Ditching a Songwriting Formula and Feeling Good About It

musician/composerIf you find yourself ever using the phrase, “my favourite formula,” while describing your songwriting process, you might be actually identifying a problem that keeps you from building a solid audience base. A formula is a method or procedure for how a song typically comes into being. If you’ve used one method a lot more than others, it can prevent your new songs from sounding fresh or creative. It’s essential for songwriters to try as many ways as possible to develop their musical ideas.

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The Beatles were masters at avoiding cliché songwriting formulas. It’s almost as if they determined that once a song became a hit, they’d abandon the overall song structure and go for something new and innovative. Consequently, they had hit after hit that didn’t seem to closely resemble anything that came before. “Penny Lane”, “Help!”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Hey Jude” – these are all monster hits that each give the appearance of being a “one-off.” The basic structure for any one of their hits was rarely duplicated, no matter how successful a song they created with it.

It’s tempting, when you come up with something that really works for you, to keep using it. We like success! But if you really want to ensure your success, keep changing your songwriting procedure.

Sometimes that means changing your song’s actual form, while it can also mean changing the way you start your song. In any case, think of writing a song the same way a baseball pitcher might think of pitches: change ’em up, and keep ’em guessing.

So what ways can you change up song form? If you feel most comfortable with the various verse-chorus-bridge formats, try something unexpected, like starting with the chorus, or changing tempo at some point, or changing key unexpectedly somewhere.

If you feel most comfortable with the guitar-bass-drums instrumentation, try hiring someone to write a string quartet accompaniment. Or try a 3-part unaccompanied vocal harmonization.

If your song intros always seem to be a chord-strumming “vamp ’til ready” kind of thing, use your imagination. Get a music major from your local university to write a cello solo, or work out an interesting percussion intro, or… anything that keeps your listeners guessing.

Remember, your listeners may love your stuff, but that doesn’t mean you want to keep feeding them the same ideas over and over. They need you to be imaginative, and if you want to build an audience base, you need to be imaginative.

And the moment you start to really love one particular songwriting formula, do yourself and your potential career a favour and ditch it! Listen to as many different artists as possible, from as many different genres as you can. The impact of that music on your own songs will make sure your music stays fresh and creative!

-Gary Ewer, from ““The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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  1. Spot On Gary,

    Coming from The Beatle generation, i was always aware how each hit was so different from the one before..

    Recently I was sent twelve songs from a new writer, (we never like more than three) unless we request it.

    Every song was identical format, every title was cliche, every rhyme used was fifty’s, well recorded , but the writers had completely wasted, their money spent on demo’s, convinced they were ready to pitch.

    A steel guitar well played does nothing for a poorly written country song.

    It seems to me that no one is listening to what acts are recording today, most learning writers are stuck in a time warp way back from when they were teenagers.

    Peter Jenkins P.J.Xanau Music Publishing

    • Very true, Peter. If I have one piece of advice for anyone getting into the songwriting field today, it would be to listen to other good songwriters. The more we listen, the more diverse our own scope becomes.


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