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Establishing “Landmarks” Within Your Songs, Then Working Backwards

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You might think that most of the time, songwriters work forward through a song as they’re writing it, but in fact, there’s a case to be made for working on certain moments deeper within a song, and then thinking about how to work up to those moments to make it all sound right. In other words, working backwards.

I call this goal-oriented songwriting, and it can go a long way to giving you greater control over the energy and momentum of your song. It means that you establish certain important moments (like the chorus hook, for example), and then you write the bit of your song (the verse or pre-chorus, in this case) that leads up to that chorus.

Why is this idea — working backwards through a song — a good one?

The main reason is that listeners are usually drawn into a song and enticed by fluctuations of musical energy. Most of the time, listeners aren’t even aware that that’s the thing they find most attractive about music — the fact that they perceive low energies at one moment, and then emotional highs the next.

So let’s say that you’re not sure how your song will go, but you do know what your chorus is going to sound like. By establishing the details of your chorus first, you’re in effect telling your audience how intense your song is going to get.

And by creating that important moment, you now have a way of moving backwards in your songwriting process and creating a section that effectively leads into that moment. You know that you have to keep energy and emotional levels lower, moving upward to smoothly connect to your chorus hook.

The end result of goal-oriented songwriting is that you have better control over how intense (or not) each section of your song will be, and it goes a long way to strengthening the structure of your song. It’s something that really works, and in the final version, no one will even know that you worked backwards to get your song working.

You can use this kind of goal-oriented process as a troubleshooting tool. If you’re not happy with how your song has turned out, put your attention on certain moments, like the start of the chorus hook, and then listen to the moments that lead up to that chorus. Do you like the energy build?

In this way, goal-oriented songwriting — working backwards — can help identify that it was the build-up to the chorus — not the chorus itself — that may be the problem.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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