It’s been said that songwriting is “20% inspiration and 80% perspiration”.
Yep – I wholeheartedly agree.
Throughout the years there have been occasions when I started out excited about a song, only to feel frustrated and sometimes just plain uninspired 2 hours later.
In those moments, instead of giving up on my song, I tried to figure out where I went wrong in order to get my song back on track. It always paid off.
To this day, I go through this list of questions as I’m writing every song, and it helps keep me on track.
So if you find yourself in this songwriting situation, here’s a list of questions to ask yourself. Because these tweaks could make or break your song.
1. Is your song in the right key?
It will be a huge stumbling block if you start out writing a song in a key that you or your co-writer(s) can’t sing in. I know… you might be saying, “I’m not a singer”… but that doesn’t matter. In order to feel the melody it really must be something that you can sing somewhat freely. Unless utter tone deafness runs in your family, you can at least eke out a melody.
Additionally, If you are handing the song off later to a singer, then make sure the song is in her/his “sweet” spot. Most pro singers know where that is. Occasionally I have handed off a song to a singer where the key was way too low or high… and you will HEAR and FEEL the difference. So make sure to find the singer’s “sweet spot” which includes, when writing, you.
2. Is your song in the right tempo?
Along the same lines as getting the right key, it’s – well – “key” to lock into the right tempo. For some unexplained reason, as songwriters, we often write with the tempo so slow that it drags, or so fast that we’re spitting out the lyrics. Check all that before you press record on the final representation of your song. Better yet, as you’re composing your song, load up a tempo app on your phone (here are some apps every songwriter needs to have) and find the tempo as you start. Or load up a drum loop… as you START. Make sure it feels right.
3. Is your song too rangey?
Again, this might be a challenge for songwriters who don’t consider themselves singers. But our tendency is often to write melodies that are way too rangey. Most singers don’t have three octave ranges and in modern music the ranges are pretty much limited to 1-2 octaves at the most. If a song is too rangey then the artist you’re pitching to just might be turned off from cutting it.
Unless you’re writing for a particular artist like Christina Aguilera or Adele who love rangey songs, then increase your chances of success by keeping a lid on the highs and lows. If you are writing for a specific singer then check out their previous material and make some notes as to their vocal range.
The key is to always make the singer “shine” because the vocal is the THE most important part of the song. Don’t give them a reason to pass on your song which, with a few tweaks beforehand, could easily have been a hold.
4. Do the melodic rhythms differ from section to section?
By this I mean, for instance, if your chorus starts on beat 1, then does your verse or pre-chorus start on some other beat? On the 2 beat or the 3 beat? Is there variation to add interest? Sections should feel different from each other. If it sounds too “samey”, experiment with the melody.
5. Have you answered the question “why’?
This question pertains to the lyrical aspect of your songwriting. If you say “This love of ours is dangerous”, then ask yourself, Why is this love dangerous? Is it because it’s toxic, or because it’s a cheating situation? What is the problem? Figure out your why and set out to answer it. Your chorus should answer the question “why”. Or another way to tackle it might be to say to yourself as you are writing your chorus “And that is why I say” (and then plug in your title). “This love of ours is dangerous”. Do the lines all lead to the chorus?
So ask yourself these questions as you’re writing your next song. You can even print them out an keep them on the wall of your writing room.
And check back for my next post, with 5 more tweaks that will make or break your song.
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