3 Common Songwriting Traps You Don’t Want To Fall Into

Here’s 3 things songwriters do that keep them from rising to pro level.

Saying Too Much

Who hasn’t heard of K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)?

The concept is clear and widely known. But unfortunately, knowing and understanding are two very different things. Listen to your last song for a moment and tell me: Could it be made simpler, more straight-forward?

Experience tells me that there’s always a way to simplify, or, as I like to call it, get to the core of the song. Take out a couple bass drums. Let the bass follow the kick. Experiment until you find the simplest, best solution and take out whatever you don’t need.

I do this when I get to mixing. I’ll go through each track and mute it to see what it does to the song. More often than not, I’ll wind up several regions throughout the whole song, which makes my mixing easier and thereby improves my whole sound.

So what do you listen for? You listen for the groove. If it doesn’t add to the groove (meaning the flow of your song) it’s clutter and you need to take it out.

If you start bobbing your head as soon as you take something out, that’s a clear sign that it should stay out. Your only alternative is to work on the timing and see if you can get that groove back.

Hooks Don‘t Hook

Many songwriters rely too much on their hooks. This is not a huge mistake in itself, hooks are very important, but they are only one of 3 important factors when it comes to songwriting.

The other two factors are Groove and Lyric-Less Storytelling. Without these, your song will never reach its potential, no matter how great your hook.

Why? Because your audience won’t even get to your hook. They will turn your track off. And that’s death.

Think about it: Why do you think A&Rs only listen to the first 15 seconds of a track?

They listen to 3 things:

  1. Is the production on par,
  2. Does it sound like this year and
  3. Is it interesting to listen to?

If your song isn’t captivating, you got yourself a big problem, because you will lose your audience before they’ve even heard your singer’s first line.

Your way out of this problem is Lyric-Less Storytelling, which is the process of taking your audience by the hand and leading them through the song.

Skilled Lyric-Less Storytelling relies on subtle, psychological principles that subconsciously capture your audience’s attention and keep it until the very end of the song.

You can learn more about this extremely powerful technique here.

Overwriting

We already talked about KISS, now let’s talk about it’s brother, overwriting (I don’t really have a cool abbreviation for this one. S.T.Y.F.I.? Stick To Your First Idea?).

If you’re like most songwriters, then it will sometimes take you weeks or months to finish a song. And when you write on a song for a very long time, something happens:

You get bored with it and you decide to change what was working.

This is a big problem in electronic music especially, where songwriters let their songs mutate into over-complicated constructs with way too many clever bits.

Focus on what’s important. Songwriting is an emotion game. You’re not speaking to the logical brain of your audience so don’t make it more “interesting”, make it more straight-forward.

Songwriting Coach & Composer

With recommendations from industry heavyweights Erwin Steijlen (Pink, Shakira), Conrad Pope (John William’s orchestrator), Jeff Rona (God of War III, Traffic) and Rene Merkelbach (Within Temptation), Friedemann started his songwriting/producing school Holistic Songwriting in November 2015.

He has since written a book The Addiction Formula, a 7 Day Audio Program on songwriting and video courses on Hook/Melody-Writing and Drum-Writing.

Written by Friedemann Findeisen

Songwriting Coach & Composer

With recommendations from industry heavyweights Erwin Steijlen (Pink, Shakira), Conrad Pope (John William’s orchestrator), Jeff Rona (God of War III, Traffic) and Rene Merkelbach (Within Temptation), Friedemann started his songwriting/producing school Holistic Songwriting in November 2015.

He has since written a book The Addiction Formula, a 7 Day Audio Program on songwriting and video courses on Hook/Melody-Writing and Drum-Writing.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Petey Wheatstraw Reply

    Thanks for some practical applications regarding the K.I.S.S. method.

    Before I injured my hand a couple of years ago I was recording primarily guitar instrumental music. And a lot of it was far from simple. Now I can only play simple things on the guitar. My hand strength is gone. Chops are gone. Ablility to bend strings has been severely compromised.

    So, here I am trying to learn how to write pop songs and it has been a BITCH. lol Playing Joe Satriani tunes seemed simple compared to attempting to write a solid pop tune. I have the music end of it down as I’ve done sessions and played in a lot of Top 40/country/blues/jazz/funk/rock bands. I studied jazz and orchestral music in college but I never sang and never really payed much attention to the lyrics in any of the musical settings I was in other than originals projects or doing sessions for other artists.

    I feel like for me to continue with music I’m going to have to learn songwriting as I can’t really play much on the guitar anymore. It’s almost to the point where I might have to start programming MIDI parts and that is depressing as fuck. All those thousands of hours of practice and transcribing now seem like a total waste. Thanks for the article and sorry for the downer comment. Have a good one…

    • Friedemann Findeisen Reply

      Hey Petey,

      I know how you feel :/ When I started studying jazz guitar I thought I was the worst guitarist in history and started focusing on songwriting to make up for my shortcomings (my story is obviously *slightly* more shit than yours 😉 ). And I have to say: All my shortcomings in my abilities on the guitar and vocals have really paid off in my songwriting.

      1) The thought of “If you can’t make this work you have no place in music” has inspired me more than once and has forced me to work harder on my writing skills.
      2) All my lines and riffs are easy to play and sing which is great when writing for other artists.
      3) I have experienced music from the other side – that of a performing musician. There’s a lot of writers out there who’ve only ever written in Sibelius or their DAW and they are completely out of touch with the real world.
      4) Since my voice or guitar work isn’t “amazing” in itself, I’ve always had to find the amazement in the writing, which pushed me harder to do my best. A lot of the techniques I teach work regardless of how well you play your instrument (but naturally, being a good player helps).

      In other words: What you may think have been wasted years may turn out to be exactly what makes you special. From the other comments you’ve written on this blog it seems to me like you’re a smart, insightful guy with an analytical mind which is a winning formula when it comes to songwriting. I’d say keep doing what you’re doing – you’ll get there!

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