Interview With Stuart Stuart (Sheppards Producer)

He started out like many musicians, gigging and messing around with a 4-track recorder; he produced the early recordings of The Veronicas, which lead to a US deal with Warner Music and international success; and now his work with Sheppard has garnered an Aria nomination for ‘Let Me Down Easy’ and across the board airplay for their latest single, ‘Geronimo’.
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Early Days
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Stuart Stuart is known around Brisbane as producer with a real passion for all styles of music. He has been playing guitar since age nine, started working with computer sequencers at age fourteen and by the end of high school was recording with a four-track. While pursuing a career in advertising, he was gigging as part of a duo and by necessity, learned about sequencing midi tracks with 1 sequencer and 1 keyboard the hard way. By 22 he was a full-time musician and progressed to having his own studio on the Northside of Brisbane where many interstate artists travel to record.
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A veteran user of Cubase, Stuart also isn’t a massive gearhead, preferring to really know the few items he does use, like the Joe Meek preamp that takes pride of place in his minimalist rack. His microphone collection is similarly tidy with a strong preference for Rode, with the NT2 usually working well for female voices and Classic for male voices. He also loves the sound of the UAD cards from Universal Audio and Waves plugins as he mixes his productions ‘in the box’.
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His deal with Mushroom Records producing dance music eventually lead him to collaborating with other artists and later using his keen ear and multi-instrumental ability to produce other artists. Using these skills, he worked with The Veronicas from the ages of 15 or 16 and was instrumental (pun intended) in their rise to fame and subsequent work with renowned international hit-makers, Max Martin and Dr Luke.
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Talking about his wide taste in music and artists he works with, he says “I’m always just trying to surprise myself… my approach is that I can’t stand still and keep doing the same thing.” It is this ethos that saw him start working with Sheppard in 2011.
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Shepparding in a new era
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Sheppard is a 6 piece ‘alternative pop’ group from Brisbane, Managed by industry heavyweight Michael Chugg. Made up of three siblings – George, Amy and Emma Sheppard, and three friends – Jason Bovino, Michael Butler, and Dean Gordon. Their sounds that are reminiscent of a beach party have visited South Africa, the UK, India, Bali, and the US twice.
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Platinum selling and Aria Best Independent Release nominated Let Me Down Easy, has been blasted on commercial radio and TV, and as George describes it, features ‘emotional , heartfelt lyrics of a man who has just had his heart broken, but it’s being sung to an incredibly catchy, happy sounding melody!’
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Prior to working with Stuart, the band had a bad experience with a previous producer and had to scrap an entire album. This turns out to be a smart move, as Stuart explains, “Pretty much from the first song I realized that this was the best thing I’d worked on in ages…”. The disparate influences of each of the production team of Jay, George and Amy with Stuart combine to make records that take it from the hipster to the suburbs – commercial indy that features group vocals, acoustic guitars, hand claps and infectious electronic rhythms.
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Early on, a typical workflow for production on a song would take a day, whereas now the perfectionist nature of the team can mean that they spend ten days and up to three versions of song that doesn’t even make the final cut.
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The team worked on Let Me Down Easy in mid 2012 and made some pretty radical decisions early on – they banned snare drums in the production and only used hand-claps to contribute to the signature sound of acoustic guitars and group vocal lines. They used a fairly typical workflow by starting with the demo and recorded the drum track (sans snare) to build the rest of the track upon.
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<a href=”https://ift.tt/2MhSQ8p” style=”margin-left:1em;margin-right:1em;”><img border=”0″ src=”https://ift.tt/2MhSQ8p” height=”212″ width=”400″ /></a>
Geronimo
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The upcoming album is being whittled down from an initial list of 40 songs and is more detailed in it’s production, as can be heard in the new single currently being played across the board on B105. Stuart broke it down for me and shared what each of the 150 tracks added to the sound of the most requested song.
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“We really had a surplus of ideas…” as he explained the process, starting with the kick and acoustic guitar and continuing the layering with a surprising sound added to the rhythm of the acoustic guitar – knee slaps recorded by Jay and George. The acoustic guitars were recorded with one of his favourite techniques, a spaced stereo pair of NT2s while a number of the electric guitar parts had multiple effects including delay to give a spacey ambient sound.
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A major difference with this song is that the band played the song live on tour before they had finished recording, whereas the songs are normally finished before the rest of the band come in and work out how they are going to replicate it live. And for that reason the electronic drums that were already laid down, were then augmented with live drums at the end and then mixed with predominantly room mics and the occasional spot mic blended in for the snare.
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The vocals were recorded in the vocal booth with the Rode Classic, while the group vocals and other hooks were recorded in various rooms for different sounds. One of these is the “bombs away” hook that particularly impressed Stuart. The amount of layering and craft in these sessions is astounding and the end result is a catchy pop recording that contains enough subtlety and surprises to withstand multiple listens and is obviously proving popular across commercial radio, both here and overseas.

What does a producer actually do?

Play this list of songs while you read the article:
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<a href=”https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLxGIdtIy1AEvjTJIQylBWuaIb0IQQFgBj” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLxGIdtIy1AEvjTJIQylBWuaIb0IQQFgBj</a>
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Ok, it’s time for that question that even some seasoned pros will sometimes ask…
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What does a producer actually do?
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Phil Ek describing his role as “the person who creatively guides or directs the process of making a record, like a director would a movie. The engineer would be more the cameraman of the movie.”
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In fact, the role has changed over time, so it will also vary from producer to producer and even project to project. Once upon a time (1950’s and earlier), the various jobs of the recording and marketing process had been carried out by different professionals within the industry: · A&R (artist and repertoire) managers found potential new artists and signed them to their labels; · professional songwriters created new material; · publishing agents sold these songs to the A&R people; · staff engineers carried out the task of making the recordings in company-owned studios.
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Producers now typically carry out most or all of the various production tasks themselves, including selecting and arranging songs, overseeing sessions (and sometimes also engineering the recordings) and even writing the material, although it became a common practice for producers to claim a writing credit even if they did not actually contribute to the song.
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Working with a producer
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One of the most overlooked aspects of the producers job is focusing the artistic vision. Whether it’s a fledgling artist who needs guidance in developing a mature sound or finding a core audience; a ‘personality artist’ who has none of their own songs; an artist who writes songs, plays on them and has an idea of their market and direction; or even an RnB artist who needs a fully formed track to add their lyrics and/or melody on top of; they are all guided by the producer to allow the audience to connect with the song.
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Often they will act as an intermediary between the artistic and technical worlds – straddle the artsy side (I need a more ‘orange’ sound [remind me to tell you that story one day] ) with, for example, the sound engineer (which microphones to use, ‘try the Neumann U87 on this piccolo’).
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Logistics – a session doesn’t just happen – someone needs to book the engineer (and choose the right one), book studio time (at one with all the necessary tools for the session and the right budget), book and pay session players (musicians that are appropriate for the style, how long to spend on the project.. etc. And you guessed it – the producer does that too.So, how does this help me?
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Well, now you’re more in the know about what they do, you also need to hear the effect the right producer can have on the music.
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Pioneers
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You’ve undoubtedly heard of Sir George Martin – he pioneered new rock arrangement and recording techniques with The Beatles. Phil Spector is famous for his unique ‘wall of sound’ found on countlesss records from Ike and Tina Turner to The Beatles (Listen to Let It Be and the ‘Let It Be – naked sessions’ to hear his influence and the bare recordings without his input for a perfect comparison).
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Hitmakers
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Dr. Luke (Lukasz Gottwald), Max Martin (Karl Martin Sandberg), Benny Blanco (Benjamin Levin), Shellback (Karl Johan Schuster) and RedOne (Nadir Khayat) can all be lumped together as the guys (singly and collaboratively) who regularly create the modern pop sound that hits number one on the charts regularly. Love it or hate it, these guys have serious craft that keep their work rolling in.
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‘That’Sound
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Some producers have an instantly identifiable sound that cuts through regardless of the artist or genre. Listen to the work of Mutt Lange (Robert John Lange) (particularly compare the Lady Gaga song ‘You and I’ with any of the releases by his then wife, Shania Twain). You could also look at another sound palette he works with by comparing Def Leppard albums such as High ‘n’ Dry, Pyromania, Hysteria and Adrenalize with Acca Daccas Back in Black. John Shanks produced both ‘The Climb’ by Miley Cyrus and ‘All I Want To Do’ by Sheryl Crow – see if you can spot his signature sounds. One producer was put on the map by working with Taylor Swift in the early days – he originally was doing her demos before the ‘real’ producers would come in and re-record the songs. In a commendable act of artistic integrity, Swifty insisted that he be the one to record her album and then the 3 subsequent albums – Nathan Chapman. Also listen to the ‘Two Worlds Collide’ album by The McClymonts for more of the same.
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‘No’ Sound
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Joe Chiccarelli and Rick Rubin are actually each well known for their transparent sound, that is, they don’t bring any pre-conceived ideas or techniques in the each production but rather work out what they need for each artist. Check out Boy and Bear/ and Johnny Cash’s last album, American Recordings/Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, respectively.
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Teams
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The Glam Rock movement wouldn’t be the same with out the Chinnichap (Nicky Chinn, Mike Chapman) formula. The Smeezingtons (Ari Levine, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars [Peter Gene Hernandez]) aren’t well known, but you’ve definitely heard their work…
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Multiple Producers
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Sometimes an artist may need to straddle two camps to reach their target audience. For example, Michael Buble released his 2009 album, Crazy Love with individual contributions from David Foster, Bob Rock and Humberto Gatica – each of them bringing their own sound and arrangements.I hope this has given you an idea of what the role is, as well as some interesting listening homework. Until next time…

What makes a song catchy?

What makes a song catchy?
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This article is both a continuation and departure from the last series of articles where we studied the different popular song forms.
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Now, I want to focus on common themes and practices in songs. Let us first define ‘catchiness’: how easy it is for someone to remember a song, tune or phrase. This is most easily measured by its commercial viability and particularly by looking at songs that are extremely popular.
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Let’s look at some of the common features of a song that sells well (presumably because it is indeed catchy and not because the evil music industry has used subliminal messages to trigger us like hypnotized zombie slaves). Typically it has some common characteristics, like when things happen: the length of a song (between 3:30 and 4 minutes) lets us focus on the main hook or ‘catchy bit’ and not lose interest and forget it before the end of a song; the title of a song will occur before a minute has passed and then repeat anywhere from 3 to 30 times throughout; the vocals often start after a 13 second intro (interestingly enough, this is regardless of the tempo or speed of the song). The tempo is usually mid-tempo to fast, and the correllation between how long a song is in the charts and the tempo is shown by how fast a ballad can shoot up the charts, but then not stay up there as long as a medium speed hit.
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The lyrical content is a huge factor, in fact 74% of all earworms (the psychoacoustic phenomenon whereby a song is stuck in your head, also known as ‘smurfing’. See? I got you, right…) are songs with lyrics, with jingles (15 percent) and instrumental songs only accounting for 11%. Pop songs take advantage of this and often use well known sayings as their title. Ooh la la, Va Va Voom, Kiss and Tell, the list goes on, just listen to the radio for more. The prominent position of the title is the difference between you trying to hum a song to a Dj at 2am and being able to find it in the record store first time. Essentially the tried and true method is to start or finish the chorus with this word or phrase and not bury it in the middle of a line.
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Perhaps the most important aspect is the part that gets stuck in your head and you find yourself singing in the shower – the melody. Sure the chord progression sets the mood for the lyrics to say what you’ve always wanted to say, well timed changes in a song can capture your interest but the melody will embed itself in your brain. Singability is a common rule for songwriters, including having a range that’s practical for the entire audience to join in with to fill the stadium, however this rule can be broken if it’s memorable enough, just think of the Mariah Carey songs that are butchered at karaoke bars because it requires a special talent (and 3 octave range) to pull it off. There is also a trend to add a lyricless hook to a pop song, such as in Katy Perrys ‘Roar’ or ‘Moves Like Jagger’ by Maroon 5 (coincidentally, both produced and co-written by the same pool of producers).
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I’ll leave you with a question. Does an artist (or producer) make the fans like a song or do they produce something that contains enough familiar elements? And instead of giving you more to ponder, here are earworms, some of which should get stuck in your head regardless of your vintage or taste in music: Achy Breaky Heart, Macarena, Who let the dogs out, Barbra Streisand, Tequila, Popcorn, Telstar and Axel F/Crazy Frog.

Song Forms 3

Welcome to the third and final article on song forms. So far, we’ve looked at the first four of the six common forms found in popular music. Click here to go back to the beginning.

To recap; second, third and fourth forms use the familiar verse/chorus idea with either the simplest version of this, alternating the verse with the chorus, or with an added lift (pre-chorus), bridge or both. First form is the only other one we have covered that doesn’t use this concept with the simplest repetition of the same section throughout the whole song.

Now to look at Fifth form, First form was the same refrain (or A section) this one is a particular pattern of two section, AABA. This is a common form in musicals of the 20th Century and therefore a good chunk of the Jazz standard repertoire. Essentially, the majority of the song is made up of the A section with some relief in the form of the B section or Bridge. Usually each section is eight measures in length, making thirty two measures in total. The thing to keep in mind is that neither of these is a verse or a chorus, rather one or both usually contain the title. A common way of extending this form is to repeat the B and last A section, giving you AABABA, found a lot in Jazz ballads. In faster tempi, Jazz songs will usually repeat the AABA chord progression after the melody for solos before returning to the melody at the end.

Some instances where AABA is used to great effect – Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison and All The Things You Are by Jerome Kern.

Sixth form is a variation on the old verse/Chorus concept, yet is different because it hits you with the Chorus right from the start. It is interesting to note that this form can shoot up the charts very quickly but don’t sit up there as long as Third and Fourth forms. This is probably due to the catchy hook and title is right up front, but it can get worn out fairly quickly. There seems to be a lot more flexibility in this form, with some songs like Blake Shelton’s record of “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking” (chorus, verse, chorus, verse, verse, chorus) and Jason Aldean’s record of “Dirt Road Anthem” (chorus, four short verses, chorus, three short verses, chorus repeating) taking a few liberties. What ever works!

Steve Holy’s recording of “Good Morning Beautiful” and “Marry You” by Bruno Mars (Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine) are some popular songs that use Sixth form.

That’s it. I’ve given you an outline of the six commonly used forms: · First Form (AAA (repeat as you need)) · Second Form (Verse (Verse Optional), Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Instrumental, Chorus) · Third Form (Verse (Verse Optional), Chorus, Verse, Chorus, (Bridge) Chorus (with an instrumental before or after the chorus) · Fourth Form (Verse, Lift, Chorus, Verse, Lift, Chorus, (Bridge Optional) Lift, Chorus, Outro) · Fifth Form (AABA) · Sixth Form (Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Instrumental, Bridge, Chorus, Outro).

I hope this has shed some light on what is on the radio and given you some ideas for your own songs.

Song Forms 2

Last months issue saw us looking at First and Second forms, also referred to as AAA and VCVCVCC respectively. Two of the most popular forms, Third and Fourth forms both add sections to expand the story. Click here to go back to the beginning.

Third form, like second form, contains Verse and Chorus sections but what makes it different is the added part known as the Bridge also known as the Middle 8 (which refers to the position in the song and the typical length of the section – eight measures [bars]). The function of the bridge is to add a new perspective to the story and to add a new musical flavour. Lyrically, this might be asking ‘what if…?’, or giving new info that doesn’t fit into a verse structure. A bridge typically doesn’t repeat, but usually leads back into the repeated chorus to take us to the end. When writing a Bridge it needs to be seen as a musically new section, so you typically wouldn’t recycle chord progressions or melodies from verses or chorus but create a new sound. It may dynamically comedown to a quiet reflection of the rest of the song or build with even a key change (like in “Leave The Pieces” by The Wreckers, written by Billy Austin and Jennifer Hanson). Its strength isn’t in a soaring melody and catchiness like a chorus, but in the fact that it is different. In terms of the rhyming scheme, it should also change from what was used previously in the verses and choruses.

Some great examples of this form are; “My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson (written by Max Martin, Lukasz Gottwald and Claude Kelly) or “Then” by Brad Paisley (written by Chris DuBois, Ashley Gorley and Brad Paisley).

Fourth form is also similar to second form but the new section is known as a Pre-Chorus or Lift. Yep, it’s the short section between the verse and the chorus that provides a ramped up section to prepare you for the gloriously soaring chorus. Usually the pre-chorus is repeated exactly the same each time and similar to the bridge, it should have a unique rhyming scheme. Pre-Choruses often use some literary tricks, like rapid fire internal rhymes (“I stole a whole fruit bowl”) or alliteration (“Lucky lizards lounged while leering at Lucy”). Also, musically it should build and lead into the chorus. It is these types of ideas that make the Chorus seem catchier.

Trends in songwriting in the last 10 or so years have lead to the expansion of this form to also contain a Bridge. Obviously writers only use this when they have a lot to say and it won’t just fit into a couple of verses, a lift (repeated) and a chorus (repeated). For example, “Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams, written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.

Some Fourth form examples are; “Roar” by Katy Perry (written by Katy Perry, Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee and Henry Walter) and Taylor Swift’s “Sparks Fly”.

Next month we will finish up this 3-part series on song forms with a look at the final two forms – Fifth and Sixth forms.

Song Forms Pt.1

Edited by Peter Muldoon – Original article appeared in Mouthzoff Magazine

Hey, let’s chat about something you don’t often hear about in depth – musical structure.

Everybody is familiar with the terms verse and chorus, some of you will also know bridge and pre-chorus and some will even be familiar with assigning letters to each different section, such as A, B, C and so on, but their purpose and how best to string them together often seems to be a bit ‘hit and miss’. I suppose we had better start by saying that there are six commonly used forms in music.

I’m not dismissing all others, but simply giving a framework to base them on.

When we write a song we’re trying to communicate an idea – not just a lyric and a story, but also a feeling provided by the combination of music and words. If you were attempting to tell a story about a man who was frantically searching for his keys, you might try to reinforce the frustration (we’ve all experienced it) by singing fast and rapid-fire lines while musically switching to a new section at an odd time in the song, just as he would be changing direction after looking in the same places over and over again.

Another thing to keep in mind is the rhyming scheme. For example, if you rhyme the first two lines “I love my fat orange cat, sometimes he wears a purple hat”, then the first two lines of the next ‘A’ section need to follow the same type of rhyme, but not necessarily the same sound, “Breakfast was just toast and jam, for lunch I think I’ll have clam”.

So, to try and understand how the sections of a song can impact the way the story is told let’s look at First Form. At first glance this is the simplest from of all because it’s just the same section over and over. Same chord progression and melody (maybe some subtle changes for each time around); however this can make it difficult to pull off. Not only does the story need to be interesting and develop throughout the song, but the title still needs to be in the prime location so that it is remembered. Typically this is in the first or last line of a section and in this form has a name for the more common-place end line – refrain.

Another thing to keep in mind is the rhyming scheme. For example, if you rhyme the first two lines “I love my fat orange cat, sometimes he wears a purple hat”, then the first two lines of the next ‘A’ section need to follow the same type of rhyme, but not necessarily the same sound, “Breakfast was just toast and jam, for lunch I think I’ll have clam”. This form originates from the 1930s when songwriters were like factory workers and would sit in a small room, working nine to five, cranking out song idea after another and when they came up with a good one they would run next door to the publisher who would then tell them to finish it. The first part they came up with is the bit that would be repeated and played on radio. This became known as the chorus, whereas the ‘rest of the song’ was the verse or the set up to the story. This part usually wasn’t as catchy, memorable or even the same tempo, so was often dropped before it reached the general public.

Examples from that era are Cole Porter’s “I get a kick out of you” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”.

Second Form uses the verse and chorus to drive the song. This is used a lot in rock (with catchy guitar riffs), urban and folk. The chorus is the section that repeats throughout the song and is the memorable ‘singalong’ part, typically with the title in the first or last line. It contains the main idea of the lyrics and the main hook or riff of the song. The chorus chords and melody would normally remain the same on each repetition as would the verse. The verse fleshes out the idea and explains a lot more detail and although the lyrics change for each verse, the rhyming scheme remains the same, again not the same rhymes but the same format. A typical layout for a song in second form is Verse (V), Chorus (C), V, C, Instrumental, C with the chorus repeated until the end. If the songwriter has more to say they usually wouldn’t add a verse after the instrumental, but rather add a second verse before the first chorus – V, V, C, V, C, Instrumental, C, C, C.

Examples of rock songs that use second form are Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and “Maybelline” by Chuck Berry.

When writing any form of song it is important to pace your lyrical ideas so that there is a sense of story with a number of stages. This doesn’t necessarily need to line up with different sections like the verse or chorus. A story that really pulls you in has detail and explains everything before the end of the song so that you’re not left wondering about what happened or why.

Next month we will look at two of the most popular forms, Third and Fourth, and how they add sections to expand the story.

Edited by Peter Muldoon – Original article appeared in Mouthzoff Magazine