Advanced Songcraft Tools for Professional Songwriters, Part III

Guest post by Billy Seidman – Founder, Song Arts Academy & Songwriting Faculty Member, NYU & The New School

Do You Know Your Song's DNA? Writing Songs That Last


The biggest lesson I learned living and writing in Nashville was emulating how fast the best writers in town got into the bloodstream of their listeners.

How did they get me to care so deeply so quickly? Raise the stakes so high IN 4 SECONDS that I couldn’t take my ear off their song, saw and felt my life in it, had skin in their game, in their song?

Lukas Graham’s “Seven Years” is a good current example of what I’m talking about.

The famous novelist Elmore Leonard, when asked why his books were so popular said, “I leave out all the stuff no one wants to read.”

Great songs also find a lasting audience because their writer(s) left out all the stuff no one wants to hear!

So, how to know what to leave out and what to leave in…?

You’ve got to understand your song's DNA.

What kind of song are you writing? Know that, and you can begin to assemble the essential ingredients for success!


Coming of age songs are usually driven by one key emotion.  Can you tell what that emotion is? Let me know @SongArtsA.

The second key factor making the song stick is that it’s a STORY SONG.  If you tell a good story, people stick around to hear how it ends!

"Seven Years" has, like most good stories, a beginning, middle, & end.

Okay, so you know what kind of song it is and how you’ll deliver it. That’s still not enough. You need to understand the value and the character each line in your song delivers.


Opening lines are like the great entrance a star showman or woman makes as they come on stage.

"Seven Years" gets this done by delivering the hook/title of the song in the 1st line; it anchors the entire song and sets up each beginning line of the next hook so it will be related.  SMART!


The song starts with the Chorus. In many respects, songs that do this make the entire song a CHOURS/hook.  Another smart choice!


We see our lives in this song because it’s honest, and it’s not working hard to be honest, it just is.

There is a place for simple sing-song melodies or slammin’ tracks that 5-year-olds in the suburbs can bounce up and down to in the back of SUV’s. That’s a big part of the music business, and I’m not putting it down. That said, too many writers aim too low; they don’t see the opportunity of BIG IDEAS. Your BIG IDEA and your need to express your BIG IDEA is the DNA of a BIG SONG!

Having the craft skills to PULL IT OFF, to deliver it, is why you write a lot of songs. No way around that; ask Ed Sheeran!

Songs that last do so because they connect at a much deeper level than other songs and they do it quickly! They are direct, simple, and there’s no thinking involved; we know why the singer is singing every note and word.

It may take you writing 40-100-150 songs to get really good at this.

The best songwriters are honest with themselves. They risk feeling unable to pull this feat of “emotional hypnotism” off. They just keep working on the song until they know it’s strong, stronger, strongest…

Follow this concept of knowing your songs DNA and I promise you’ll start off much closer to where you need to be in creating songs that last.

© 2016 Billy Seidman all rights reserved

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