Well, what really is a song?
Most people will say it’s a combination of melody and lyric. Well, let us dive into it a bit more. Sometimes a song is just a melody sung or a sequence played on a Reed flute, such as in prehistoric times. Adding harmony and rhythm have instantly made songs much more interesting. Songs have structure, usually repeats of verses and choruses. In classical music, the “strophic” form was a repeat of verses or verse/chorus. Nearly all popular songs include the “Release,” or “C” section.
In terms of recording, or radio airplay, a song lasts in the three-minute range, a standard that still remains relatively unchanged in the 21st century. Many songs now hover around the 4-minute range. In Classical Rock (the late 60s/early 70s), extended versions–usually marked by extended instrumental solos–sometimes ran the entire length of an album.
Different types of songs we now know as “Genre”
There are different kinds of songs falling in one or more genres: Irish folk, African storytelling, Christian hymns, Heavy Metal, Pop, Rock, Country, Blues, Jazz, and many more. In the Classical era, songs were often called “Art Songs.” Many different European cultures had their own versions of art songs: Russian (romancy), German (Lieder), Italian (Canzoni), French (mélodies), Scandinavian (sånger), Portuguese (canções), Spanish (Canciones). In the New Millennium, songs are increasingly becoming a blend of one or more genres. Billboard Magazine coined the term “Crossover” to describe a song that tops more than one chart.
In today’s trendy “pop” culture, it’s unlikely a song would be called a “composition.”
In its simplest form, songs are performed by a solo singer playing guitar or piano. With state-of-the-art recording studios and digital audio workstations, recordings become the dominant means of distribution. In fact, “acoustic” versions of songs become just as popular as the original versions, such as Eric Clapton’s, “Layla.”
Singer/Songwriter became a genre in the 60s. Folk singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez preceded the new breed of Singer/Songwriter to emerge from the Brill Building in New York City. The Brill Building was a hotbed for major Singer/songwriters like Carole King, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and many more.
A song is an adventure…
A song is born, sometimes gentle as the whisper of a butterfly, other times as big as a cataclysmic cosmic event. It starts with a sound, a riff or a lyric phrase and from there heads out to destinations unknown. Some songs bite the dust, becoming the soil where the seeds of new songs are planted. Others become permanent stars in the musical universe. As the saga unfolds, there’s a lot of characters and obstacles along the way. Producers, engineers, musicians, managers, A&R reps, critics, politics and ultimately the audience–all play a role in determining the roads travelled. There are rip-offs, burns and bad deals.
licensing or publishing company gets sold. An A&R rep gets fired. A contract gets broken. Creative choices have to be made. Bands fight. Technology changes.
The success of a song–its popularity–could be because of something magically inherent in a melody or the result of clever marketing. A major artist/band might introduce a new song and generate strong initial sales, but that doesn’t mean the song will continue the quest of popularity. An unknown songwriter, tickling the charts for the first time, can unleash a song that so resonates with an audience, it sends both the songwriter and song into superstardom.
Some writers write 1000 songs and never have a hit. Others come up with a fluke, make millions, and never write another song again. Some writers quit. Some give up. Others become legends. Songwriting is a boat ride up a river through a jungle, a trek across a frozen mountain, a thrust into darkness, a trip to paradise, or a practical business deal. Whatever the metaphor, songwriting is most definitely an unforgettable adventure.
Written By: Jerry Flattum
Jerry Flattum is a Performer/Songwriter, Keyboardist and Journalist as well as screenwriter. He has a Masters in Liberal Studies and a self-designed BS in Songwriting (U of MN). Flattum has an extensive catalogue of music ready for licensing and commercial release. You can get in touch with Jerry here if you’ll like to get in touch. You can see some of his music here and get in touch via LinkedIn.