Music Math, Songwriting Science and other artful alliterations.
Why do certain songs have that familiar ring to us the instant we hear them? Yes of course sometimes they are tried-and-true themes that are recalled upon time and time again in order to invoke a certain ease of listening to the listener. But there’s also something else. There is actually some math and science used to create those memorable songs.
As a practice, try to create a memorable hook that a listener will be able to sing along with by the time they get to the second chorus. This isn’t easy. But it should be a task that we try to attempt every time that we are sitting down to create something new. If the listener can't grasp it by the time the second chorus has rolled around...you might be on the wrong path.
Unbeknownst to you, you are probably already using some of these cool little techniques. Here are five little idea bombs to help you prove your hypothesis and set you on the path to writing that hit hook, standout smash and awesome anthem.
By: Justin Gray
Chemistry - Find people that you love working with, and constantly collaborate with them. It's so much easier being in a room with people who enjoy spending time with you and also with who you creatively mesh with. Yes it’s important to meet and collaborate with new people, but when you find those special collaborators, stick to them. There is a reason why it’s common for the same songwriters and producers to be on ALL THE HITS. And it’s no surprise why. There is a shorthand to good collaborators and collaborations.
Symmetry - My friend and oftentimes collaborator Bonnie McKee (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonnie_McKee) once said “It’s very mathematical. A line has to have a certain number of syllables, and the next line has to be its mirror image.” When you’re writing lyrics, look at the way that the lines are the patterns scan from line to line and from verse to verse. Know when to stick to it, and when to abandon it. If your lyric goes “da- da da - da da” on line 1 and 2, make sure the listener isn’t going to be put off balance if line 3 is “da da - da - da da da”…and then even worse switching it up again on line 4. You’re building trust with the listener, don’t take it away from them.
Angles - What is the angle? Or even better yet what is the concept? Really try creating that concept and sticking to it lyrically and even musically as well. Once you decide on what you’re writing about, try and figure out the cool little twist or angle to that lyric that makes what you’re trying to write about be memorable. Every song is essentially a two to three minute story. Be clear and to the point. Stick to your story, and try to be as concise as possible. If a lyric, melody, or riff doesn’t serve your story, it doesn’t make the song. I can’t tell you how many great songs have come out of abandoned concepts that didn’t make the cut. No idea is a bad idea…it’s just maybe not the right idea for this song.
Formula - If you were to break down the biggest hit songs over the past 50 years you’ll find so many mathematical similarities. Perhaps it’s repetition, or the chord structure. I mean how many love songs have there been over time. But what is that one thought that perfectly sums up the intention of the song? That’s the hook. Hammer that home. If you have a particularly strong melody that you are very happy with, keep crafting the lyric to match the melody…not the other way around. One of the most prolific pop songwriters in history Max Martin has a few simple rules. Never introduce more than 3 or 4 ideas in any one song. Too much information will cloud the delivery of the message. Stick to the formula.
Rule of 3 - “The rule of three is a writing principle based on the idea that humans process information through pattern recognition. As the smallest number that allows us to recognize a pattern in a set, three can help us craft memorable phrases.” I didn’t make this up. I googled it, but the same rule applies to songwriting. It could be 3 syllables, or three lines, or three musical phrases repeated in succession that cause that stickiness. The best example of this is probably “ABC” by the Jackson 5…all basically repetitive and 3 syllable lines.
A B C
1, 2, 3
Do, Re, Mi
A, B , C
1, 2, 3
You and me
Bonus writing tips…Strangely, melodies that tend to start on either the first or fifth note of the scale will resonate more deeply with listeners. This is another incredible technique that Max Martin will use on almost everything he does. One of my favorite examples (although not Max Martin) is the song “Fix You” by Coldplay.
“lights” is on the 1st note of the scale, while the word “guide” is on the 5th note of the scale. And it repeats throughout the simplest of hooks. But simple is also powerful and memorable.
This is an awesome example of bouncing around between the 1st and 5th note of the scale while staying true to the chord changes.
These are just some ideas, but like all rules, they are meant to be broken from time to time. The key is to do what is true to you, and never stop.
Have a great week, and keep writing those hits!!