How I Write a 60s Pop Song

I don't know where all this creativity is coming from lately but I've written and recorded about 5 songs in the past 2 weeks. It's been full on and I now feel like I need a break for a week or so. But boy have I enjoyed myself! 

I've had a lot of good reaction to a 60s pop style track I wrote a while ago called "It's Not Working Out For Her" which is about a friend of mine who was going through some boyfriend problems at the time. I had decided to write the track in the style of one of those innocent pop songs from the 60s - you know the type - "I love you, yes I do, you know it's true, I feel blue" type of lyrics. I've got the guitars required, to achieve the "sound" I wanted, as I own a Rickenbacker 330/12 string and a Hofner VIolin bass. All I needed was the right back beat and I was up and running.

I was so pleased with the results that I've written two others with a third one in the works! Here's a link to one of them called "She Dumped Me By Text and Put It On Facebook".

It's been tremendous fun getting that 60s sound and as usual, I've had a certain amount of "happy accidents". What I mean by that is that by pure luck and chance, I do something "wrong" whilst recording, only to find out that this "mistake" turns out to be a bloody brilliant thing to have happened!!

This is how I get my 60s sound. It all starts off with the acoustic guitar. I sit down and put together a simple three or four chord sequence which is usually what turns out to be the chorus. The simpler the better. Another good tip is to add a major to minor chord change within the song. The Beatles did this a lot in the early years of their career. My favourite one is G major to G minor. Always bloody works! But get the tempo right. I've found that 137bpm is a really good pop song beat. Before I lay drum tracks down, I use an app called Pro Metronome. This is a brilliant and very useful app for playing along to, to ensure you get the tempo of your song exactly right.

Once I've got my tempo and roughed out a chorus (simple three / four chords) I go to my drum loops. I've got hundreds of them from an online company called Drums on Demand. They are FANTASTIC loops and if you're clever enough (like me) you can edit together the most perfect drum breaks and fills at the right moment in the song. I just lay down one continuous 4/4 time drum loop for about 3-4 minutes in Garageband. 

Next is to lay down an acoustic guitar track of the backing. Usually I jam along to the drum beat and write the song "on the fly". Being a solo musician, this is the closest to being in a room with bandmates and having a jam! So often, great songs come from this method I find. Eventually I have a "scratch" acoustic guitar track of the song, played along to the drum loop. At this stage it is sounding a bit shit. But don't worry. The magic dust is about to be added....

By this time I've "learned" what the song chords and structure will be and I lay down TWO acoustic guitar tracks - one left and one right (in the stereo spectrum). Then I plug in my Fender Tele and choose a clean amp sound from the enormous array of guitar amp sounds on offer from Garageband. I lay down two tracks of this. Then I plug in my Hofner violin bass and this is when the track starts sounding all "60s". I try and make sure that the bass part is played in a very "McCartney'esque" manner. Being a massive Beatles freak I know virtually every single McCartney bass styles! Oh by the way! There are still no lyrics written! I never right lyrics until the very end. OK. So I put the bass down. Once all this is cooking, I work on the drums track - editing in different breaks and fills, adding cymbal crashes etc. Maybe add extra percussion like tambourine or shakers.

Next up is the "piece da resistance" - that quintissential 60s guitar sound - the Rickenbacker 12 string electric! I like to bring in the Ricky 12 string in at the start of the second verse. The jangle of the strings tell you instantly that this is "60s Stylee"!! Again, I like to put down two tracks of picking 12 string jangle and place them centre LEFT and centre RIGHT in the final mix. This gives the song a lot of width.

When it comes to a guitar solo - the simpler the better! There's no point going all Eddie Van Halen and playing a 1000 notes in the space of 8 bars. The guys back in the day were pretty economical with their finger work and I've found that a simple solo on the Ricky 12 is just enough to keep the feel of the song.

Vocals time! You can't go wrong with plenty of "Oooh's" and "Ahhh's" throughout the song. Also the "Question/Answer or Vocal Repeat" vocals structure is another tip to get that authentic style. SIng a line and then have backing singers (that's you!) repeat the line in two or three part harmony. Works a treat!

Anyway, that's how I approach the writing of a 60s pop song - Dan Style! I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thanks for reading.
yer pal

How do YOU record?

Having got laid off from my "day job" almost two weeks ago owing to my employer running out of money, I've immersed myself in all things music. What a buzz it is to spend an entire day writing and recording - and then repeat the following day!

I've managed to complete three new tunes which I had been working on. As well as this, a fourth new song is in the works which is another collaboration with Rachel Grey. She and I hooked up on "I Don't Care" which you can listen to here and we were so blown away at how well we worked together, we thought we'd do it again! Hoping to get this new one released very soon.

I did an interview with a music blog called Jingle Jangle Jungle  which is run by an amazing lady called Mary Burris. She's a great supporter of indie musicians and I really enjoyed being featured on her blog this month.

I'm fascinated with recording and always have been. I started off using tape (yes, that's CASSETTE tape!) and then progressed to 1/4" tape 8 track. Now my main recording studio is a 27" Mac with Garageband. I've got a Focusrite mic preamp to take the mic input into the Mac - it also handles the guitar signals too - and that's about it. I've got a fairly good amount of professional experience with sound mixing, so I spend a huge amount of time "cooking" the tracks so that they sound perfect. Or as perfect as I think they should be! It got me thinking though...

How do YOU record? Do you use Logic? Ableton Live? 4 track cassette tape?! I'd love to hear from you if you're a home recordist and tell me your way of getting "signal to tape"! Maybe some of you save your pennies and go to a proper studio complete with engineer. I'd like to be able to do that - and have done once or twice in the past. But it costs!

Well have a great weekend fellow muso dudes. Keep the music flowing!

Yer pal


Happy Accidents

Quite often I'll be playing guitar on a track, or singing a vocal line and make the most terrible mistake! I go back and re listen to what I've just recorded, and suddenly realise that it's NOT a mistake at all. By some pure fluke, my vocal chords or my fingers did something I hadn't planned to do and you know what? The result is INCREDIBLE!

"Happy Accidents" I call them and my songs are full of them. It's almost like your subconscious decides to disagree with your conscious mind and say "Oy! I'm not playing that shit! I know how to do it far far better, so move over baby and let me SHINE!"

I have no idea how these things happen either. Yet it happens to me all the time. I kind of know that when I am writing and recording, a "Happy Accident" will happen at some point, but I never 100% rely on it. If I did then it wouldn't happen. But the feeling of satisfaction is enormous when you hear something you didn't intend to do, and then realise it works BRILLIANTLY!

Sometimes these things occur in the most random fashion. When writing my most recent song "I Don't Care",  I sat down and started coming up with an idea. I embellished it, changed the chords around a bit, "la la'ed" the melody line and then stopped. As I sat there thinking, I decided to fiddle around on the guitar - playing two chords over and over again, almost like a mantra - to go along with my thinking. Then it hit me! These two chords, played totally randomly and bearing absolutely no relevance to the song I was writing, were exactly what I'd been trying to get! I started to embellish the structure around the chords, found a chorus which fit like a glove and BOOOOM!!! I had my song. It wasn't what I set out to write at all. It appeared, from deep in my subconscious mind and almost wrote itself!

So next time you make a mistake at the piano, playing your guitar or even singing - embrace it. It might just be the golden nugget you needed to make the song great!

Happy writing.

Yer pal




Twitter Support

We now live in an age where we can get our music to people out there, without having to have a record deal or a distribution contract. The Twittersphere is jam packed full of people with different tastes in music and a willingness to make it their mission to hear ONLY unsigned artists. I have been incredibly lucky to reach like minded people via my twitter account who have listened to and tweeted about my songs. The great thjng about the twittersphere is that you're not forcing your music down peoples throats - like record companies have to do with their marketing campaigns (otherwise they don't get their investment back). You are letting it reach people organically, through word of mouth - or by word of tweet and that makes it special in my view.

It gives songwriters like me a real boost when you know that some folks out there will listen to your material. It keeps you enthusiastic and excited and that's a great thing. Recording and writing takes a long time sometimes, and a huge amount of work goes into something like a 3 minute song. But thanks to social media, you can feel like what you're doing is worthwhile because music fans appreciate hearing something new from people who aren't on TV or even on the radio.

There's always been a huge amount of musical talent in the world and years ago, it was only the lucky few that got heard. Now we have connections to the whole world from our laptops and desktops - hell! Even our phones! And mostly, the people who want to listen are great people. People who can step away from the commercial world of music and dip into the likes of us unsigned artists. Giving us a chance. Giving us an ear and heck.....even writing something nice about it!

So to the twitterers who listen to all of us, thank you. It's you guys who make what we do, so worthwhile.

Yer pal