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Songwriters Resource Network: News and Opportunities for Songwriters!




How To Write A Commercial Song

by Richard Melvin Brown

There are some proven methods for writing commercial songs, and with a little bit of effort almost everyone with some creative juices flowing between their ears can come up with some great song ideas and turn those ideas into some pretty good songs.


A good song is usually made up of two basic ingredients: Words and Music.

Some writers will write the words first and then compose a suitable chord progression and melody to compliment their lyrical ideas.

Lyricists will often write a song lyric and then hand it over to a musical composer to compose some appropriate music to it, and turn it into a song.

Other writers (especially seasoned musicians) will compose the music first, and then either write the words to the already composed melody, or make a tape of their (music only composition) and give it to a lyricist to find the right words to go with their musical ideas.


Although I have written many songs with both the words and music, I quite often collaborate with lyricists to create good songs. The reason I do this is very simple. I am a much better (music) writer than a lyricist.

This is not to say I haven't written some good lyrics, it only means that I am the kind of lyric writer that needs to be inspired to come up with a great story. When I find that I just can't think of anything to say, I call up one of my lyricist friends to give me a hand.

Don't be afraid of collaboration, sometimes two heads are better than one.


Although there are no absolute rules for writing a great song, there are certain formulas and guidelines that seem to help enormously in creating songs that are pleasing to the majority of people.

A commercial song is a song that has wide appeal to the masses. Pop Music, Country, and Rock and Roll are styles of music that are very popular to huge numbers of the population.

Although there are exceptions to the rules in songwriting, most popular songs are very simple in structure.


A song that comes to mind that seemed to break all the rules of formula writing is Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park". It is truly a wonderful song, but it definitely does not fit into the mainstream of popular songwriting.

To begin with the song is about 7 minutes long. Most pop songs are about 3 minutes in length. Some songs, especially ballads can go longer than 4 minutes, but that is pushing it. Most radio programmers do not want to play songs longer than about 3, or 3 and a half minutes in length.

The song "MacArthur Park" also has a very complex chord progression and melody, not to mention lyrical content that is definitely out of the norm. I think you get the picture. Although there are certain formulas that work very well in writing popular songs, that doesn't mean you can't break the rules if you choose to.


For beginner and amateur songwriters I think it is a wise decision to keep to the rules and keep your writing as simple as possible, without compromising your creativity.

If you were to read one of the books that list the top songs of the year, from way back when until the present time, you would find that the majority of the hit songs use popular and proven song structures. They have only 3 or 4 chords in their chord progressions. The lyrical content is not exceptionally complicated but simply directed at arousing emotions in the listener.

A while back I saw the great songwriters Kris Kristofferson on a talk interview show. The host asked Kris what his song "Help Me Make It Through The Night" means to him now, years after he wrote it and years after many other artists recorded it.

Kris scratched his head, paused for a moment and then said, "Oh, about a hundred thousand dollars a year."

"Help Me Make It Through The Night" is a simple song with only four chords. It has a simple, direct message. And years after it was written, the song still earns the writer a hundred thousand dollars a year.

What could better illustrate the virtues of clear and simple songwriting?

© Richard Melvin Brown from "How To Write Great Commercial Songs." You can order his book at "The Lyricist's Assistant" or email for more information.

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