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How To Write A Hit Song

Oct 12, 2007
Writing a hit song can be a daunting project for the new songwriter. Assuming that he has mastered the initial technique of composing a lyric, melody, or both, there are still a few points that he should be acquainted with before he is ready to present his song to the publishers. Among the questions that may be in his mind are: "When starting a song, shall I begin with the lyric or with the melody?" "If I can only write lyrics, or if I can only write the melody, where shall I find a collaborator?"

Very few songwriters, including the professionals, are capable of writing both lyrics and melody. As a general rule, the songwriter may either have a special talent for writing lyrics, or be a natural composer. It is only on rare occasions that one comes across a songwriter who combines both talents and is able to do both jobs equally well.

The new songwriter who believes that he has a flair for both words and music should make a serious attempt at honest evaluation to determine whether or not he has more talent in one field than in another. If he finds that this is true, he should, of course, specialize in the particular field in which he shows the most ability.

There is no set rule for starting a song. This depends entirely upon the individual's work habits, the source of initial inspiration, and many other factors. In writing the lyric, it is quite common to start from the title, or from an idea offering a new slant on the treatment of a familiar subject.

The original idea may come from any number of sources. For instance, the following true story is often cited to show how a good title may be inspired. Some years ago when Rodgers and Hart were in Paris, they were riding with a girl in one of the famous pre-war French taxi-cabs. Suddenly the taxi skidded and headed straight for an oncoming car, swerving just in time to avoid a head-on collision.

As the three passengers picked themselves up from the floor of the cab, the girl caught her breath and said, "Oh, my heart stood still!" Rodgers looked at her thoughtfully for a moment and then said to his partner, "There, my friend, is a swell title for a song." When My Heart Stood Still finally appeared in "The Connecticut Yankee," it became an overnight hit.

With very few exceptions, the average successful song is the result of collaboration between two, three, or even more, lyricists and composers. Occasionally we will come across an Irving Berlin or a Cole Porter who is equally adept at words and notes, but this is the exception rather than the rule. The old saying, "Two heads are better than one" can be applied particularly to the field of popular songwriting.

Some composers and lyricists prefer to "shop around" for collaborators, feeling that their songs might become stereotyped if they team up steadily with any individual. However, Tin Pan Alley has made "the song-writing team" famous and some of the best-known songs are the result of this type of collaboration. Some of the well-known teams are: Harold Adamson-Jimmy McHugh, Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart (since Hart's untimely death, Rodgers has been teaming up with Oscar Hammerstein II). Some of the old-timers were: Leo Robin-Ralph Rainger, Harry Warren-Al Dubin, and Mack Gordon-Harry Revel.

There are quite a few factors, in addition to natural ability, that are required for a successful songwriting team. The two songwriters must not only be able to "click" perfectly on lyric and music ideas but they must be able to get along with each other temperamentally. Quite a few songwriting teams have "blown up" because, even though they were able to turn out a steady stream of hit numbers, they could not get along with each other as individuals.

Considering the above points in writing a hit song, although not exhaustive, will be a very good start for any beginner songwriter. The most important thing, though, is once started, keep going!
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