Songwriting – the big picture

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Prince: The Internet Is Over

Read all about it here.  I don’t think I can go as far as Prince, but I see his point.  If the internet has rendered the law of supply and demand  so lopsided that you have such an abundance of supply, then how do you create demand? In his case, by withdrawing.

His official web site is shut down.  He refuses to allow his music to be posted to YouTube, iTunes, rhapsody..  What is left?  Personal appearances?

His latest work is his 27th CD – 20TEN – which will be included as a freebie in the London Daily Mirror.  This is the second time he’s taken  this approach with a CD release.

Everyone else is talking about openness, context vs content, integrated virtual living, digital apps.  This is the guy who changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol to be legally free of the controlling recording contract he had with Warner Brothers. Here’s the guy who outsmarted SoundScan by including  CDs in the price of his live concerts so that they counted as sales, putting his album at the top of the Billboard charts in the early 2000’s.  He can clearly think outside of the box and doesn’t mind enduring some pain for his beliefs.

Maybe he’s ahead of the curve again.  Or maybe this time Prince has “left the (virtual) building.”