Wednesday, 3 April 2013

When a song just does not work

I am not a big fan of song recipes. There is no magic formula that you can follow to guarantee a hit song. However, sometimes it is obvious that a song just does not work, but you can not put your finger on it. That is a good time to refer to those recipes and try to figure out what is wrong with the song.

Here is an example. This is a take-out from The exile concept album recordings. The song is Long long time.

Listening to the song, it is obvious that something is just not working in that song.

Gary Ewer has a nice checklist on his blog you can use to identify problems with a song. Let's try it out.

Before we go into the checklist, just a few comments. This checklist is clearly aimed at a verse-chorus-bridge song form. In this ormat, the chorus is often repeated. the bridge section is rarely repeated. Not all songs are written in this form and other forms very often work just as well. My song, Long long time uses the AABA song form in an extended form. If we look at the song closely we'll find a AAB AABA form. The melody of the B section in this song is repeated. The lyrics are not repeated at all as in a chorus. This song highlights one problem with the AABA format. As soon as the B section is repeated, it does the same job as a chorus in some way. As we go through Gary's checklist, this will become clear.

Let's go.


Gary: My melody shows good contour, with a distinctive shape.

Me: No. The melody for this song seems to wander aimlessly.

Gary: I can identify a moment in the verse that would serve as a climactic point for that melody.

Me: No. The highest point in the melody is the 3rd bar of the verse, and wander around for the rest of the song.

Gary: I can identify a moment in the chorus that would serve as a climactic point for the song.

Me: The song does not have an identifyable chorus. The B section does not have a clear climax, with the highest point in the melody on the 2nd note and the melody moving in a downwards contour from there on.

Gary: My verse melody works its way upward, and connects somewhat seamlessly to the chorus. (If it doesn't, it uses a pre-chorus do make the connection)

Me: No. It starts high and work its way down. The B section does basically the same.

Gary: My chorus melody resides a bit higher than the verse melody, and features the tonic (key) note more than in the verse.

Me: The B section is barely higher (average one note) higher than the A section. The chorus features the tonic only 2 times on strong beats and once more on a weak beat. The verse starts offmon the tonic and thereafter features the tonic on the highest note, where it is repeated. Overall this gives the tonic more importance in the A section than in the B section. Generally, the tonic note is not strong enough to give the song a definite feeling of which key it belongs to.

Gary: My bridge brings in a 3rd melody, accompanied by chords that include altered chords, or explores the opposite mode (i.e., major key songs move into the minor).

Me: In this sense, the B section is much more like a bridge than a chorus. It however introduce only a second melody, not a 3rd. This section seems to have an identity crisis.


Gary: I use more "strong" progressions in the chorus, with more interesting "fragile" progressions in the verse.

Me: No. The chord progression is:

  • A section: C,,Am,,F,,G,D.
  • B section: Em,G,Am,C,Dm,F,G Em,D C

The B section has a mch more fragile progression than the A section

Gary: I use more vocal harmonies in the chorus than I do in the verse.

Me: There are no vocal harmonies at all.

Gary: I start the bridge, or any other "miscellaneous" section of my song on a chord other than the tonic chord.

Me: Yes. The B section starts on Em. Only problem is that the B section tries to be both chorus and bridge.

Gary: The majority of progressions throughout the song feel like a complete musical journey, and any complex progressions eventually feel resolved by progressions in the chorus.

Me: the verse ends on a D. It needs to end on a C to give resolution. The B section ends on C, but the D leading up to the C avoids the C to sound like a resolution.


Gary: I use relatively plain, everyday language that connects with average people.

Me: Yes

Gary: Despite my use of plain language, I find opportunities to say or describe things, events, people, etc., with an occasionally clever turn of phrase.

Me: No. The whole song just keeps going in an almost conversational manner, becoming boring and uninteresting

Gary: I ensure that my verse lyrics primarily describe events, people and situations, while my chorus lyrics primarily describe reactions and emotions.

Me: No. There is no emotional conclusion at any point. It just keeps going on and on.

Gary: I try to find concise ways to say things, and avoid being unnecessarily wordy.

Me: Yes.


 My song shows, even in a small degree, something innovative that sets it apart from other songs I've written, and other songs of the same genre that listeners would know.

 I've tried to incorporate something unique regarding instrumentation (fiddle, acoustic guitar, acoustic orchestral instrument, etc.).

 The song's intro is, even in just some small measure, interesting, and is likely to pull a listener into the rest of the song.

 I've varied the overall loudness of the song so that the basic dynamic level shows an interesting and compelling contour.

To save time and space, I will answer these 4 questions with one resounding NO. The arangement is generally borng.

In conclusion, this song scores 3 out of 18. No wonder the song sucks. No song have to score 100% in this checklist to work, but it takes no genius to figure out that such a low score is just not good enough.


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