Monday, February 13, 2012

the rules of Disney pop - the skill in writing crappy music

lately i've been studying disney pop from a songwriting point of view. and by disney pop i mean bands, singers and artist that you hear if you or a kid you know watches the disney channel or nickelodeon. yes, i know i know. nickelodeon is not disney. but both networks have artists who have their own TV shows and are geared towards young kids....and will probably grow up to be pill popping alcoholics with nothing to live for once their fountain of youth has run dry and they get their first wrinkle. so really when i say disney pop, that doesn't necessarily mean they're with disney. i'm just using that as a blanket term for teenie boppers.

some people think writing a song that is your own style is the most credible thing you can do. i would actually disagree. i mean, yes, you get more indie cred that way, but in terms of pure skill, writing a song within certain parameters and limitations while still being successful is a wonderful skill. for instance, take worship music. a lot of writers think worship music is the easiest and most generic music to write which requires very little skill. and to a certain degree, they are right. if you're trying to write a passable worship song, just throw together a few chords (preferably in G - God's favorite key, of course) and use some throwaway christian lyrics.

HOWEVER, i'm not talking about a passable christian song, i'm talking about a good one. in a worship song there is a certain tone of lyrics that are acceptable. and the song can't be too wordy. it must be simple for the congregation to sing. melodically it must flow a certain way - the melody can't jump any crazy intervals. the rules are incredibly narrow. but if you have the skill to work within those rules (or to successfully break them) and make a song that is successful, well that requires serious skill. "How Great Is Our God" by Chris Tomlin is, in my opinion, one of the best worship songs ever written. It's simple, easy to learn, catchy, reverent, modern yet still has a hymn-like quality to it. genius is not confusing people with complex intellect or skill - genius is making what is hard to understand seem simple. and "how he loves" by jon mark mcmillan is a wonderful example of breaking the rules but still making it work. his lyrics don't have the typical vibe and are actually way too poetic for a worship song, but somehow it works. you may or may not agree with me based on your view about the "sloppy wet kiss line" haha

i had this revelation about worship music last year as we were working on @superchicktrish's worship record as i sat in co-write session after co-write session trying to write worship songs as good as Tomlin or Crowder and realized it's actually really hard.

so back to disney. i've been studying disney and teenie bopper bands and singers lately - Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Hot Chelle Rae, etc...

Here's a few observations about Disney pop songs:

1. a higher percentage of disney pop songs are about love than the rest of the pop charts. like, if the rest of music is 50% love songs, disney pop is 75% about love.

2. the next most popular subject are what i call party songs. this is basically any sort of fun song that doesn't say much except to have a good time. i probably just insulted your intelligence by trying to explain what a party song is. anyway, i'd have to say love songs and party songs account for about 95% of all disney pop. and it makes sense. in high school all anybody thinks about is relationships and parties. haha

3. if you're writing a song for a teenage artist, it's natural to want to bring the lyrical content down to their level. for instance - talking about going to a school dance or whatever. but lyrically it's just the opposite. teenagers always want to be older so frequently their lyrics talk about subjects that are probably way beyond their years. when a 13 year old justin bieber sings about heartbreak, none of us really believe that he's really been through a serious breakup.

4. it's more about how the lyric rolls off the tongue than if it is well-written or poetic. for instance, take the first two lines from Tonight Tonight by Hot Chelle Rae which is currently all over top 40 radio:

"We're going at it tonight tonight
There's a party on the rooftop top of the world"

that second line doesn't make sense. yes, we know what he's saying, but "rooftop top of the world" is kind of gobbledeegook. but who cares!?!? it's catchy. that's my point. start listening to these songs, google their lyrics and you'll find this type of stuff all over the place. i didn't really understand this concept until a couple of years ago when i was in germany. i heard a song on the radio that intrigued me. at the time i didn't know any german but the phonetic sound of the lyrics just appealed to me. it just sounded cool even though i had no idea what he was saying. the song was "Haus am See" by Peter Fox. you can see the video here -

anyway, with younger people and kids it's more about the melody and the beat. and when they go to college everybody gets serious and artsy and they start to care about lyrics.

those are my observations. hopefully some of the you songwriters out there find this helpful? i'm guessing the rest of you won't care. but hey, it's my blog and i'll do what i want. (how very childish and disney of me :))


Unknown said...

Regarding the "sloppy wet kiss" line - I agree, entirely. In fact I'm somewhat offended by those who dare to change it, as if sanitizing it will remove it from consciousness. I'll be so bold as to say that I think it's a challenge to those to want things to be safe and tidy and gift-wrapped; life is often awkward and uncomfortable, and we should face that and embrace it without pretense.

Anyway, thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you've gone over to the musical dark side. It is for a good reason though(to eat and pay for baby food).

I've often wondered what the The Beatles' philosophy on songwriting was. Was it to be catchy and sell a bazillion records? Was it to make the music they most wanted to make? It seems they were maybe a bit of both. Either way, they were successful.

Anonymous said...

What was it about Disney that was so epic? Was it the smooth animation? Or was it these beautiful melodies, more of a masterpiece than just another catchy song...? From an artist's point of view, it seems as if Disney has just about conquered the invisible world of melody. Maybe I'm one of the select few who feel this way, but where is the heartbeat in those so called "masterpiece's"?
Did Walt Disney himself write these songs? What if rather than having Elton John and a number of other artists come together to create something epic, one heart could speak through having a clear image of this invisible world? An infinite world of melody... Put yourself in Beethoven's position- If all you could do is feel music with your heart, maybe parents in the year 2250 will be using your "masterpiece's" to help their children fall asleep. Enough said. Great blog Nick!

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"What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos; that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" --Hi Fidelity

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