Songwriting: It’s Like Riding a Bicycle

Bicycle in your mindRemember when you learned to ride your first bicycle? It wasn’t easy. You fell down a lot, but you kept trying. At first you needed someone to hold on, keeping you steady. Then you used training wheels to help you stay upright as you pedaled. Then, finally, you were able to ride on your own. You had found that complicated thing called balance. After that, it was a breeze! The process of writing songs is a lot like riding a bike. It’s all about finding a balance!

=> Balance Melody, Chords, Lyrics – Writing a song that listeners will love involves finding a good balance between melody, lyrics, and chords. If you have a busy lyric with a lot of words and images then writing a melody that’s easy for listeners to follow might give your song more appeal. On the other hand, if you have a complicated melody with a lot of rhythmic interest and interval jumps, then keeping your chord progression simple might be a good idea. Try the chord progressions on this page to get things going.

When there are too many things demanding their attention, listeners don’t know what to focus on and that can be frustrating. If they’re feeling confused or overwhelmed, they’re  likely to tune out.

A good rule of thumb: As the complexity of one of your song elements goes up – lyrics, melody, or chords – consider organizing the other elements in easy-to-follow patterns or using more repetition.

Continue reading “Songwriting: It’s Like Riding a Bicycle”

Interview with Ryan Tedder

Check out this excellent interview with Ryan Tedder, lead singer and songwriter of OneRepublic and an hugely successful record producer. It’s straightforward, useful information on everything from songwriting to producing to arranging. If you got my recent newsletter and tried the top-line writing exercise, you were writing to a track by Ryan Tedder.

Here are a few short excerpts from the excellent interview by Tom Cole for NPR. (A link to the complete interview below.)

On the importance of melody: “Melody is the single most important thing to any song, period. I don’t care what anybody says, it trumps everything. Not because that’s my opinion but because I think it’s actually indisputable fact. The human brain retains melody easier than it retains words. It’s that simple.”

I love this quote on the difference between Indie and Commercial artists: “I think the best songs are being written by the very under-stated, under-appreciated indie artists. The thing that separates them from mainstream success is they either consciously or unknowingly refuse to deliver on a big chorus.”

On instrumental hooks: “I think a riff can be complementary but when you go from complimentary to primary, then it becomes the hook to me.”

Don’t miss this. It’s worth your time. Here’s the complete interview by Tom Cole on NPR’s “The Record”: Ryan Tedder Interview: A Fan of Music Talks About the Craft of Songwriting

Make Your Melodies Memorable and Original

Today’s melodies and, in fact, many of the great melodies of past decades rely on a handful of techniques to create that special something that keeps them sounding fresh and easy to remember.

Here’s a checklist that will help you make sure your melody has everything it needs before you launch it into the world.

1. Does your melody convey the structure of your song?

If your song has a VERSE / CHORUS structure, make sure listeners know where they are by creating plenty of contrast in the melody between these two sections. Try jumping to higher note range for the chorus or changing from a choppy melody in the verse to a smooth one in the chorus, or from short melodic phrases to long ones. Contrast between sections grabs attention and keeps your melody from sounding like it’s wandering aimlessly. Listeners like to have a sense of “place” in a song. They want to know where they are.  Continue reading “Make Your Melodies Memorable and Original”

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”