Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Should songwriters follow trends?

Many songwriting books on the market advice us to follow what the top 40 of the day is. Some even analyze the top 40 in terms of tempo, form and subject matter and even the length of the intro, the time to get to the chorus, and the overall length of the song and all kinds of interesting technical aspects, just to find that magical formula that makes a song a hit song.
Leonard Cohen tells us that David had this secret chord that pleased the lord, but does the magic formula for a hit song really exist?
Is it a wonder then that everybody complains that all pop songs sounds the same and there is nothing really new coming out lately, if all the songwriters are taught to follow the trends? Many top divas are competing on how little clothing they can get away with in their music videos, or how many tows they have on display, rather than intelligent songwriting. I am not one who complains about beautiful bodies on display, but really, one have to ask the question, is that art?
The question I am asking does not relate to our problem with the divas, but rather about songwriting in general.
Let's get more specific.
Here is one trend that you are told to follow. A certain analysis shows that 70% of songs in the top 40 follows the verse, chorus format. Half of those add a bridge for extra interest. Those songs who do not follow the basic format, follows the AABA form, where essentially the melody follows a verse, chorus shape, but the words for the chorus does not repeat exact in each chorus. Not a single song included in that survey followed the AAAA format or the ABCD, or free format.
This verse and chorus trend is consistent over the last 100 years or so. Songwriters have always followed this trend. The conventional wisdom is that songs must have a chorus, and those chorusses must be repeated many times. The total abandoning of AAAA format is however sad.
Many very famous songs followed this format. Who remembers "The house of the rising sun"? This song had 4 to 6 verses (depending on which version you listen to), all with the same chord progression, but nowhere a repeat of any chorusses. Most of Bob Dylan's early songs followed this format. Who remembers "Born to run" by Bruce Springsteen? At some time thought to be the greatest rock song ever.
There are many more examples of great songs that followed this form. At least this writer would like to see this form more often. Not because I have any emotional attachment to it, but simply because I would like to see more variety.
The verse, chorus form is great and should be the first choice for songwriters, but please remember that this is not the only possibility.
Until next time!

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