Great Song Lyrics: Using Clichés

Have you ever noticed how some people can describe a simple, everyday event and make it sound hilarious or tragic or just plain interesting, while another person can tell the same story and have you snoring with boredom in an instant?

If the language you use to tell a story is vivid and fresh even a familiar experience or idea can come to life, but if you’re talking in overused, predictable phrases – in other words, if you’re using clichés – the most exciting story can become dull. It’s all in the words you choose.

People often speak in clichés.
Time flies!A cliché is a phrase that’s been used so often it has become a universal way of expressing an idea: “Time flies!” “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” “He’s full of hot air.” “You can count on me.” It’s often the first phrase that comes to mind and you can be pretty sure that everyone knows what you mean.

For example, here’s a description of a workday that’s filled with clichés.

  • I guess I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Nothing seemed to go right. I took the bus to work; it was so crowded people were packed like sardines. I was late getting to the office and the boss was hopping mad. The day seemed to drag on and on. I thought six o’clock would never come!

While this paragraph gives you an idea of what the speaker’s day was like, it doesn’t make you feel the boredom and frustration. Familiar phrases such as “packed like sardines,” “hopping mad” and “seemed to drag on and on” have been used so many times they’ve lost their emotional impact. Listeners no longer picture the images or notice the comparisons.

Give your clichés new life. 
1. Use a fresh or unexpected comparison: Comparisons are a great way to add energy to a description. There was a time when “packed like sardines” was vivid, fresh, and funny. Listeners really pictured it when they heard it and it made them react. Eventually, so many people liked it and used it that the idea became stale and listeners stopped reacting. Continue reading “Great Song Lyrics: Using Clichés”

5 Ways to Rewrite a Melody

by Robin Frederick

Bright ideaMost of us know how to rework a song lyric to make it stronger – add images, action words, tighten the focus, etc. – but melodies are often left out of the rewriting process. Many times, the first melody that pops out is the one we keep just because we don’t know how to make it better.

But what happens when your melodies all start to sound the same, or a music publisher tells you your melody sounds generic or dated? How do you fix those problems? Here are a few tips that will help you reshape and update your melodies. Experiment with these ideas; play around with them. If you don’t like the new melody you come up with, you can always go back to what you had.

1. Break up a series of similar lines into different lengths. If you have a melody with a lot of lines that are the same length, your song might might sound monotonous or unstructured to listeners. Rewrite your chorus or verse melody to increase the contrast between sections. Try breaking up a long line into two shorter phrases or run two phrases together by adding extra notes and words.  Continue reading “5 Ways to Rewrite a Melody”

Do Your Songs All Sound the Same?

by Robin Frederick

Q & AQ: I have one big problem and I’m wondering if you can help.  I have written over 160 songs. My words, melody, and my voice all seem to sound the same.  What am I doing wrong?

A: If you have a “signature sound” – your songs all have a recognizable style and sound –  there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. To my ears, many of Jackson Browne’s songs sound very similar in terms of music and vocals, and he’s certainly successful. He relies on powerful lyrics to tell unique stories filled with emotion and character. Vocals and music are secondary, while the lyrics hold the listener’s attention.

So, the real question is, do listeners respond to your songs and your sound the way you want them to? If you feel you’re not reaching them, then it’s a matter of upping your songwriting skills in one or more areas.  Continue reading “Do Your Songs All Sound the Same?”

Writing Rap and Hip-Hop Songs

I’ve been asked by a few songwriters for advice on how to create good Hip-Hop and Rap songs. Because this is a little outside of my usual style, I asked a couple of successful Rap producers and label owners to help me out.

HIP-HOP SONG FORM
Hip-Hop relies on a 16-bar verse form followed by a chorus/hook section. Often there are three verse sections with each one followed by a chorus or hook section. Sometimes the third verse is replaced with a bridge, a section with different chords or a change up  in the rap style or content. The hook/chorus provides an anchor for the listener while the verses tell the story, paint a picture, or express the personality of the rapper.

I’ve noticed that some very successful rap songs open with the hook – the catchiest part of the song –  to grab the listener’s attention right at the start.   Use these repeated hook sections to make a statement that sums up the heart of your song. These are the lines your listeners will remember so make them emotional, honest, and unique.

Crossover Urban hits like Keyshia Cole and Missy Elliott’s “Let It Go” or Kanye West and T-Pains’s “Good Life” have big melodic choruses that break up the rap verses. You can use these songs to help you frame a solid song structure in this style. Just make your rap is the same length as theirs and drop your hook where they do.

Producers’ advice: Whether you sing or rap your chorus hook, use plenty of contrast. Try jumping to a high note to start a melodic hook and smoothing or stretching out the delivery. For a rap hook, change up the pace or rhythm pattern – slow it down or shorten/lengthen your phrases. Start on an unexpected beat or emphasize an unusual beat. Your goal is to change up the rhythm of the words or melody enough to catch the listener’s attention. Continue reading “Writing Rap and Hip-Hop Songs”