Matt Blick is studying the songwriting of the Beatles and blogging about what he learns from (eventually) all 211 of their songs. Along the way, he’s been compiling a list of insightful “Tickets to Write” drawn from the finest work of the four. 42 tickets so far!
“There’s something magical about songwriting. No matter how many songs I write or how much I know about songwriting, I am still amazed and a little awestruck that it happens at all. How does a song get started? How do you know where to go next?”
“Writing a song well is a real challenge. You need all the help you can get. Where you start your song determines where it is able to go next, so start your song where you’ll have the most help.
A title (or hook) gives you a great deal of information immediately. For starters, it suggests ideas and concepts. Think of, for example, the DNA – the implicit or suggested concepts – in the title, “Heartbreak Hotel.” What does its title suggest? What is it?”
This is a great article on the quirky blog The Art of Manliness. You don’t have to be a man to benefit from its insights. You can be a woman or a boy or anything in between. No mustache required.
“A common failing among songwriters is to say what you want to say in the first two lines and, instead of finding an equally strong statement to finish the verse, settling for a weaker line for the sake of the rhyme. Sure, you save some work, but you’ve also effectively weakened your song.”
“Another critical aspect of effective lyric writing is focus. You should be able, in one word, to describe the emotion or mental state that a song expresses. Happiness, sadness, love, hate, jealousy, and resentment are just some of the emotions we’ve all felt.”
“When something changes, we check it out. What’s happening? What’s different? It’s buried deep in our brains, like the ‘fight or flight’ response. After all, for a few hundred thousand years, noticing a sudden brown patch of lion against the smooth green of the plains could save your life. Things are not so different now: a siren, or a shift in the traffic pattern, is all we need to put us on alert. Once we’re satisfied that everything is safe, we no longer need to devote energy to it and we disengage our attention.”
The link above leads to an excellent series of videos by Berklee professor and author Pat Pattison. Pat is well-read, phenomenally insightful, and always entertaining. Don’t miss these videos—or his book Writing Better Lyrics.
“So what’s the difference between a song hook that keeps running through your head and a jingle that’s driving you nuts? Not much if it’s a banal hook line from a song you don’t like. However, there’s a big difference if the hook evokes the emotional world of a song, especially a song youdo like. This is what you want your hook to do so I’m going to suggest that you turn your hook into a mini-version of your song, offering listeners a taste, a reminder of what they enjoyed, and making them want to listen again.”
10. The Practice of Ear Training – Dave Douglas
“You can’t deny the power of raw talent in music, but it is possible there is an even greater strength in the human capacity for self-transformation, growth, and genius. Some people have enormous natural talent and ability. Some have to work really hard. One way or another we’re all striving to find a true expression in sound, one that touches on something universal, and we all have to strive to find our own path, no matter how gifted or challenged we may be.”
“Today’s audiences love the feeling of being swept along at top speed, falling forward into the next verse or chorus. To build forward momentum into your melody, you need to suggest the idea that there is always something happening or just about to happen in your melody. There are two clever tricks that will help you create this effect in your melodies…”
“The Immersion Composition Society is an organization for songwriters and composers who think too much. One could almost say (as long as they laughed afterwards) that the ICS functions as a kind of Tortured Genius Anonymous for songwriters– an extreme musical subculture of songwriting games and secret listening parties, providing support and assistance to “talented basket cases and unmotivated visionaries” everywhere…”
Andrea Stolpe is the author of Popular Lyric Writing: 10 Steps to Effective Storytelling. She has a unique genius for songwriting tricks and techniques that’s present in her book and in articles like this one, which shows you how to find very natural-sounding rhymes in your own freewriting.
This article is by far the most popular out of all the hundreds of songwriting articles available on my own blog. Where does all the time go? Read this and find out.
“Writing a great chorus is integral to catching the ears of our listeners. Within the chorus lies the heart of our message, and that heart is summed up in the title or hook that often supplies the first and last lines of our chorus. Some choruses have the incredible effect of tying up an idea so perfectly, it almost breathes a sigh of ‘ah-hah’ throughout the audience as it is uttered. But what makes a title really work, and how can we apply that knowledge to the writing of future songs?”
“Metaphors are not user-friendly. They are hard to find and hard to use well. Unfortunately, metaphor is a mainstay of good lyric writing, indeed, of most creative writing . From total snores like “break my heart” and “feel the emptiness inside” to awakening shocks like “the arc of a love affair” (Paul Simon), “feather canyons” (Joni Mitchell), “soul with no leak at the seam” (Peter Gabriel), and “Brut and charisma poured from the shadows” (Steely Dan), metaphors support lyrics like bone. The trick is to know how to build them.”
There are few things more intimidating than starting a song. Maybe all you have is an idea or a theme. Every time you think about getting to work on it, you feel overwhelmed. Try breaking down the initial process into a series of steps and do them one at a time.