Not building an audience base? The reason is likely within this list.
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Here’s the scenario: You write song after song, and you can do that with relative ease. But quantity should never be a measure of quality. And when it comes right down to it, you have to admit it: you aren’t building an audience base.
It’s time to put a magnifying glass on what you’re writing and discover the reasons your songs are failing. Which one of the following songwriting mistakes are you committing?
1. Your Lyrics Aren’t Clever, Imaginative or Awe-Inspiring.
Not every song lyric you write needs to be to the level of a Dylan or Cohen. But if you haven’t written anything quotable in your past 10 songs, you’ve missed 10 opportunities to connect in a powerful way to your audience. Good lyrics won’t automatically make your songs winners, but they give you your best shot at communicating your ideas. Writing good lyrics takes practice. Check these “4 Fun Games to Hone Your Lyric-Writing Abilities” to improve.
2. Your Lyrics Lack Structure.
A verse lyric is not a chorus lyric. If you start you song by moaning about your latest love-life failure, you’re coming across as high-maintenance, and chasing your audience away. Use your verse to describe situations, people and circumstances, and save emoting for the chorus. If you need more help with this, this article should help: “How Verse, Chorus and Bridge Lyrics Differ From Each Other”
3. Your Songs Are Boring Because They Lack Contrast.
A song without contrast means that there is an annoying quality of sameness throughout the entire tune. The instrumentation is the same, the chords all sound the same, the melody wallows up and down in the same basic vocal range – you get the idea. So it’s time to change things up, because that’s not going to work for you. Develop different instrumentations for your chorus, something that beefs-up the sound. Create melodies with contour, and add altered chords to your verse progressions. In short, take your listeners on an interesting musical journey.
4. Your Chord Progressions Wander About With No Sense of Direction.
In the world of chord progressions, aimless wandering usually refers to progressions that don’t sound as though they’ve got a harmonic goal in mind. In most songs, your progressions should sound like they’re targeting the tonic chord. Dm7-G-C does the trick; Bbm7-E-G is trickier. If you need a primer on how chords work, read this article, “How to Make a Chord Progression Work Every Time.”
5. Your Songs’ Energy Is a Random Up-and-Down Mess.
When we talk about a song’s energy, we’re talking about at least two different qualities. One is the general quality of attractiveness: energy keeps people wondering what will happen next. But the quality we want to talk about here is basic musical excitement. If you listen to the beginning of your song, and then scroll to the last minute or so, you should hear an obvious difference. The last chorus repeats should be louder, higher, more energetic and compelling than the beginning. If your song does that in a random way throughout, it just confuses the listener. Keep energy building in a more-or-less upward direction.
6. Your Song is Missing an Important Hook.
The hook is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal for giving the audience something to remember. If there’s no distinctive, catchy hook, you’ve given your audience nothing to take away, and nothing to hum to themselves until the next time they hear your song. There are many different kinds of hooks, so give this article a read if you need help with that: “3 Great Song Hook Types, and How to Write Them.”
7. You Don’t Realize that Good Music Is a Combination of Fragile and Strong Moments.
We use the terms “fragile” and “strong” mostly when talking about chord progressions, but in fact it applies to almost every element of songwriting. In chord progressions, a fragile set of chords is one that doesn’t overtly target the tonic chord. You want to keep these kinds to a minimum, but they can be beautifully used in verse progressions. Generally speaking, a verse will tolerate more “fragility” than a chorus. So use rhythmic syncopations, creative imagery, transparent instrumentations, and so on, in a verse. When you get to the chorus, “strong” becomes the order of the day. Keep your chorus progressions short and focused on the tonic chord, make lyrics clear and emotional, use strong on-the-beat rhythms instead of syncopations… that sort of thing.
8. Your Song Melodies Are Too Random and Patternless.
The best song melodies are the ones that use repetition, either exact (like “Born in the U.S.A.“) or approximate (like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Repetition of a catchy bit of melody makes a tune more memorable. So look for something that’s beautiful or otherwise memorable, and string that short idea together into something longer, something suitable for a verse or chorus. Use a song like Imogen Heap’s “First Train Home” as a model. Notice the many ways she uses repetition in the structuring of the melodies. Sometimes it happens on the note-level, and sometimes it’s one phrase that sound almost the same as the next one, and then moves in a new direction.
9. Each Section of Your Song Is Too Different.
You want contrast, of course, but when it sounds as though each section is too dissimilar, you’ve got problems. So if you’re tempted to change key at the chorus, and then completely switch instrumentation, tempo, time signature and everything else, you make your song too confusing for you audience, and they get bored. The lesson here is that there is contrast, and then there’s excessive contrast. Always keep some thread that moves through your song, staying more-or-less the same, that gives your listeners the comfort of musical glue. Usually that means that the tempo stays the same, and that instrumentation is added to the chorus, rather than completely change.
10. You’ve Got Nothing Interesting To Say.
Bob Dylan once remarked that he wondered why people who interviewed him asked him his opinion on politics or other issues. He felt that his political opinion was no more important than anyone else’s. But the thing is, he’s always been able to state his views in such a powerfully imaginative way that it sounds as if he is a social scientist par excellence. He’s got opinions, but more to the point, he can offer those opinions in ways that keep people listening. It’s time to look at your entire songwriting catalogue, and ask yourself, “Do I have anything interesting to say?” If you feel tempted to keep singing “I love you” in hundreds of different ways, it may be time to put your pencil down and think. THINK HARD. What do you want people to know about you – about the kinds of things you think about, the kinds of things that really matter to you? What affects you? You don’t have to be heavy in every song you write, but if you have nothing interesting to say, just stop saying it, put your pencil down, and think.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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