ASCAP Expo: Ralph Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting

A room full of eager songwriters piled into the Mt. Olympus Ballroom of Hollywood's Lowes Hotel on Friday, all hoping to pick up a few tips and tricks from ASCAP's VP of Membership/International and songwriting veteran, Ralph Murphy. Over the course of an hour, Murphy guided the audience, mostly songwriters, through a series of anecdotes about his personal journal with writing songs, revealing his do's and don'ts of selling a hit tune, stressing the importance of "thinking like the listener," and dissecting hit tracks from the likes of Taylor Swift, Carley Rae Jepsen, Carrie Underwood, Rihanna, and Zac Brown Band.

Murphy started off stressing that "beats per minute are among the most integral portion of what you do as a songwriter." He gave listeners a brief crash course of the optimal bpm per situation: "When you're doing your emails, you want 60 bpm -- very calming music. In most cases 70 to 90 bpm if you're in an automobile driving around. Two thirds of all country #1's are under 100bpm, because they are sold in automobiles. And pop songs are typically over 100bpm."

Some additional tidbits that songwriters picked up were:

The importance of writing for women: "Women physically buy 50% of all records made -- and make men buy the other 50%," joked Murphy.

Seeking feedback from unbiased listeners: "Your friends and family are your worst critics because they love everything you do. Forget you even have a family."

The power of pronouns: "You" is a trigger word that really pulls in the audience and makes the song relatable to them." Murphy cited Zac Brown Band's "Keep Me In Mind," for example. "The first line is: 'How come all the pretty girls like you are taken baby?'" Murphy highlighted the strategic use of 'you' and 'pretty.' "It isn't rocket science you know!"

Ease of singing: "All the first songs you grew up loving as a child were easy to sing."

Don't leave things unexplained: "If you start out a song with 'Driving through Oklahoma,' you better address why you are in Oklahoma. Don't say you have a loaded gun in the car and then never tell the listener what you do with it."

Rhyme scheme as a tool: "Don't change your chord till you change your thought. Avoid contrived rhymes."

Expectations: Establish the premise of the song early on and fulfill the listener's expectations. Make the song believable and write for the singer. Don't write a song about children, for example if the artist you are pitching it to doesn't have kids. It won't be believable when they sing it."

Before heading out to do a signing of his "Murphy's Law of Songwriting" book, Murphy bestowed his "best bets for going forward" upon the crowd, divulging the recipes that would give his students the best chance of selling a hit:

Pop song: 100 bpm or more featuring a woman as the artist; an 8 second intro; use the pronoun 'you' within 20 seconds of the start of the song; hit the bridge middle 8 between 2 minutes and 2 minutes 30 seconds; average 7 repetitions of the title; create some expectations and fill that expectation in the title.

Country: 100bpm or less for a male artist; 14-second intro; uses the pronoun 'you' within the first 20 seconds of the intro; has a bridge middle 8 between 2 minutes and 2 minutes 30 seconds; has 7 repetitions of title; creates an expectation, fulfills it in 60 seconds.


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