by Robin Frederick
Q: 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.
1. Pump up your lyrics. Learn more about using images, action words, and physical sensations in your lyrics. Mixing vivid language with conversational lines is a great way to capture your listeners and make them feel what you feel. Here’s a blog post that will show you how to do that.
2. Study songs by your favorite artists. Learn to sing and play them to embed their lyric phrasing, melody, and chord style. Then blend some of these techniques into your own songs. You’re not going to copy these artists, just mix some new “spices” into your standard recipe. It doesn’t take much to create a new flavor.
3. Rewrite your song melodies. Don’t settle for the first melody that comes to mind. Often, these tend to sound alike. They’re the result of songwriting habits. Play with your melody. Try changing the phrase lengths by splitting a line into two, or running one line into the next by adding a couple words and notes. Try starting your phrases on different beats. Here are more tips on how to rewrite your melody to make it more unique.
4. Take a few acting classes. That’s right… acting classes. Learn more about how to get inside emotions and characters. Find out how to express emotion with your voice. You don’t have to turn into a character actor or anything, just pick up a few tips on how to be more expressive in words and voice. It can make a big difference. Most community colleges and local theaters offer acting classes.
5. Find a co-writer or two or three. Start writing with other songwriters. They’ll bring new lyric themes and language, melody patterns, genres, and musical ideas to your work. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Check out these tips for finding and working with collaborators.
Good luck to you and may your songs flow!