How to Write a Song
Come write a song with me

Read this quote from an article by David Samuels from n+1 called "Justin Timberlake Has a Cold" (then, when you're done reading this blog post, google it and read the whole article. It is pretty good.)

While [Mike] Caren’s rules are not comprehensive or exclusive, it is easy to measure their value by a glance at the dozens of gold and platinum records hanging in his office. He is happy to run down his rules for me. “First, it starts with an expression of ‘Hey,’ ‘Oops,’ ‘Excuse me,’” he begins. “Second is a personal statement: ‘I’m a hustler, baby,’ ‘I wanna love you,’ ‘I need you tonight.’ Third is telling you what to do: ‘Put your hands up,’ ‘Give me all your love,’ ‘Jump.’ Fourth is asking a question: ‘Will you love me tomorrow,’ ‘Where have you been all my life,’ ‘Will the real Slim Shady please stand up.’” He takes a deep breath, and rattles off another four rules. “Five is logic,” he says, “which could be counting, or could be spelling or phonetics: ‘1-2-3-4, let the bodies hit the floor,’ or ‘Ca-li-fornia is comp-li-cated,’ those kind of things. Six would be catchphrases that roll off the tip of your tongue because you know them: ‘Never say never,’ ‘Rain on my parade.’ Seven would be what we call stutter, like, ‘D-d-don’t stop the beat,’ but it could also be repetition: ‘Will the real Slim Shady please stand up, please stand up, please stand up.’ Eight is going back to logic again, like hot or cold, heaven or hell, head to toe, all those kind of things.” The ninth rule of hit songwriting is silence.

One of his examples of a song that uses the most rules in the fewest words is “What’s Your Fantasy” by Ludacris, which starts off with “I wanna li-li-li-lick you from your head to your toes.” Mike Caren says, “In the first line: a personal statement, ‘I want to,’ a stutter, repetition, ‘li-lick you,’ logic, ‘from your head to your toes, move from the bed down to the down to the, to the floor’” Caren says, “‘I gotta know’—another personal statement—and asks a question, ‘What’s your fantasy?’ So he’s got six of them, in the first two lines of the song.”

I love that. let's try to write some songs. I'm interested in writing a country sounding concept album in which the protagonist sings about the conspiracy theories he believes and his journeys with aliens. The plan is to make it so the songs sound like perfectly normal hipster country folk until you really listen to the words. Let's get started by listing the rules.

The Nine Rules of Hit Songwriting

  • Start with an expression of: Hey, Oops, Excuse Me.
  • Have a personal statement of what I am or what I need: I am a hustler. I need you.
  • Tell the person what to do: Put you hands up, Give me your love,
  • Ask a question of the person: where have you been? will you love me?
  • do some couting, spelling, or phonetics
  • catchphrase - (the hook)
  • do a stutter or repeition (is this different than counting, spelling or phonetics?)
  • go back to logic in a clever, hooky way, heaven/hell hot cold, head to toe
  • silence!

Ok, so this is very much more about the craft of songwriting rather than inspiration. That's good! I've been on twitter a lot lately trying to drum up followers and you know what? Everyone is chock full of inspiration, but not many people are doing things.

I like doing things.

Tangent over! Dan Harmon is kind of awesome. If you don't know who he is, look him up. He says that if you want to write, just write. There's no other way to get better at it. He does offer some advice on a story arc. It isn't anything groundbreaking, but for some reason I have to be constantly reminded of it. He says:

  1. A character is in their comfort zone.
  2. They want something
  3. They enter an unfamiliar situation
  4. They Adapt
  5. They get what they wanted
  6. They pay a heavy price for it
  7. They return to the familiar situation
  8. They have changed.

Good advice! Now I need to buckle down and write/record that album!