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Tom Bedell

Songwriting for Radio Play

By:Lily C | Published:9/21/2012

Tom Bedell is 24-year broadcast veteran, and currently Afternoon Drive host at Q104FM in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He also hosts ‘Route 104‘, a program spotlighting up-and-coming East Coast talent.  He is one of the judges of theRadio Star National Talent Search sponsored by Astral Radio and presented in association with Canadian Music Week.  If you’re thinking of submitting, here is some sound songwriting advice.

In Tom’s words…

I sat in the front row at a John Prine concert last week. I’ve been a fan for years, and as I’ve thought about songwriting, and made some recent attempts myself, what’s always amazed me is the simplicity in his music, even when exploring sometimes complex subjects. Songs like Sam Stone, Hello in There, even Angel from Montgomery immediately spring to mind.

That performance underscored the fact that the greatest, most memorable songs have always been infuriatingly simple. Not to say there aren’t more complex compositions that aren’t masterpieces, but from Gershwin, through the Motown era, to today’s writers, we’ve seen over and over that less is definitely more. Bob Dylan, who has many intricate pieces in his catalog, also has classics which are immediately hummable, and equally unforgettable. For every ‘Visions of Johanna’, there’s an ‘If Not For You’.

While there’s never been any clear-cut formula for radio play, sitting on a recent panel on the subject with the great Ralph Murphy was an eye-opener. His ideas on inviting the listener in, and letting emotion cut through whatever their day-to-day life may bring are the key to a good pop song.

While it’s easy to get swept up in whatever technical advances and toys that have come down the highway in recent years, a simple tune that evokes genuine emotion, be it sadness, humour or outright joy, even a combination of those emotions,  along with the ability to distill those emotions down to pop perfection.

As the music industry as a whole has gone through innumerable changes over the past decade, so has radio. Formats are more plentiful, yet tighter as far as the ability of new acts to gain adds. But, as has always been the case, a great song is a great song. Even though I, like most people, have never been able to grasp the intricate codes and conventions of songwriting, I know a good song when I hear it, as most of us do, I’m sure.

Write from the heart, go wherever it takes you, and don’t be afraid to keep it simple.