Wayne Cohen, veteran multi-platinum selling ASCAP hit songwriter, producer and educator, owner of publishing/production company Stand Up Songs.

Wayne teaches individual and group songwriting tutoring sessions at his NYC Stand Up Studio and via Skype.

One of my song tutoring students recently sang me a song she was working on called ‘Listen You’, which I thought was a cool idea about missing that special someone. She had strong lyrics for her chorus, but the chorus chords she had were in a minor key just like the verse had been. The minor chords worked great in the verse, but the melody fell flat at the chorus. I call this kind of chorus melody problem flat lining, as in, the melody didn’t lift enough for a chorus. I suggested that she go to the relative major key for the chorus, and that the melody needed to be ‘happier’ to pay off the manic lyric idea she had set up. This eventually made for a killer chorus for that song.

This started me thinking, if the question is, ‘how do you write a breakthrough song?’ 

This experience with my student reinforced my conviction that having an intention when writing is the answer. In other words, if you can imagine the result you want before you get there, you have a much better chance of achieving that result.

I think lack of intention is one of the things that is crippling the music industry. I see creators in many fields (not just songwriters) influenced by the culture of immediacy that we are living in. I believe some songwriters are influenced away from writing a breakthrough song, expressing a riveting clear universal emotion with catchy melodies, and instead are focused on making trendy tracks that sell immediately. I think the craft of songwriting is suffering as a result, and this shortsightedness is contributing to a lack of certain songs’ longevity on the charts.

But keeping this idea of intention can be a tricky business when writing a song, because sometimes you don’t want to question that magical part of writing from pure inspiration. Great songs can seem to fall out of the sky and flow through the writer.

However there are so many facets of songwriting that can be improved by conscious thought. There are many examples of this, not the least of which is McCartney’s now clichéd story about ‘Yesterday’ starting out as a song he dreamed called ‘Scrambled Eggs’. After further consideration, the title and subsequent lyric story of ‘Yesterday’ had just the right feeling for the melody he dreamed. The title and lyric fit like hand in glove. But he worked at it ‘til he had something great. And that was all because of his intention to write a great song. Luckily he didn’t settle for ‘Scrambled Eggs’.

So, you ask, how can we take an OK song and make it better, with the right intention?

As a starting point, here is a quick intention checklist to run your songs by.

Intention Check List:

  1. How do you want the song to feel?
  2. Does every aspect of the song feel the way you want it to feel?
  3. Does the lyric develop within a section, and from section to section, to express an urgent coherent story, the way you want it to?
  4. Does the melody have the right flow, i.e., does it climax and subside where it needs to? (from the verse into the chorus, etc..)
  5. Is there rhyme scheme consistency and development in the right places?
  6. Have you mapped your melodic rhythm by using slash marks to count the number of syllables (for ex., map the V1 melody so that V2 will have the same melodic rhythm)?

Feel free to drop me a line and let me know how you did with the checklist…I’m curious!

You can contact Wayne here.

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