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Are there really trends in songwriting?
Yes, say the experts. Read on….

- January 22, 2007


Songwriters Market features a series of articles written by the award winning songwriter John Capek.

John CapekJohn Capek has achieved international acclaim as a composer, songwriter, keyboard player, producer, and arranger and scorer for feature films, television and platinum-selling artists such as Rod Stewart, Cher, Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Toto, Chicago, Olivia Newton John, Little River Band, Heart, Manhattan Transfer, Bonnie Raitt and Amanda Marshall.

He also provides review services and conducts work shops for songwriters. For more information, please visit www.johncapek.com.

Are you searching for co-writers for your songs and projects? Go to HitQuarters co-writers Forum.

To find out which of the world’s top artists are looking for songs, go to SongQuarters.

Zeitgeist & The Fashion of Songwriting

Contemporary popular songs reflect the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Successful fashion designers have a knack of telling the future. They seem to know at least one year in advance, the colors and shapes that will appeal to their market. One year shoes are pointy, the next year they are square-toed. One year pants are tight, the following year they are flared. Colors are either "in fashion" or "out of fashion" from year to year. Successful fashion designers reflect the spirit of the times in designing clothes that will succeed in the marketplace.

I believe that popular songwriting, no matter what the genre, is a commercial art form and can be regarded as fashion-based. That means that popular hit songs generally reflect the spirit of the times. Many developing songwriters who are striving for success try to write songs similar to the current songs they hear on the radio or TV by favourite artists/producers who they wish to emulate.

Trying to emulate music that is current is very likely not a successful route to a hit song. The reason for this is that songs which are currently successful and popular were most likely to have been written some time ago. Similar to the fashion designers who designed clothes one year ahead, the artists and writers who worked on the current songs had a sense of what will be successful and popular some time in the future. Clearly this is not a conscious process, but rather an instinctive one that develops by songwriters being acutely aware of the world around them. The conclusion is that if a developing songwriter emulates a current hit song which may have been created six months previously and then it takes another six months for the developing writer’s song to reach the marketplace, it will be a year behind the times.

This is an age where Hip Hop has dominated the market, and its influence has crossed into other genres including pop and country music. In Hip Hop music drums and drum loops are a major driving force and influence. The rhythm often defines the song. On reviewing the modern history of contemporary popular recorded music, it has occurred to me that drums have become a "time stamp". This applies especially to the last fifty years or so. It has become very easy to identify the era in which a record was first released by listening to the style and sound of the drums.

Drums in the seventies were recorded to sound as large as possible with thundering sounding snare drums in deep echo. The group Chicago and the sounds designed by producer David
Foster and his then engineer Humberto Gatica were typical of the era. In the eighties groups like the Police defined a new style and sound that was smaller and minimal. More recently, sampled drums have become the dominant sound.

In the case of Hip Hop music, drums are usually sampled processed loops from other recordings. The stylistic and sonic changes are fast and furious. There is nothing worse (subliminally) for the audience than to listen to last year’s loop and its groove and sound. I believe that drums "time stamp" popular music more than any other factor.

Sampled drum loops can be extremely useful tools for the songwriter. The use of these as a tool need not be restricted to Hip Hop or any specific genre. However, extreme caution is necessary if the drum loop becomes a significant part of the song. At this point a "time stamp" may be created and the loop created in 2003 may make your song sound completely irrelevant in 2006, despite all of your attention to melody and lyric.

A possible exercise for exploring the use of drum loops as a songwriting tool is as follows:

On the net, Google "drum loops". There are an infinite range of sites offering free downloads of drum loops. These are usually in mp3 form, are catalogued and offered at different speeds known as "beats per minute" or BPM, and usually have identifying names. Drum loops are also available via Apple’s proprietary "Garage Band" program.

Audition at least thirty different drum loops at different tempos!

1) From the thirty loops that you have listened to, select ten drum loops that you feel would be inspiring as a starting point for a new song.

2) If the loops that you have selected are not identified by name or BPM, then give each one of them an identifying name.

3) List these ten names on a sheet of paper and score them from 1 to 10, 10 being the highest.

Rate the top ten list as follows

1. Inspiration for a new song. Can you think of a potential song title or beginning melodic idea immediately on listening to the loop?

2. Current sounding? Does the loop sound contemporary?

3. Will this loop “time stamp” your song when the song is listened to five years from now? Will the beat sound old?

Here are some web sites where you can download free drum loops:

Looperman
Phat Drum Loops
Free Loops
Dooley Drums
K7 Sounds

Audiobase
Breakbeats Only
Loopasonic
Sample Craze
Loop Galaxy

More detailed discussions on song writing will follow in future articles.

Photo by V.Krumpl

To read previous articles at Songwriters Market, click here.

14 songwriting myths - The most common misconceptions – November 13, 2006

What Comes First When Writing a Song? – September 20, 2006