• Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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You’re pulling your hair out because you know that your songs just seem lackluster and you don’t know what to do. You feel like you’ve got good ideas, but when the song is finally done, you can tell that there’s nothing exciting you about it. What the heck is wrong? You’re going through what most songwriters deal with occasionally. To get back on track, go through this checklist.
You should be able to nod “yes” to the following statements:
- My melody shows good contour, with a distinctive shape.
- I can identify a moment in the verse that would serve as a climactic point for that melody.
- I can identify a moment in the chorus that would serve as a climactic point for the song.
- My verse melody works its way upward, and connects somewhat seamlessly to the chorus.
- My chorus melody resides a bit higher than the verse melody, and features the tonic (key) note more than in the verse.
- My bridge melody (if applicable) is generally higher than the chorus.
- I use more “strong” progressions in the chorus, with more interesting “fragile” progressions in the verse (see p. 90 of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, 2nd ed.)
- I use more vocal harmonies in the chorus than I do in the verse.
- I start the bridge, or any other “miscellaneous” section of my song on a chord other than the tonic chord.
- The majority of progressions throughout the song feel like a complete musical journey, and any complex progressions eventually feel resolved by progressions in the chorus.
- I use relatively plain, everyday language that connects with average people.
- Despite my use of plain language, I find opportunities to say or describe things, events, people, etc., with an occasionally clever turn of phrase.
- I ensure that my verse lyrics primarily describe events and situations, while my chorus lyrics primarily describe reactions and emotions.
- I try to find concise ways to say things, and avoid being unnecessarily wordy.
- My song shows, even in a small degree, something innovative that sets it apart from other songs I’ve written, and other songs of the same genre that listeners would know.
- I’ve tried to incorporate something unique regarding instrumentation (fiddle, acoustic guitar, acoustic orchestral instrument, etc.).
- The song’s intro is, even in just some small measure, interesting, and is likely to pull a listener into the rest of the song.
- I’ve varied the overall loudness of the song so that the basic dynamic level shows an interesting and compelling contour.
There is much more that can be said about successful songs, but you should consider a list like that to be a good starting point. If you find yourself saying “no” to any of the above, don’t automatically assume that something’s wrong. But a list like that can at least get you thinking, and put you on the right path to creating songs that demand attention.
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Thanks for the insightful post. I found the bit about lyrics-writing particularly interesting. I’ve been exploring more abstract ways of writing lyrics recently, as I wrote about in this post:
Thought you might find it worth a read.