Top Tips for Writing Hits!
The level of songwriting from young people all over the UK and Ireland is higher than ever, so as the competition heats up for Song Academy Young Songwriter 2014, here are a few top tips to be heard above the noise…
1. Pick an interesting title
Even if you are talking about a mundane, everyday occasion or feeling, make it interesting. Compare a heartbeat to a flashing light or the feeling of losing fear by roaring it away – the more inventive the concept around the ordinary, the better. Think of recent hits Dark Horse, Wrecking Ball, Pompeii – interesting titles and concepts talking about everyday feelings to do with fear, love and empowerment.
2. Make the first four lines agree with your title
The great songwriter Ralph Murphy says it very well in his books on the laws of songwriting – if the first four lines of your first verse can link back to your title then you’re onto a winner. Take for example Roar:
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly
.. Now you’re gonna hear me roar
You create an expectation, and then you fulfil it. By doing this, you never lose sight of the message of your song, you keep in mind what you’re trying to say by always referring back to the title, thus never losing your listeners’ attention or the concept you’re expressing in your song.
3. Playing around with a major or minor scale for new melodies
Everyone know the monotonous sound of a scale being practised up and down and up and down – but if you’re stuck for melodies, why not try and take notes out of the scale and use those to bounce ideas off?
For example, if we take the c major scale of CDEFGABC, why not try picking out certain notes and changing the order; CDGCDFCB. Play around with different combinations until your find the melody you’re looking for? You can choose any scale you like in major or minor.
It has been said that the most successful ABBA songs have 5 hooks in each of their songs. A hook is a musical idea, melodic instrumental part, rhythmic phrase or a vowel/consonant sound or word repeated, that catches the ear of the listener to draw them into the song and helps to create its ‘catchiness’. According to popular commercial music today, the more hooks you can introduce throughout the song, the catchier it will be, because it’s constantly enticing the listener and, most importantly, keeping them interested. Listen to the start of Dancing Queen and the vocal ahhs and piano part before the hooky first line of the chorus, or Jessie J’s Price Tag (It’s all about the money, money, money/We don’t need your money, money, money) and try and think about hooks for your own song, either lyrically, repeating the main message of the song (e.g. Roar or Burn) or melodically, on an instrument or vocal oohs or aahs.
If you are listening to a song and the singer sings
You wore that shirt
In the sunshine
that’s all well and good. But if they were to add a bit more detail, you’d instantly have a much clearer vision of the setting which the singer is remembering and sharing with you, the listener:
You wore that dark blue shirt
On April 5th
In the warm spring sunshine
Instantly, there is context, there is detail, there is a picture in your mind and you can see what you are hearing. Imagery in songs is hugely powerful because once there is a description being sung to you, you can imagine it and therefore feel more involved in the song itself. And that’s what songs do, they connect people, they provide solace for people to know that they are not the only ones who feel or think a certain way, and all of these emotions and thoughts are translated to the masses by the medium of songwriting.
So to sum up, our top tips for writing hits are – create an interesting title, make the first four lines agree with your title, play around with your melodies, create hooks and get descriptive! Have a play and we’re looking forward to listening to your songs.