How to improve your songs BEFORE you record.

Welcome back to another installment of Sonic Boom – exploring all things musical (not like Cats the musical, that was terrible). Some of the topics I approach in this months dribble will use some of the ideas explored in previous articles about songs forms and catchiness, so feel free to read through previous issues.

Let’s set the scene – you’ve written a song, you love it, your mother loves it and you want to immortalize it. I know it sounds silly but how well do you actually know the song? Have you made conscious decisions about the song, to the point that you know why you’ve chosen this chord instead of that chord, why the title is memorable or all other phrasing options for the melody?

Now when I say that you should have your song polished before you record, I’m talking about the final recording. Demo recordings are the easiest way of workshopping ideas, reflecting on them and comparing them to the style of song you want it to sound like. Whether it’s Jazz songs in a similar feel, Country songs by an artist you admire or Pop songs that lasted the test of time this is a tried and true method of working out how it fits in the genre.

Some of the work you can do that is normally done by a producer, includes looking at the chord progression and it’s relationship to the melody to determine whether is supports the emotion and lyrics. For example, using minor chords will give your song a melancholy sound whereas major chords may sound happy. Similarly, if you’re aiming for a more aggressive sound you might use chords that put the melody in the fifth (like, say a D melody note over a G chord). A love song might sound better if you use third relationships (for example, a D melody note over a Bb chord). Some songs capture the wonderment of endless possibilities by actually using chords that don’t contain the melody note – a D melody note over an F chord would achieve this. For more of this, listen to A Whole New World from Aladin (I know, I know, but the writers used seriously good craft in this song). Harmonic Rhythm is another factor in how the song comes across to the listener. This is simply how fast the chords change, so sometimes you can experiment with new chords in the second half of the bar with the original chords. (And keep in my mind that sometimes you’ve picked the right chords the first time around, but there’s no harm in experimenting).

One of the most elusive factors in writing a song is the phrasing of the melody – where the main meaningful words of the lyrics line up with key notes in the melody and how long they are held for. Of course, speaking the words as you would normally say them in a conversation will give you the most natural phrasing. That doesn’t always mean that it’s the sound you are after. Experiment! Another thing you can try in most popular styles is the interplay between vowel and consonant sounds. Classical training and conventional wisdom dictates that you sing the vowel sound (A E I O U) long and start and end it with a short consonant – Looooooong. Contrast that with a Jazz approach that has crept into Rock and Pop occasionally, whereby you swap that idea, so that now you have a long consonant (the ones that work best are F, L, M, N, S, SH, and V) and a short vowel – Ssssssssshort.

Practice incessantly… Try different options with the above ideas and other concepts that change the mood and feeling of a song to find the perfect combination that says what you are trying to say. Especially in the lead up to recording the final version. If you have at least tried all the ideas you can think of, you will find it easier working with a Producer and you will definitely move quicker.


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