Presentation Counts

Presentation Counts

Don’t get too excited. It’s time for post containing what I like to call Dadvice. You know what I’m talking about. Advice that’s mostly mundane but eminently practical. The kind of resent precisely because you know it’s worth bearing in mind. Our subject is how you present your work. It’s no secret that the most important thing is doing quality work, but presentation is important too. Imagine your bank writes to you in Comic Sans. Imagine your doctor turns up in sweatpants. Imagine that limo you hired arrives covered in a fine layer of dirt. Presentation counts. It’s a stamp of quality. It’s a subtle way of showing what you value. In songwriting well-presented work says ‘I’m proud of what I make’. It says ‘I want other people to engage with what I make’. It says ‘I’m a professional and value presenting myself well to other professionals’. Wholesome qualities pertaining to Dadvice of all kinds. When you’re putting your work either before a professional who might be able to open doors for you or before musicians and singers who are going to perform and record it, it’s in everyone’s interest that they’re focusing on your work and not the way you’ve presented it. And that’s what good presentation does: it’s done so well you don’t notice it. You feel that mark of quality. In fact, when I coach a new writer, 90% of the time I can tell almost instantly what stage they’re working at from a quick glance at how their work is presented on the page. Professional work goes hand in hand with professional presentation. It’s especially important for getting your work performed. Time is always tight in rehearsal or in the studio. The more...
Music Is the Most Direct Route to the Soul

Music Is the Most Direct Route to the Soul

Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought. E. Y. HARBURG Music is the most abstract of the arts. It affects us not on an intellectual, rational level but on a deep, instinctual level. It washes over us and affects us deeply and emotionally in ways that are difficult to explain. Think about the times a beat has got you tapping your feet before you even realized it. Or the way music is used in movies to heighten every kind of emotion you can name. Music is the most direct route to the soul. That’s its power. That’s how it affects us. It says nothing specific and yet touches us in ways we can’t find words to express. Our challenge as songwriters is to create music which expresses, in this deep instinctual way, something that matches what our lyric is trying to say. Unless there’s a specific reason otherwise, we want the music and lyric to say the same thing, albeit in different ways. When done properly, the music and lyrics add up to something far greater than the sum of their parts. Think about Don’t Stop Believin’ and how those sturdy rocking piano chords which hold strong, drive forward and remind us not to lose faith. Or I Will Always Love You and the way the simple music lets the singer bare her soul. Or how virtually every melodic line in Gaga’s Poker Face is somehow holding something back, like a blank expression. Or the way Faithless’s Insomnia stays up all night. You probably have your own examples – most great songs do this in one...
Verse-Chorus Structure 101

Verse-Chorus Structure 101

By far the most common song form used today is Verse-Chorus. Here’s how it works.   In a nutshell The jewel in the crown of Verse-Chorus structure is a single section, the Chorus, which contains, celebrates and hammers home the central idea of the song. The surrounding sections are all about leading up to, departing from and providing contrast to this section. It’s like an elaborate game of seduction: the thrill is as much as in the anticipation as in the main event.   The Simplest Version of The Form At the core of the form is the alternation of Choruses and Verses. Typically in two, three or even four or five cycles. Here’s three: Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus The Choruses contain the central idea to the song. The music and lyrics to these sections are often identical time after time. Sometimes there are minor variations – maybe the odd line is changed (sometimes keeping rhyme sounds which match with parallel sections) – but the gist and sentiment very rarely change. Usually the song’s hook appears liberally in the Chorus: very often in the first line, if not the last line, if not both. This is the section that gets the song ‘pumping’: usually the texture is thicker (more instrumental layers) than surrounding sections. It’s likely to be the most memorable and affecting section of the song. The Verse builds up to the following Chorus. This is important: Verses and Choruses aren’t just alternating sections of equal value. It’s not just Yin and Yang. Yin is Yang’s wingman, a one-way street. The Verse sets the...