Saturday, June 29, 2019

5 More Reasons Your Songs Suck

 Last time we talked about some of the reasons you might feel your songs are not as good as the songs you have heard on the radio in the past (let's face it, whatever you write can't suck nearly as bad as half the garbage they put on the radio these days, so at least you have that going for you!). But I digress, anyway, today we are going to explore five more reasons that your songs might not be living up to your expectations. Hopefully, you will find something here that will help you bolster the work you are already doing, and push your song over the top into something spectacular!

1. No Hook - Perhaps your song is missing a key element like a hook. Or perhaps your hook just isn't catchy enough. You will know you have a catchy hook if you play it for someone and they come back the next day, or next week and say "that chorus of your song was stuck in my head all day," or "for THREE DAYS," or "I had to have brain surgery to remove that song from my head!" These are all good things to hear, but if you are not hearing that from your friends and family, then you are not writing strong enough hooks. Take a look at my article on writing a better melody, and perhaps it will give you some ideas you can try to make your hook just a little more catchy.

2. Jarring Changes - Some songs seem to flow from one section to the next as if by magic. Some songwriters can even change keys, or even change multiple keys, and a trained musician might be hard pressed to catch they changed key on the first listen (think Brian Wilson here). But there are some songwriters who no matter how good each part is they just can't seem to connect their sections in a way that isn't disturbing in some way. A good songwriter can build connecting bridges between parts, and that's where the term bridge came from originally. It was a section of music that helped lead the song in a different direction. Today a lot of songwriters use a bridge as a type of C section, but they use Pre-Choruses to be what a bridge was originally back in the day. Whatever you need to do to help your song move to the next section without causing the listeners to have a brain hemorrhage would be time well spent.  

3. Story Doesn't Make Sense - So your lyrics have a story to tell. But does the story make sense? I know that in a previous post I talked about how to add ambiguity into your lyrics to give them room for people to interpret them how they want, but they still have to make some sort of sense if people are to respond to them at all. Now there is room for waaay out there lyrics like "I am the Walrus," where the fact that the lyrics are so strange actually makes the song cool, in a way that "Jabberwocky" is so strange. But with both of these examples, there is still a semblance of  story that the listener can follow. And some songs like "A Simple Twist of Fate," by Bob Dylan also don't make a lot of sense, but there is a feeling of time travel or timelessness that Dylan creates in this song, that he brings in several of his songs ("Changing of the Guards," "Desolation Row," to name a couple other examples) that really makes this song work. It's almost like the weirdness of the lyrics just serves to draw us further into the song in a way that we wouldn't have been drawn otherwise. But taken as a whole the story still makes sense. One of the best bands that could tell a whole story in a few short lines was Fountains of Wayne. Songs like "Someone to Love," or "Mexican Wine," tell a complete story with each verse, and in such simple down to earth lyrics that their simplicity is deceptive.

4. Unnecessary Details - Too many unnecessary details in the lyrics will throw your song off for the listener. We do not need a laundry list of everything the heroin or hero does in the story. Hit the high points and move on. Again Fountains of Wayne are masters of this; learn from them.

5. Poor Chord Choices - One of the most common reasons that a song falls short is related to our first point in the last article, the chords that you choose are poorly conceived. Sometimes songwriters get tired of using the same four chords (this is a good sign, it means you are growing) but instead of picking chords that actually make sense, they jump to weird chords that really break up the flow of the song, or worse, clash with the melody they are singing. If you find that this is happening to you, reconsider the chords you chose and see what happens if you try out a chord that is a little closer related to your melody.

So there are a few more ideas to consider if you feel your songs are deeply in need of help. If you found these tips helpful, you can find out more about songwriting tips and tricks in my new book: "Lyrics and Music: Music Theory for Aspiring Songwriters" available now at, or with several additional Appendices at Barnes and Noble.

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