’m not a song writer and I’ve certainly never been involved in the making of a hit song but like most people, I do know a great one when I hear it.
I’ve had the good fortune to get close to some successful composers and hear them talk about what they believe has made a difference in their careers. I’ve written many blogs about 'The Story behind the Song' and I have a fascination with the vital elements which are incorporated into every song that has earned a decent living for its composer.
Sometimes, I hear a musician singing a song of their own which clearly means an awful lot to them. I can hear the passion in their voice as they let their emotions flow. That’s all very nice but wouldn’t it be great if they could re-arrange that song so that the meaning was still there but it was easier for the listener to enjoy and indeed remember?
Imagine how it must feel when you leave a venue and hear members of your audience humming the tune you were playing half an hour before: how it must feel to be on stage, looking out at your audience while they sing all the words of a song you gave birth to. What an awesome experience that must be.
So, after chatting with a group of people about this very subject recently, I decided to put together a few tips for writing a hit song based on the snippets of wisdom I have collected from songwriters who know what they are talking about.
Song Structure (Lyrics)
- Without being told, we all know pretty much what to expect from a pop song. It’s likely to go: Verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus.
Or: verse, chorus, verse, chorus.
Quite often, there will be a third section, called a bridge. This is the surprise part of the song that takes it somewhere else and keeps the listener interested as the song nears its end. In this case, the song will probably go like this: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus (More about the bridge in a future blog.)
If you haven’t noticed this before, take time to listen a few of your favourite pop songs and see what I mean.
- The song’s title in the lyric should ideally be in the first line of the chorus. Sometimes the title appears towards the end of the chorus but it usually works best at the beginning. Again, have a listen to some hit songs and see what I mean. Sometimes you can use the title more than once during the chorus. The Edge of Glory sung by Lady Gaga mentions the title three times in each chorus. You’re not meant to forget it! Basically, the more the listener hears the title, the easier it is for him or her to remember it.
- A hit song nowadays is usually around three and a half minutes long. Going back a couple of decades, the average was two and a half minutes in duration. There is the suggestion that the use of videos to accompany songs on TV and social media has made longer songs more acceptable.
- When you have decided what you want your song to be about, stick to the subject. Find a theme and make sure your listeners know what the song is about from the very first line. If you just want the purpose of your song to be the pouring out of your emotion for your own satisfaction, that’s fine but it won’t make a hit song.
In order for your audience to get something from the song, the listeners need to be able to feel and see what you are telling in your song. They expect to get one of two experiences from a song. They either want to hear about their own life in it, perhaps find a solution to their problem: to feel that someone knows what they are going through or they want to be allowed to experience something that is missing in their own life: to live in a fantasy world for a few minutes, leaving behind their own mundane life for the duration of the song. Fill your song with colour!
- Great songs have a message or an interesting story but what makes them easy to remember and sing along with is a lyric that rhymes. As children we are attracted to nursery rhymes. The repetitive sounds and rhythms are easy to remember. We like to think that as we grow up, our musical tastes become more refined but in actual fact, it is still the simple rhymes in a song that we love and remember.
In a song you can use a perfect rhyme such as…gay, day, way, stay.
A perfect rhyme is the ideal but is not always possible in order to make sense. In some cases, you may have to use an imperfect rhyme e.g. sway / played, day / grade. However what is most important is that the lyrics make sense. No point having a perfect rhyme if the story sounds silly because of it. There are plenty of on-line thesauruses and rhyming sites for you to use. Be creative and adventurous though. Don’t always go for the obvious.
- A brilliant title for your song is vital. When you are as successful as Adele or Lionel Richie, you can get away with calling a song “Hello.” (There are hundreds.) Until then, pick a title to get your song noticed: a title that no-one else has ever chosen. The title has to give an inkling of what the song is about but also make the listener curious enough to want to hear it. Take Tubthumping by Chumbawumba! If you’d never heard it before, would you want to? Of course you would and you’ll probably never forget it! Compare a song to a newspaper: if the headline grabs you, you’ll want to read the whole story.
No record company will ever take a risk on a song with a boring title; in fact they’ll probably never ever listen to it.
Top songwriter, Molly - Ann Leikin said “When a real song person hears a title that sizzles, all hell breaks loose. Doors that used to seem welded shut suddenly swing wide open. People in pink sunglasses start taking you to lunch in restaurants with no prices on the menus. They send you cases of wine for Christmas that you could trade for a new Porsche. Your lawyer takes your phone calls and journalists learn the correct spelling of your surname. Great titles open big doors. Of course, once the door is open, you better make sure the songs live up to their names!”
If you found this blog useful, look out for Part 2: The Hook and The Melody.