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Secrets To Elevated Songwriting

Updated: Jun 4, 2022

How To Write Better Rock Songs (Some Advice)


How do you write better rock songs? Well, nearly every great rock song has a fantastic guitar riff. I think you can blame The Beatles for that. [Thanks, guys!] It can take seconds, or years to come up with a great riff for a song. But a very wise man once told me, "A riff is not a song."


Great Songs Combine Good Melody With Good Stories

What's the secret sauce? Back when Ralph Murphy was alive, he'd say pronoun choice, getting to the word, "you", and when to hit the chorus, were elements that made for great songs. Melody lines were to be strong and chord progressions interesting to the ear.


Today, hit songs can have 15-20 writers working on them. Writers crank out catchy-ness, hooks, and repetition. But are any of them memorable? If "Bohemian Rhapsody" is our standard, then, No! They aren't. Why?


Because great song writing is about great story telling. For this reason, great movies are great and bad movies about great books still score at the box office. When Freddie Mecury opens with, "Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?" Our brain asks, "Great questions! Can you fill in the blanks for me"? Freddy’s question hooks you.


To the point, this is a song with no chorus. Epic songs like this are few and far between, yet, they are killers! Another example? Sure! Thunder Road, by Bruce Springsteen!


How you tell the story is very important. In our second example, Bruce doesn't get to the point of the song until the end. But he writes so he plainly captures your imagination. "The screen door slams, Mary's dress sways. Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays."


You see? Good story telling makes you want to hear more. The human brain is geared for great stories. That's because before we could read, story telling was how humans learned and passed lessons on. Great stories and myths were about universal truths based in epic stories. They were epic so you could remember them.


Don't have time to read Homer's The Illyad and the Odessy? Then use these shortcuts for some inspiration.


Tip #1: Read (even graphic novels)


From Shakespeare to Stan Lee, literature steeped in complex stories unveils human experience. Great authors create interesting twists and turns so inspiration can drip from every page. Plus, making references to great stories leads your audience to read these stories for themselves.

For example, do you know where the term "quixotic" comes from? It comes from "The Ingenious Gentleman, Don Quixote of La Mancha" by Miguel de Cervantes. Just knowing what quixotic means having read the book makes you that much smarter. Referring to that story in songwriting, then expands your audience's experience and vocabulary.


Ever use "quixotic" in a rhyme? It could be hypnotic over time.


Tip #2: Extract The Story's Meaning


Be realistic. You have just a few minutes to grab your audiences attention. Your job is boiling down your story's meaning in just a few words. Referring back to Don Quixote of La Mancha, the phrase, "Tilting at windmills" is a boiled down way of saying, "attacking imaginary enemies which aren't really important" but its said with flair! We're all familiar with making mountains out of molehills, but tilting at windmills sounds so much cooler. Plus, these two phrases rhyme. Let's put that together!!


"You make mountains out of molehills. I tilt at windmills" – Russ Maines

Tip #3: Paint Pictures With Your Words


Each line you write in the story should paint a picture in your listener's mind. It should also set up the chorus. So, put nouns into motion, and lead your listener to the punch line.

"You make mountains out of molehills. I tilt at windmills. The steel Catherine Wheel's never still" – Russ Maines

Tip #4: Mix it up


Feel free to include personal details and examples from your life. The more relatable your story is, the more you connect with listeners.


"You make mountains out of molehills. I tilt at windmills. The steel Catherine Wheel's never still.
You take life on the run, I but take life and make it fun. Delusions and illusions give it chills

Tip #5 - Finish strong. Don't Bore Us. Get To The Chorus.


So what's the bottom line here? Why is couple interesting? One person exaggerates and runs away from the cops, the other's a psycho killer and exhilarating! I think the Killing Joke fits here. Straight out of the comics! Don't know what the Killing Joke is? Read Bat-man. A great story, with a punchline.


"You make mountains out of molehills. I tilt at windmills. The steel Catherine Wheel's never still.
You take life on the run, I but take life and make it fun. Delusions and illusions give it chills.

Keep It Artful


Brevity is the soul of wit. You don't want your song to be too long winded. Remember, storytelling is an art. So is song writing where you must blend story with melody, rhyme and still move the art form forward. It's okay to write the song a few times to get it right. You'll write a lot of bad tracks, but eventually, things will get better with practice. Listen to everything. Read everything you can. And don't be afraid to lean on the great artists. Even if they are outside your genre.


Love & Rockets,

Russ

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