Friday, May 11, 2007

Songwriters - take your listener on a journey

Good songwriting takes the listener on a journey. A good way to think about it is taking a road trip.

- First imagine a long flat road with endless corn fields, your car on cruise control.
- Then imagine a hilly road with peaks and valley, occasional glimpses of waterfalls or snow covered peaks.
- Finally image going high speed on a torturous four-wheel drive road, with tons of sharp turns, steep drop offs, endless ruts and obstructions to avoid.

What kind of journey are you trying to achieve in your songwriting? In the first case, the flat road, a song like this would be great for meditation or getting ready for bed. In the last case, the crazy drive, you're trying to build the crowd into the frenzy, like in my old punk rock days. I tend to shoot for the middle case, taking my listener up a mountain, back down again and occasionally give them glimpses of a waterfall or rainbow.

What tools do you have as a songwriter?

1. Melody or chord changes (this is your landscape).
2. Volume of your voice or instrument - Start quiet and build (like climbing the mountain). Many bands add instruments as the song builds.
3. Changing your strum (but not your beat) - Fingerpick vs. strum. Number of beats in a measure (in 4/4 time take 4 strums/measure or take 1 strums/measure). The key is to keep the metronome going in your head.
4. Number of words - Wordy phrases = rushing, few words = more relaxed.
5. Pause - Stop playing for a count of 4, or don't say something when people expect it. People tune into what's next.
6. Add a bridge ( a departure) - It's like stopping to get gas, hitting a home run, or falling off a cliff.
7. Going up an octave or changing key - Take the melody up an octave (the elevator to the top).

In the song I'm currently working on, my first draft was almost like the corn field trip, one chord pattern, strong but consistent melody, no bridge. In my rewriting process, I added dynamics and ended with a journey. The trip looks like this:

- Start with a quiet intro. (get in the car)
- Build through the verse and chorus (climb a mountain)
- Quiet down for the next verse ( a little louder than the first verse) and again build to the chorus (a slightly higher mountain)
- Add a rocking bridge (base jump off the top)
- Add a pause (the parachute just opened)
- Next verse is almost a whisper (enjoy the beautiful valley on the way down)
- Build back to chorus (drive home)
- Slow down in the outro (back home)

I'm tired just thinking about the journey, but hopefully my listeners will enjoy it. If not, no refunds!!

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At 9:10 AM, Blogger SongNote said...

Great post Jeff, made me want to go on a road-trip!


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