Why Formulas in Songwriting are a GOOD Thing
About Songwriting Formulas
When I refer to formulas in songwriting, we can think about it as a songwriting recipe of sorts. The formula is a combination of techniques such as repetition, careful arranging, melodic motion and hooks, chord relationships, and not surprisingly: simplicity.
Let’s make something clear right now: Formulas do not mean generic. Nor do they mean sellout, and definitely not overused or outdated. The artsy crowd tends to attest that any kind of commercial writing is garbage. But musical beauty is in the ear of the beholder. The commercial songs that do use formulas, appeal to the largest audience of human beings. So how could it be garbage if the majority of people enjoy it? It’s almost human nature to start knocking something once it gets too popular. Don’t be dissuaded.
Creating Music For Financial Gain.
The musician pursuing commercial songwriting does so to make money at making music. The smart musician pursuing financial gain learns what works musically for making money. A key point: it’s not about what the musician likes, it’s about what the listener likes. They are the buyer. Make the listener happy and you make money. Successful songwriters and producers study what works, what hit songs have in common and they apply this knowledge of learned and proven techniques as formulas.
Want to Write a Hit Song?
If this is you, you need to use formulas. Learn the techniques and use them with precision and you are well on your way to writing a hit song.
What are some of the Formulas?
They vary by genre. All genres have their own formulas. A pop or rock song may sing the same hook lyric (usually the song title) multiple times repeatedly in the chorus, where a country song may only say the hook at the beginning or end of the chorus or both. Even some chord choices may be part of the formula. An R&B song may use chords you wouldn’t likely use in a country song.
Arranging is a key component. For example: Pop usually has a 30 second intro. Country, keep it under 15 seconds. Here’s another for any genre: In most cases, you aren’t going to have say 3 or 4 verses before you get to the chorus. Listeners have short attention spans. The axiom: “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” is one to be applied.
Study Other Hit Songs
Study songs at the top of the charts in a given year and genre and find out what they have in common or what the averages (see list below) are for specific elements of the song. I say ‘given year’ because in most cases, you want to study what’s current, what’s selling now. You are less likely to be successful studying or trying to use what worked a decade ago. It’s been done too much and is no longer fresh. They’ve heard all that too much before because everyone else jumped on that bandwagon. So think in the now.
Use Songwriting Loops
Well-created and conceived Songwriting Loops not only speed up the process of song construction; they give you commercial song forms and hit song formulas right from the start. No reinventing the wheel or searching for the lost chord. They give you chord progressions that work, are commercial and marketable ready to go. Who doesn’t want that?
Songwriting loops that fit the preceding concerns have been created by songwriting pros, such as the songwriting loops found at piano-loops.com, acousticguitarloops.com and countrymusicloops.com. These loops use the same formulas that hit songs and professional songwriters use. Not only that, these songwriting loops are the most flexible, versatile and adaptable on the market. These loops will give you over a trillion options for combinations. Talk about not being boxed in!
What you add are great melodies and lyrics–the parts that make your song truly unique. And the only portions of a song you can copyright
Use Fresh Formulas
Oh, didn’t think formulas could be fresh? On the contrary, you should try to use them in a fresh way. This is where skill comes in. You have to balance just the right amount of familiar formulas, with some type of fresh element. It can be a lyric, a melody or as simple as stopping the beat for a second somewhere unexpectedly. Whatever you do, it has to be done just right. A two minute intro isn’t fresh, it’s likely a huge error. The key is: study, know what’s expected, then do the unexpected somewhere just for a moment and / or ever-so-slightly; and that becomes fresh.
What to Study in Other Hit Songs
Ask the following questions from the list below about the top hit songs for a given year and genre and find what they have in come or what the averages are.
* How long are the intros?
* Are the intros different or similar to other sections in the songs?
* How many different chords did they use in the song?
* Did they have varied chord progressions or did they repeat a particular progression a lot?
* How long are the songs?
* How many bars in the verses?
* Do they have pre-choruses?
* How many bars are in the choruses?
* How many hit songs used a bridge?
* How many bars are the bridges?
* Did they have breakdown choruses somewhere in the song?
* Where were the hooks placed in the choruses and how many times did they repeat the hook?
* What kind of rhyming patterns did they use?
* What is the most popular beat pattern or rhythm?
* What time signatures are most popular? 4/4, 3/4 or 6/8 or other?
* What tempos (bpm) are most popular?
* What topics were most popular? (in love, lonely, breakup, anger, party, etc)
There are more questions you can ask of course, but this covers the important stuff and gets you moving in the right direction.
The Take Away For Using Formulas
Study what works on the charts. This is what the buying and listening public is responding to currently. Use the elements that work from hit songs in your songs, while also injecting some fresh or original twist along they way that makes your song special or unique. If you learn what succeeds and use that successful formula with your own creations; by mirroring what works, you have the greatest chance of also finding success.