Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My 80/20 Rule of Songwriting

When I do a songwriting workshop one of the most important things I like to talk about is my 80/20 rule of songwriting.  There are lots of 80/20 rules out there in life and I apply it to songwriting and in many respects this rule will determine how dedicated you are as a writer and in most cases how "strong" the song will be when finished.  Here is the basic rule:

Spend 20% of your time writing the first 80% of your song.
Spend 80% of your time writing the last 20% of your song.

When you get a great idea or hook for a song you are "fired up" and with the initial "rush" of thoughts and ideas the chorus and maybe first verse jumps out and is written with not a lot of "push back".  Now you have a great first verse with an attention getting first line, a great start to introducing the characters and storyline, a killer chorus that is really powerful and you are feeling good about this new song.   THEN....you have to write 2 more verses or maybe a verse and a bridge etc.  Here is where the struggle begins.

One of the differences between a seasoned writer/professional writer is the willingness to work through the struggle of of the last 2 verses and the "tweeking" phase of a song.  You see...for a song to be great the last verses/bridge needs to be as strong or stronger than the killer verse and chorus you have just written!!  This can be a harrowing task!! :)  The work, fight, struggle, frustration, or "throw up your hands" feeling comes on pretty fast. I have to fight the urge to JUST FINISH THE SONG feeling all the time!!!  See, this is where mediocre songwriting meets great songwriting...it is the crossroad to either so-so songs and great songs.  Which crossroad are you willing to go down.  A couple things I do:

1. I write the title of the song to the side and make sure EVERY line points toward the title...if it doesn't....deep six the line or change it.  You can't afford "fluff"...not even a "fluff" word :)

2. NEVER!!...did I say NEVER compromise the "meaning" of a word for a "rhyme"!!!  This is so important.  If you can't find the word that exactly says what you are meaning to say you will need to change something else...rework lines...or do WHATEVER IT TAKES to be true to the meaning/emotion of the song and line you are writing.  This is what makes it HARD but in the end makes the song GREAT!!!

Tweeking:  I am a tweeker!!  I analyze every word.  I recently wrote a song with fine writer Becky Buller :)  I loved it cuz she is a "tweeker" too!!  I start with a Macro-tweek, then a Micro tweek, then a Nano-tweek and end with the "God particle tweek" which is the smallest "tweek" known to man!!!  LOLOL...that was Becky's term and I still laugh about that!  I was happy to add one more level of "tweek" to my regime!  HEHE!  Once you have the completed the "God Particle Tweek....hopefully your song will be done.  Of course this is sometimes gut-wrenching and usually time consuming hence the 80% rule for the last 20%.

Well....I'm off to try and work on a couple songs today...one just beginning the 80% phase and one hopefully well into the "tweek" phase :)  So, hope you have a GREAT day and remember....write more and whine less!!!!

One final note of congratulations to Mike Cleveland & Flamekeeper who hit the Bluegrass Unlimited Charts for March in the #1 spot!!!!!  When I wrote this song for Mike I told him I thought it had a "shot" at top ten and then you never know from there.  Well, it made it!!!  #1!!!  Mike tells me this is his first #1 and while I'm happy to have a #1 song...I'm even happier for Mike Cleveland and all the boys as it is well deserved!  Thanks Mike for doing a FANTASTIC job in recording my song "Fiddlin' Joe!!!!  It's a GREAT feeling!!! :)

Write on!!!


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