R. Stevie's Song Writing Tips

An R. Stevie Edi-Tutorial

(as appeared in "Modern Song Rider" magazine
November 1999)

I've been credited with jump- starting a whole new style of successful pop song writing, and for readers of this column I take great pleasure in sharing some of my many secrets.

In my experience, I always found it easy to compose a catchy original song by sitting down and having a brief man-to-man talk with my hands.

Another great tool for you to use is a cup of black coffee with a shake of cinnamon. Helps keep the major chords in order. Minimizes the impulse to rely on suspendeds and augmenteds. Tastes purty good too!

Depending on your desired effect, try starting by singing what you write in a low register, and then whoop way up high for your choruses. Won me three Grammies, yessir. You might frighten the family pet, but A&R executives absolutely adore this technique.

I've written a lot of tunes in my career, but the most honored (and profitable) ones tend to incorporate at least 10 different chords. Honest! Try to begin your basic sketch on the piano. That way, you'll be tempted to overstretch your chord pallette, sometimes indulging in over 2 dozen different finger positions. Then, after a second cup of coffee, switch to guitar and shave back some of the unnecessary chords. Stay with it until you've reached just the right amount.

Remember, verses can be repeated, a nice way to build up anticipation for the all-important choruses. Dynamics are the key, almost universally. Top 40 radio now thrives on variety and unexpected changes. Not like it used to be!

If you're feeling depressed, that's great! Grab a pencil and paper and write a ballad! Or a blues! Remember the 10 chords! Repetition is a proven method in this category. Repeat things.

Don't be afraid to lean toward a classical mode. A simple piece of musical narrative can take on new meaning with a complex orchestral arrangement. Do it yourself! Once you've written down your complete song and can sing and play it on your instrument, simply scribble tiny notes to yourself in the margins: contrabassoon here, tympani there, french horns in and out of refrains, 101 strings punctuating the hook of the chorus, etc. Use your imagination!

Avoid the hip-hop route. That's not songwriting! And anybody can do that. Steer clear, my dear.

Jazz is good. You'll demand some high-brow respect if your song can truly swing. But NO 4/4 funk, please. They've tried to ruin the classic jazz traditions (with incorrect rock beats), but don't you let 'em!

Hillbilly and folk motifs are perfect for beginners. Earthy simplicity in conveying your musical message is a free ticket to ear-catching consistency for your listeners. Just don't get too serious or morose. Rely on abrupt humorous turns or erratic improvisation to remind them of your qualities of unbridled versatility. Always bridge the gaps.

Time-honored rules concerning lyrical content can be thrown out the window. Speak it like you mean it. Be honest with yourself, even if you are composing lines about sheer nonsense fantasy. There's someone out there who will relate to you exactly as intended. Your audience will identify with your genuine convictions regardless of subject matter. The upcoming new millennium has allowed for stream of consciousness in the mainstream as never before imagined. Be creative! This is the future. Here today.

Often, I've found it irresistable to jump from a somber tale of pursued romance to a mind-numbing 3-D portrait of a 2AM amusement park sex & drug massacre cartoon, all in the same 2:30 tune! Now THAT was a melody folks couldn't stop humming in their heads!

And with proper emphasis on rhythm section grooves, that award winning hit continues to have listeners' toes tapping. Humming and tapping. The R. Stevie Credo.

Always stay open minded in your song writing. Spread your tastes across all genres of music, experiment with cross pollenization and dump all your styles into a blender. See what comes out! :-)

Make sure your demo tape is prepared with total impact in mind. The more songs you compile the better. Record labels like prolific writers. Edit all tunes back-to-back, closely (where one goes directly into the next). Avoid combining songs in the same key. Copy cut and paste to your heart's content. Peak the level meters for maximum aural first impression. And never neglect to stress your confidence and self-worth on the outside label graphic!

Don't worry about publishing or copyright issues. Music is free, like oxygen! Pretend that you are protected by making up a funny company name. They'll never know!

By all means, ROCK! That's one ethic that's never ever gone out of style!

In conclusion, a fail-safe trick on your every submitted song is to NEVER FADE OUT!

Tell them I sent ya! Toodle Ooh!


Mr. Moore is well-known as the composer of 'White Christmas,' 'Louie Louie,' 'Alexander's Ragtime Band,' 'The Twist,' 'Stardust,' 'Perfidia,' 'Yesterday,' 'Rhapsody in Blue' and hundreds of other standards. His famous seminars are conducted twice a month here. He currently resides at the Brill Building in NYC, which he rebuilt in 1954.