Call Me Maybe When You Write a Bridge

Volary, a good friend and brilliant singer-songrocker, told me once to always write a bridge. I have since perpetuated this advice in my songwriting workshops is that you should always try to write a bridge because you never know what amazing thing you will write. So when Brian Hazard wrote The Death of the Bridge, I felt obligated to point out that the bridge is very much alive--if underutilized.

He says, “Until you’ve got a substantial following, two sections – a verse and a chorus – is plenty.”

We musicians are lazy enough without someone telling us we can be even lazier! (Okay, a half joke.) But you don't have to wait for fame before writing solid songs. In fact, people will fall in love with the whole experience of the song, not just a chorus. If there isn't another section to a really catchy chorus-strong song, I get sick of the song faster (especially when played ad nauseam on Pandora). His argument is that a bridge takes away from time that could be spent on the chorus and verse. But has anyone ever eaten too much candy?

Let’s take a look at an extremely successful example: Call Me Maybe (Carly Rae Jepsen).

At first glance, this is a repetitive and simple song. Even the chords are similar throughout. But you can distinguish the different sections through her melodic rhythm.

Verse - “I threw a wish in the well...”
Pre-chorus - “Your stare was holding...”
Chorus - “Hey, I just met you...”
Chorus (with slighty different lyrics)
Bridge! - “Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad”
Instrumental break
Second half of Chorus
Hook only - “So call me, maybe?”

If you listen, you’ll notice there was almost no difference in arrangement between the chorus and the bridge, and yet they are very different sections.

If it does its job right, which Call Me Maybe’s bridge does, it will break up the repetition nicely. Usually it will also build up to the last or penultimate chorus. In this particular case, they didn’t even have to come back to the chorus, only the title line (and it was extremely effective). Here, the writers managed to give the listener one more thing to fall in love with and latch onto (they even repeated the bridge). But we never forgot for a second what the hook was.

Getting back to Hazard’s article, he gives some interesting arrangement ideas: break up the groove, add a new element, layer the vocals, and vary the lead vocal treatment.

While these can be great ideas, a) they can also be done with a bridge in place and is made better for it, and b) half of these suggestions can only be done in recordings or if you have special gear or a full band. How does one superimpose the verse melody on top of the chorus if you are a solo player? (Not to mention, if it’s that easy to superimpose those two melodies they probably aren’t different enough and you might want to think about adding another section anyway.) But it doesn’t matter how fancy your arrangement is if your song is lacking. You can’t polish a turd, as they say.

Hazard makes the case “Don’t equate sophistication with quality”, which to me, is a confusing sentiment. How does one have poor-quality sophistication? I believe if you have a great song with a solid structure, it stands alone. Ask yourself this: Do you want a song that is only good if you have a produced version of it or play it only in certain setups? Or, do you want a song that sounds great solo, live, with a band, in a recording, in a house or with a mouse? I would choose the latter, and adding production would only make it stronger.

My suggestion is always write a bridge, and if you find that the song really doesn't need it, you can take it out. When I do this just to see what happens, I ALWAYS end up using it because it just makes the song more interesting, i.e. better. Even if you don’t use it, it will improve your songwriting skills just to try. Don't wait until a day when it matters before you start developing your craft. Your song should speak for itself.

See the published article here.

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