It’s such a difficult thing to talk about song writing. The processes and the motivations are very different for everybody. Some people are setting out to write a hit song; others intend to write a worship song. Some people want to motivate others; some only intend to express themselves.
Whatever reason you have for writing a song, we almost all want the same thing: for people to love our song. That having been said, here are some thoughts on what makes a great song great…
1. People can relate to it. I can remember lying on my bedroom floor as a teenager, with all the lights turned out and Pearl Jam’s “Black” playing on the stereo. I distinctly remember thinking, “This guy knows exactly how I feel.” And in that moment I knew I wanted to write songs that brought the same reaction from other people. A great song is great because people can relate to it. It’s wonderful to express yourself through songwriting, but if you are the only one who understands the meaning of the song, people simply won’t connect with it on the same level as they would with a song that expresses a feeling or emotion that they are experiencing or that they understand.
2. It is emotional. Not only lyrically, but in the performance as well. If the lyrics say, “She broke my heart” but the performance doesn’t convey that, most of the song’s emotion is stripped away. In the Boochie Shepherd song “All the King’s Horses” there is not only an emotional lyrical content, but an emotional performance, as well. I truly believe that just singing the song beautifully wouldn’t do the emotion of the tune justice.
3. The music isn’t overly complicated. As a musician, this one takes some pride-swallowing. Sometimes to simply write “3 chords and the truth” is almost offensive to a seasoned musician; but almost all of the greatest songs ever written are very simple musically. And some of the most phenomenal musical pieces of all time simply don’t make great songs. Maybe they aren’t very singable; maybe they involve too many difficult musical phrases… whatever the case may be, sometimes it’s just easier to convey a great message within a very simple framework.
4. Use lots of imagery. As a songwriter, you should force the listener into the place you want them to go. For instance, in the aforementioned “Black” by Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder uses some very vivid imagery to describe his feelings. Rather than saying “My whole world is falling apart”, he says:
“And now my bitter hands cradle broken glass
of what was everything.
All my pictures had been washed to black…
It tattooed everything…”
That’s vivid, and when combined with the vocal delivery and the musical atmosphere, there is no room to wonder about the emotion of the situation.
5. Make a suitable musical atmosphere. Don’t write heavy metal songs with lullaby lyrics. And don’t write lullabies with gangster rap lyrics. Use a musical medium that properly facilitates the message you are trying to convey.
These are just a couple of thoughts I have on writing better songs. You can check out Boochie Shepherd on iTunes to hear some of these concepts in action.
I’d love to hear your input!
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