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Tips for Writing a Radio Single

June 11, 2012; Zack Starikov

Like most musicians, I grew up with a dream of wanting to write an album that would change the way other musicians looked at music. I thought if I wrote a song that was so different from what was on the radio I would get noticed, signed to a record label and would be the next Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain or John Lennon. So I did what many other musicians do. I wrote songs that sounded like three songs spliced together into one. I wrote songs that did not follow the typical structure and songs with three different choruses. I wanted to be unique and I thought having two different lyrical choruses was unique and revolutionary.
 
My mentality changed once I entered the studio and recorded with a producer who had platinum records to his credit. First thing I learned was that it is important to listen closely to the songs on the radio and it was important to study their structure. I learned that for every 30 songs written, only one is a possible single.

Johnny Cash had a different sound and image than what was being played on the radio. The same goes for Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses and Nickelback. If you take a look at “Smells Like Teen Spirit” you will see that the song has the following structure:

Intro
Verse #1
Pre-Chorus
Chorus
Verse #2
Pre-Chorus
Chorus
Solo
Verse #3
Pre-Chorus
Chorus
Outro Chorus

The lyrics in the chorus are always the same in order to help them stick in the listener’s head. Some bands even hit you with a double chorus after verse 2 in order to really get the hook to stick with the listener.

Nickelback’s sound is very different from that of Nirvana, but if you look at Nickelback’s hit single “How You Remind Me,” you will see the song follows a very similar song structure:

Intro
Verse #1
Pre-Chorus
Chorus
Verse #2
Pre-Chorus
Chorus
Interlude
Pre-Chorus
Chorus
Outro Chorus

If you are writing a song and hoping to get your song on the radio, it is important to pay attention to what else is being played on the radio. If every song on Top 40 radio is a song that is in 4/4 time and is about heartbreak, then it would be smart to write a catchy song about heartbreak that is in 4/4 time instead of writing a song in 5/4 time that is about drinking. Find out what your market is. Once you know your market, then you will have a better idea of what to write. My producer asked me a question that has stuck with me until this day. “Why are you singing about funeral parlors when your entire fan base is made up of 14-year-old girls?”

Know your fan base! If your music is dark and your fan base is Goth kids, than write dark lyrics. It is also important that you keep working on your lyrics and material. It takes time to write a good song. It is important to write down everything you are thinking so that you do not forget your ideas. You should play around with the lyrics until you get them to where you want them. It really helps to stop, put something down and come back to it later for editing. Don’t force it. If you get stuck, then just work on another song. Don’t try to finish a song in one sitting. Also, it is okay to use a rhyming dictionary. It’s not cheating. Lots of professional songwriters use rhyming dictionaries.

So, remember:

  1. Focus on the song structure that peoples’ ears are accustomed to
  2. Figure out who your fan base is
  3. Don’t force yourself to finish an entire song in one sitting
  4. Use a rhyming dictionary to make the writing process easier
  5. Have fun! Music is meant for you to enjoy and to keep you creative


Zack Starikov is currently managing The Blackboard Nails:
www.TheBlackboardNails.com.

You can contact him at: ZackStarikov@gmail.com




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