ten years ago a major music print publication estimated that at
that time there were somewhere between 25-30 million aspiring songwriters
in the United States alone -- that is, songwriters who have completed
writing at least one song in their lifetimes.
I think I have met most of these people……literally everywhere I
go, I find someone with a "day gig" who is an aspiring songwriter
in his/her "secret life." Many of these people are very intelligent
and very motivated about their writing, but most have become quite
frustrated thinking that because they do not live in or near a major
music city, they cannot ever succeed as a songwriter!
the last two articles of this series, we have been addressing the
fact that writing commercial or hit songs is really a much different
skill than getting A's in music courses at a university. Writing
hit songs is more about emotional communication than it is
about technical music training. To learn the craft of hit songwriting,
therefore, it has been almost automatically assumed that you must
relocate to a major music capitol (such as LA, New York or Nashville)
and try to apprentice yourself to someone in the Music Industry
who seems to know more than you do. Then -- if the theory of osmosis
holds true -- you may be able to just "pick up" the skill as you
associate with others who at least appear to be successful.
has been my experience that this suggestion is simply not realistic
-- or even necessary -- for most people. If an aspiring songwriter
is motivated and eager to learn the craft, he/she can enroll in
a literal Songwriting University from wherever he/she may happen
to live. In our last article, I suggested as a first step to locate
your local songwriters' association. Such groups are springing
up all over the country and provide accessible and invaluable resources
for people to begin pursuing a career or a very rewarding hobby
beyond the songwriter's association there is yet another resource
that is extremely accessible and chock-full of songwriting instruction.
And better yet…..it is completely free of charge! What am I talking
about? The radio! In every city and hamlet across the country,
commercial radio is broadcasting commercial songs -- 24 hours a
day! Almost every great songwriter I have ever met has testified
unequivocally that they have learned most of what they know about
writing hits from listening to the radio.
there is a catch here! You can't just listen like a listener
-- you have to learn to listen like a songwriter. Instead
of simply "vegging out" and enjoying the songs that you hear, try
to listen critically and attentively to the basic elements of the
song. Ask yourself some questions like:
What is the basic emotion that is being communicated in this song?
Is it being communicated effectively? Why or why not?
is this song getting airplay on the radio?
is it about this song that is causing people to by the record?
the lyrics fresh and well-rhymed?
Is the melody memorable?
is actually happening in the development of this song?
1) Does it have a chorus?
2) How do the verses "set up" the chorus?
3) Are the harmonies interesting? Why?
4) Is the rhythm catchy and appropriate for the song?
get the idea! Don't just listen to songs….THINK while you
are listening. Then, I would suggest going a step further. Take
the latest huge hit song….one that is currently on the top of the
charts. After you have listened to it critically, asking questions
like those above, then actually sit down and write out the lyrics
-- line by line. Watch where the rhymes are falling and how the
lyric is developing. Next, do the same thing with the music. Go
to your instrument and see if you can pick out the basic melody
line and some of the chords used in the song. Pay attention to what
is happening in the music…the range of the melody, the chord progressions
used, the sequences etc. You will learn volumes of valuable, practical
information that will help you in writing your next song.
having every button on your car radio set to a different genre of
radio music. One button on Classical, another on Country, another
on Jazz etc. Keep channel surfing and listening critically
to hits in each genre. "But what if I don't LIKE Country Music?"
you may object. "Why should I force myself to listen to something
I don't care for? And besides, isn't all this critical listening
going to simply ruin my love of music?"
answer to the first question is simply this: If a song is selling
thousands and thousands of copies…and if your goal is to write hits…there
will always be something you can learn by listening to what people
are buying -- whether it is your personal taste in music or not!
And as far as critical listening is concerned, I am confident that
the more aware you are of what is happening in the songs you love,
the more you will enjoy and appreciate them.
all goes back to having a teachable attitude -- one that is hungry
to learn. Some writers ONLY want to experience the emotional/inspirational
part of writing a song. But if you are truly a songwriter at heart,
you will be eager to learn the craft aspect as well. Personally,
I never cease to be amazed at how inexhaustible the subject of songwriting
is and how there is always something new to learn by listening to
often said of George Frideric Handel, " I can still learn from him!"