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There’s a similarity between songwriting and playing sports that bears mentioning: In sports, it’s quite possible to do nothing wrong, and still lose the game. More than getting it right, the successful teams have an undefinable “magic.” In that sense, a successful song, like a great sports team, is often greater than the sum of its parts. That doesn’t mean that you simply put a lyric, melody and chord progression together, sit back, and see if magic happens. There are things you can (and must) do to ensure that your song becomes the one everyone is humming.
So what are those things? For starters, take a look at the following four pointers:
- Every song you write needs to show something innovative, something unique that sets it apart from all the other songs that you’ve written. You can go a long way toward this goal by never starting two songs in a row in the same way. If you started with a chord progression to create your last song, you need to start your next one in a completely different way. Don’t use a formula!
- Try to incorporate an interesting instrument, or instrumental effect, in most of your songs. It can be the difference that grabs people’s attention. What would McCartney’s “Mull of Kintyre” be without the bagpipes? But it doesn’t even need to be that obvious. Even if you’re using a band with a set instrumentation, you can do things in performance that puts a mark of uniqueness on the sound of your songs.
- Allow your songs’ intros to make a statement. An intro is your songs first and almost only chance to grab people’s attention. Do something creative, something imaginative. An intro can be used to set up a hook, give melodic shapes that come from the rest of the song, and introduce the song’s mood. It’s an opportunity that can be wasted if you’re not careful.
- Make changes to loudness levels (dynamics) throughout your song. Sometimes a song can sound boring, and all it takes is the drama that comes from changing quickly from softs to louds and back again.
When I critique songs that are sent to me, the most common issue I encounter is “sameness”: nothing stands out. Nothing makes a statement, and the whole song sounds the same from beginning to end.
So for every song you write, make a recording of it,and ask yourself, “What’s special about this song that sets it apart from anything else I’ve ever written? If you can’t answer that question easily, you’ve got to make changes if you want to make an impact.
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