Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Brain Surgery

from the May issue of Power Source Magazine, UnCommon Sense by Kim McLean

Alright, so you’ve learned the importance of a hook. The hook is the title. It should be “hook-y” which means it “hooks” the listener, the consumer of music, during drive-time, with safely buckled children fussing in the back seat, and to-do lists insisting through Mom’s mind. And yes, they say it’s the women who buy most of the music. Maybe so. But come up with hooks that everybody understands and can wrap around while multi-tasking.

You have a great hook, a great concept and story line. Now you need great verses.

That’s a lot of greatness. Push pause and let me say something about greatness. More than once in my career I’ve been told that a writer should not expect every song to be great. The saying goes this way: “About every tenth song will be killer; the other nine may be good, but they can’t all be great.” Hmmm. Well. I’m glad they don’t expect the same of brain surgeons.

Song writing is not brain surgery. It is art. There is a song for every place and time. Each one can be great in it’s own context. If you finish a song and it does not seem great to you, work on it until it is. Just keep in mind that “great” and “hit” are not synonymous.

That said, let’s talk about the rest of the song. Don’t cop out on the verses. No laziness allowed. Your verses should set up the hook, and your hook should pay off the verses. I know you know what I mean, and if you don’t, write a hundred more songs and figure it out. Practice makes perfect.

Take time to get online and search out what I’m saying. Study some lyrics from several genres and see how these rules apply. Study great songs. Study copyrights. Do you know what I mean by that? One of my great publishers taught me this. A copyright is a song that stands the test of time, a song that matters to the next generation. Copyrights  are not trendy. They tap into that part of humanity that we all have in common. Everybody has a broken heart. Everybody needs love. Everybody relates to a great song. I guess my favorite example is Dolly’s I Will Always Love You or, let’s see, any Bill and Gloria song.

Not every song you write will be, or need be, a copyright (as I am using that term). That does not mean they are not all great, it just means that every song has a place and time. Copyrights cover a broad spectrum. Yes, you’ll need some bell-bottom songs, too. The secret is in the intentionality.

Now, about those verses: stop and read your lyric as you write. Think of the story line. Ask yourself where it’s heading and why. Sometimes I think of it like a conversation, and I read it out loud to see if it makes sense. Would I tell it this way? Does it matter that I’m even telling it? Is it believable?

Though a great chorus may actually stand alone and make sense even without verses, the verses get you there, so MAKE EVERY WORD COUNT; every definite article, every conjunction, and especially every verb and noun. You have a very short time in a verse to develop plot and characters, but the slightest turn of a phrase or choice of a word can do wonders.

A note about worship songs: it is God’s character you are developing in these, so as the Psalmist says, “ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.” (29:1) 

Well, that’s it for this issue. Hope you’re having a creative summer! May your songs be filled with oceans and sandy beaches – and I strongly advise some on-site research!

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