You know when I said on Friday that I’d have this part up tomorrow? Yeah….. I meant the day after tomorrow.
While I take care of all of the angry mobs forming outside right now, enjoy this next part in the Songwriting analysis!
When we last left off this column, I was talking about the importance of having flowing lyrics in music along with the advantages and disadvantages of writing with different points of view.
This time I want to discuss the crucial importance that the instrumental sections have with making or breaking a song.
One thing that I have heard a couple people talk to me about when it comes to hit songs that are actually really bad (see my previous post for more detail) is that a certain song “has a good beat”.
Now that in itself is true, but I think I should probably explain a little more about that “beat”.
When I think of beats, I think of drums, percussion, any form of tempo accompaniment that helps establish the pace of the song. However, I think when people talk about the beat, they also mean the general direction of the main riff that’s driving it. Both the tempo and the riff are a true essential in making sure a song is worthy of listening to . But in the best way to do that, both of them need to play an essential part in the song. I’ll give a couple of examples here:
Sunshine of Your Love: Cream
It starts out with a memorable guitar riff by Eric Clapton, but when that riff is joined in with the bass and drums by Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker respectively, it helps take the song to a new medium, especially in the chorus.
Smoke On The Water: Deep Purple
Do I even need to say more about this riff? Most guitarists starting out have heard this as one of their first songs they’ve learned. Most musicians know this song, and the ensemble of musicianship surrounded around the riff takes the song’s power to a great level that is still high today!
Dream On: Aerosmith
Keep in mind when I say ensemble of musicianship, I mean the vocals too, because without a good vocal performance, something will feel like it’s missing in your song.
Anyway, all of these elements are addressed in Dream On: an amazing opening riff that is integrated throughout, captivating vocal performance by Steven Tyler, and the fact that you feel the song building and building toward its peak. Those were all of the things that I realized were going on when I heard this song for the first time.
Now someone might be thinking: “Ohhhh Marshall, these are all classic rock songs, why aren’t you talking about things from other genres that we were born to listen to?”
To be honest, do I really need to?
All of these things that I’m saying can apply to really any song that you would take a liking to, whether it’s technically good or bad.
Now, what do I look for in the overall riffs?
Well, there needs to be passion. Without somehow feeling the effort and determination of what you’re playing or singing, the performances can come off as very robotic. As a result, you lose the next key component: memorability. Without it, your song can lose its personality and end up as a no-name copycat in a genre full of them. Here are the biggest culprits to me: Country, Pop, and Alternative Rock Music.
I don’t hate Country, I may have brought it up as a subject of criticism in these past two blogs, but I don’t hate it, I really don’t. I just like it when it’s good. In today’s generation I’ve noticed that a good bit of Country has succumbed to the traps of Hit #444Z trying to sound the same as Hit A. As a result, the riffs or “beats” start to sound the same, making the resulting songs a bit generic.
Now, Country is one of the tamest offenders of this though, Pop and Alternative Rock are much worse. I feel like Pop has this little pie chart dissecting one song and turning it into seven new songs within the span of two weeks. Granted, it’s gotten better, they’re adding diversity in their song genres. That in itself is nice, but it still doesn’t offer the amount of quality that you would ask for as a general listener, much less a musician.
Alternative Rock: See the last two paragraphs and combine them with a harder edge to it. I love Alternative Rock, but lately this seems to be the case. However, throughout this year I’ve heard really good callback songs from bands like The Pretty Reckless, Royal Blood, Volbeat (even if I’m not a huge fan), and plenty of others.
Thanks for reading this installment of my Songwriting series, and next post I will be concluding this discussion by talking about a few more important things and then discussing my process into crafting what I feel is a good song. Until then, enjoy your day and keep rocking out to your favorite songs!