How to Make Songs Better
February 25, 2021
How to make songs better sounds sort-of helpless, like, "How do I make this song better? It's good, but not great. What do I do?"
But of course you've got everything you need, already. After all, you write music already! Still, you might just want to learn how can you make songs better with a tip or a trick or a system or a list of things pros know which indie do-it-yourself musicians don't know.
That's what we're going to do today. We're going to look at ways pros make songs better when they're pretty good already, but not exactly what they want.
Sound fun? I think so, too. Let's go.
[See also: 8 Steps to Boosting Creativity, here.]
How to make songs better with better hooks
How to make songs better involves hooks, as many indie artists know. But how do you know if your hook's a good one? Where does it go? What do you do with it?
Wharton Business School at University of Pennsylvania quotes John Seabrook as saying,
The producer makes a track on the computer, which is a chord progression, beats, and then some instrumentation. Then that track gets sent out to a bunch of different “top line writers” or “hook writers,” and sometimes you’ll send the same track to a bunch of different melody writers, and they’ll listen to it and then add hooks, which are short melodies. They’re not flowing, long melodies like a Burt Bacharach melody, but a very condensed melody, like a phrase. And then the producer will listen to those, and if he likes one, finish producing the song, and then the lyrics will come at the end. The reason that that method has been so successful is basically you can produce a lot more songs in a shorter amount of time.
We indie musicians can create one of these "hit factories" in our own studios by following the same process. Since we'll assume each artist is working solo, it'll look a little different.
Make Better Songs with Your Own "Hit Factory"
Make better songs with what I call a "hit factory." It's a cheesy term, but that's basically what it is. You can use this trick to make songs better when you already have them written, too.
We're going to do a lot of songwriting in just a little time, and it's going to produce a lot of original music. Ready? Here goes:
- Write a chord progression and set up beats
- Repeat Step 1 at least twice so you have the backbone of three+ songs.
- Return to your first song, Song 1, and write a basic, simple melody line on top of it. Put it right at the front of the song. (Mega-producers Max Martin and Dr. Luke try to place theirs in the first ten seconds of the track!).
- Repeat Step 3 for your other songs. You should have three or more songs with hooks now.
- Go back and write a different hook for Song 1, then Song 2, then Song 3, etc.
- Repeat Step 5.
Why the heck are we working on so many songs at once, though? Perfectly natural question. We switch songs between writing hooks so we don’t get hung up on our first ideas. Also, we come out with three songs, not one. Much better.
But we're not done yet. Read on.
[Need advice on building your home music studio? Got you covered right here.]
How to Make Songs Better Through Volume
So! At this point, you should have three or more songs with three or more hooks each. Doesn’t mean we have to keep them all. We can throw two out and just keep our favorite, if we like. Whatever! It’s our studio.
But that's where the strength in this method lies: producing more songs and hooks means you have a better chance of creating something wonderful. And your B-sides might be great, too! That's how to make songs better via a high output or volume. But now what?
Now you have some editing to do. That's editing in the editorial sense, not editing in the engineering sense.
You can't use all your hooks for each track, so buckle down and decide which hooks to use for which tracks.
Hold up, though! Don't throw away your unused hooks! Save them for later because you can use those as melody lines for entirely new tracks.
Once you're done selecting the best hooks for each track, you have decisions to make.
Managing Your Hit Factory
You can make songs better with your new "hit factory" a couple different ways, now.
A). Decide on the best track of the day and set the others aside in a B-sides folder.
B). Ask trusted fans, friends, critics or collaborators which song they like best.
C). Quit for the day, repeat the process later, then select from a larger pool of songs.
The benefit of A is keeping your repertoire of songs nice, neat, and manageable. This is best for artists with a large output of tracks.
Option B is best for artists with a big enough fan base or artistic support system. Make sure you trust your peeps if you’re only asking a few people. Probably better to ask a lot of people from your audience — like, more than thirty people; the more, the better.
C is perfect for artists wanting to keep 100% creative control. How can you know if you’ve got an outstanding track? Write twenty bare-bones beats and hooks and see what stands out!
Whether you choose A, B, or C, what you end up with is going to be some of the best work you can do. This is far easier than taking a song you feel precious about and making little changes you hope turn it into a masterpiece. Start with something great, instead!
Make Songs Better — Focus on Your Best!
How to make songs better is less about tweaking the song you have and more about making better songs to begin with. Sometimes we surprise ourselves when we get to work on new tracks more often than we hammer out songs we already have.
With the creative methods outlined above, you’ll be on your way to a set list which will blow away your audiences in no time.