5 Songwriting Mistakes: Are They Really Mistakes Or Just Different Wins?
I’ve seen many videos and read many blog posts about all these songwriting mistakes that will completely destroy your song, and thought ‘AAHH I DO THEM!!!!’
So I think I’m just a terrible songwriter, and you’ve probably felt the same.
But, are we really?
Songwriting is so subjective, and yes, there are formulas to make that ‘hit’ song. But if we all know that formula, shouldn’t we all have hit songs out?
Shouldn’t we all have a trophy with number #1 on it?
We don’t. And that’s because how you write or structure your song doesn’t necessarily get you into the hall of fame.
So I thought it would be great to look at some of these perceived songwriting mistakes, and truly look at them for what they really are.
They should never be labelled as a mistake, especially if it works in your song.
Let’s check them out.
5 songwriting mistakes? You be the judge…
5. Your melody only focuses on 4-5 notes
Not all of us have the vocal range of Mariah Carey, most of us only have a vocal range less than 2 octaves. But who says we have to utilize every note in that range in every song?
However, I do understand that repeating the same notes can sound monotonal, and can drag on forever and ultimately bore your listener to death that they probably won’t check out any of your other songs.
So if you have a limited vocal range, or perhaps you only want to focus on a few notes, are there any tips to make the melody less boring?
Here are a few:
- Note duration: Have your verse focus on short notes and have it rhythmically active, in contrast, your chorus will have longer notes and be less rhythmically active.
- Register: Changing the register of your vocals is a great way to trick the listener into thinking you’re singing something different when really you’ve just changed your singing style. This is best used in the 4th octave, as you can switch between chest, falsetto and mixed voices.
- Contour: Contour your melodies differently. For example descend the notes in the verse and ascend them in the chorus. This will give the feeling of sadness in verse, but brightness in the chorus.
- Dynamics: Why not try singing softly in the verses, and singing with more power in the chorus? Yes, the notes are similar but the emotional response is completely different.
4. You can’t distinguish the difference between the verse and chorus in your song
Another song about heartache and you feel like you’re crying and sobbing throughout the entire song.
Yes, we’ve all been there, and don’t deny it, you’ve probably written a song like that!
A song that’s so emotionally driven can sometimes be difficult to manage as it all just blurs together into one big whinge-fest.
So how can we break it up? How can we distinguish the verse from the chorus in these scenarios?
Try one of these:
- Add in a pre-chorus: A statement or a phrase of some sort that is still relevant to the story but acts as a breather from all the whining.
- Tone back the verses: To build a bigger contrast you’ll need to dial down the emotion in the verses. Perhaps half the length, instead of 4 rhyming couplets use 2.
- Add a melodic interlude: Similar to a pre-chorus this would act as a breather, but without the words the listener can enjoy a beautiful sad melody and probably cry. I think we can all imagine a violin coming in, and at that point we know to release the tears. The melody without the lyrics can have a big emotional impact on them as well.
- Structure your rhymes differently in each part: Using long phrases with rhyming alternates at the end is great for verses, you can elaborate on feelings, it feels less urgent. Switch this up in your chorus. Using short bursts of rhyming couplets, the emotion feels more drastic and more urgent. Regardless of all the whining, the chorus feels more important.
3. Your song is way too long and repetitive
The average song is around 3 ½ minutes long and the chorus is the most repeated part of those 3 ½ minutes. Go any longer than that, then well, your listeners will get bored and move on. Too little repetition, it won’t be memorable and too much is well, too much.
It’s kind of far from the truth to some extent.
Granted, people’s attention span is getting shorter and shorter, but is this the reason why the average song is 3 ½ minutes long?
Technology was limited for music, especially in the early 1900s. It wasn’t until RCA introduced the 45rpm disc in 1949, which was a durable and portable vinyl disc which could hold about 3 minutes of music.
Fast-forward 70 years not everyone is making 3 ½ minute songs, but they are making 3 ½ minutes song fit for radio use.
One tip you may find useful if your song is more than 5 minutes longer and you want to get your music on the radio, is to prepare a shorter radio friendly version.
So why would a long song length be perceived as a mistake?
Firstly, it could be seen as a mistake because each section is long and overly repetitive. If a phrase is repeated twice, that’s fine… but 8 times is a bit excessive. Remember Ellie Goulding’s ‘Burn’ song where she repeats the word burn over 40 times? A great catchy song nonetheless but a little extreme on the word burn.
However, electronic music especially dance/trance have a reputation for repeating the same phrase. Remember ‘Put Your Hands Up for Detroit’ by Fedde Le Grand?
Secondly, if your melody or the production of your song is bland for 5 minutes straight with little or no variation in pitch or rhythm. The problem here is not the length, the problem is that there’s no variation. Solution: go spice up your song. Add in another instrument, vary your pitches, change your register and the dynamics of your voice.
2. Your song title makes no sense
This one is really subjective so it’s difficult to say what is right or wrong because it’s really down to the listener.
Some songs you’ll listen to and instantly guess the song name, Lana Del Ray’s song ‘Born To Die’ is an easy one as the phrase is at the end of the chorus and it stands out so much it’s obvious.
But then Ed Sheeran’s song ‘Lego House’ is the opposite side of the spectrum as that phrase is mentioned once in the first verse and never mentioned again. Whereas the phrase ‘I’ll love you better now’ is mentioned more than 6 times.
You can’t really say one is right and the other is wrong.
Really it’s preference, but also down to how unique the song title will be. ‘I’ll love you better now’ is a common phrase and probably a common song title. ‘Lego House’, not so much.
Also consider the vision you see in your head whilst listening to this song in particular; you visualise building a home, building a life for you and another, so it does make sense. You just need to find how it makes sense.
And if it’s specific and difficult, let people know, include lyric meanings with your songs to avoid any confusion, or engage with your fans and ask them what they think the song is about.
1. There’s too much excitement I am exhausted
As of April 2019, there are almost 40,000 tracks being uploaded to Spotify alone everyday.
That’s almost 14.6 million every year…
I’ll give you a moment to absorb that information.
So it’s no wonder that some of us pull out all glitter, all the noise and the fancy stuff to make our music sound impressive, louder and interesting so we stand out from the other 39,999 tracks.
If used in moderation your song can be truly epic. You have the right balance of drama and excitement, you hit a peak then it’s time to head home.
But, what if we stay at the peak throughout the entire song and never come down?
In trash metal definitely! Make some noise!
But it doesn’t work for all genres.
The peak, the climax of your song needs to stand out. If everything else is dramatic, then well there is technically no peak, no contrast, nothing really stands out.
This is not a mistake. It’s usually more of an arrangement issue.
You could have too many layers of instruments playing the same thing throughout the entire song that individual instruments blur together, all you get now are loud dramatic noises.
You could have too many different melodies or harmonies playing all at once that it’s hard to distinguish which is the most important, all you get now is constant chaos.
You could have avoided dynamics in your voice, therefore you end up power singing the entire song.
It doesn’t mean your song is wrong, but certain techniques could really improve how its received by the listener.
Tone down the layers, tone down the extra melodies and harmonies, add some dynamics to your vocals.
It’s your turn
So really, these mistakes are just deviations from the generic song.
But it doesn’t make them any less worthy of using in your own songs.
Now for a hint of bad news… sorry!
In today’s society music is now so much more than just writing songs, it’s also about; your Artist image, how adaptable you are to industry changes, and how you can be marketed in and outside the music industry.
Frankly, it makes it seem like the music itself has taken a back seat.
So don’t feel disheartened and feel like you’ve made a bunch of songwriting mistakes, you haven’t. We have to work hard from the bottom to find our own space in this busy and hectic industry.
Committing a subjective songwriting mistake is not the reason, so keep on hustling and making music that you love!
Good luck, and get creating! Bye!
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