I’ve given a course on songwriting and presented a few talks on aspects of it to various groups. While I haven’t published anything formally, I wanted to use this blog to at least give the main points of my approach. Whenever a songwriter comes in the studio with a song that may need a bit of work, I always use these principles to guide my suggestions on improvement.
- The purpose of a song is to convey an emotion to the listener.
Ask yourself what emotion you want someone to feel after hearing your song. If you get that emotion back from your listener, you have succeeded as a songwriter. I’m not talking about deep, heavy emotions necessarily. It may be that all you want someone to feel is light and carefree. Maybe you want them to be amused. There is a huge range of feeling and emotion between happy and sad, so try to be as specific as you can.
- Lyrically, a song should be about one moment in time from an emotional point of view.
Without getting into a lot of lyric writing technique, this principle alone should keep you on target. This is not to say you can’t change scenes and go from one point in your life to another in one song. It’s that, if you do, each of those scenes should still be about the same moment, even though they occurred at different points in time.
- Musically, a song should have a balance of repetition and surprise.
Too much repetition creates boredom. Too much surprise creates confusion. We need repetition to remember the song after it’s over. We need surprise to create a pleasant excitement for our ears.
Remember, there are no rules in songwriting, only expectations. We are used to hearing things presented in a certain way; however, the three-minute verse-chorus song is not the only way that a song can be done. No matter how you choose to write your song, if you adhere to these three overriding principles, you should be able to keep your listeners’ interest, deliver the emotion you were feeling when you wrote it, and connect.