On your morning commute, you turn on the radio to get the news, weather and local traffic report. But you still want to hear some familiar song. Or maybe a new song that sounds just familiar enough. How does a new artist break through? If that artist is you, how do you break through?
As a buddying songwriter, your job is building momentum. Like a joke's punchline, your song's chorus has to land with a payoff. But taken out of context, or removed from central story, a punchline falls flat.
While making songs catchy is part of the deal, turning a phrase is a smaller thing compared to a bigger thing all great songs have in common: A great story.
So, let's break away from hooks, rhyme schemes, and format for a moment. Let's boil a song down to a simple idea and lay out a list.
A great example is "Metal Health" by Quiet Riot.
"I'm an axe grinder
Momma says I never ever mind her
Got no brains
Teacher says I'm one big pain
I'm like a laser
Six string razor
Got a mouth like an alligator
I want it louder
I wanna rock it til it strikes the hour"
All of these words are a list of frustrations, or complaints, or cool stuff that shows you what's going on inside our hero's head. The list shows you our hero needs some kind of release only Heavy Metal can cure. He's got a fever. And the only cure is "more cowbell". Well, you get the idea.
Notice it uses few words. Not complete sentences. You can do that in rock. No fluff. And the words stack up on one another to build momentum, so your brain wants to hear the pay off. What's the punchline?
Well, just wait a second. And let me tell you what's going on.
The human mind is geared towards story telling, so use it to build suspense. Steven Spielberg never shows you the monster until just the right moment, after there's all this build up. And when he shows you, its a big surprise.
Likewise, when you get about 30-60 seconds into your list, release the Kracken!
Again, Quiet Riot says:
"Bang Your Head
Metal Health Will Drive You Mad"
Our hero needs a dose of Heavy Metal to release all his frustration. Know what else he's doing? He's telling you to bang your head. He never said to bang his head. He's commanding you to do it. And that's how you turn a phrase.
Boom! Connection made. With people going to work listening to radio, who are tired of 9-5, who have to act civilized, who has time for a great new song?
Think about it. Kids at school having teachers tell them how to behave. Preachers telling you that you must "love thy neighbor". Does anybody really like their job, or their school, or church? Well, if they do they don't need this song. You see, only Heavy Metal can save you.
And then, there's the guitar solo. It just keeps building. Nobody cares about format, or rhyme, or turning phrases. All they care about is what comes next.
And then, at the end of the song, it's just bass guitar and drums. They drop the bottom out. And take a breath. The drums propel you. The bass provides a simple foundation. The guitar screams like a banshee. The singer goes to another level.
Then, they build again from the chorus. Again, our hero is commanding you.
"Bang your head
Wake the dead"
"Get your straight jackets on tonight"
There's a lot to this song. But it all starts with a great story. The underlying theme.
So, when you're looking for something to write, take a break from saying how you feel. And instead, make a list of things that demonstrate how you feel. Note Quiet Riot's hero only says he's frustrated on the top of the second verse of the song.
If you don't know this song, click here and see how people who've never heard the song feel about it after they hear it. Pretty amazing. Heavy Metal will fix your life. There is hope for the next generation of kids who've never heard this stuff before. And they LOVE IT!!!
Thanks for reading my blog!
Love & Rockets,