Several weeks ago, I was in a discussion with some other writers at my publishing company about the state of songwriting as a career. Things were being said like:
“You have to write with the artist to get a cut.”
“I only write uptempo”
“Everyone only wants ‘tailgates, trucks and dirt roads.’”
I listened quietly as I sweetened up my coffee. As I was about to walk away, one of them said “What about you, Marty? What’s your take?” The question made me think.
My first two biggest hits were love songs. Ballads that I DIDN’T write with the artist. One of them helped launch a new act to their first platinum record (“While You Loved Me” by Rascal Flatts) and the other was the most played song the year it came out (“Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right” by Billy Currington).
So, I replied, “Write a great love song.” Musical trends come and go, but the one thing that NEVER seems to stop working is the love song. In the midst of any musical trend, a great love song will still pop through with regularity.
That made me start wondering why that would be the case. So, I broke down what I think the essential elements—the skeleton if you will—that make a great love song.
1. A great love song touches on the basic human need to be needed, wanted and desired. We all want that emotional and physical connection with another human. The great love songs aren’t ashamed to go straight to the heart of those desires.
2. Great love songs paint a picture that shows just enough to be enticing, but not raunchy. They tease. They let the listener fill in the blanks. You know what is going on without being TOLD everything that is going on.
3. Great love songs elevate the person being spoken to. The singer is lifting up their partner as ideal or amazing. We all long to find someone that thinks we hung the moon. The great love songs put the other person on a pedestal.
4. Great love songs say what the average person wishes they could think to say, but can’t find the words. The GREATEST love songs cause people to sing them to their partner as if to say, “Here is how I feel about you, but could never find the words.” They give voice to the deepest feelings that humans experience.
5. Great love songs speak from the heart. You don’t find yourself analyzing them with your head, you FEEL them. They speak to you.
6. Generally, they are simple and believable. Most great love songs are not over the top poetic, they just say something sweet, deep and meaningful that sounds real. They speak in language we relate to and believe. Poetry can sound forced and “written.” The best love songs sound honest and real.
So, if you find yourself frustrated trying to write what the market wants, try writing a classic, timeless feeling love song. I’ve made a career out of it.