Does your opening line draw the listener in and make them want to hear more? After your intro, there is the time for the first vocal lines. They need to be strong enough to confirm it to the listener that not skipping your intro was a good decision. To keep them listening and make them excited about the hook coming up. Again, remember in up to 30 seconds, you have to lock down your listener with all the great quality stuff and make them want to listen to more and more of your music.
Is your melody interesting? Nothing beats a catchy melody for vocals or maybe one solo instrumental, specially a guitar riff. When your song is stuck in your listeners’ head, it had done its job. An interesting melody is what make your listener keep on listening. I remember as a kid I used to listen to a lot of Bob Marley and Frank Sinatra’s songs – yes, that different – while I couldn’t speak or understand even a word of English, but those melodies were just in my head and it was making me want to listen more and more and even mumble it to myself in an unbelievably wrong way. I even used to put Persian lyrics on my favorite melodies. The melodies were what I used to imagine these melodies are saying. The reason of bringing those up is to tell you how a good melody can speak to your listener even without the lyrics. One great example of this is Carlos Santana. His melodies are just on guitar, but I assume I’m not the only one saying that his guitar speak to me, louder and clearer than any vocalist could ever possibly connect to me. Make your melody interesting and a bit repetitive to make it easier to catch for your listeners.
Does your chorus stand out and take the song to a higher place? The chorus is the climax of the song. Both melodically and lyrically. It’s supposed to carry all the key emotions of the song in itself. The verse one is the wing man. It sets the atmosphere and then the main guy, AKA the chorus, comes in and determine for your listener if it worth their time they spent waiting for it or it was just a waste. The chorus is often called as “the hook” simply because it is the part that hooks your listener to your song. They will sit down and listen to you through your second verse, because they want to hear the second chorus. Another climax in the song. Make it as big as you can, which is a very important role for the producers to do so, but the melody also should go big, to give room to the producers to follow it.
Is your chorus easy to sing along with after one listen? I often encourage the young writers to don’t play too much with the melody and lyrics on their chorus and keep it short but repetitive. The reason to do so is that when you keep repeating your chorus, your listener will remember it much easier. If it’s just a few words, it will be much more memorable than being a whole story just on the chorus. It should be simple enough that when you are playing it to the live audience for the first time, and once they hear it, they should be able to join you and sing along for your second chorus.
What does your song make the listener want to do? Dance? Cry? Laugh? Sing? Whatever your song is about, it should make an impact on your listener. It should make a change in them and make them want to do what the song makes them to do. If I am playing my song for someone and they go to get a drink, I know it is not a making any changes in them and that’s exactly opposite of what my intention was. If I am playing and I see my listener is moving their head, or dancing or laughing or dropping a tear, it’s a very happy moment for me – even though I made them cry – but it still means the song had done what it was supposed to be doing.
What universal emotion does your song tap into? I can write a beautiful song about how much I am missing my grandfather who has passed away. But how many people actually had lost a grandfather who had been close with, as much as my grandfather and I? Yes, many people, but let’s compare it with how many people are in love right now? Much more then the number of people who lost a grandfather who was their friend too. So, being in love is one of the universal emotions. Always it’s best to write about universal emotions if you want to write a commercial song. The song about my grandfather might be very beautiful and pure and be very tightly written but at the end of the day it has a niche market and never can beat the song I wrote for my girlfriend and how much I adore her. Because the second one is much more common as a feeling and there will be tons of people who can connect to it much better than the grandfather’s songs. Sorry Baba Jan, I am going to keep your song for myself and I will pitch my songs with universal emotions to have a better chance of getting a cut.
Is your idea strong enough to carry an entire song? The idea is always the most important starter of anything you want to do in life. In our particular topic here, the songwriting, your idea is so important, because now matter how good your writing skills are, if you are not carrying a very strong idea, all the time you spend on the writing will be considered as a waste. Imagine you want to build a very beautiful mall, and you know it will have all the best brands inside, but if you build it in middle of the Great Sahara, you can’t complain when nobody shows up to visit your mall. No matter how beautifully is built and how many great shops are inside. That’s the same story for songwriting. If you work on a weak topic, even if a major artist records it – which really doubt so – but your song still wouldn’t pick up the audience and it will most probably be a flap. That’s how a lot of artists end their career and lose fans. By deciding to record the songs with a not very strong idea.
Would you want to listen to this over and over in your car? If you be honest with yourself, you can measure the possibility of success for your own songs. You can imagine it has been written by somebody else and put down the “I’m the greatest writer” guard down and listen to your song. Is it something that you would want to listen to it when you are driving? Is it a song that if you come across it on Spotify, you’d add it to your playlist? If the answer is yes – and I insist, be honest with yourself – then you got a song with a possibility of getting a cut, unless you really have a horrible taste in music. When you listen to it with the mindset that this song is not written by you, if you really like it, means this song got at least one fan – you! And if you think you’d like to find the writer and give them some suggestions on how to make this song better, then great, you know the writer – you! You can start pitching your ideas for improving the song.