It occurred to me this morning that the chorus is the soul of your song. I mean I’ve heard lots of descriptions - the meat in the burger, the point, the message and so on, but there is something indefinable too - an essence to a really good chorus.
For example, take the chorus in the Crowded House song, Weather with You. The chorus lyric is
Everyhere you go, always take the weather (x4)
the weather, the weather, with you.
Meaning maybe not immediately obvious or IMHO, not even that interesting, or useful even. But match it with the melody, it's catchy as all get out and audiences ate it up. It totally rated.
You can analyse why, for sure. Simple everyday language, the title features strongly in a key position, the melody starts higher than that of the verse and it’s easily sung and easy to remember, with loads of repetition and so forth, but in a song full of whimsy, this chorus is the highlight - not being particularly direct, yet working a treat. It is the soul of the song, a wee bit of magic and it connected with lots of folks.
Songwriting is often a solitary activity, at least in the initial stages of idea capture and development. Even in collaborations, you may be one of just a handful of intrepid soldiers of song. You can spend hours and days working on material, rewriting and revisiting your work and it can be easy to lose focus, to lose what you are trying to get across. If you want to write songs for yourself in your bedroom, that’s great –it’s valid self expression much the same way as a personal journal can be a terrific outlet. But if you want to write for an audience, there’s another process to consider and that is whether you are actually communicating something to someone else that they can relate too, in some form, at some time. If lots of people relate to your song easily and immediately, and can remember something about it – even sing some of it back to you, you’ve done something right.
Now, I’m not saying write shite. Not at all. To thine own self be true, for sure, but even if I don’t understand what your song is about, I can still have a very strong emotional response to it. (See above)
My point is that writing for an audience is about sharing an emotion, an idea, a story, a thought in song – the emphasis being on sharing.
One of the ways you can enhance that is by writing strong choruses that incorporate some of these features.
1. The Flying F--- Syndrome. Does your chorus have something a lot of people care about, understand or relate to? If they don’t give a FF, (children are reading this and they never swear), your song could be a dead duck.
2. Can I sing it? Or just Maria Carey. Keep it simple. And give me space to breathe!
3. Can I remember anything about it, preferably the title? Keep the chorus simple and short.
4. Repeat something. It will help me remember it. I may hear your song live for the first time in a bar or in a supermarket or when I’m driving. I’m not always going to be able to take notes! Songs are oral and aural.
5. Let me know this is the chorus. Make the melody different from the verse, start it higher and have a different rhythm – longer notes, on the beat, fairly resolved with any tension released. Lead me to it with a pre-chorus. I want to know where I am and have it feel good. I want to sing ‘I’m a Creep I’m a Weirdo’ or I Wanna Hold your Hand’ or whatever you want me to sing! Give me what Dr Pat Pattison calls the ‘Ahhhh’ factor.
6. Put the title in a strong position in your chorus. The beginning’s a good place. So is the end, and reinforce this by repeating it.
Even if you focus on one of these elements in your next chorus, you could improve the connection you make with your audience. It may feel clunky trying some of these things out and feel a bit ‘wooo who made the rules’ but songwriting, like most artforms, is a meld of inspiration, perspiration and technique. Have a crack and you may be well on the way to writing the soul of your next song.
Best wishes and have a lovely summer.
More next year.
PS if you want to really pick up your game, come to our next Songwriting Clinic.
Hi, I'm Charlotte Yates and I can help you get better at writing songs.