Friday, September 2, 2011

Rules for songwriters

1. No song should go on longer than 5 minutes without a good reason

If you've got a killer coda ("Hey Jude"), a multi-part epic (Pink Floyd's "Echoes") or a whole bunch of different lyrics to sing (some Dylan and Joni Mitchell songs), go ahead and stretch it. Otherwise, you're wasting everybody's time. The human attention span isn't meant to listen to the same melody forever.

2. A chorus should sound like A CHORUS

After all, the word "chorus" derives from "choral" singing, implying a sense of unity and plurality. If you can't imagine 120,000 people singing the same words in unison, your chorus is a fail. Keep it simple, but inclusive. In other words, make us want to sing along.

3. Sometimes notes should be held, for eeeeeeemphasis

I always knew Chad Kroger of Nickelback was a lousy singer, but I just recently figured out why. The dude doesn't hold his notes for shit. Sing one of their songs in your head ("How You Remind Me" or something) and notice this. He's just talking a bunch of words in a raspy monotone. Dude might as well be rapping. If your melody has nothing in it that's held longer than a quarter note, your song will sound stupid.

4. Lyrics are important

They don't have to be smart or make any sense. They just have to sound like you care, one way or another, what you're singing about. You can get away with totally stupid lyrics if it's just a fun party song, but not if you're trying to make us feel something. In other words -- write lyrics that are appropriate for the situation.

5. Don't be a drag

You can tackle serious subject matter without bumming everybody out. All the best songwriters know this. We are doing you a favor by listening to your song. You owe it to us to show us a good time. Or at least trick us into thinking we had a good time.

6. Don't write the song "Hallelujah"

Just don't do it.


Tracie said...

I really liked your rules here, and as a person who has written several songs, I agree. Except for the last one. I love the song hallelujah. I'm just very picky on who sings it. (a zillion people sing it, but only a very few are worth listening to)

Wendy McMillan said...

I'm curious to know who you think can sing that song, Trace cuz I agree with Jake on that.

Also, we don't need any more songs with the word "Angel" in the title. I think just about every artist has a song about some kind of angel. Let's get real people and write about your demons!

Jacob I. McMillan said...

Tracie, this is far from being a complete list of my rules. (Here's another: END ON A HIGH NOTE. put in a clear signal that the song is about to end. Either sing something different, or sing the same part differently. Otherwise it won't feel like we've gone anywhere) I've written some songs in my time, but none of them are complete enough to share with anybody.

Wendy, I think we should retire all cliches having to do with the divine in general. How many awful songs there are about "Heaven", etc.

Austin said...

I really like your rules and mostly agree with every one. There are exceptions of course but for the majority these are fine. (and you take into account the exceptions in at least #1).

I disagree with ending on a high note or low not or any note, as I often prefer when songs blend into each other, for example Queen's "We Will Rock You" merging into "We are the Champions" or Sgt. Pepper the whole freaking album.

I guess it applies if you're not doing a concept album or you're not The Beatles or Queen.