HOW TO WRITE A HIT SONG
by Ellie Greenwich
Ellie Greenwich, a pretty blonde with a velvety voice, has been writing songs since she was fourteen years old. She didn't sell one until eight years later, but she's been coming up with hits ever since. Among her Number One and Top Ten credits are "Hanky Panky", "Chapel Of Love", "Leader Of The Pack", "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy", "Be My Baby", "Maybe I Know" and many others, recorded by such artists as Tommy James & the Shondells, the Dixie Cups, the Shangri-Las, Manfred Mann, the Ronettes and Lesley Gore.
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1. Write about something that you're familiar with.
Human relationships --- that's what my songs are about. The teenage years are very tricky. High school's a crucial time. You first begin to wake up to what the world contains and to see people a little more clearly. "Puppy love" isn't a joke to the kids who go through it. It can be lovely or terrible.
2. Keep it simple.
The basic things are the simplicity of the words --- very understandable, very simple, very basic. Boy, girl, meeting, breaking up, in love, pleading, be my baby, I love you. Just very simple, basic things.
3. Know the basic song forms.
There are always variations from the basic song forms, but you should know the ones that are used most often. There's verse, verse, bridge and verse, known as A, A, B, A. Or 32 bars: 8, 8, 8, 8. Or the chorus first. Or AB, AB, AB. Then there's the 12 bar blues.
A lot of top records have made it with an extra bar, or all of a sudden everybody stops and there's talking. The rules are flexible.
4. Don't copy anyone else.
Anybody who hears a song and thinks, "this is the way I should do it," is headed for disaster. If you hear someone you particularly admire because his sound is different, then come up with something equal to that --- but your own.
It's difficult if you write words and not music or vice versa. It's best to find a friend who can write either music or lyrics.
Also, if you copy someone else's music, they might sue you.
5. Make a demonstration record.
Music publishers and record company executives are busy people. They can't sit around all day and listen to every songwriter who knocks on their door. You have to submit your songs to them on a demo record.
Several recording studios specialize in making demos. They charge about $30 an hour and they have pianos, drums and other instruments available. Any musicians you use get paid around $20 or more an hour.
Get your demo made as inexpensively as possible.
6. Find a music publisher.
Once you've made a demo record of your song, think of an artist it might be good for. Find out who published the artist's last song by looking on the record. Go to that publisher, nicely dressed, and tell them what you have.
Nearly every major publisher has an office in New York between Fifth Avenue and Broadway, and 45th and 57th Streets. The two most important buildings are 1619 Broadway and 1650 Broadway.
If you don't live near New York, mail your demo record. Enclose a stamped, self-addressed return envelope. You can probably get a list of music publishers by asking your librarian.
7. Believe in yourself and don't give up too easily.
If you don't think you're good, don't try it. You'll starve. You're better off in school.
If you have faith in your ability, never give up. I was writing songs for eight years before I met with any success. Learn from your mistakes and keep trying.
(First published in Disco Scene magazine, 1968)
With thanks to Didi Stewart
PRESENTED BY PHIL CHAPMAN, PHIL MILSTEIN & MICK PATRICK