OK, you’ve tried to write some songs but you’ve gotten mixed results. Maybe you’re wondering—Would this be easier if I had a writing partner?
Great songwriting teams, like Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Leiber/Stoller, and Goffin/King, all bounced ideas off of each other. Is it really easier to write with a partner? I’d have to say yes, provided it’s the right partner. Whenever John was stuck, he’d bounce the idea off of Paul. Paul would invariably come up with the “middle eight,” the eight bars in the middle that deviated from the chord pattern and melody of the rest of the song, which served as a bridge. Bridges are important because they break things up. We’ll talk more about them later.
Songwriting teams come in all shapes and sizes. Some split the lyrics and melody, with each person doing a specific job. Bernie Taupin wrote lyrics only when he worked with Elton John. Keith Reid is an actual member of the band Procol Harum, and he only writes lyrics. So, that model works, but it’s not the only way. John and Paul both wrote lyrics and melodies, and used each other as springboards for ideas. Sometimes it’s really great to have somebody else there, somebody who will spark something you would have missed.?
Most of my hits were written with Steve Wright, the bass player for the Greg Kihn Band. Steve was a much better musician than I, and he infused songs like “Jeopardy” and “Lucky” with a much more sophisticated chord structure than I could have come up with. If you look at songs I wrote by myself, like “Remember” or “Can’t Stop Hurtin’ Myself,” you can see that they don’t change much, they have a certain simplicity. Contrast them to “Jeopardy” or “The Breakup Song” and you can see what I mean. I probably wouldn’t have written either one by myself.
The other variable is this: I just play guitar, so all my song ideas are based on the guitar. Steve played keyboard, bass, and guitar. Obviously, songs written on keyboard are going to sound different than songs written on guitar.
Some songwriters work alone. Bob Dylan and Jackson Browne would never use a partner, preferring to stay in their own universes. If that works for you, do it. I don’t think “Like A Rollin’ Stone” could ever have been written with a partner.
Now you ask me, “OK, How do I begin?“ Some songs begin with a guitar riff, like “Satisfaction” by the Stones. Keith went to bed one night on tour after taping a guitar riff on a little reel-to-reel recorder. A few days later, he played it back and Mick Jagger came up with the now famous “I Can’t Get No” lyric. So, in that case, a riff inspired the song.
Some songs are inspired by a lyric. “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” was written when Carol King was still married to Gerry Goffin. Gerry wrote the lyric and went to bed one night. When Carol came home late, she found the lyrics sitting on the piano and spontaneously wrote the song. So, in that case, lyrics inspired the song.
There are no set rules for this. I would expect you to seek inspiration wherever you can find it.
What is more important, music or lyric? That’s a loaded question and your answer will vary depending on whom you ask. Of course, lyric writers think that lyrics are more important, and music writers will say the opposite. Matt Kaufman, founder of Beserkley Records back in the ‘70s, thought that lyrics were worth 60% and the music was worth 40%. So, if you wrote half the lyrics you’d get 30% of the copyright. The way he came to that conclusion was, if you had a really clever lyric, it would work in many different musical settings.
Please note: this was only one man’s opinion only and not an industry standard. I personally believe in a straight 50-50 split. It makes for better business relationships later on. If you burned somebody as a result of the 60-40 split, that person would grow to resent you. It’s important that in a people and karma-related business like songwriting, it’s always better to be generous. You want a friend for life? Write a number one song with a guy, he’ll be your best buddy for decades.
So, find a partner, if you feel more comfortable that way, and start writing. Or, just do it yourself. Either way is fine. It’s all up to you. Just get started, OK?
Remember This Hit By Greg Kihn?
Originally posted 2009-09-05 05:49:37.