How to Fix a Song That Just Doesn't Work

by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:

You can learn as much by looking at bad songs as you can by looking at the good ones. The problem is that it’s difficult to find a lot of bad songs to study.If a song has made it to the radio, it usually means that at least on some level, the song has succeeded. You may not like that song, but the fact that you’re listening to it means that enough people have found the song to be the sort of thing they want to listen to.

So when a song fails, you don’t really get to hear about it. History and time have a way of filtering out the bad music, leaving only the ones that, in even just a small way, have worked. In a way, that’s a shame, because we can learn a lot about good music by looking at bad music. Bad music is usually the kind that violates one or more of the basic principles of successful songs.

My e-book The Essential Secrets of Songwriting outlines 11 principles that successful songs follow. Some of those principles can act as a checklist for you to use to examine your songs, while others are advice you should follow in the quest to write a great song. Here they are:

  1. SONGS WITHOUT CONTRAST RISK BEING BORING. (This means: songs need highs and lows, louds and softs, energy and… you get the idea)
  2. IN GENERAL, THE ENERGY OF THE END OF A SONG SHOULD EQUAL OR EXCEED THE ENERGY AT THE BEGINNING. (This means: songs should become more, not less, energetic as they proceed.)
  3. TWO CHORDS THAT HAVE A NOTE IN COMMON WILL FORM ASTRONG PROGRESSION; AND IF THAT FIRST CHORD MOVES UP BY FOUR NOTES OR DOWN BY FIVE NOTES TO REACH THE NEXT CHORD, THE PROGRESSION BECOMES EVEN STRONGER. (This means: don’t just throw chords together. Think about what you’re doing.)
  4. A VERSE WILL USUALLY TOLERATE MORE FRAGILE PROGRESSIONS THAN A CHORUS; A CHORUS USUALLY REQUIRES MORE STRONG PROGRESSIONS. (This is a crucial element where many songs fail.)
  5. THERE SHOULD BE A PERCEIVABLE AND SOMEWHAT PREDICTABLE PATTERN TO THE PLANNING OF CHORD CHANGES. (This means: Within any one song, the chords should all feel like they belong together, almost like a family of chords from which some go together to form the verse, others the chorus, and so on.)
  6. THE SHAPE OF A MELODY MUST BE PLANNED WITH VOCAL RANGE, HARMONY AND TEXT IN MIND. (This means: no one element exists without the help of the others. Such songs will feel disjunct and disorganized).
  7. A VERSE CAN USE TEXT THAT IS NARRATIVE AND INCONCLUSIVE, WITH PREDOMINANTLY FRAGILE CHORD PROGRESSIONS, WHILE A CHORUS CAN USE TEXT THAT IS REFLECTIVE AND DRAWS CONCLUSIONS, AND USE STRONGER CHORD PROGRESSIONS.
  8. THE PRESENCE OF THE KEYNOTE (TONIC NOTE) WILL STRENGTHEN THE UNDERLYING STRUCTURE OF A MELODY. CHORUSES CAN AND SHOULD FEATURE THE TONIC NOTE IN ITS MELODY MORE THAN VERSES.
  9. THE LATTER HALF OF VERSES WILL OFTEN BE PITCHED HIGHER THAN THE FIRST HALF; CHORUS NOTES ARE OFTEN HIGHER THAN VERSE NOTES. (This means: Things should rise, not fall, as the song proceeds.)
  10. MAKE A SONG’S HOOK SHORT AND MEMORABLE. (This means: If they don’t remember it, it’s a bad hook (or not a hook at all.)
  11. ADDING A HOOK TO A BAD SONG GIVES YOU A BAD SONG WITH A HOOK. (This means: A hook can make a song better, but won’t solve structural problems.)

If you want to read more about these principles, and how they can solve your songwriting woes, get Gary’s suite of 5 songwriting e-books. Right now, purchase the bundle of 5 at 20% off. Click here to learn more..

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