Update a Song in the Folk Form

I recently got this question from a songwriter who’s just starting out.

Q: Is it okay if my song is a string of verses, with no chorus or bridge? It’s short, too. Can it still be a good song?

A: If a song is a series of verses, it’s in a form that’s been successful for hundreds of years – the folk song form. You can certainly write good songs in that style. These songs often feature a storyline, such as a lost lover, a historical event, or travel to a distant land, but they don’t have to. Good examples of the folk song form are “Scarborough Fair,” “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  Continue reading “Update a Song in the Folk Form”

How Is a Lyric Like a Movie Script?

Here’s a quote from hit songwriter-producer Desmond Child in M Magazine, “The most important thing going into a song is the lyric. The lyric is the script, and you can’t shoot a movie without a script. The score is actually the last part that comes into a movie, in the same way that the music on a record should help bring out the meaning of the lyrics.”

I love his comparison of lyric and movie script. While music truly does have the power to move us emotionally and physically, it’s the lyric that draws us into the song, paints a picture in the mind, makes us identify with the singer or with the people in a situation.

Not the same old story
Like a good movie script, a song has a beginning, a middle, and an end. But I’m not suggesting that you should tell a story in your lyric the way a script does – I met you on Monday. We fell in love on Tuesday. Broke up on Wednesday. This doesn’t really work well for today’s listeners – and it’s not enough for movie-goers either.

The power of a movie script is not that it tells a story. The real power of a good script lies in its ability to draw viewers in emotionally, make them feel afraid when the lead character is in danger, happy when the hero falls in love, and sad when things fall apart. We don’t actually know these characters – they’re not even real – yet we care about them. What good is a story if you don’t care what happens to the people in it?  Continue reading “How Is a Lyric Like a Movie Script?”

When Do YOU Write Songs?

I’m always curious about how other songwriters approach their craft. Maybe they’ve got some clever tricks I could use. Or maybe I’d just like to be reassured that we all do things basically the same way, that I’m not out on some weird, lonely trail all by myself.

So a while ago, I started asking other songwriters the question: “When do you write songs?” I got a wide range of answers – some expected, some not.

The “happy accident” approach
The largest number of songwriters basically said: “I write when I feel inspired.” No surprise there. When an idea hits you that’s obviously a good time to write.

Many said they try to write at least one day per week. Pro songwriters write more often than that, usually every day. Even if you don’t have gobs of time to spend on your songs, you can do something related to your songwriting every couple of days. Here are some ideas… Continue reading “When Do YOU Write Songs?”

The Eight Note Dilemma

A songwriter recently asked me: Is it copyright infringement if I use eight notes of a hit song melody?

A: When you think about it, there are only 12 notes in an octave. And only a few of those sound good in a melody. So, really, any eight notes are going to be in plenty of songs. The trick is to make sure your eight notes don’t remind listeners of a song that isn’t yours.  If they do, that’s called “substantial similarity.”

Substantial similarity is one of the tests for copyright infringement. If your eight notes are in the same order and have the same melodic rhythm as a hit song then there’s likely to be too much similarity. And that’s not good.

The truth is there’s NO hard and fast rule that determines how many notes of someone else’s melody you can use in a song of your own. It may only take two or three notes if they feature a very recognizable interval jump or rhythm. But here are some ideas that can help you out.  Continue reading “The Eight Note Dilemma”