Imitation: The Sincerest Form of Flattery! (subtitle: COPY ONLY THE BEST!)
Paula Carpenter, Copyright 2009, StarBright Music & Creative Group
Everyone knows the old saying ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’. That tells us that if you like something well enough to copy it, the person whom you’re copying should be flattered!
What I’m saying is that even though your intention may not be to FLATTER that person, copying them indeed says ‘I love this idea / thing / house / dress / pair of shoes / or even LYRIC construction… so I’m going to emulate it! IF IT WORKED FOR THEM, WHY NOT ME?’
Which gets me to my point: Over the years, one of the best tips of the songwriting trade that I’ve not only used myself when I have a bit of ‘writers’ block’, but have also recommended to other songwriters...is this:
When you have a wonderful, hooky songwriting title idea, but are a bit stumped as to what FORM that song should take (verse chorus verse chorus? AABA? Rhyme scheme? Hmmm?) do this:
Let’s say your idea is a country song brainstorm…and you know generally the ‘feel’ or ‘style’ the song should take, but can’t get a clear vision on the actual rhyme scheme, how long the channel should be, or how you want to construct the verses, or what length the chorus should be, etc…try this:
THINK OF A SONG THAT’S ALREADY A HIT, TAKE AWAY THE LYRICS, AND USING THAT FIRST SONG’S MUSIC RUNNING THROUGH YOUR HEAD, USE *YOUR* LYRICAL IDEA, AND USE THE SAME SONG FORM / RHYME SCHEME TO WRITE YOUR SONG!
Now that is from the lyrical approach to things, which I generally concentrate on…i.e., throw out the lyrics of the other song, use your own idea and lyrics and ‘copycat’ the hit song’s form lyrically. (But obviously, don't use the 'template' song's music again). Again, if it worked for them, why not you?
Note here: I’m not saying copy that lyricist’s words or idea…I’m saying use your OWN, but benefit from observing the clever way in which the first songwriter used the craft of songwriting, and learn from their expertise! I’ve done it many a time when writer’s block plagued me.
Because I’m heavy on lyrics, I generally think of this songwriting strategy from the lyricist’s perspective, but the flip side of this can work just as well when you’re writing music / melodies / chord progressions:
Take the original song, toss the music, but USING THE ORIGINAL LYRICS…and YOUR OWN MUSIC, let that first song’s LYRICS be your inspiration for your *NEW* music. Don’t use the same chord progressions or melody! Don’t ‘copy’ the music, but use those well-formed lyrics of that hit song to inspire you, to get your musical brain spinning and creating your *OWN* fresh, new music. When done, obviously, completely toss the first song’s lyrics and write new ones, or have your lyricist co-writer do it. (Tell them which song you used as a ‘pattern’.)
We’ve all heard phrases like ‘learn from the best’ or tongue-in-cheek comments such as ‘I only copy the best’ … etc. Well, it’s true! That is exactly the strategy I’m referring to here. Take an already-proven song form and rhyme scheme from a hit song from a proven songwriter and proven artist, and use it just as if it were a TEMPLATE or PATTERN for your fresh, new song.
You’ll find that in so doing…your own skills will be honed, you’ll have those little ‘AHA!’ moments when you realize just how COOL that first songwriter’s strategy was, you’ll find that the new words (or music) will flow from you much easier, and indeed…you’ll be thinking ‘hey, if it worked for that first writer…WHY NOT ME?’
It’s a great songwriting ‘cheat sheet’ strategy! Try it and see if your own idea, whether it be lyrical or musical…doesn’t flow a bit easier.
Till next time…