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Gibson Songwriting Blog

It’s time to learn how to put an x-factor in your song! You might be wondering how exactly to do that. Simply put- all you have to do is think of something grandiose and amazing that the other songwriters haven’t thought of :)

I realize you might need a bit more clarification than that. Let me start by defining this concept.

First of all, this isn’t a universal notion. It’s something that I’ve personally noticed, and that I decided to name. To me, it’s when a song has a large-scale, completely unique component about it. It’s easier to explain by example.

A normal song will often have instruments strumming chords. A normal song will often have some subtle elements like backing vocals or light percussion to spruce up the track. Nothing that really blows you away or totally stands out from the crowd.

On the other hand:

A song with an x-factor might have a 27-person band, complete with horns, woodwinds, traditional rock instrumentation, and a choir! Such as The Polyphonic Spree’s “Light And Day”.
A song with an x-factor might have 10+ vocal tracks at once to create a vocal wall of sound, such as in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
A song with an x-factor might have breakbeat electronic drums over a rock instrumentation. Or include an acoustic guitar being played in a slap-style open tuning, such as in the movie “August Rush”.

In other words, think big! Get excited about what you can do with your songs. Brainstorm ideas that you wish you’d hear more often, or that you haven’t heard yet.

As you can see- this mindset can be incredibly powerful. But in keeping with my overarching theme of “songs-are-about-emotion”, these ideas should only be used if they fit. If your song is a soft, tear-jerking ballad, you obviously will want to skip the 4 minute, distorted sitar solo! That said, I’ll now reveal a more subtle application of the x-factor: sometimes what really gives your song that legendary edge isn’t these dramatic ideas. It could be the amount of heart behind the simplest song, or maybe a unique combination of elements that doesn’t sink in until repeated listens. It’s up to your own taste. But it will help to keep the idea in mind that your songs should stand out, that they should be legendary.

You get the idea. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and ask yourself what innovations you could include in your songs that would instantly blow people away!

at said, I’ll now reveal a more subtle application of the x-factor: sometimes what really gives your song that legendary edge isn’t these dramatic ideas. It could be the amount of heart behind the simplest song, or maybe a unique combination of elements that doesn’t sink in until repeated listens. It’s up to your own taste. But it will help to keep the idea in mind that your songs should stand out, that they should be legendary.

You get the idea. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and ask yourself what innovations you could include in your songs that would instantly blow people away!

As with lyrical styles, the lines separating different melodic styles have blurred considerably in the last 50 years. These days, it’s not uncommon to hear Dolly Parton covering Collective Soul, Dave Matthews doing a tune made popular by Johnny Cash, or Johnny Cash singing a song by U2 or Soundgarden. While different genres are sometimes known for particular melodic elements, these elements can be used effectively to flavor most other styles of music.

Another way to look at melody writing might be to ask yourself, “What elements do great songs from all these styles have in common?” You’ll find that most great songs have a melody that works with the lyric, either to magnify, add to, emphasize, modify, or in some cases, purposefully contradict the words.

Melody affects the listener on a subconscious level. An effective melody is memorable, hummable, and elicits a gut-level, emotional response. A melody must move the listener in one of two ways, emotionally or physically. If you can make listeners laugh, cry, or smile, it’s a good sign. If you can make them dance, you’re on to something. If you can do both, you will be smiling as you dance into the bank.

Pop Melodies
Pop is more of a treatment given to other genres than a true style unto itself. Almost any kind of song can be a pop song if it’s successful enough. Frank Sinatra, Madonna, Gloria Estefan, and Prince can all be considered pop artists. Pop melodies draw from most other styles of music: Sinatra’s brand of pop was influenced by jazz and swing, Madonna’s by club and world music, Estefan’s by Latin and disco, and Prince’s by rock, R&B, and soul.

Rock and Alt
Rock has subdivided into dozens of micro-genres. From a basic viewpoint, rock melody is about power and rhythm, like the blues and R&B music that influenced early rock-n-roll. To give a rock melody full impact, pay close attention to its rhythms. A rock or alt melody should be rhythmically catchy with a high degree of symmetry in the meter. If a line has extra syllables that break the flow of the intended meter, consider rewriting the line to match the meter or finding a rhythmic pattern that has a close mathematical relationship to the original meter.

The Melodies of Country
Country’s traditional melodic roots are in Appalachian folk, Southern gospel, cowboy songs, and the blues. Over the years, influences including rock-n-roll, modern folk, and even some jazz have made themselves a place in Nashville. Alt-tinged melodies and hip-hop groove and meter have taken country in some exciting new directions lately. On the other side of the coin, a strong resurgence in bluegrass and the rise of the Americana and roots movements have shown that country’s traditional roots aren’t tapped out yet.

Other Styles
The use of syncopation, unusual intervals, exotic modes and scales, and notes outside the scale are common in jazz. With jazz, melody often reigns supreme. A good rule of thumb for jazz composition is to write a melody line that will sound equally as good in an instrumental version as it will with a vocal rendition.

While some purists insist that rap has no discernible melody, pitch variations are just as important to rap music as to many other genres. The hallmark of a rap “melody” is that the pitches change, usually up but occasionally down, with the stresses of the meter. These modulations are as closely related to pitch variations common in speaking as to those used in traditional melodic composition.

Hip-hop combines melodic elements of soul, rap, R&B, rock, jazz, funk, and may also have ska, dub, and reggae influences. It’s common for hip-hop songs to switch back and forth between singing and rapping.

There are a few types of cables that you’ll have to deal with in your studio. So you know what they do, here is a breakdown.

Quarter-Inch Cables
The most common cable is the quarter-inch cable. It’s the familiar “guitar cable” that we all know and love. These cables are used for plugging guitars and keyboards to amplifiers, amplifiers to mixers, and mixers to speakers, just to name a few. However, all quarter-inch cables are not created equal. There are specific types for specific uses. The most common is the instrument cable. The instrument cable is used for plugging instruments (guitars, keyboards, samplers) into amplifiers and other sources. The cable carries the mono (one-sided) signal to and from any source you choose.

The other type of quarter-inch cable is the speaker cable. Speaker cables are very different from instrument cables. A guitar or a keyboard puts out a very small amount of power, so you might get some noise, which no one likes to hear in recordings. Instrument cables contain a shield inside the cable to help keep the noise down. But speaker cables push more power through their cables than instruments do. Because of this, they don’t need a shield, due to something called signal-to-noise ratio.

Signal-to-noise ratio is critical to understand. The higher the level of a signal, the less you hear the noise that is present. This is why you should never record low levels. Noise, while it’s annoying, can usually be covered up by a full, loud signal.

Speaker cables shouldn’t be used for instruments and vice versa. The packages clearly state what the cables are used for. When in doubt, ask for help.

FIGURE 8-1 shows all the connector types: quarter-inch TR, quarter-inch TRS, XLR, MIDI, and RCA.

Tip Ring Sleeve Cables
The tip ring sleeve (TRS) is a quarter-inch stereo cable. Pull out any pair of stereo headphones that you own and look at the plug. Notice how it was two plastic spacers? The quarter-inch tip sleeve (instrument) cable has only one. The extra spacer on the tip ring sleeve is there to accommodate another signal in the cable. Stereo cables carry two separate signals: left and right.

In a studio, a stereo cord is used for two purposes. First, it connects an effect into a mixer or recording device. This type of cable is called an “insert.” Insert cables have the stereo connector on one side and two mono cables on the other side. The stereo line splits the signal so that you can have an input and an output to an effects processor. (If that sounds confusing, don’t worry, it’s covered in more detail in Chapter 15.) In short, if you’re going to use external effects, you’ll need to own a few stereo insert cables.

The second use for a stereo quarter-inch cable is for a balanced signal. Balanced cables have the stereo plug on both sides. What does balanced mean? Basically, the cable copies one signal to the two internal wires and performs extra shielding and other electrical magic to cut down the noise.

Balanced cables are used for microphones and whenever cords lengths are very long. This helps cut down on the noise that longer cables usually have.

XLR Cables
XLR is the standard microphone cable, and the letters stand for the three signals carried in the cable. X is for external, which is called the ground, L is for line, and R is for return. The cable is round and has three prongs on one side (the male side) and three sockets on the other (the female side). Microphone cables are always balanced cables. XLR cables are sometimes used for connecting mixers to recording devices, but their most common use is for microphones.

RCA Cables
RCA cables, invented by the RCA Corporation, are another type of unbalanced cable. They typically are two mono cables that run together and split off into two ends. RCA cables are commonly used in home stereo equipment.

In the recording studio, RCA cables are used to hook up a tape machine to a mixer and recording interfaces to some computers.

Digital Cables
Digital audio signals fall into three categories: The S/PDIF digital cable carries one stereo signal digitally on an RCA cable; the AES/EBU cable carries the same stereo digital signal, this time on XLR cables; fiber optic cables are used for audio. Digital cables can transmit a stereo pair, or in the case of ADAT light pipe, eight signals at once! Digital connectors are very common on recording equipment today — even lower cost ones.

MIDI Cables
MIDI cables are simple, and there is only one type: five-pin MIDI. You can’t possibly buy the wrong one. You’ll need one cable for each input, and one cable for each output.

MIDI stands for “musical instrument digital interface.” MIDI was conceived in the 1980s as a way for computers to control keyboards, and for keyboards to control each other. MIDI is the modern equivalent of a player piano. Player pianos used punched-out paper that the piano read and self-played from. MIDI is an electronic language that synthesizers turn into music. Even though keyboards are capable of producing some very complex sounds, the manner in which they produce sound is very simple.

Here is what a MIDI keyboard sees when you play any single note:

Note On: Turn on the note you’ve pressed (for example: Note On, C4)

Volume: Set the loudness (0–127)

Note Off: Stop the sound

MIDI has many other commands for controlling other parameters, which we don’t need to get into here. The essential information is small and easy to transmit from keyboard to keyboard, or computer to keyboard. As you can see, it’s pretty simple to have a keyboard controlled with MIDI. It’s very much like the old player piano that reads rolls of punched-out paper.

Even better is that the commands sent to control MIDI are very small, just small lines of textlike code. Even twenty years ago computers could handle complex MIDI. MIDI is not just for keyboards anymore — samplers, virtual instrument plug-ins, sound modules, guitar synthesizers, and drum machines can all utilize MIDI technology.

In the early days of MIDI, keyboard players and pianists were the largest group of MIDI users. One of the joys of MIDI was that it could record full performances exactly as you played them, directly into the computer. It allowed a piano player easy access to computer score writing and sequencing. Since only commands were recorded, not audio, performers could easily control the performance on even the most minute levels! They could alter the timing of individual notes by milliseconds. You could, and many did, go nuts making everything “perfect.”

MIDI also worked in reverse — musicians could compose something on a computer either by entering notes in a score program like Finale or Sibelius. MIDI was used to bring the music to aural reality. The music programs sent out MIDI commands for the keyboards and sound modules to play back the onscreen score. MIDI allowed composers to hear pieces in a semirealistic fashion, especially if groups weren’t present to perform them.

A song is made of sound and words and can only get across conversation and other things expressed by sound and words, right? Wrong! A song is made of sound and words and both, especially words, can be used to make sensations real in the imagination. Writing to evoke the senses of the listener is called “visual writing.” Since there are five senses, this is an incomplete term, but it’s the one most publishers use, so we’re stuck with it for now.
A great lyric device is to give an impression of something that gets the listener to fill in details from his or her own imagination. You could say, “He didn’t seem trustworthy. I got the impression he was hiding something.” That gets the information across, but doesn’t involve the listener. If you say, “His shifty eyes looked away and he changed the subject,” a number of things happen. You give a partial visual — shifty eyes — which begs the imagination to complete it (by supplying the rest of the face) and gives some information about the character. Some action (looking away) gives further clues. By the time you get to “he changed the subject,” the listener has enough information for it to mean something — that the person, who doesn’t look trustworthy, is hiding something. You’ll have the listener’s full attention as he or she waits for the next story clue. What conclusions would you draw from the following lines?
“The waiter brought champagne and I thought/‘bout the ring in my pocket that three months pay bought.”
“He sits in the bleachers, watching them play / and dreams of his own younger days.”
Sometimes it’s better to spell your information out in CAPITAL LETTERS than to give an impression that may not get your point across. If you’re writing a song about falling in love with a classic truck, you could say, “Shining like a cherry in the late September sun, the automotive relic of a time and place long gone” or “She was a cherried-out, half-ton, fire engine red, 1950 Studebaker flatbed.”
Which of these lines packs a more complete story? Which line has its visual focus on the subject? Most importantly, which line will appeal to people who are likely to be interested in a song about a truck? While both of these lines might work in the song, the second line has more pertinent information and less dispensable information. Using the first line would mean having to use at least one more line just to establish that it’s a truck. Since you can’t fit an infinite number of lines in a three-minute song, this could mean having to leave out other information.

There are several things you can do to keep the audio computer running smoothly. First is unplugging the Internet while you work. If you dial in, or use broadband, the computer is always doing something in the background that is Internet related. This can take away from power needed in your music program. Log off, or power down your DSL/cable modem. On the same theme, don’t run other programs in the background while you are running music applications. Music applications ask a lot of the computer, so give it as much brain power as possible.
Without getting too technical, a hard drive can write data in many disparate places on its surface. Because the files aren’t in one line, it takes longer to read them. This can be a problem. Defragmenting your disk (defrag) helps put the files in order for faster access, giving your disk more power. Power equals more tracks and more effects. Defrag often!
There are also many utilities to ensure that your disk is healthy and free of corrupt, evil files (known as viruses). You should also run these often to keep your disk in tiptop shape.
Always back up your work! You’ll feel very bad if your hard work magically disappears, or worse, you catch a virus that wipes out all your data. You can back up by burning data to a CD or a DVD. Both are cheap and very reliable. DVDs hold 4.7 gigabytes of information, while CDs hold 700 megabytes. There are other ways to back up, using tape drives and such, but CD/DVD is the most common.
Computers are known for doing some strange things to your data. Back up! You’ll be glad you did when disaster strikes.

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” might be an apt title for these tricks of the trade. Prosody is good. Alliteration can be a nice piece of ear candy or an ugly distraction. Clichés are usually bad unless used before they become clichés. Maybe one of your lines will be a cliché someday. But let’s hope it’s not a cliché just yet.

Simply put, prosody means that something sounds like what it is. If you have a slow, sad-sounding piece of music and write a lyric over it that describes how much fun you have skateboarding, it might confuse the listener. Likewise, a bouncy, uptempo number about losing your mom in a car crash doesn’t seem appropriate. When writing lyrics to a melody, listen carefully to see that the melody evokes the right kind of mood.

When different words within a line or stanza of a song begin with the same sound, it’s called “alliteration.” Think of it as rhyme in reverse. With alliteration, the words can be adjoining, like “Manic Monday,” or separate, as with “Wind in the Willows.” Although it can be used effectively in almost any kind of song, alliteration is especially good for songs with a light or silly tone. Who can forget the all-time classic, “Great Green Globs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts”?

Overused Words and Phrases
There’s at least one big publisher in Nashville who doesn’t want to hear the words “love” or “heart” in another song as long as he lives. Why? He listens to hundreds of songs every week, and guess which words he hears the most?

Emotions are the real underpinnings of any good song. You want to get the listener to feel what you feel, but using emotional words like love and heart is not the best way to get that feeling across. While there’s no argument that love songs, anti-love songs, lost-love songs, or love-gone-bad songs are big moneymakers, people get tired of hearing the same words in every song. Look for alternatives. Describe your love instead of just stating its existence and location. When you do use words like love and heart, make sure that they mean something.

There are thousands of cliché phrases to be avoided, but a top-ten list might look something like this:

We’ll never part.

It’s really true.

I can’t live without you.

That’s the way it goes.

We can make it if we try.

How can I make you see.

Got to make him (or her) mine.

Soft as a dove.

Please don’t go.

Then you’ll understand.

Unnecessary Words
Anyone who’s written more than a few songs knows that some words are perfect for those times when you need to fill a hole in a line. “Just,” “really,” “very,” “well,” “baby,” and many others can come in handy, but it’s easy to become dependent on filler words and to overuse them. A common practice of professional songwriters is to look over a completed song and see if it needs a “just-ectomy,” which is to say “Are there any unnecessary words that can be replaced by better ones?” The following two lines show the results of a quadruple bypass just-ectomy:

Before: “I said well now baby that’s just really very sad.”

After: “I said well now sweet pea that’d make a statue cry.”

Sometimes there’s only one word that works in a given spot. As long as it works naturally, without sounding forced, and doesn’t bring the song down or appear too often in the same lyric, it might be just the thing you need in a particular spot.

So now that we’ve covered what types of computer hardware make a good audio system, it’s time to turn to how to get music in and out of the computer. It’s time to talk about interfaces, those wonderful devices that connect music to an otherwise lifeless machine. Interfaces are pieces of hardware that connect to a computer to bring music in and out.

MIDI interfaces are the simplest and least expensive interfaces for a computer. They come in many shapes and sizes, one for every need. You will want to get an interface that has one input for every piece of MIDI-enabled gear in your studio. The MIDI interface is shown in


Computer MIDI interface
Basic interfaces start around $35; an interface with more inputs will be more expensive. In terms of connections, MIDI interfaces come in a few flavors:

Serial: Not very common now. This is a connection that attaches to a serial port on your computer.

PCI MIDI interface: A card that sits inside the computer. Usually combines audio and MIDI.

USB MIDI interface: A small rectangular port on the back or front of your computer.

Firewire MIDI interface: Firewire, as it’s known on the Mac, or IEEE 1394 as it’s known in the Windows world, is a new connection that is becoming standard. Firewire interfaces usually combine audio and MIDI.

Getting Audio In and Out
In terms of routing audio in and out of your computer, you have to make some hard decisions about how many instruments you can record at once.

Simple interfaces that support one or two channels are relatively inexpensive. If you are looking to record eight simultaneous inputs, be prepared to pay more. Also key is the number of microphone inputs that the interfaces have. If you plan to record acoustic instruments such as piano, voice, or anything else that requires a microphone, you’ll need a few microphone inputs (shown in FIGURE 5-2).

“Meter” is the term used to describe the number of syllables in each line of a section of a song and which syllables are emphasized. Volumes have been written about types and uses of meter in songwriting as well as in poetry. For a modern songwriter, simply studying the rhythm and stresses of popular songs will probably be more help than reading about spondee and iambic pentameter. Meter in today’s songs often tries to mimic the rhythms of natural conversation rather than force lyrics into rigid poetic forms. That being said, studying meter in songs or poetry can be valuable to a songwriter and there are some things that should be covered here.

Sense of Symmetry
With meter, as with rhyme, a certain sense of symmetry is necessary for a song to have a cohesive feel. If you use an 8/6/8/5 meter (each number represents the number of syllables in a line) and an ABCB/ABCB rhyme scheme in the first verse, the second verse should follow suit. Not that you can’t occasionally wedge in an extra word, but make sure that the verses feel alike and are easily identifiable as verses. This helps to provide a sense of place within the song, like chapters in a book or scenes in a movie.

Stretching Vowels
Sometimes you may need more syllables in a line than you have words to fill them. An alternative to adding unnecessary words is to stretch the vowels in some words to cover multiple syllables. A perfect example of this is found in the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons song “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” in which the words of the hook only make up four syllables but are sung as eight.

Some vowels, like the “eye” sound in “cry” and the “oo” sound in “blue,” lend themselves to stretching by being sung as trills or yodels and simply changing notes wherever the melody normally requires it. In “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” for instance, this is done by sliding between two notes in the word “big.” The other stretched words repeat certain sounds, but “big” adds a syllable by changing notes. Sometimes you can just let one note ride for several beats.

Here we go…the big topic that has been debated and argued about for years. Should you use an Apple/Mac or Microsoft Windows? Each side has its strong and weak points. Both will let you run a studio. Let’s consider each side separately.

The Apple Mac has one thing going for it over Microsoft Windows. Historically, Macs were the first computers to run music software, and so more software was written to run on the Mac. Most professional studios still rely solely on Macs for audio. But now, Windows has caught up with the Mac for music. Even so, the Mac has a particular working style that appeals to some. You have to spend some time using the Mac OS to see how different it is from Windows.

The only company that makes the Mac is Apple. Apple is the only game in town, and that’s both good and bad. On the plus side, there is very little variation in the hardware, so software companies have an easy time making products that are compatible with Macs. On the downside, you have fewer choices for machines. There are some software differences that might sway your decision. Some software is still Mac only, with no Windows version. You have to do some research. Macs tend to be slightly more expensive than Windows computers, but that’s becoming less of an issue as prices equalize.

Microsoft Windows
The majority of the desktop market is PC-based, and most of those computers run Microsoft Windows. Windows is now very capable of running music software as well as the Macs do. Lots of music software is now available for Windows. With Windows, the version of the operating system is critical for music applications. Many music applications will run on only the latest version of Windows. Be careful to check that you have a machine capable of running current software. Makers of software for Windows have the unique challenge of trying to be compatible with literally millions of different hardware combinations. Unlike Apple, many different companies make Windows-based PCs. Apple makes all its hardware, which is designed to run its exclusive operating system, whereas Microsoft Windows is a program run by computers made by a variety of different companies. Each computer running Windows uses different CPUs, different RAM…you get the idea. Sometimes software compatibility can be a problem on the Windows side because of this.

In the end, the choice is yours. Whatever you have, you’ll be able to run some kind of music software. If you’re thinking of buying a second computer just for audio, make sure to give both sides a fair look.

Songs haven’t always rhymed. Ancient Hebrew songwriters rhymed ideas instead of sounds — they stated an idea or concept and then restated it in different words. Even now a song occasionally hits the charts that doesn’t rhyme. Billy Vera’s “At This Moment” is a prime example. However, it’s much, much easier to market a song that rhymes. What makes for a great rhyme? That depends on what year it is and what style you’re writing. Listen to the radio and to your favorite CDs, and compare where the rhymes are and what kind of rhymes are used. You’ll be amazed at all the options you find.

The Rhyme Scheme
“Rhyme scheme” is the term used to describe where rhymes are placed in the song. Within a given section (verse, chorus, or bridge) the rhymes are designated, in order of appearance, by letters of the alphabet. AA rhyme scheme has two lines that rhyme:

Inner Rhymes
Rhymes can work at the end of the lines as well inside them. Rhymes occurring inside a line are called, you guessed it, “inner rhymes.” These are one of a songwriter’s secret weapons: Consciously or unconsciously, we expect to hear rhymes at the ends of lines. Inner rhymes come as a surprise to the ear. This helps keep a listener’s attention. Where you choose to place inner rhymes can give different effects:

Back-to-back: “ I went downtown and watched the girls walk by.”

Very close together: “I went around the town, calling out your name.”

Further apart: “I went down to the bad side of town to see a girl I used to know.”

In two different lines: “ I get so down when I come home to visit/Is it this town or knowin’ you’re in it.”

You can also put more than one set or internal rhymes into a line or set of lines. The following couplet contains a complex set of inner rhymes:

As you can see, the A and D rhymes are in italics, the B and E rhymes in bold, and the C rhymes in all caps. The rhyme scheme is ABABC/DEDEC. Play with different schemes; see what you can do with ABCABC or ABCA/DBCD. Make up your own patterns and see if you can write a set of lines that fit.

Imperfect Rhymes
In the previous lines, you might notice that the words “U-Haul” and “wall” rhyme perfectly, which is to say that the final vowel and consonant sounds are the same. Likewise the words “goodbye” and “high” are nearly perfect rhymes because they end in the same vowel sound.

But some rhymes are imperfect. “Packed” and “back” are pretty close; they both have a short “a” sound, like in the word “at,” followed by a “k” sound. However, “packed” has an additional “t” sound at the end, so this pair doesn’t rhyme perfectly. “Tennessee” and “need” each have a hard “E” as the last vowel, but one ends in a consonant, “D,” while the other ends with the vowel. “Smog” and “job” end in different consonants, but have the same vowel sound.

In the past, much importance had been placed on perfect rhyme. In some cases, it’s still the way to go. For the more formal-sounding songs in the timeless pop style, perfect rhyme often works best. But in today’s more conversational songs, an imperfect rhyme can be a fresh alternative. When people hear “heart” at the end of a line, they usually expect to hear “start” or “apart” for the rhyme. If you surprise them by using “car,” they might listen more closely to see what comes next.

Don’t Force It!
Never accept an awkwardly phrased or stilted-sounding line just because it ends with a perfect rhyme. Forced rhymes sound amateurish and make a listener think about the rhyme instead of the story or the melody. If you don’t find a perfect rhyme that floors you, look for an imperfect rhyme that does. If you can’t find an imperfect rhyme, try a different word in the rhyme spot.

Some songwriters use “made” rhymes that rely on regional or genre-specific diction styles. For example, John Fogerty’s diction allows him to rhyme words like “door” and “slow” perfectly. With most singers, these two words would be a fairly weak rhyme. However, made rhymes may limit a song’s marketability to a few artists.

There are a few attributes of hard drives to consider. The first and most obvious is the size. The larger the disk, the more music you’ll be able to store. Like RAM, this number is expressed in megabytes or gigabytes. How big should your drive be? Buy as much hard drive as you can afford. More is definitely better in this case.

The next critical factor in a hard disk is the rotation speed. A hard disk spins around in the same way a CD does. The speed at which it spins is measured in revolutions per minute (RPM). The higher the speed, the faster the disk can access its data. Why is this important to you? Faster disks equal higher track counts in the software you use. If you have a fast CPU with tons of RAM, a slow hard drive will still limit you. The faster the better. You will also find recommendations for hard-drive speed listed on audio software manufacturers’ lists of recommended hardware.

The last factor is seek time. Seek time is how fast the data on the disk can be accessed. Seek time is measured in milliseconds. The lower the seek time, the better.

I’ll Take Two

Chances are your computer came with only one hard drive, and this works fine. You can record and store files on a single hard drive. However, the best way to go is to have a second hard drive dedicated to audio. Why is this? Simply put, if you have one hard disk, the computer has to use the disk for running the operating system, running any open programs, and recording huge music files. This is a bit much to ask of just one disk. Your track count will always suffer by using one disk.

You don’t have to run out and buy a second hard drive right away, however. It’s best to start out with one drive and see if you overtax the machine. If you plan to record low track counts, this isn’t much of an issue and you might never get an error. Users who push the computer with high track counts will get errors because the computer can’t stream data fast enough to keep up. If you reach that point, get another drive just for audio.

Internal or External?

If you opt for the second drive, you have a choice: internal or external. Some computers won’t accept a second internal drive, so that choice is made for you. Neither one is preferable over the other; both get the job done. The only advantage for an external drive is that you can take it from computer to computer. If you collaborate with other home studio users, this could be a big plus for you.

When writing for a specific market, whether it’s country, pop, or Bolivian folk music, the choices you make in word usage, syntax, and grammar can affect your success as much as your storytelling and melodic skills. Paying attention to every line, every word of your song, as well as the overall flow and style, can bring rich rewards. Ignoring these things can assure you a permanent place as the best songwriter in the whole produce department, maybe even the whole grocery store.

Vocabulary Choices

An important choice faced frequently by songwriters is picking exactly the right word to fill a spot. Colorful words can help a lyric stand out and make a song more vivid, but make sure to use words that are understandable to your target market and are appropriate to the song. For instance, some publishers tend to shy away from songs with words like “cogitate,” “fuchsia,” and “Australopithecus.” Instead, try “think,” “pink,” and “missing link.” Use words that are natural to the kind of person who would sing or listen to your song.

If you’re not sure the listener will understand a certain word, the way in which you use it may help explain it. Many people didn’t know the true meaning of the word “ironic” when Alanis Morissette’s song of the same title came out. In the song “Ironic,” Morissette writes about situations with the question of whether they were ironic, and further reinforces the explanation by the use of simile (it’s like …) and metaphor (it’s a …) in the “B” section.

Colloquialisms and Vernacular

Colloquialisms are common sayings with an informal tone. Vernacular is an informal mode of speech. Both are used frequently and successfully in songs. “I Fall to Pieces,” “God Only Knows,” and “Somethin’ in the Water” are all song hooks made from colloquialisms. Vernacular speech is particularly useful in a song where a conversational feel is needed.

Syntax and Grammar

Used well, “bad English” can make for a great song. You may come under fire from your mother or the English teacher/amateur songwriter down at the local songwriter’s association, who insists that, “Proper grammar and syntax are the building blocks of any good song.” Thank them for their advice and politely ignore it. Look at the following line: “Although I have made repeated attempts, I cannot obtain any gratification whatsoever.”

Technically correct? Yes. Does it read like a hit lyric? No! It just sits there. It feels stuffy and old. However, if the line is made more conversational with a double negative, and some redundancy is added for dramatic effect, the results are golden — you get the hook to “Satisfaction” by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Now, take the line “We shall not retire until the sun rises.” It just doesn’t have the punch of the Garth Brooks classic “Ain’t Goin’ Down ‘til the Sun Comes Up.” Though there are errors made in grammar (ain’t), diction (goin’), and it ends with (gasp!) a preposition, the line has a conversational tone that’s appropriate to the song, a catchy rhythm, and a great contrast between “up” and “down.”

What matters is that your song is authentic to its genre, that the language feels natural, and that you get your point across to the listener as precisely as possible. Use bad English if, and only if, it makes your song better. If it does, use it without guilt or remorse. Remember, the primary object of a lyric is to communicate to the listener. Whatever does that best for a particular song is the right way.