The time spent at Musikmesse 2018 brought a curious little pearl to the eyes of the team here at Europavox. There, in the middle of hundreds of events listed, was a title: “The Songwriting Academy: How to create a song with hit potential.” Long before there was such a thing as a viral video, a hit always seemed like one of the most elusive things that you can reach in the music world. Who wouldn’t want to learn more about how can you make one happen? It was important for us to see if the advice given along these talks was solid and bring it over to you. So, if you want to know how many rituals you’ll need to make sure you can write a hit song, read on. The good news is, there is no magic involved, the bad news is, it probably is still going to take you a lot of work.
The presentation was guided by Martin Sutton and Mark Smith, of The Songwriting Academy. Throughout the day they focused on three essential elements: melody, lyrics and on how to get your songs out there. So, whether you are a producer, composer, lyricist, write for yourself or others or, like me, a way too curious person, here are ten top tips for you to bring out your songwriting genius out of the bottle.
Whistle your melodies
Long before people were writing lyrics, they were already stomping their feet, clapping their hands and chanting away. And that is important, as melody is probably the one thing that will make or break a music by itself when it comes to a hit. If pop taught us anything is that simplicity always wins when it comes to earworms, so, when creating a song, it’s important to keep your chord changes simple. If you need more convincing, just read more about how, when it comes to melody, simplicity sells.
Learn melodic essentials
The essentials are your basic building blocks when it comes to songs. If you find that your melody lacks a certain something, refer to these three melodic forms and they will help you build a well-developed composition:
Static: pick a note and only slightly deviate from it. This creates tension while leaving space for a good juicy verse.
Conjunct: Climb up or down the scale without big intervals. This will make your listeners feels like they’re going to be taken somewhere.
Disjunct: Spike up or down your melody. This is an instant attention grabber and a great way to make hooks happen.
Get to know the pop world
“Music changes,” stated Martin on the opening moments of the talk, “if you want to have your songs out, you need to know what is going on in the music business, you can’t guess.” That means going all in on Spotify playlists, Apple Music selections, Youtube trending list, and staying up to date on those Billboard charts. Being up to date with what is the pulse of the pop world is hard workd, but the mainstream will always be a moving target, and you need to know where you are aiming at.
Prepare before writing
Have a topic in mind for your next song? Hold on for a bit and start yourself on a couple of free-writing exercises. Research the topic of google, note every silly thing that seems bite worthy. Actually, start carrying a small notebook with you at all times. Get those lines on paper, you can bet that you won’t remember them later. All this getting ready will make sure that you have a lot of material to play with once you put yourself in front of a melody. Once you start playing around with lyrics to your instrumental, you’ll be thankful in having so much to choose from.
If you have one job as a songwriter, it is to make your listeners feel something. Have a clear purpose and, at every turn your song takes, ask yourself if it’s still serving that emotion. Not sure about that lyric there, or if that melod should go up or down? Remind yourself of the emotion you are trying to convey and let it guide you on all decisions. Be purposeful, because in the end, if your song isn’t able to arouse a strong and clear emotion, from fun to rage, then it will be forgotten.
Are you afraid to repeat yourself? Well, it’s time to get over it and start using repetition as one of your most efficient tools. Don’t believe it? Think again about the latest song that was stuck in your head, now count the number of times the singer repeated that line. If you need further (and a lot more scientific) proof, just head on to this study and read more on how “Repetitive Lyrics in a Song Increase Processing Fluency and Drive Market Success”. Really, just repeat yourself.
Get those hooks out
Hooks are directly connected to the idea of repetition. And you better make sure that your hook is worked out until it reaches its purest, most addictive form. We all know that if the audience isn’t paying attention to anything else, then your hook will always be what makes them stay or leave. And you want to keep the public coming back. Make sure your hooks are catchy. Like an alchemist, you will never be too sure of what turns your lead into gold, but the ones that try the most, tend to get it right more times.
The artist you follow went solo and you already wondered if you could do it all by yourself. The answer is that almost no song these days reaches the charts without a long list of writer credits. There’s a reason for that: teams always take the vision further than a solitary creator. Find peers, collaborate, learn to listen and to share opinions. Having people around will help you further articulate your ideas and finding out which ones are worth your effort. And that network will help you handle a lot of the hardships that a music career entails.
Never stop meeting people
Don’t think about the people in the industry you meet as contacts. They are actual people, and the only way that they will see you as a person worth helping is if you actually show interest in being of value to them. Stop spamming random people online with your latest links and take the time to get to know them. The golden rule states that you should treat people as you want them to treat you. And it is considered golden for a reason.
The Rule of 1
Unless stated otherwise, only send out one song to a label or distributor when showing off your work. It will show confidence on your side and actually avoid them from looking at your songs and comparing them, inevitably picking one as the winner and the other as the loser. It goes without saying, that you should feel proud of whatever you send out, as it can take a lot of time until you get a positive answer and you shouldn’t give up at the first no.