Songcraft: The Art of Timeless Songwriting
So the other day, I was listening to a song from the ’80s.
I realized that, in addition to the tune's serious, of-the-time production, it also possessed a very era-specific melody; kind of angular and quirky.
Not surprising, I suppose, as that kind of melodic choice was all the rage back in the “New Wave” day. But it got me thinking: While your average songs usually exhibit an era-specific quality influenced by the zeitgeist of their time, the truly great tunes, those considered by our culture as such throughout history, actually exhibit the opposite; a quality of “timelessness." Songs that amazingly defy period and placement.
As songwriters struggling to create our culture’s new, evergreen compositions, we may wonder: How do we introduce this magical sense of timelessness into our own work? Of course, that’s a question even the greatest living songwriters among us would have a tough go at answering; but that said, there are some common-sense approaches we can take toward transcending the musical here and now:
• Keep it simple. Many classic tunes feature basic chord changes and almost instantly hummable, sometimes childlike, melodies. Don’t over-complicate your work.
• Do you remember?. Can you easily recall the melody of that new song you wrote three days ago without referencing the demo? Truly great tunes tend to stick to the gray matter.
• Act locally, think globally. The lyrical content of many a timeless tune draws from the well of basic, human experience. Write about something you’ve personally been through that other folks can also identify with, no matter who they are or where they come from.
• Less cowbell. More a production thought than a compositional one; when recording, think twice about adding that hot, new synth patch to your track. Does the song really need it? Remember, today’s fresh sound, many times, becomes tomorrow’s cheesy one. Stick to classic instrumentation when possible.
Obviously, the methods behind creating music worthy of spanning the generations can never be found within the confines of a punch list. If only it was that easy. Fortunately or unfortunately, our job as songwriters is to discover those elusive ways and means. Here’s to keeping our efforts as perennial as the songs we strive to create.
Mark Bacino is a singer/songwriter based in New York City. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark also is the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus, a website dedicated to exploring the art of songwriting. Visit Mark on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.