The world is a big place. I only mention that because that’s one possible reason why no one is humming your melodies. You need to be realistic in your expectations. If you aren’t actively trying to build an international audience base, most people actually won’t be humming your tunes.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the fact that your song melodies are not making the right connection to your audience, whatever and wherever that audience may be. You’re finding it difficult to build a fan base. You’ve got a website for streaming your tunes, but you’re not generating excitement about the music you’re writing. What’s causing that, and what can you do about it?
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Songwriting excellence is hard to achieve, mostly because it’s hard to pinpoint the cause of songs that aren’t connecting to listeners. Is it a weakness in the song itself? Is it the weakness of the performances you’re recording? Is it a glitch in how you’re distributing your music and making it available to others?
The Importance of a Great Melody
If you check “best of” lists of songwriters in any genre, you are very often looking at a list of some of the best lyricists we have. Lyrics have a way of making a songwriter stand out from the pack. But hand-in-hand with great lyrics is the melody that acts as a vehicle for those lyrics.
And that great melody is what people hum as they walk down the streets. The lyrics might impress them, but no one walks about reciting lyrics without the melody. No one walks down the street humming chord progressions.
So in that all-important partnership between melody, lyrics and chords, melody stands out as one of the most important features of a song that makes or breaks it. No one is going to return to a song that they aren’t humming.
If no one is humming your melodies, there are any number of reasons why that could be. But here’s a short list of 3 reasons — the most common ones — and things you can do about them:
- The melody sounds random, or wanders aimlessly. Most verse melodies will have a kind of wandering quality about it, but certainly by the time a chorus happens, that melody needs to be focused and hooky. Think of the chorus of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”, and you’ve got a melody that’s easily riveted into the brain of the audience. It’s easy to hum. It’s made up of short, memorable phrases, backed by a catchy rhythm. It’s actually fun to sing. As you write your chorus melody, be sure that you’ve written something that’s locked into the key of your song and is fun to sing.
- The range of the melody is too large. Try to keep most of your melody within an octave range. And in fact, many songs use an even more constricted range than that. Ninety percent of the melody of “Hound Dog” sits within a tiny range of a 3rd.
- The chorus melody isn’t rhythmically interesting. Some chorus melodies might just hit quarter note after quarter note (“My Brave Face” – Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello), or be a long sequence of 8th-notes (“Just Give Me a Reason” – Pink, Jeff Bhaskar, Nate Reuss). But for many songs, it’s the combination of notes of differing rhythmic values that gets people’s attention. Think of the chorus from “All Of Me” (John Stephens, Toby Gad, Tony Nolan), and you’ll see what a mix of rhythmic interplay — long notes combined with short ones — can do for a melody.
Keep in mind that a song isn’t always about that great melody. There can be other reasons that a song really makes it big. Remember, good songwriting means controlling the partnership between melody, chords and lyrics, and then the all-important production and performance issues. In other words, your melody might be fine, but the chords could be bringing it down.
In the attempt to fix songs that aren’t making the right connection with the audience, you’ll almost never go wrong to start with the melody and then branch out and look at the other aspects of your song. And ask yourself: Is everything else supporting that melody?