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Song Formula Secrets

Melody, rhythm, lyric and harmony, these are the elements of a song and their exact proportion in your hit recipe is what gives your song a unique identity. As you are writing you should keep in mind the purpose of your song. There are some questions that you should ask yourself along the way. When you are in your pure creative mode, don’t stop to question or judge anything, just try and capture all of your ideas.

"I think a lot of contemplation happens in bathtubs. It does for me. Nothing like a hot bath to ease the tension and think about what's going to happen next." - Sarah McLachlan

Then the hard work of completing your raw idea starts and you will need to solidify your arrangement for the song. That’s when you need to refine and define the sound of the song. There are a few critical questions you will need to answer as you set about the process of finalizing the arrangement of your song.

What is the story that you are telling?
From the earliest days of man, music and songs have told stories.

"With my music, I can express myself so much. A lot of the fans can sense that I'm relating to them something that's quite personal. Writing music on your own makes you think a lot about your life. Who are you? Would you change anything about yourself? This is where it comes from". - Enya

Many hit producers now agree as well, start with a good story. Your story needs to draw the listener in and keep their attention on your story until the end. All the elements of good story telling apply (you remember English class don’t you?) your story needs a good opener, ask some questions, involve the listener and save a secret for the end. Don’t get sidetracked from your story, if you are confused about the message, your listener will not understand it either. Some songs are written from an emotional or political point of view but the same rules apply, stick to your message.

"Nashville has a formula, and it works a lot of the time, but it wasn't right for me. They're afraid to step outside the box - even though, with me, my success came because I was outside of the box to begin with". - Deana Carter

Verse / Chorus / Bridge structure. In the traditional verse chorus format, the song will build to the climax of the chorus. The verse leads to the chorus and the chorus completes the verse. A verse will almost always feel incomplete without the chorus, whereas an “A” section can usually stand up alone as a complete thought or concept. The chorus is usually the most memorable and singable part of the song. Contrast can be built throughout the song by using different progressions for each part of the song e.g. Verse, Lift, Chorus, and Bridge. The chorus should be repeated at least three times and in many songs the chorus is repeated two or three times with some variation at the end of the song.

"If you listen to a lot of the songs that are popular now, there's very little melody in there. People love the beat. But to musicians, it's melody, because we understand how elusive it is and how hard it is to hold". - Branford Marsalis

Often the verse and chorus music is very similar, so songwriters will often use other elements to keep the song interesting. The Bridge and Lift are examples of this; other examples include Key Change (modulation) Stops, Solos over the verse or chorus or the minimalist verse or chorus. The cool thing about this kind of structure is that once you have your parts written, you can rearrange your song quickly and easily.

Some typical examples are




Once again, the most important thing is to listen to your gut and do what’s right for the song. Experiment with the formats to see what is the most powerful and interesting for your song and remember, be prepared for many rewrites till you find the right formula for your song.

Leran more about the most successful song formulas

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