The hardest part about writing a song is finishing it. Wouldn’t it be nice if they all just flowed out of us in one, sweet sitting with no editing necessary? More likely is the fact that we’ll have to work at it to get it done. When you find yourself struggling to finish a song, consider these five points:
I have written about this before, but thought I would do so again after reading another songwriting blog that suggested what the five “most successful” songwriting topics are. They were listed as “love, country, religion, nature, sports”. I want to take each of those topics and discuss them a little further. These are my opinions, of course, you might want to argue with me in the comments section below :-).
First of all, I’m assuming that the writer is talking about “success” in some sort of commercial way, or least in terms of popularity on YouTube or other digital means. Success can be a pretty relative thing, but I’ll go by that assumption.
I can certainly agree with “love” being a successful topic. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I guessed that probably 75% of the songs you hear on the radio are about some aspect of love; new love, lost love, jealous love, old love…the list goes on and on. You can’t go wrong using love as your songwriting topic.
The second, country, was actually described as “about the country”, basically describing songs about patriotism. I don’t think you’ll find too many songs on YouTube or on the Billboard Top 100 on a REGULAR basis, that are patriotic. So I would broaden that topic to “places”. Places can be anything from a city (there have been lots of famous and successful songs over the years about cities!), to a spot where you used to meet someone (okay, that’s bordering on a love song, I know), to a neighbourhood you grew up in, to your room or even a job place. Patriotism might feel good to you, but it can often become cheesy, so be careful with that topic on its own.
The next topic was described as religion and religion is a subject that is rather audience specific. For instance, there are Christian songwriting websites and messageboards out there, so I am certainly aware that there are songwriters who write solely in that genre, and it is indeed a genre. Within the Christian community there are radio stations with hit songs and big name artists. I do remember a time when gospel songs were occasionally on the playlists of mainstream radio, but that doesn’t happen any more. Country radio often has its share of songs with religious overtones, so a person might have some success with a country audience. So I’m on the fence as to whether this topic can be potentially successful outside of its specific audience.
Nature is the next topic. Oddly enough, the first song that comes to mind is an old one written by Eddie Rabbit and performed by Elvis Presley. I don’t know why, but “Kentucky Rain” just popped into my head! It’s really not about rain, though, or Kentucky. It’s an excellent title, but it is…guess what? A love song! Nature in and of itself seems a rather benign topic. Another one that comes to mind (sorry, these are all old!) is “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver. It takes place in the Rocky Mountains, but it is really a coming-of-age song. So I think that nature is probably used more as a metaphor for something else, rather than a topic in and of itself.
Here are the most recent (as of 8/20/14) Billboard top 5 hot pop songs and their topics:
- Rude! by Magic – love song about a guy asking a girl’s father for his daughter’s hand in marriage
- Stay With Me by Sam Smith – love song
- Am I Wrong? by Nico and Vinz – about trying to stand up for what’s right, a philosophical song
- Latch by Disclosure – love song
- Boom Clap by Charli XCX – love song
And the hot rock top 5 songs:
- A Sky Full of Stars by Coldplay – love song
- Habits (Stay High) by Tove Lo – love song
- Pompeii by Bastille – believe it or not, a song about Pompeii. Imagine that! You could put this under my category of “place”
- Come With Me Now by Kongos – a song about overcoming obstacles
- Ain’t It Fun by Paramore – a “you’re a jerk” song
The hot country top 5 songs:
- Burnin’ It Down by Jason Aldean – love song
- Dirt by Florida Georgia Line – well, it’s about dirt, but as a metaphor for “this is where I grew up and want to come back, get married and build a house” . I like the lyrics. This fits in with my idea of “place” as a topic. It’s a bit of a stretch calling it a “nature” song.
- American Kids by Kenny Chesney – now this one definitely has religious references and patriotism like “We were Jesus-save-me, blue-jean-baby, born in the USA”, but it’s mostly about the past and growing up.
- Drunk On A Plane by Dierks Bentley – a breaking-up type love song
- Bartender by Lady Antebellum – a “pour me a drink so I can forget him” love song
Okay, so let’s compare with the original list of five topics. Out of the three genres with fifteen songs in total, I’ll see which topics are included:
- Country (patriotism) – 1 (well it wasn’t the actual topic, but because it was referenced to, I included it.
- Religion – 1 (I counted that too, in the same song)
- Nature – 0
- Sports – 0
- Love – 9!
- Other – 6
So what do we learn from this? First my statistics were off a little. I said that 75% of the songs out there are love songs. Nine out of fifteen songs makes it closer to 60%. But you’re pretty safe writing a love song. Religion, country, nature and sports, not so much. And, there are a lot of other topics to write about…even Pompeii! So push the envelope, be imaginative, write about what you know (or make it up!) and don’t restrict yourself. Your idea might be better than any other song idea on the charts!
Here are a bunch of shocking headlines I grabbed lately from various web ‘sources’, emphasis is mine:
- Beyonce’s Songwriting Abilities Clowned By Songwriter Linda Perry
- Linda Perry SLAMS Beyoncé For Taking Credit When She Shouldn’t! – Perez Hilton
- Shots Fired? Linda Perry Takes Aim At Beyonce’s Songwriting – Lipstickally.com
- Beyonce’s Songwriting Credits are Questioned by Linda Perry But Do Fans Really Care? – Bustle
- Beyonce Must Prove Herself As A Songwriter – spyghana.com
- Linda Perry Calls Out Beyonce’s “Songwriting” Skills – Dlisted
…and most shocking of all…
- Linda Perry Drags Illiterate Porn Star Beyonce For Her Bullshit – arcadey.net
You can check the sources yourself if you want to, which is why I included them. And how did it all start? Well, songwriter Linda Perry, who has written for Christina Aguilera, Pink, Ariana Grande, Celine Dion, Alicia Keys and others, did a recent Reddit question-and-answer session, and one of the questions posed to her was this:
Linda, how do you feel about Beyonce changing one word on a song and getting writing credit. Does that bother you as a songwriter?
It’s a fair question because songwriting credit is certainly a revenue source that artists (and their managers and record labels) have started to take more advantage of in the past few years. Change a word here or there and ask for writing credits so you can get a bigger piece of the pie.
Let’s look at that idea for a minute though. If you had someone the calibre of Beyonce wanting to record your song and potentially making a lot of moola, what would you do? I’m thinking a lot of us would day “sure, go ahead, whatever you want!” with great enthusiasm and flashing dollar signs in our eyes. I’m also thinking that big name artists like Beyonce know very well that if one songwriter won’t do it, another will.
From the headlines above, however, you’d think that Linda Perry was a self-righteous, nasty-mouthed, ungrateful be-atch. This is the inter-web folks (yes, I know it’s not called that) and you need to remember that every entertainment-related website is continuously looking for new ways to scream for attention, so I wanted to show you Linda’s actual answer (which others did too, but almost as an afterthought, hoping maybe you’d click on an ad or two in the meantime):
“Well hahaha um thats not songwriting but some of these artists believe if it wasnt for them your song would never get out there so they take a cut just because they are who they are. but everyone knows the real truth even Beyonce. She is talented but in a completely different way.”
Utterly blasphemous, no? No. Just an honest response to an honest question. I don’t love Beyonce, and neither do I hate her. Sometimes it’s just the web I hate.
I had the privilege of seeing Ringo Starr and his All Star Band this past Tuesday at the Hard Rock Theatre in Coquitlam BC. Some of you may have already seen one version or another of this tour over the past 20 years or so since Ringo has been doing this.
The idea behind the All Star Band is that Ringo invites other artists/musicians/songwriters to join him and it literally becomes a kind of songwriter/performer-in-the-round event, with each taking turns to do a song they’re famous for and the rest of the group being “the band”. Ringo himself didn’t have a lot of solo hits compared to his band mates John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, so what he has done instead is brilliant.
The All Star incarnation that I saw the other night consisted of Steve Lukather from Toto on vocals, lead and rhythm guitar, Gregg Rolie from Santana and Journey on vocals, organ, keyboards, Todd Rundgren who was a successful solo artist along with being in other bands, on vocals, lead and rhythm guitar, and Richard Page from the 80’s band Mr. Mister on vocals and bass guitar. Warren Ham provided vocals, saxophone, percussion and keyboards, and Gregg Bissonette was on drums, percussion, and added some backing vocals.
Aside from Ringo’s hits like Yellow Submarine, Photograph and It Don’t Come Easy, there were great songs like Africa, I Saw The Light, Bang The Drum All Day, Rosanna, Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman, Broken Wings and Kyrie, among others.
It was such a great throwback to the 70’s! What it reminded me of was just how much I was influenced by songs, not only artists. I’ve mentioned many times the artists that have impacted my own songwriting like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. But the fact is that individual songs can do that too. What I appreciated most about my teenage years was the fact that you could hear all kinds of music on the same radio station, not just one genre. You were just as likely to hear, for instance, a gospel song from “Hair” as you were rock or country or pop ballads. So it seems to me the emphasis in those days was on the songs first, artists second.
In the late 70’s (and according to one article I read, because of Peter Frampton’s enormously successful album ‘Frampton Comes Alive’) the focus of record labels started to shift from singles to albums. At the same time radio began narrowing its playlists to one or two genres and because of this paradigm shift, a lot of songs that would have deserved the radio exposure, didn’t get any. No longer could you buy singles, you had to buy whole albums. Today because of YouTube and mp3 players, we’ve come back to that notion of single songs which is really how it should be. As I’ve always believed, the song is the thing.
And listening to all of those songs played the other night because of Ringo’s clever notion of an All Starr Band, I realized the impact of single songs on my own songwriting. For instance, Todd Rundgren’s song I Saw The Light had that mixture of major 7th and minor 7th chords that I loved to use, and so I did, ad nauseum! He also wrote simple but powerful melodies, exemplified in his song Love Is The Answer, which I recall the England Dan and John Ford Coley version of more than Rundgren’s.
So from now on I’m going to focus on remembering the SONGS that influenced me, not just the artists. Which songs influenced your songwriting? Post yours below!
I came across an article the other day where the author insisted that writer’s block really didn’t exist. My guess is that he was trying to draw attention to his blog by coming up with something that might be, in the songwriter’s world, considered “controversial”. Like a sucker, I was drawn in and I protested his claims, and therefore I guess I did exactly what he wanted. I engaged.
There’s more advice on songwriting on the web these days than there ever has been. If nothing else, MY only piece of advice to you is to consider who is writing this stuff before using it. Or believing it.
Writer’s block exists. I know, because I have it. In a bad way.
I have been writing songs since I was 12 years old. I’m not saying I wrote every day, or that I have a thousand songs to my credit. But I was consistently inspired and if not coming up with something new, always working on something unfinished. A couple of years ago, I finished my last song, and that was a laborious task because I had been working on it for some time. My excuse might be that I have had a lot of personal things to overcome, one being the death of my father last December after a long battle with Alzheimers. It wasn’t fun and it shook me to the core. I kept telling myself that eventually this would give me fodder for more songs, but so far it really hasn’t.
I was, however, inspired recently when I read an excerpt from an interview with Sting, who had a very long dry period until he went back to the town he grew up in, and found that writing in someone else’s voice was his cure. He wrote from the perspective of the people who lived in his home town, past and present. I think that’s a good idea. Not just the idea of going back to your home town, but trying to write in someone else’s voice. I’ve rarely, if ever, done that. So I’m going to try.
I have written several articles on finding inspiration but when I wrote them I was having no trouble myself. I had a muse or two back then, but they have long gone. For awhile I told myself that maybe I just wasn’t going to write any more, and I haven’t pushed it. But since reading that little snippet by Sting, I have found the odd line or phrase or verse coming out. My intention is to continue to explore that.
I’ll let you know how I’m progressing.
No such thing as writer’s block? Yeah, sure.