Writing a good song

There's no foolproof formula for a hit.

Some chart-toppers were composed in minutes, while others took years to finish.

Many were written solo and others were completed with collaborators.

As part of BMI, Gibson and Billboard's Industry Insider panel series, professional songwriters met recently at BMI's New York office to discuss their craft with Billboard executive editor Bill Werde.

The panelists--whose credits include songs for Jennifer Lopez, Teddy Geiger and Joss Stone--offered advice about how to pen a successful record.

Write often

"The more you do it and the more you figure out ideas, the more it sort of gets put in your library of knowledge,'' said David Katz, who wrote the music for Cobra Starship's "Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)" and Boys Like Girls' "The Great Escape." "After a number of years of that, when you sit down in sessions you're just sort of eyeballing somebody else and trying to figure out what to do, things will pop into your head because of the amount of things you've [already] written."

Put yourself in unfamiliar situations

"I'm a very good piano player but I suck at playing the guitar," said Daniel Freiberg, who has collaborated with such artists as Marc Anthony, Regina Carter and Steven Sater.

"So I started teaching myself to play the guitar and I try to write sometimes on the guitar just to have different things." Curtis Richardson said it was a challenge to write a song for then-14-year-old Joss Stone.

"At the time, they had an idea of what her demographic was," he said.

"They would mention other artists that she wanted the sound to be like, so technically you had to kind of fall into that in creating the record.

"Richardson co-wrote "Don't Know How" from Stone's 2004 album "Mind Body and Soul"

Hold on to unfinished songs

"I was reading about Leonard Cohen, and we all know that song 'Hallelujah' because it's been covered 40 million times," said Nate Campany, who has written for the Click Five, Teddy Geiger and Backstreet Boys.

"But what I didn't know about that song is it took him five years to write it and he wrote 94 verses, and after five years, he picked his [favorites].

" The lesson? "You don't finish every idea you have every day in the shower," Campany said.

"But by working a little bit on each idea, you'll hone your craft and sharpen yourself."

Always be ready for ideas

"I get a lot of ideas when I'm showering for some reason, so I have a shower radio that has a recorder in there and I just sing into the thing with the shower going on," Freiberg said.

If you don't have a recorder handy, he suggests calling your phone and leaving your idea in a voice-mail message.

"Yesterday I was driving, I turned on the phone, and I called my own studio number and sang through the phone," Freiberg said.

"Or if you're a lyricist, always have a notebook."

Consider working with a collaborator

Bringing someone else into the creative process can provide a vital spark to your writing, Campany says.

"It's kind of like every single person you ever write with has heard words differently and says words differently.

" He added that the right collaborators "draw something out of me that only they could."

Beware - your assessment of a song may be wrong

Richardson recalled how he worked on a song he thought was "way better" than another number he collaborated on with Jennifer Lopez and two other writers.

But Lopez and LL Cool J recorded that latter song, "All I Have," which sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 for four consecutive weeks in 2003. "I was perplexed," he said.

"This record took five, 15 minutes to write and was a throwaway to me at the time. You can't call what the artist is going to like, you can't call what the label is going to like"

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