5 Ways to Pump Up the Power of Your Song’s Message

You can improve your songwriting by learning how motivational speakers do what they do.

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Singer on stageImagine a motivational speaker walking up to a podium, clearing his throat, and saying, “Don’t live someone else’s life… Identify YOUR dream, and LIVE IT.” Then he turns around and walks back to his seat. It’s a great message, but totally ineffective. A message like that, to be powerful, needs considerable preparation. And in fact, motivational speakers are experts in preparing an audience’s mind to receive a message. Done well, they take a simple, obvious statement like “identify your dream and live it,” and turn people’s lives around.

As a songwriter you have that same power. But your message, which is to say your song, needs to be carefully presented. If you nail it, you’ll excite and motivate thousands or millions. And more importantly, build your audience base.

What makes a great speech is similar to what makes a great song. You need to start by presenting interesting but simple ideas that you plan to develop over the next short while.

But it’s not enough for speakers or songwriters to simply give ideas. Your ideas need to speak directly to your listener, and captivate them. You need to make people want to keep listening, and that’s often the difference between a song that fails and a song that zooms to the top of the charts.

A good motivational speaker knows that their ideas when first presented aren’t going to necessarily convince anyone. No, those first ideas, while interesting and true, will die unless they’re brought together and strengthened. That strengthening (the build-up) culminates in a climactic moment.

In that sense, you are the motivational speaker of the music world. You need to present ideas (the verse) that are interesting and attractive. Those ideas need a strengthening (a build-up of song energy), and usually a climactic moment (in the chorus) in order to convince the audience.

Here are 5 important tips for writing songs that grab listeners and build an audience base:

  1. Write lyrics that speak to universal topics. A universal topic is one that crosses generations, nations, and can be identified with no matter who the listener is. It’s why LOVE is such a successful topic. Other universal topics: freedom, justice, family.
  2. Use words that everyone uses in everyday speech. Song lyrics need to read like something you’d say, more so than something you’d write.
  3. Start verse melodies on a note other than the tonic. The tonic note is the note that represents the key you’re in. So the tonic note of A major is A. The problem with starting a melody on the tonic note is that it since melodies often move toward the tonic note as a conclusion, it feels very “final.” So try starting on the 3rd note of the key (like  “We Found Love”, by Rihanna, feat. Calvin Harris), the 5th (like Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain”), or even something like the 2nd note (like “Without You” by David Guetta, feat. Usher).
  4. Create a climactic moment in your chorus melody. A climactic moment is often the highest note, and usually culminates with a harmonically strong chord that doesn’t have to be a tonic chord, and often isn’t. It could be the dominant (V) or subdominant chord (IV). Not every song needs a “killer moment”, but it can really lift a song and give it some zing. In Katy Perry’s “The One That Got Away“, the chorus features a short melodic cell that starts on the note A (key of E), and keeps hitting that note over and over, until the line “I would make you stay“, which gives us the highest note of the chorus: B.
  5. Make sure your song features an instrumental, vocal and rhythmic build from the start of a verse to the end of a chorus. And further to this point, make sure that your final choruses are every bit as energetic, or more so, than previous choruses.
All of these ideas are exactly what motivational speakers do. They present simple ideas, and, using words that everyone uses every day, grab listeners with a gradual build up of energy. As a songwriter, you can excite your audience simply by doing the very same thing.

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