In 1961 when John Lennon was asked where the band name came from he famously replied “It came in a vision - a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, 'From this day forward you are Beatles with an A.' Thank you Mister Man, they said, thanking him.”
That’s about as good a description of inspiration as you’re going to get. Sometimes the best and the simplest ideas just fall from the sky and into your consciousness. And so it is with songwriting. Very occasionally a tune is in the ether, waiting to be born, and you are the lucky person the universe has chosen to receive it.
Some of our most important musical works fall into this category of ‘pure art’. Those are the songs that tend to move us the most and stay with us for a lifetime.
Trouble is, it’s not a dependable source of material. Inspiration like that has never happened to me in a lifetime of waiting and willing it to happen. Surely there are ways to kickstart the creative process, prevent writers block and get some songs happening?
Well... there is. A good place to start is outlining some of the tricks used by the top pop and rock writers. This is craft rather than art I admit, but so often putting the time and graft in will pave the way for inspiration to follow. The processes I describe here were picked up during co-writing sessions organised by our publisher in the somewhat desperate pursuit of a ‘hit record’. Although a bit formulaic, it worked. And the old band secured several Top 40 hits along the way - a few created in the ways as I describe in this blog.
Of course, no one’s interested in a ‘hit record’ anymore, it’s a meaningless and antique term. But what we are looking for is that song that will separate your band from the hundreds of thousands of other acts all screaming for attention in the same space.
Good bands and good music are painfully commonplace. Great songwriting is still super rare. Songs still matter and can still change lives and start careers.
So, what are we waiting for? Let’s begin our step by step journey to writing your best song yet.
We will start with titles and subject matter. When a band writes to a backing track it often produces less coherent writing. So just for once let’s not think about the music until we have written down 50 great titles, each with a strong concept behind it.
See what’s happening? We’ve already created a tension with songs crying out to be written, if the titles are interesting and engaging, and we’re inspired to want to tell the full story.
Write those titles on a large piece of paper or white board and stick them on the wall so they are staring you in the face.
Stop and think about tempos. If we don’t, most writers end up defaulting to slower tempos. I think it might be just because it’s easier to write slower tunes. But most commercial hits and show-stopping gig tunes are faster than 120 BPM and often 130 BPM+.
There is a massive mismatch in average tempo of songs written by your average writer, and songs actually consumed and listened to. Stick the radio on and check the BPMs on the playlist. Play a few classic albums and work out how the thing hangs together tempo wise.
Watching the crowd at a big gig will tell you everything you need to know about which tempo and feel holds a crowd and makes them move. Watch the support acts to see what sends people to the bar. Radio programmers are very sensitive to this and they don’t want anyone switching the dial because they are bored by a dirge of a tune.
You might want to use a drum machine or loops to collect a batch of drum feels to use as the basis for the writing session. We have 50 titles there, so let’s have a wide selection, maybe include a shuffle or two and some different time signatures. You can afford to experiment with quirky drum sounds and samples at this stage as we are building the vibe as we write.
Pace is really important in writing. Nothing kills the buzz more than trying to make the first line a masterpiece. Try not to censor yourself and just allow the songs to write themselves. Let’s knock out some tunes quick and come back and re-look at them in a week. You might not be able to be objective on the same day you’ve written a song - don’t be in a hurry to scrap anything.
Now take a title and see if it sits well with one of the drum grooves, try singing the top line lyric over the drums, jam around with it, and maybe try and get a main chorus hook out there first. Find the hook first and then write backwards. Hopefully two or three lines will leap out from your list of titles and pair up nicely with one of the drum loops.
When it starts to click together, try and bash out a song fast, without thinking too hard. Trust your subconscious and the most obvious first choice of lyric or melody may well be the one.
Keep it loose, enjoyable and pacey. Aim for half a dozen completed but rough tunes in a day and record them, label them carefully and come back to the file later.
Ah yes you can get the guitar out now. Add licks, keys, bass – knock yourself out. You’ve been pretty disciplined so far, so now you can riff, be loose and find a flow. Try different keys, major, minor and add the underpinning chords to the melody. If you get stuck for harmonic ideas, go back to the greats - Kinks, Beatles, Bowie, Beach Boys will get you out of a rut. But you’ll also have your own references of course.
If you’re on a roll, keep going and you may be doing this for days or even weeks before you come back and sort thought the ideas.
Now the work begins. Sort the songs into piles. A, B and C lists might be a good place to start. In the 80s, most major label acts would have 50 or 60 tunes to pick through before they whittled the section down to an album. These days you may even be looking at releasing just one tune at a time. Let’s make it count.
So after picking our favourite tunes, we now need to refine them into a finished form or maybe even a recorded master.
Looking at how much care a band takes over lyric writing tells you much about their level of respect for their audience and their overall musical standards. Lyrics are everything. Although it is fine to write instrumentals too and that would be infinitely preferable to weak ass lyrics. Of course, this is subjective and sometimes ‘dumb’ is great, sometimes inaccurate grammar works. It’s all about the context and we know substance and meaning when we hear it. That’s probably what will link you to your audience more than anything else.
Having a great title and a strong subject will make completing the lyrics much easier as the song will want to write itself.
Don’t be afraid to take away rather than add. You could also consider setting some kind of sonic direction with your choice of sounds and instrumentation. Keep it bare and leave space as it’s just a sketch at this stage.
Well, yes and no! If you have taken a song as far as you can, and you’re digging the result, you now have the option of rehearsing it up and sticking it in the set. Or you can bring in other people to see how much further you can go with this thing. Maybe consider co-writing with an experienced commercial writer who could pull out another hook or two and refine the lyrics, and then the right producer could help you fine tune the arrangement, and a decent engineer can help you realise an ambitious sonic vision.
These days it’s easy to find and work with top professionals. Sometimes it costs a little bit but often it’s much cheaper than you would expect, and you’ll be surprised at what you learn by hanging with experienced pros.
I come back to my earlier point - great songs are rare. They change the world, they change lives and they start careers. That has got to be worth that little bit more effort hasn’t it?
If songwriting is an important part of your life, remember you can study a flexible BA (Hons) or Master's Degree course with a focus on composition and production at WaterBear the College of Music, Brighton.
Spotify is the largest subscription music streaming service which allows any artist to get their music in front of fans and new audiences. Music streaming is one of the many ways artists can earn royalties. This is money owed to an artist, writer or rights holder when their music is performed, downloaded or streamed. When a user on any of the streaming platforms (Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Play, etc.) listens to your music, you earn money. Simple.
Well, let’s look into it a bit more and answer these 3 questions:
It’s time to uncover some of the mystery shrouding the illusive royalty payouts on Spotify…
In April 2020, Spotify set out to explain how royalties are split and why they vary from artist to artist, and around the world. Contrary to popular belief, Spotify doesn’t pay an artist a set amount every time their track is streamed. In fact, many of the major streaming services don’t have a pay-per-stream rate. Instead, Spotify works out a ‘stream share’.
Spotify makes money through subscription fees and advertising. From there it figures out the artist’s stream share. The stream share determines your cut of the revenue. To break it down, Spotify works out this stream share by tallying up the total number of streams on Spotify in any given month, in any given country, and figures out what proportion of those streams were people listening to your music. You are then paid royalties accordingly.
After Spotify calculates stream share, the money gets divided up in 2 ways:
Of course, Spotify also takes a cut to keep business booming.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of conclusive data to explain exactly how much of the revenue split an individual artist will earn in 2020. Much of the data that is bandied around online is taken from prior years and repackaged. Furthermore, many of these studies haven’t considered the many variables that affect an individual artist’s experience of stream share.
Here are some figures from statista.com from the end of 2019:
Number of music streams needed for artists to earn the U.S.
monthly minimum wage in the United States in 2019
However, broadbandchoices.co.uk claims that in order to earn a bare minimum living off your music through streaming alone, you’re going to need millions of streams.
There are many ways you can take action to increase your music streams, and they all centre around promotion. Letting more people know about your music, sharing with others and getting eyes (and ears) on your music is the aim of the game.
Make sure your social media platforms are up to date and you are engaging with your followers. When you have a new release, let all your fans across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, etc. know about it and nudge them over to Spotify to check it out! If you’re having a lull in your content creation, re-share nostalgic tracks from when you started out, or links to your most popular anthems.
Make sure you submit your releases well in advance of the release date. Spotify suggests submitting tracks at least 7 days in advance of their release date but be aware that distributors may have different systems set up to get your releases onto the platforms. Submitting tracks well in advance allows streaming services enough time to consider your tracks for playlists such as Spotify’s Release Radar.
You can pitch your songs for Spotify’s playlists through Spotify for Artists as long as they are unreleased. High production value is one of many factors needed for playlist consideration.
User playlists can carry huge influence and there are a lot out there. Find playlists that carry the genre of music you create and ask to be considered for inclusion.
Spotify is currently testing a sponsored recommendations features which allows artists to pay to get their releases in front of users. According to techcrunch.com these ads are charged on a pay-per-click basis.
If you have a website, make sure you embed the Spotify player and the Spotify follow button into your website. This gives website visitors an easy way to stream your songs and follow you as an artist.
Think of the money you make from streaming services as a piece of a much larger pie. In 2020, artists can make money from music in a multitude of ways. Even with some concern over the future of gigging and touring, we are seeing many artists finding creative ways to connect with their fans and continue to make money. Offer live online gigs with a donations pot via Paypal, create and sell special merchandise, and put out additional content on social media platforms or Patreon.
- ‘Water bear’ is the common name for a Tardigrade.
- Tardigrades are micro creatures, found everywhere on earth.
- They are the most resilient creatures known.
- They can survive and adapt to their surroundings, even in outer space.
- Their resilience and ability to adapt and survive inspires us in everything we do. We love them.