear.
- Guitar parts played with a pick on single strings: Transient designers can make the player sound a lot more confident. Turn up the attack!
- Automate tempo and go up a few BPM in the chorus. It adds excitement and life, just like when real musicians play together. Subtlety is key!
- For dry sounds that sound a little detached from the other instruments, put a slap delay (80-100 ms), 0 FB, panned to the opposite side.
- Use a filter in the low end to reduce the bass a bit in the verse, turn off the filter in the chorus. The chorus will have a greater impact!
- ABBA used to speed up the pitch of the song (varispeed) and record vocals and then pitch it back to normal. Try this in your DAW.
- Duplicate a track, pitch shift up 1 octave, insert reverb (100% wet) and mix in subtly with the original for a gentle kinda exciter effect!
- You got two guitars or synths panned hard left and right? Put a subtle tremolo on each, one doing 16th notes, the other doing 8ths.
- Try inserting a distortion/saturation plugin followed by a low pass filter on an aux before your delay to simulate a tape delay driven hard.
- Try a de-esser before your reverb. Not just on vocals.
- Put a compressor on mid-range heavy sounds like electric guitars and synths, letting the vocals trigger the sidechain, to make room for it.
- Put a gate on a pad or vocal; let a 16th note rhythm trigger the sidechain, let the gate attenuate 6 dB or so.
- Tape stop reverb: Record the reverb tail to a new track. Automate (or do in real time and print) a pitch shift down an octave or more.
- When using a delay on a send, put a gate after it and let the dry signal trigger the sidechain. Either let it open the gate, or close it.
- Put some street noise or the sound of a train at low volume behind your drum loop to give it depth and subtle variation.
- Classic vocal trick: don't send the dry vocal track to a reverb, instead send it to a delay and send the delay to a reverb.
- Try an EQ after your delay with a hi shelving cut, followed by a reverb 20-40% wet for some subtle depth and width added.
- Try putting a subtle chorus on an aux before you reverb.
- You can have a virtual 3D map in your mind when placing a sound. Front to back - reverb, delay, more (front) or less (back) high end. Left/right - panning, haas effect. Up/down - lots of high frequencis (up), emphasis on lower frequencies (down).
- Automate the reverb time throughout the track; longer times for the chorus to create more depth and sustain - shorten the reverb to clean up when there’s a lot of things going on at the same time.
- Basic sound design and a great way to learn about audio processing: move the plugins around in the chain, one by one and listen to what happens.
- With an EQ in ms mode on the mixbus, use a shelving filter to cut some lows on the sides. It gives the mix some more space and lightness.
- EQ'ing your delays attenuating at 2-5 kHz will tuck them in to the mix creating depth without being too obvious.
- If you plan to high pass-filter a lot of tracks in your mix, try a 6dB/octave filter. You filter out a lot of low end without getting too much separation between tracks. It also messes with phase less to have less steep filters.
- Are your virtual instruments locked to the grid? Tap in some subtle delays manually to get some human feel.
- Transient designers are great for recordings made in a bad sounding room. Back off the sustain and get some of the room out of the way.
- Near the end of a mix, note the level of the snare (this is to see if you tend to mix it too loud or too quiet), pull it all the way down. Push the level up slowly until it sounds right. Do the same with lead vocals and kick drum.
- There’s an idea that you shouldn’t have any compression on the master bus if you’re gonna send the mix to mastering. If you’re compressing for movement/groove - absolutely keep it there. If you’re compressing/limiting for loudness - remove it.
- Space for vocals: Attenuate vocal frequencies on other tracks (mixing). Move things out of the way, changing timing or pitch (arrangement)
- Layer your vocals with a whisper track. It helps the lyrics cut through and can create a bit of an eerie feel if you turn it up loud.
- Add weight to vocals: Duplicate vocal track, filter out highs and high mids. Distort. Blend in with original track.
- Put a phaser in parallel on your hi hats or shakers loops for a subtle variation to make it sound less like a loop.
- You probably have a lot of unfinished music on your harddrive. It can be a burden for sure. Try using the old sessions as sample libraries and create cool and unique samples. Suddenly that work was not in vain.
- Vocal production: use breaths creatively, copy an intense sounding one and paste before a phrase or transition to add drama and intensity. Also works wonders for VO work when there's too much intensity on a single word; lower the volume slightly and add a big inhalation.
- Widen mono track: duplicate track, pan the tracks hard left/right, boost with EQ on one track and cut at the same frequency on the other track.
- Any processing you do to your audio tracks you can do to your reverbs. EQ, distortion, delay, another reverb, pitch ...
- Two similar instruments playing the same chords, use different voicings or octaves and pan them L/R. It adds width, depth and detail.
- A close miked source can sound even more in your face with a short delay on it. Gives your ear a point of reference.
- Adding a tiny bit of attack with a transient designer on the master bus before the final limiter can give that extra bit of life and punch.
- More difference between L and R means wider stereo. Think about this when it comes to microphone choice, EQ, compression and arrangement.
- Boomy low end, mix gets thin when you try to fix w/ EQ? Shorten the sustain of the bass drum/bass. Edit manually or use transient designer.
- For instant inspiration: load up a loop that's preferably kinda cheesy but with great groove and energy. Compose around it, then delete it.
- Make virtual instruments like drums, pianos, etc, sound more natural by turning down the velocity and turning up the volume
- Before EQ'ing your kick/snare, tune them to fit the track. If it doesn't sound quite right, tuning a sample up or down a semitone can do it.
- Sweep with an EQ on the master bus, find the bad frequencies (if any). Then cut 0,5 dB or so from several tracks at that frequency instead of 5dB on the master bus.
- When you’re asking ”How many?”, three is often a good number. Three layers (drums, lead melodies ...), three dubs, three harmony parts, three cups of coffee ...
- Using delays in sync with the song (8th notes, quarter notes etc), offset them a few milliseconds to create a rushing or dragging feel for a section.
- Steal the dynamics from a drum track by routing it (mute the output of the track) to the sidechain of a compressor that’s inserted on anything you want to move like the drum track.
This is something I wrote a while ago and it appears elsewhere on the site (but it's pinned, which means it is invisible to the average human). If you are reading this I appreciate that you must be bored out of your skull and searching for
somethinganything to fill the soulless void of your existence so I do hope that it at least entertains a little - or maybe acts as an emollient while you wait for your wife/husband to finish doing whatever the fuck they need to do when it's time to go out and do something a little more interesting than the mundane routine that we all fall into eventually...
Here goes ...
So, you’ve listened to songs for a long time now and you’ve decided to write lyrics of your own. It doesn’t look hard. Hell, it can’t be hard – just look at some of the stuff that gets recorded!
What’s more, you are a damaged individual. It may be that you had a bad childhood, you were excluded at school, your marriage failed, you can’t get laid, you had problems with substance abuse, and any or all of myriad reasons that people decide to write songs - choosing that path from all the other masochistic pastimes they could choose.
You see, what that dreadful former life made you was ... a keen observer. You are a walking empath. You can see the big picture and the tiny details of people’s lives. You don’t judge – oh, no! You bear witness to the fumbling, daily slapstick and you can relay truths about life and the pitiful vanities of our existence with good humour, wit and kindness, lending insight and wisdom that helps us to laugh at ourselves and love one another just a little more than we otherwise would. You are a latter-day saint and a poet and a warrior, all rolled into one (yes, women can be warriors too).
But, more than that, it made you want them to understand you. Admire you. Whatever. They have to think you are pretty goddamn cool. That’s fo’ sho’.
So you write. And you find that it’s not so easy to do all that. In fact, it’s hard to do all that - in 3 minutes, especially.
And people aren’t quite as bowled over by your genius as you expected. And, because you are a damaged individual (hell, we all are), you don’t like that one ... little ... bit.
Help is at hand.
Here’s a handy list of the 10 things you do wrong when you write a lyric. I’m guilty of all of them (sometimes in the same lyric! I'm that talented).
There are more, but 10 is a catchy number ! Which is why I wrote 11. I despise “catchy”.
1. You use the wrong pronoun
You visualise who is talking to who in the song itself - and you also take into account the fact that, when the song is sung, there is a singer talking to an audience. Go, you!
However, if you paid too much attention to the latter, you still got it wrong. “I said this and she said that” can sound like a whine or a rant (see point 7, below). It also doesn’t really help the audience to connect. If it was simply “you said that”, it would work so much better and be more immediate.
Wait. You went for third person.
Third person can work for stories (but the story HAS to be interesting,and yours wasn't - not really). In all other circumstances, you need a good reason to move away from 1st and/or second person.
Mind you, 1st person can get you into trouble with point 7, too.
But let’s talk about that later. The point is, you chose the wrong pronoun(s).
2. You use the wrong tense
Past tense, in particular, is boring.
Some parts of the song can be in the past tense but it needs to be made relevant to the present and, ideally, we would have a time progression that would lead at least to the present and, possibly, into the future.
Stories can be past tense – but are they REALLY interesting? If not, don’t bother singing them to me. What if they were related to the present, at least in the bridge?
It would be slightly less boring, at least.
Or you could make the story funny. That works in whatever tense.
3. You lose rhythm by cramming words in
If you don’t understand meter, maybe this thread will help (but read it later. I'm talking.).
Even if you do understand it, aren’t there times when you try and cram in two syllables where only one fits?
People will say it’s OK. Singers will even cram it in for you. Friends will say it sounds OK.
Songwriters will say nothing, and simply be glad they weren’t that guy. Do you want to be that guy?
4. You don’t change rhythm between sections
You have a great rhythm running through the song. Still running. Getting bored with it now. Where’s the chorus? Oh! We had it already and I didn't even notice! It had the same rhythm. Please give me a bridge. And change the damned rhythm!
Words make rhythms. Words can force a change in rhythm. If the words don’t do it, the musician (maybe you) has to be much more innovative in changing rhythm and/or melody than he/she would otherwise need to be. Think of the musicians
5. You don’t grab attention early enough
Your lyric has a killer line (or twist or idea or something). The trouble is that it’s in the third verse or the bridge.
People won’t listen that long. It’s like a joke that needs over a minute to explain before it can be told. The listener turns off.
You have maybe 30 seconds to grab some sort of attention – give a surprising line or an idea that draws attention. It needs to be in the first fifteen seconds of singing.
You then have another short space of time before you need another – and it’s not long.
6. You forgot to write the first verse
The listener doesn’t know who these people are. You do. So you wrote the meat of the song assuming they did too. You started with the second verse. We often write the second verse first. It needs a first verse to set up things and invite the listener in. It’s your introduction, if you like.
And see point 5.
7. You are preaching (or venting or whining) - and you aren’t being funny about it
I don’t want to be preached at, whined at, or vented at – unless you make me laugh. I bet you don't want that either, do you? No!
So don’t write songs that whine, preach or vent. Simple. Unless they make us laugh.
I mentioned something in the part about using the wrong pronoun about using 1st person. A lot of songs written in the first person can be whiny, venting or preachy if we aren’t careful.
So are a lot of songs about “them”, “They did this, they did that ... they are bad”.
It’s a delicate line to tread. A confessional song can work but it has to show the singer as insightful and sensitive – not as a bad person, or a whiner.
A song has to make the singer look good. See point 11, below. So, be careful.
8. You included details – but you included the wrong details
So, you know you need details (it said so in a book) and so you put them into your song.
What colour is the sun? What about the grass? Let’s say “golden” and “emerald” because “yellow” and “green” sounds boring, right?
Wrong. The colour is boring, period. It adds nothing to how I feel about what’s happening. In fact, adjectives should be used sparingly. Just find better words, damn you. English has so many of them - for a reason. Mind you, only use words when you know what they mean. Dictionaries help.
Details are what bring a picture to life or, better still, an emotion to life. They aren’t what’s in the picture. They are the parts that show how we feel about the picture.
They are metaphors for feelings – or they are nothing. They can be sounds, smells or objects or textures. Or they can be one of those that prompt others.
“Car wheels on a gravel road”. I can hear them. Now, what do they make me feel?
9. You use too many words
What it says above. Trim them. ‘Nuff said.
10. Your rhymes lack reason
You paint yourself into a corner with a rhyme scheme and now you have to find a rhyme for “Drove me in his truck”. You don’t want to use the obvious rhyme so you decide to rhyme with “luck” instead. And you contort things a bit and get a line that kind of half-works and then you convince yourself that it’s fine.
There is always that one line you aren’t satisfied with in a song, isn’t there? Maybe more than one?
Why not just change the word "truck"? Or the whole verse? Or the whole song? You made the corner you are painted into. You can un-paint it.
And never (never!) start turning sentences around into "yoda-speak" to get a rhyme. It's just crap.
11. You don’t write for women
All songs are written for women. Even songs that are written for male singers are written for women. They are written so that the singer can look good to women. Don’t believe me? Fair enough. But don’t say I never told you.
The only exception is that small demographic of teenagers (of all ages) who wear black T-shirts and listen to doom-laden heavy metal genres in their bedrooms at full volume. Guess what? You can’t write songs for them anyway. They are either writing their own or they can’t hear you over the screaming of Megablood Death Spasm (or whoever they are listening too). If they do show any interest it is only because they want you to give some attention to their own written-down angst stuff (i.e. lyrics, but not as we know them, Jim).
So, leaving them aside (it’s for the best, trust me) – all songs are written for women.
So write songs for women.
If you don’t know how to do that, ask one (preferably not your mother). If you are one, ask yourself what you want to hear when you are stressed out. If you don't know any women, buy a black T-shirt.
I hate rules. Are these rules? Not at all. Songs can work perfectly well without them – but they are less likely to do so outside of a particular setting.
That setting might be a late evening after a few drinks. It might be in front of a group of friends or family. Whatever the setting, it will be in a situation where the song fits the environment or suits the mood the listener is in – but only at that moment, in that place. Only there.
But ... but ... don’t the songs you love have the power to change the environment? Don’t they change your mood when you hear them?
Yes, they do. But they don’t do that by accident, and most listeners aren’t too forgiving. Give them an excuse not to listen and they will take it. A flighty, fickle fiend is what an average listener is. Including us.
This list could also be headed “10 excuses a listener can use to stop listening”. Except there are 11 of them!
Some songwriters advise us to give a song room to breathe, give it space, and make it less busy.
While I agree this good advice, I also like to think - give things a chance to "sink in".
Often listening to lyrics is like drinking from a fire hose. You can't do it, so plenty of water doesn't make it down your throat
To avoid this, we need to meter out the lyric so it gets absorbed by the listener's brain, not discarded because the listener isn't ready for more information.
A repeating chorus, a musical interlude or even a stop or breakdown in the song can give the listener a break.
Is there a poignant line in the lyric of your song?
Is there a climax in the storyline?
Is new information flowing too fast for a typical listener to keep up?
If so, add some room to allow things to sink in. You'll make a better connection to your listeners if you do
Thought I had the Lazz Last Gasp Set Two sorted.
But I suddenly ran into big juicy trouble with it.
Fred had made me the offer, and set me the task, just before Christmas. Our first window for wrestling with Set One happened at the beginning of February. It didn’t seem to have been a long wait. Neither did Christmas seem so long ago. But the New Year had already brought me back into messing around with the eighteen-piece “Narwhal” ensemble on the North Shore across the inlet. That’s how I ran into trouble.
Members of this “Narwhal” unit are all disconcertingly young and talented. (Except for way older and less skilled Lazz.) Participation has me teetering on the edges of my competence: having to shut-up and follow directions, attempting to blend smoothly with the other voices, and struggling to sight-read the notes placed before me. The other singers all sight-read. When I brought in a song for which I had voiced the vocal melody in fourths, they had no problem. When the musical director brought in another with tight close voicings, that was fine also. My envy is as large as my inadequacies.
Invitation to join the group had come from M.D., Jared Burrows, multi-instrumentalist head of the jazz department. His plan was for part of this semester’s focus to be songs from Lazz (once again an unexpected and enormous compliment) and somehow suddenly he and I were writing together…
And thus the trouble I run into regarding Set Two is the result of having a pretty incredible brand new writing partner and a consequently unexpected abundance of new material. Well – seven new songs seems like abundance to me – seven tunes could constitute one set all on their own.
· A pentatonic Irish-style folk-song on a drone.
· A laid-back rock-ish groover.
· A rousing 6/8 gospel-style hand-clapper.
· A Cahn-Sinatra style swingin’ love song.
· A 32-bar standard-style moaner.
· A silly playful tango.
· And one serious heavyweight epic.
The way we work is quite fresh and new to me. After I send a finished lyric to Jared, he places an order with his sub-conscious (that’s how he describes it) and the next morning when he wakes, the tune is ready to be written down. He credits my lyrics for the inspiration. Very reassuring to discover that he finds my intentions so transparent – because they all turned out unbelievably close to how I imagined them. Uncanny.
The setting for our heavyweight epic was the exception which took more time – maybe two weeks – but it still hit that same E.S.P. target. My overblown pretentiously dramatic tear-jerker lyrics, full and heavy with meaningful self-importance, had actually caused him to weep, and to develop a moody waltz like that from a romantic French movie – in the style of Michel LeGrand. Again, it was what I had envisioned – like a cross between Jacques Brel and Kenny Wheeler. Wow!! I love it.
And the extra bonus is that Jared - a fabulous guitarist and luthier with deep background in a broad range of different musical traditions - expressed a wish to be part of the project I am working on with Fred.
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