Most of the time, when you start writing a song, you’re thinking about what you’re feeling and what you want to say, and that’s the best way to approach your songwriting. But by keeping a little corner of your brain focused on the genre you want to write in, you can add an extra edge to your song that will help you find an audience for it down the road, and possibly a music publisher or record label.
Like ice cream, songs come in different flavors: strawberry, chocolate, peach, and rocky road. And, like ice cream flavors, there are very real differences between the four mainstream music genres — Country, Pop, Rock, and R&B/Soul. Each one appeals to a different audience.
When listeners tune into a radio station that plays Country music, they expect to hear a range of songs that share a certain sound. Jazz stations play something that sounds different from the Country music station. Listeners who tune in to a Jazz station are expecting to hear the kinds of chords, melodies, and lyrics that are characteristic of today’s Jazz genre. If they get a Country song instead, they won’t be happy! Radio stations need to keep listeners satisfied if they want them to stick around.
If you write a song that straddles Country and Jazz — let’s say you throw a few cool jazz chords into your Country song — you may have trouble finding a publisher for it or an artist who will record it. Why? Because publishers, record labels and artists all know that reaching an audience that likes a certain kind of music is essential if they want to sell records.
If you’re an independent artist, recording your own songs, you can take plenty of chances with your album cuts but, if you want to reach a wider audience, you’ll still need a couple of songs that can get radio or Internet airplay, get onto those lists of “artists related to” a more famous artist, and appeal to audiences looking for styles they already like. Try to aim at least two of your songs toward the general sound that is characteristic of your genre. Once you have a big fan base, you can push the boundaries more.
CHOOSE A GENRE AND GET FAMILIAR WITH IT
Spend some time listening to current hits in the genre you want to write in. If you like Country music, listen to the top 20 current Country hits and study the chords, melodies, and lyrics to see what they have in common. What is it that Country audiences are excited about right now? Whether you want to write Rock, Pop, R&B/Soul or Hip-Hop, check out the current radio airplay charts to see which songs are getting the most play. These are the ones that listeners are eating up!
“But,” I hear you say, “these songs being pushed hard by mega-record labels. That’s the only reason they’re hits!” Sure there’s plenty of money behind all of these songs — the big record labels can afford to buy plenty of ads and lots of promotion –but ultimately money can’t push a song to the top of the charts, only listeners can do that. There isn’t enough money in the world to force listeners to like something.
You can find up-to-date Radio Airplay Charts at BDSradio.com. Choose the radio format you’re interested in – If you don’t know which charts you’re interested in, check out a few. This is essential research for songwriters!
Make a list of the songs and artists in the top 15 or 20, then go over to iTunes, Spotify, Rdio, Youtube, or any legal download or streaming site and listen to the song. Don’t pick the DUDS you don’t like! Choose songs you wish you’d written.
Once you’ve found a genre you like and a couple of songs, listen to them carefully and study your genre. Look for the general, broad characteristics of your genre by asking the following questions as you listen.
- What themes are featured?
- What kind of language is used: direct, slangy, poetic?
- What sorts of characters turn up in these songs, including the singer?
- How does the lyric tell the listener what’s happening?
- How much contrast is being used between sections?
- How does the melody let you know whether you’re listening to a verse or a chorus?
- How much repetition is used, how much variation in the melody line?
- Do you hear basic three-note chords primarily?
- What other kinds of chords are being played?
- How frequently are the chords changing?
These are just a few of the questions that will help you study your genre. No one wants to sound exactly like everyone else but you DO want your song to incorporate enough of a genre’s characteristic sound so that it will fit into a radio format. Blend it with your own style to make sure YOU still sound like YOU but give it an extra push toward radio.
by Robin Frederick
This post is based on my songwriting books: Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting, Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV, Study the Hits, and The 30-Minute Songwriter. Find out more about all of my print and eBooks on my Author page at Amazon. In each book you’ll find dozens of useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to craft songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.