What is the biggest “secret” all professional songwriters follow?
Let’s hear it in the words of Craig Wiseman…one of the most successful stand alone country songwriters:
In an interview with Bill Conger Wiseman was asked “what other advice do you have for budding songwriters?”
Wiseman’s answers was simple:
“Write. Write, Write, write, and write again.”
“If you don’t know what to write about, write a song about having writer’s block. When it’s all said and done, if you’re a songwriter, write and write all the time. That’s how you learn.
“I was talking to one of those old country guys and he said people come up to me and I go, yeah, I’m a songwriter too. He would say, well, sing me the song you wrote today. They would go I didn’t write a song today. Oh, well sing me the song you wrote yesterday. I didn’t write a song yesterday. Oh, you’re a part-time songwriter!”
Professional artists, their managers, their producers and many of the people who give them advice put huge emphasis on creating a consistent image for that artist.
They want fans to have something they can hold on to…something that represents who that artist is that they can relate to.
And probably the biggest key to that is being authentic…representing who they are in their songs.
What does that mean for a songwriter?
If you’re writing songs for yourself you want to put yourself, who you are, your life experiences…into your songs.
You want to say things in your songs that you believe in because when you’re on the radio, on the internet and on stage those songs are representing who you really are to your fans and you want that to be an authentic representation of yourself.
If you’re writing songs for other artists then you want to write songs that represent who they are authentically.
When someone really gets this right it creates a kind of magic that transcends just the song or the artist.
It turns a good song into a great song.
Here are 2 examples.
# 1: Bars & Melody. These young lads wrote their own lyrics to this song sharing their experiences about being bullied at school…
Note the judge’s comment: “For two young kids to come out and sing about something that really effects you, do it in a style that’s completely yours is a really rare thing.”
#2: I Wonder by Kellie Pickler. Kellie’s performance of this song at the 2007 CMA awards turned a hit song into something really special and won CMA performance of the year at the 2008 awards…
They’re fairly short and you don’t have to match them with anything (unlike verses which should ideally have the same number of syllables and the same rhyme structure).
Also there are quite a few shortcuts to writing a bridge that make it a whole lot quicker and easier to get the job done.
Lets talk about a few of those…
1. Place The Bridge After The Second Chorus
The most common format for commercial modern songs is:
2. Verse 1 (including a pre-chorus)
4. Verse 2 (including a pre-chorus)
Once you’re familiar with this format writing a song gets a whole lot easier because the meat of the songwriting work is in writing 2 verses, a chorus and a bridge.
2. Contrast Is Vital
One of the biggest reasons for having different sections in your song (verses, choruses and a bridge) is to keep your listener engaged with contrast between the sections.
With a bridge you’ll often start on a minor chord (or even change to a minor key or some other “fragile” chord) if the rest of the song is in a major key.
This makes the bridge contrast with the rest of the song keeping your listeners interest.
If you’re uncertain of what chord to start a bridge on try the 6m chord (Am in the key of C or Em in the key of G).
That’s a good standby to try out.
Also you usually change the rhythmic feel of your bridge.
3. The Bridge Is Often The
Musical And Emotional High Point Of The Song
This is the chance to hit the highest notes and deliver the strongest emotional message or lyrics of the song.
It’s not always the case but a great starting point to try with the melody of a bridge is one interval higher than the highest note you sing in your chorus.
In some cases you’ll realize that to make your bridge the musical high point of the song you need to drop the rest of the song a few keys so it can be sung effectively.
4. A Good Idea Will Make It Rock!
A bridge is the perfect place to say something or reveal something that pulls your whole song together, completes your story line (if there’s a story in the song), puts an entirely new spin on the meaning of the song or delivers the message of the song in a different way.
Think through some ideas that will really make your bridge stand out.
Can you do something with a story line that catches your listener by surprise or completes a story?
Is there something you’d really like to say that isn’t said in the verses or the chorus?
Write down a few different ideas until you find one that jumps out at you and begs to be written.
5. Bridges Are Usually Short
There are always exceptions but 2 lines of lyrics over 8 bars of music is usually enough for a bridge. (That’s why the bridge is sometimes referred to as the “middle 8”).
Longer than 8 bars and it tends to put the song out of balance and lack emotional punch.
The first line of lyrics usually rhymes with the second line but it doesn’t have to.
Your key focus should be on delivering emotion effectively in the bridge. If you get that right it will usually sound good.
6. The Bridge Leads Into the Next Chorus
Usually you want to leave your listener hanging and eager to hear the chorus again after your bridge.
So the most common chord used at the end of a bridge is the 5 chord (G or G7 in the key of C, D or D7 in the key of G).
You should also think of how you plan on singing that next chorus.
You might have a huge bridge and then drop down to a soft start for the final chorus. Or have your bridge end softly to match the soft start to the next chorus.
If you’re going for a huge final chorus then you might want your bridge to have a huge build and ending to lead into that final huge chorus.
7. The Bridge Writing Shortcuts
# Use a different rhythmic feel in your bridge.
# Try starting on the 6 chord (Am in the key of C) or any minor or “fragile” chord.
# Start the bridge melody one interval higher than the highest note you sing in the chorus.
# End the bridge on the 5 chord (G or G7 in the key of C).
# Try 2 lines of lyrics over 8 bars of music
# Rhyme the end of the first line of lyrics with the end of the second line.
# Make your bridge lead into the final chorus.
# Make your bridge the emotional and musical high point of the song.
Here are two examples of songs with this kind of bridge:
I Got Nothing – Darius Rucker
I’m Already There – Lonestar…
So Many Exceptions…
This is a list of starting points to give you a great chance of writing a bridge that works.
There are many exceptions to these guidelines the most obvious one being that often the last chorus is the emotional high point of the song.
Sometimes the final chorus is sung in a higher key to achieve this meaning your bridge would end on the 5 chord of the new chorus key.
There are amazing bridges in songs that are longer than 8 bars and there are great songs that don’t have a bridge at all.
But you’ll usually build your songwriting craft more quickly if you understand how and why the most common forms are used.
Then when you break those guidelines you’ll know why you’re doing it and what you’re trying to achieve.
This chorus structure appears time and again in hits written by the leading professional songwriters.
The best way to become familiar with it is to listen to these songs multiple times. You’ll soon begin to hear both why the structure is so powerful and internalise the elements.
This chorus structure is usually something like this:
2 bars line 1 (may include lyrical hook) rhyme at end A
2 bars line 2 rhyme at end A
4 bars line 3 rhyme at end A or B
(note with line 3 the rhyme will be A if line 1 includes the hook)
2 bars line 4 rhyme at end C
2 bars line 5 rhyme at end C
4 bars line 6 rhyme at end B or A
4 bars Payoff line includes lyrical hook or title rhyme at end B or A
The final payoff line may also include a musical riff
The easiest way to internalize this structure so you can use it at will is to listen to and learn great songs that use it.
Hit songs that are good examples of this structure include:
Tomorrow performed by Chris Young
Where The Green Grass Grows performed by Tim McGraw
Who I Am performed by Jessica Andrews
Smile performed by Uncle Cracker
In A Real Love performed by Phil Vassar
But For The Grace Of God performed by Keith Urban
Just Another Day In Paradise performed by Phil Vassar
Live Like You Were Dying performed by Tim McGraw
Pray For You performed by Jaron
The Boys Of Fall performed by Kenny Chesney
Woman With You performed by Kenny Chesney
Anything But Mine performed by Kenny Chesney
The Good Stuff performed by Kenny Chesney
There are also many hit songs with structures very similar to this.
After internalizing these songs you’ll start to see them everywhere.
I’ve had a lot of communication with different professional songwriters including songwriters with number one hits in major markets.
The reality is most songwriters will really struggle if their only income is royalties from song recordings and having their songs played on the radio.
And the way the industry has changed means recording companies are no longer developing artists…they want artists who already have a huge following.
The good news is the internet and other developments make it a whole lot easier to make an income from your performances and your songwriting.
I know many people who are making great incomes without any kind of recording contract. In fact the independents who are using innovative ways to bring in income are making more than artists with recording contracts.
In the modern music industry the information in the audio and the report are vital if you want a sustainable career.