Songwriting Tips, News & More

A Survival Guide to Cowriting Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 @02:51 AM

A Survival Guide to Cowriting Songs:

by Judy Stakee

Judy Stakee

Judy Stakee has decades of experience helping the world's finest music creators find their true creative voices. In her new book The Songwriter's Survival Guide, Judy offers her philosophy and wisdom on the craft and business of writing songs. She graciously allowed us to share this chapter from her book.


COWRITING: Playing Well with Others

Politeness is the poison of collaboration.
— Edwin Land

Cowriting is when two or more songwriters collaborate to create a song.

I can hear melodies in my head and love writing lyrics, but it’s been a few years since I’ve played piano, so I like to collaborate with musicians to bring songs to life. I am always in awe of the writers who can do it all by themselves. If you do need someone to help you out, however, then I suggest finding a cowriter.

In my years of experience in the music industry, I have come across many writers who would benefit from collaborating, but who strongly resisted it. Fear, pride, selfishness and distrust are all obstacles that stand in the way of a writer being willing to cowrite.

However, I strongly believe that collaboration can be crucial to your career. Think of it as an investment strategy that will help propel you towards accomplishing your dreams. Cowriting helps shed light on exactly where you are in the development of your craft.

Everything we are about in this life is in relation to someone or something else. For example, I am small compared to a building and huge compared to a flower; where you are weak, someone else is strong. If you are talented at writing lyrics and melodies, you can benefit from a partner who is an excellent producer or multi-instrumentalist with a working knowledge of music theory and chord structures. You both win and help each other at the same time.

Building relationships (whether it’s through cowriting a song or otherwise) directly builds your network. As a songwriter, you want to have a network of people in place who know who you are (your character) and what you do (your skills). This network of people can open up opportunities you never would have come across otherwise. For instance, your cowriter may know someone whose friend or relative is a record executive at a big music label. You never know what possibilities are waiting for you!

One of my favorite quotes is this African proverb: "It takes a village to raise a child." I don’t know anyone who can achieve greatness all on their own. We all need others to help guide, educate, and inspire us. Here’s some advice for your next cowriting project:

Be intentional.

You are always faced with a choice when you find yourself in the room with another writer; you can guide, follow, or meet head on. How you navigate depends on your wants, needs and desires. Do you feel like leading the songwriting? Or would you rather sit back and see what transpires? What happens if both you and your cowriter want to lead today?

Being aware of how you work best, how much you are willing to bend, and how much you want to be challenged is your ticket to a cowrite you feel confident about and can learn and grow from.

Part of my purpose in writing this book is to help you know yourself better and become more conscious of your genuine potential.

Play well with others.

The better you are with relationships, the easier the cowrite will be. Are you agreeable or difficult? Are you flexible or unchangeable?

Remember that you are part of a team the moment you involve someone else in the songwriting process. Team-building results in self-development, positive communication, leadership skills, and the ability to work closely together to solve problems.

One evening, while I was guiding cowrites in my weekly workshop, I noticed one participant was badgering her cowriter rather than clearly expressing what she wanted. Not surprisingly, her partner got defensive and shut down communication. He was reacting negatively to her tone of voice and behavior. If she had simply expressed herself more clearly and directly, her cowriter would have most likely been more open to her suggestions. She did not realize that she needed to ask him to come to the workshop prepared with musical ideas so that she could focus on the lyrics, and the cowrite was suffering as a result of this.

The way we use our words and how we communicate can make or break a cowriting relationship — and ultimately the end product.

Protect yourself.

When you cowrite, you agree to create a product together, which can result in a music placement of some type (cover, cut, license, etc.) that has the potential to pay royalties. Before you leave the room, it is important that you and your cowriter have an agreement in place about song splits (who owns what percentage of the song). At the end of this section, you will find a form to assist you in this process.

Pay attention to the chemistry.

Cowriting songs is like co-owning a startup company. You are partnering with another individual to create a product that combines both of your perspectives and experiences. The right combination creates magic.

Pick cowriters who complement your skill set, are pleasant to be around, have good character and have synergy with you. Good chemistry is so important.

True story: I heard Keith Urban for the first time when he performed at the Academy of Country Music Awards show in 2001. His voice was rich, his songwriting was clever, and when he played that guitar of his— well, there were just no words.

I had just signed songwriter John Shanks, who was coming off producing the Michelle Branch album The Spirit Room, and was guiding him to integrate more country into his repertoire. From the get go, I knew that John and Keith would be great together. They were both talented guitarists who would inevitably bond over their shared respect for their instruments.

I called Keith’s manager to pitch John as a possible cowrite and before I knew it, they had spent their first day together. Keith walked in with an opening riff, and the rest is history.

Their hit song “Somebody Like You” spent six weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. In December 2009, Billboard named it the number one country song of the first decade of the 21st century. It was John’s first and Keith’s second number one hit. Now, that was a successful cowrite.

Judy’s Must-Read: Victor Wooten’s book The Music Lesson is an absolute must read.

Use a cowriter initiation form.

Each time you finish a writing session, fill out this form with your partner in the room. That way, you can establish right then and there on paper who wrote what and what the splits will be. Nothing is worse than putting this process off and having trouble remembering the details later on. I have included a template here that you can copy. I recommend keeping a dozen forms printed out to have at your fingertips. It shouldn't be awkward to talk about splits—it’s just good business!

This form will come in handy when you start cowriting.

Judy believes in the new age of music. You, as a songwriter and artist, can carve out your own path to success. Your perspective is something to be celebrated. With over 30 years of experience as an executive in the music industry, Judy equips her students with the insight and tools to fully develop their careers. As Senior VP of Creative at Warner/Chappell Music for 20 years, she signed and worked closely with many of today's most acclaimed artists: Grammy-award winner Sheryl Crow, Katy Perry, Michelle Branch, Gavin DeGraw, Jewel and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars, among others. Judy's experience with developing producers and multi-platinum songwriters (John Shanks, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Scott Cutler, Anne Previn, Kevin Kadish, Franne Golde, Jamie Houston, Matthew Gerrard, Robbie Nevil, Tim James and Ben Glover) spans all areas of the industry. She is a true champion of the songwriter who recognizes talent with both ears and eyes.

Get Judy's book The Songwriter's Survival Guide now:


For information on the USA Songwriting Competition, go to:



Tags: song writer, Songwriting

Songwriting Tip: Get Away from It

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Sep 08, 2015 @06:25 PM

Songwriting Tip: Get Away from It

by Harriet Schock


Can you see the box better from inside the box or outside the box? Well, you see it two different ways, I guess. But if you’re looking for objectivity and perspective, you might try getting outside.


I think the same may be true of songs. I believe most of the writing needs to be done INSIDE the experience. As Natalie Goldberg talks about in Writing Down The Bones, write as much as possible from “First Thoughts.” It’s good to get as much written as you can from that moment of being truly immersed in the original inspiration and desire to communicate. It’s also good to get away from it for a while. Go do something else. It’s going to gnaw at you like a hungry child anyway, so you aren’t going to be in danger of forgetting it entirely.


Steve Wagner, a former student and wonderful songwriter, recognizes the wisdom in taking a break. He feels it allows him to come back to the song with the original enthusiasm and vision he once had for it. He wrote me once, “I had to get away from this for a while and I was successful at extricating myself, withdrawing from it so that I am excited to dive back in.” Kahlil Gibran’s advice to lovers would be well taken by songwriters for their songs: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” In that space, we might actually gain the understanding we are seeking for what the song needs.


That said, I must confess I usually write a song in a few consecutive sittings. I can’t leave it alone. I’ll think that’s all I’m going to do and I turn the keyboard off, leave the room and try to do something else, and I’m right back there like a boomerang within minutes. But with one of my songs, a song I was writing for my sister, I took a four or five month break. I didn’t consider it a break. I thought I wasn’t getting anywhere with the song and I refused to give my only sister a song that was lame, so I put it away. Six months later, I woke up one day and in the twilight between snooze alarms, I got the end of the chorus. The whole song builds to that and the title sits right in the last line of that section. I probably couldn’t have gotten that six months earlier. So if I’d kept after it, I may have gotten something inferior. As often happens in my experience, this little personal song I wrote to my sister to express something to one person, something I felt deeply, has become one of the songs everyone asks for when I perform. I suppose other people have big sisters or brothers also.


Then there are the writers who won’t leave a song alone until they ruin it. I have students I want to hog tie to keep their hands off their songs after the songs have reached a certain point.


There’s a famous joke about the screenwriter who’s on the desert with a film producer and they’ve been dying of thirst for days until they finally find a pool of water and it turns out not to be a mirage, but the real thing. The writer starts to drink and the producer stops him and starts peeing into the pool. When the writer asks him what he’s doing, the producer replies, “I’m just improving it a little.” Although this joke is more a reflection of how script writers feel about the creative intervention of producers, I tell it to my writers who can’t stop “improving” their songs even after they’re already great. They compulsively rewrite until they are divorced from the original surge of creative power that inspired them in the first place. They’ve perfected the songs right out of all emotional impact.


Rather than continue working on something that was first finished weeks earlier, taking a break from the song can help you see it again with new, appreciative eyes. A rather odd example of this last point happened to me recently. I was reading some new reviews of my work on and my eyes drifted down to the discography section and I found there was a recording of one of my songs I never knew about. It was published by Jobete and they apparently pitched the song and secured the record, never mentioning it to me. When I heard the cover, it was as if the song were someone else’s. I wrote it more than 20 years ago, and the time away from it gave me perspective. It was quite a different experience from hearing the demo I had done right after I wrote it. And fortunately I was impressed with the song.


So the next time you’re compulsively rewriting the life out of your song or looking for that key to solve a song’s problem, take a break. Take a walk. Take a vacation. One way or another, get away from it. You’ll benefit from it. And so will the song.


Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), and her new up coming book, her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to:


For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, go:

Tags: songwriter, Songwriting, Songwriting Tip, lyric writing

Music Production Tips: Producing With The Finished Track In Mind

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Aug 21, 2015 @07:00 AM

Producing With The Finished Track In Mind

by Tom Frampton


Well, its been a busy few weeks so I have just taken a two day ‘holiday’ from my mastering studio. I spent the majority of the time writing a new song....In my mastering studio. What can I say, music is a jobby (job/hobby) I love and getting my creativity fix is actually quite rejuvenating. Its funny how writing and creating music excites you to the point where you almost can't stop. You start writing and the next thing you know 8 hours has already passed. It becomes an obsession.  You insist on listening to your new song on repeat, no matter how sick the people around you are of hearing it. When you try to sleep you hear your chorus over and over in your head and you think of ways to make improvements. 


During this particular writing session I noticed that I was writing with my end goal in mind. I was thinking about what I needed to do at the writing stage to make sure my song would sound its best once finished. A mind set that I didn't have when I started producing music and knew nothing about audio engineering. I want to share with you a few of the techniques I used to keep my work in progress along the right track. 


Gain Staging

When I first started making electronic music I wanted everything to sound HUGE. Thats the idea right? Well, I wish someone had told me sooner that the most effective way to achieve a huge sound is with dynamic range and proper gain staging. Want your bass to sound louder? instead of pumping it up a few dB try turning everything else down. Select all the channels in your DAW, deselect the bass, Output and Master fader. Then bring the channels down until you feel the bass is where you want it to be in the mix. A mastering engineer will always ask to receive a mix down with between 3dB to 6dB of headroom. So with this in mind, always try to have the output fader peaking around -6dB during the loudest point of your track. 


Here is an effective way to create headroom when you don’t have any…


To start with, the Output and Master bus should always be set at 0dB. The Image below shows a mix that is clipping.  The red peak reading of ‘0.4’ on the output bus displays the clipping.





To fix this select all the channels in your DAW, but deselect the Output and Master bus to leave them at 0dB. Once all the individual tracks are selected bring one of the volume faders down. They will all move down together which means that the balance of your mix will not change. Bring the levels down until the output fader shows the peak level of roughly -6db as seen in the image below.




Creating Space

Low frequencies can creep in to your track unnoticed when recording vocals and guitar using a microphone. Below you can see the frequencies that are present on a vocal recording and the eq I used to cut out the unwanted low end. This doesn't change the sound of the vocal as I don't cut into the frequency range of the singer. You can apply this technique to any of your tracks but be sure to not cut the frequency range you actually want to hear.


Stereo Image

Panning is a useful tool for creating space in your mix. Utilising mono signals can help free up stereo space and increase focus on high energy elements. In many scenarios it is recommended to place your kick, bass, snare and vocals in mono. These files may already be in mono but if they're not you can use the gain plugin to sum them from stereo to mono. This helps the fundamental elements of your mix become the focus of your music. This also minimises changes to these instruments when you hear your mix in mono. You can use reverb and delay to enhance your vocals without affecting your mono signal. An effective way to do this is by employing a process called parallel processing. This is where you send your audio to a bus and place the reverb on the newly created auxiliary channel. You can then mix in as much reverb as you want without altering your original mono source.



What Is Mono?

Mono is one single channel of audio. The left and right channels of your stereo mix are combined into one signal and sent individually to both of your speakers. A surprising amount of listeners will experience your track in mono. A lot of portable speakers are mono and all car FM radios automatically switch to mono when the signal is weak. Most nightclubs and venues also play music in mono.

How should I check my mix in Mono?

In Logic, load up the Gain plugin on the master channel. Check the box below ‘Mono’ but be sure to uncheck this box when bouncing your audio. Listen and hear how your mix changes. Some instruments may be quieter or even disappear completely from you mix. This happens due to the sound waves being out of phase. Make sure you only listen in mono through one speaker. If you use two the bass will be hyped giving you a false balance of your mix. Use your reference tracks to achieve a good balance between your instruments whilst listening in mono.



Hopefully, these little tips will help you to translate your musical ideas into your DAW the way you envisioned and give you a better final result. Ultimately, the most important part of production is having a great song. But as artists, I believe we must strive to give our fans a fantastic listening experience by presenting our music in its best possible form. Sometimes imperfections in a mix can add to the mojo of the music. On other occasions a track is praised for its impeccably clean production. Having the wisdom to know what to take out and what to leave alone is what will define your sound as an artist.


Tom Frampton is a owner of Mastering The Mix, a London based mixing and mastering studio.


For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to:


Tags: Recording, Mixing, Music Production Tips, pro audio

The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Aug 20, 2015 @04:07 PM

The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout

by Clay Mills


These three songwriting exercises are designed to get you into the flow of writing without thinking. Your best ideas come from your subconscious—and, you can tap into this with regular practice. Remember to do these exercises quickly, spending three minutes on each in rapid fire succession. I set the timer on my iPhone. Don’t judge or question ANYTHING you write down. This isn’t a test! The sole purpose is to train your creative thinking to respond on command. I find it helps to write with pen and paper, instead of typing. A lot of studies show that your brain responds differently when writing, as opposed to typing.


Pen and paper? Timer set? Okay, let’s go!


1.Write down every song title that comes to mind without censoring yourself. Work fast. Spit out titles. No judgement. Go wherever your thoughts take you. Note: These are your own original titles, not pre-existing song titles!


2.Choose one of your titles to play word association. Write down every word or phrase that relates to your title. Don’t think! Just work as quickly as possible. This will free up your subconscious. Here’s an example of how I free associated with one of my Darius Rucker #1 hits:


Title: ”Don't Think I Don't Think About It"


Associations: regrets, missing you, could've been, should've been, wrong choices,

mistakes, do I cross your mind?, looking back, rear view mirror, where are you today?


3.Choose a word in your title and play poor man’s rhyming dictionary. Write down as many rhymes as you can. Example: My title is “Don't Think I Don't Think About It,” rhyming the word, “it.” Work your way through the alphabet and add consonants to the beginning of the word. B-it, F-it, Gr-it, H-it, S-it, W-it, etc. Not all letters will work, so move quickly to the next. Today, there is less emphasis on perfect rhymes, so don't be afraid to cast a wider net: D-itch, W-itch, S-witch. In the example song, I chose to use the word "regret" as a rhyme with “it.” The meaning of the word, coupled with Darius's delivery, made it work beautifully. This exercise will strengthen your rhyming skills, so that it becomes second nature. Your goal is to spend less time “thinking" of rhymes while writing. 


Congratulations, you did it! Repeat daily!

Write On!  


Clay Mills is a 11-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. His songs have been recorded by such artist as Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Babyface, Reba McEntire, and Kimberly Locke. He has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Follow him here:, at, and at


For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, go to:


Tags: songwriter, Song writing, Songwriting, Songwriting Tip, Clay Mills

Songwriting Tips: Oysters and Muses

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Aug 14, 2015 @03:33 PM

Songwriting Tips: Oysters and Muses

By Harriet Schock

Oysters And Muses

An oyster makes a pearl when some foreign piece of matter, like a grain of sand, has entered the oyster and he covers it with layers of nacre (mother of pearl). Basically, he’s sort of spitting at it because it’s an annoyance. I think songwriters are like that. If something is stuck in our craw, so to speak, we spit at it until we get a song. Or if we are longing for someone, unbearably, we write a song to give an outlet for all the feeling we can’t express to the missing or oblivious person. There’s usually an element of “reaching for” or “unfulfilled” or “discontent” before a pearl of a song comes out.


This doesn’t mean all songs are going to express anger or longing. Sometimes, there’s a longing to express gratitude or abiding devotion. But there’s a longing there, nevertheless. It’s hard to express these things in day-to-day existence. I just got an assignment from one of my correspondence course students which is going to lead to a very positive song for his wife. I dare say it will have some lovely pearls she has never heard, even over the most romantic dinner. Art has a way of condensing and purging deeper emotions that mere conversation isn’t capable of expressing.


So where do we get the piece of sand? I’m sure there are a few things bugging you at the moment, but they would not all be great songs. In looking for a dry and boring subject to illustrate this point, my first thought was that the IRS would not necessarily inspire a good song, but then I remembered Alfred Johnson’s song “W2” and realized that in the hands of a skillful songwriter there are no bad subjects. But is there a rule of thumb? What might work better than what?


I’ve been interested for a long time in what brings inspiration. It seems that having a certain distance from that which is inspiring us is essential, even if you have to find a way to get that distance on purpose. It’s no accident that there’s an expression, “Never marry the muse.” A muse is worth its weight in plutonium. I’ve known people who have stayed in totally bogus relationships only because of the songs that person inspired, when in fact, there was no real relationship in the first place. But it was the equivalent of the eggs that Woody Allen mentioned at the end of “Annie Hall.” He did it for the eggs. We do it for the songs. And for some reason, doing anything that will close that distance changes the person from being a muse to being someone too close to serve that purpose.


I recently read a poem by Wislawa Szymborska, a Nobel prize winner and one of my favorite poets. It’s called “I am too close,” and one of lines, and the recurring theme, is: “I am too close for him to dream of me.” She writes about having her arm under her lover’s head as he is dreaming of an usherette he saw once. She nails this concept better than I’ve ever heard it discussed. We frequently write (and dream) about fantasies and longings, much more than we dream of those closest to us.


On the other hand, those of us who want to have it all try to find a way to long for what we have. Goldie Hawn once said in an interview that she fantasizes about Kurt Russell, her long-term partner. This keeps the dream alive and is something I consider very good advice. There is a rampant viewpoint that the thrill of the chase is the only thrill there is. After the “prize” is “won,” the game is over. This is patently an unevolved viewpoint, but it’s so ingrained and reinforced by films and novels and songs, that we sometimes forget we have a choice. The reason I mention this in a songwriting article is that it affects the way we write. It’s not just ruining our love lives; it’s ruining our songs. It’s also helpful to know the difference between something you’re writing about and something you want to curl up with for a lifetime.


Some people try to harness the muse and get it to go in an “appropriate” direction. The catch-22 of this is that only when you know yourself very well can you get this to work. And most people who know themselves very well have given up trying to steer the muse. They just let it be where it is.


I have lots of students who are happily married who write about some old relationship they never quite felt complete about. That’s where the juices are. They don’t want to be back there in that relationship. But that’s where the muse is perched. So that’s where they go for the characters and the songs. I think this is fine. I once asked my producer, Nik Venet, why a particular couple (both very creative, great songwriters) couldn’t make it together in life when they were obviously so much in love and they wrote such powerful songs about each other. He answered with a succinct wisdom he was known for: “Fire needs more than fire. It needs wood.”


So back to our oyster analogy. It used to require a search of over 1000 oysters to find one pearl. Now, cultured pearls are made by putting a bead in an oyster and putting him back into the water. Then the pearls are collected. The cultured pearls are made the same way as naturally occurring pearls, except that some enterprising person decided to help nature irritate more oysters into making pearls. I realized while thinking this through that I do that on a daily basis with songwriters. I don’t have to insert the grain of sand like the person making a cultured pearl does. The songwriter already has one. They just don’t know where to look until I direct them. Once they get the knack of it, they’re off and writing.


Take a look at your own life. See where your beads are, and I don’t mean the perspiration on your forehead when you’re trying to pull a song out of nothing. There are plenty of sources of inspiration. Get out your radar and find that muse. She may be perched on the question mark of an old relationship. She may be looking out from the eyes of your present beloved. Or she could be leaping from the pages of an editorial that gets you crazy. Muses love to hide. But you’re a songwriter. It’s your job to find them.


Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), and her new up coming book, her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to:


For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, go:



Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, lyric writing, Songwriting Tips, Harriet Schock, lyrical concept, lyrical hook

Songwriting tips: How to Write a Memorable Melody: When in Doubt, Make No Sense

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Aug 12, 2015 @04:39 PM

How to Write a Memorable Melody: When in Doubt, Make No Sense

By Anthony Ceseri


Your music has to be marketable if your goal is to get it heard by the masses. There are a lot of standard tools you can use to help increase the marketability of your music, but here I want to talk about a pretty simple one.

Before I talk about it, I need to mention that the most important factor in having a marketable song is having a great melody. Hit songwriter Jason Blume says there are three things that make a song a hit. They are melody, melody and melody. Granted, if you’re an independent artist you want your song to be hitting on all levels to give yourself the best chance for success. You want to have great lyrics, instrumentation and all of the other things that go into making a great track. But melody is king.

Great melodies are memorable and singable. As a result, they’re usually fairly simple. Our minds like simple. In terms of music and melody writing, simple is easy to remember, repetitious and easy to sing along to. As songwriters a lot of times we like to overcomplicate our melodies. One of the ways we do this is by writing lyrics that are too wordy. Wordy lyrics can get in the way of your melody and overcomplicate it enough so that it’s barely even melodic anymore.

Think about how much easier it would be if you didn’t have to focus on lyrics, but JUST on the melody. Well, that’s actually an approach used in a lot of hit songs. Think about it. What if you could use simple one-syllable sounds instead of words? Then your wordy lyric problem would go away, and you’d find yourself focusing ONLY on a melody. Plus if your words are just simple sounds, your melodies become simple too, because simple melodies plus simple words/sounds would go hand in hand, right?

For that reason, if you wrote a simple melody where there were no words, but just vocal sounds, it can make your song more marketable. If you don’t believe it, I’m about to prove you wrong. Let’s refer to the hits.


Okay, so let’s start by checking out the first few measures of Pink’s song, “So What.” She does the whole intro by repeating “nah.”

Pretty catchy, huh? Okay, here’s another one you’re sure to have heard. Check out the first 45 seconds of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” With the exception of the phrase “caught in a bad romance,” the intro is all vocal sounds.

And don’t tell me you’ve never had that one stuck in your head. Let’s keep going. This is one I’ve been guilty of singing along to way more times than I’m willing to admit. This is “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles. Check out the first ten seconds. The melody is sung entirely on the sound “oh.”

Now you might be saying “Okay, I get where you’re going with this, but these songs are all really poppy. I want to want be marketable, but I think my music is edgier than the songs you’re presenting.” To that I say, fair enough. Let’s check out some rock songs that use the same concept.

Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator” starts its memorable melody entirely on hums. Check out the first few measures:


Or how about Alice in Chains’ classic rock hit, “Man in a Box.” The vocal intro has no real words at all:


Let’s go back even further in time, so you can see this isn’t a new thing. Check out Cream’s “I Feel Free.” There are multiple layers of non-words happening in this intro (with the exception of the phrase “I feel free” that keeps popping in). Check it out:


I think you’re getting the idea, but I’ll give you one more just to really hammer my point home. Because, if the Beatles do it, it has to be a valid songwriting technique, right? Listen to the first few bars of “From Me to You” by the Beatles:


Oh, and let’s not forget they also wrote “Oh-Bla-Di, Oh-Bla-Da.” The sounds are even in the title on that one. I could keep going, but I think you get the point.


Obviously you can’t just have silly sounds repeat throughout your entire song, if you want to keep it marketable. You’ll need some real lyrics. But if you start a song this way, it can rope in your listeners from the very beginning, the same way all of the examples above did. Then you can repeat that melody throughout your song. If you do that, you’re establishing a melodic motif that you can work from when you write the rest of your melody (which will have lyrics). If you write the nonsense lyric part first, the rest of your melody will be easier to write, because you’ll already have a piece of your melody established. Once you have that, the rest will flow easier.

You can use this concept for writing melodies, even if you don’t keep the nonsense syllables in the song. You might simply find it more freeing to just write an easy melody with vocal sounds, without having to think of any words. Then you can put words to it after, if you want. It’s certainly worth trying, if you’re stuck in a melody writing rut. And if the nonsense syllables work, you can keep them. It certainly worked for all the songs you saw above. But as always, experiment with it and have fun.

For a lot more information about writing memorable melodies, download these 2 free melody writing cheat sheets:

The 2 free cheat sheets in this package include:

The Memorable Melodies Cheat Sheet, which shows you the most important things to keep in mind when you’re writing a melody. It’s in an easy-to-follow format, so you can reference it when you’re writing your next song.

The second one is called 5 Hit Song Melody Techniques. It shows you the *exact* melody writing concepts used in 5 different hit songs, since learning from successful melodies is extremely beneficial when it comes to writing your own.

To get started with both of these cheat sheets so you can improve your melodies in your very next song, click here:


For more information on  USA Songwriting Competition, Go to:



Tags: Songwriting Tips

Songwriting Tip : Songs Are Small Things

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jul 07, 2015 @07:05 PM

by Harriet Schock


I tell my songwriting students this often. I tell myself this often. Songs are small things. Unlike a play or screenplay, songs can’t have a large cast or a bunch of subplots. If the idea of the song is “You are so beautiful to me…” then you simply say that and very little else. In fact, you should check out the lyric to that song. It’s astonishingly concise. Of course, I’m not saying every song has to be that truncated, although if it has a melody that good and that much emotion in the lyric with a vocal by Joe Cocker or Ray Charles, who needs more?


One of my favorite songs is “The Song Remembers When” by Hugh Prestwood. He simply writes vignettes of what the “I” in the song is doing—standing at the counter, rolling through the Rockies—when a song comes on and makes him (or when Trisha Yearwood sings it “her”) remember the relationship because the song brings it back. Now he doesn’t go into a dissertation on the time space continuum, he merely states that no matter how long a time has transpired, and no matter that he doesn’t even remember what went wrong in the relationship, when he hears that song, he’s right back with her. And he gives examples of how it happens, as well as making philosophical observations that are eloquent with the ring of truth. Consider this phrase about looking back on the old relationship, “But that’s just a lot of water underneath a bridge I’ve burned.” I use this as an example of brilliant craft that once you’ve broken the code of what he’s doing there, you can do it too. And you’d better be brilliant and eloquent because you don’t have much time to tell your story. It has to be a whole love story, or a whole life, or a whole movie with a plot even if no subplots—and it has to all happen in around 3 ½ minutes. So we don’t have time for non sequiturs and flowery language that doesn’t communicate.


Speaking of language that communicates, I have my students read Charles Bukowski’s free verse poetry for 4 things:

1) He says a lot in a few words

2) He uses conversational language

3) He writes very visually and

4) He uses irony in just about every poem.

I find that irony can’t be taught but it can be caught, like a cold. Somehow Bukowski’s irony is simply more contagious than other poets’ irony.


Sometimes at an open mic when I’d swear I’m hearing the plot of “War and Peace” crammed into someone’s original song, I want to suggest to them, loudly, that songs are small things. But when they’re written really well, we remember that diamonds are small things too.


Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to:

For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to:


Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, demo, hit song, Harriet Schock, co-writing

Songwriters: How to Demo Your Songs for Maximum Effect

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jun 24, 2015 @09:24 PM


Expert Advice: Songwriters: How to Demo Your Songs for Maximum Effect


By Holly Knight


 Holly Knight, songwriter


There are many things that come into play when deciding what kind of demo you want to make. You will need to:




Decide who you want to pitch the song to.
• Determine what kind of sound you’re going for i.e. production.
• Figure out your budget (what you want and what you can afford aren’t always the same, but this is one of the biggest factors).
• Decide who plays on your demo: Is it you, or a combination of you and a hired vocalist? If you don’t play at all, you’ll need to hire musicians. If you’re not a great singer, hire one. Trust me, getting a good singer to sell your song is very important.




These days it is remarkably cheaper and much more convenient to record out of your own place, even your bedroom. If you’re serious about songwriting, you should have, at the very least, a simple, inexpensive program such as Logic, or GarageBand, both now a part of the Apple startup package. There are countless free tutorials on YouTube to learn them and they are pretty user-friendly.




1. If you are not already set up to record at home, then do so! Set yourself up with a digital home recording system. I use Pro Tools, the industry standard, used by almost every music producer. It’s more expensive, but there are different versions with a startup one being more affordable.




2. Learn how to program and engineer on a basic level. Engineering yourself saves money and time. Another advantage is that any time you feel inspired, you can work on your demo. You have the freedom to keep trying lots of different things without looking at the clock and worrying about emptying your bank account. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone in my studio at 2:00 a.m. in just my underwear and Ugg Boots and recorded something really cool, without having to worry about dealing with someone else.




3. Use a male vocalist for a demo if you’re going to pitch it to a female rock singer (or any kind of edgy female singer like P!nk). Usually those kinds of female singers are a bit tomboyish, and they want to sing like a guy, so it’s easier for them to imagine singing it.




4. Do not make the mistake of getting a singer to sing like the artist you’re pitching to. Obviously, stylistically you want them to sell the song, but you don’t want to be off-putting to the artist either. I never gave a demo to Pat Benatar or Tina Turner where the vocalist sounded just like them. Sometimes they even feel like they’re being parodied. Not a good thing.




5. There are two kinds of demos these days. Either highly polished and practically a master unto themselves, or a very simple and real sounding demo, something like a piano and vocal, or an acoustic/vocal version. One of the advantages of submitting a high-end demo is that sometimes, if the producer loves your tracks—especially if it’s programmed synths and drum beats—they’ll want to use them on the master they’re recording with the artist. If this happens, you can negotiate a credit for either coproduction or programming.


You should also work out payment, which is usually in the form of points (a percentage). Sometimes, but very rarely, they will use the entire session or even hire you to produce the master with the artist. This almost only happens when you are known as a producer, and probably is not applicable to this article.




The disadvantage to putting too much into a well-produced demo is that often a producer, A&R guy or the artist can’t hear enough of the song on its own merits, and you haven’t left enough room for their imaginations. Sometimes that turns people off.


Another disadvantage is it can cost a lot more money once you’ve hired an engineer, and various musicians.




6. In my personal experience, a truly good song often sells itself better when it’s a simpler demo. If it sounds great in a simple form, then an artist can imagine how they would do it and “make it their own.” A great production of a weak song will get you nada, but a great song, even with a simple demo will stand a better chance of getting cut.




7. Make sure the vocals are loud. You’re not making your own record. You want the listener to hear the words.




8. Make sure you can understand the words when the vocalist sings, so that A&R peeps never need to look at a lyric sheet. Don’t overdo the effects, like delay and reverb, to the point that the singer sounds far away and hard to understand.




9. Don’t go crazy with guitar or other instrumental solos if your objective is to get a song cut. No one CARES. Unless your demos are also intended to sell you as an artist, then you can throw in some dazzling musicianship; but even then, I would keep those moments minimal. No one CARES. They want to hear great songs they can market.




10. Back everything up, every few minutes that you’re working— you can set your program to do that automatically—and label your sessions clearly. I can’t tell you how many sessions I used to label as “Friday night, USE THIS ONE.”




11. Usually an MP3 will suffice. It’s easy to send around, and easy for the listener to open up and listen to. I’ve often gone to the trouble of sending a higher res file, such as Wave or AiFF via Dropbox, and no one seems to appreciate the difference. You want the demo to be as easy as possible for the listener to access. If they have to go to yet another site and download a song you’re submitting to them, sometimes they won’t even bother to listen.




Ah now, submitting your songs....that’s a whole ‘nother subject, y’all... I hope this has helped you! Rock on!


 (Reprinted by permission, Music Connection magazine) 


About the Author:


HOLLY KNIGHT is a three-time Grammy winner, the recipient of 13 ASCAP Awards and a 2013 inductee to The Songwriters Hall of Fame. For a complete discography of her work, and to learn about her intensive, limited-enrollment Master Songwriting Classes, go to, Twitter: @HollyKnightlife




For for information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:







Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, demo, hit song, co-writing

Songwriting Tip: Gotta Love That Wrong Note

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jun 10, 2015 @10:59 AM

by Harriet Schock

 Gotta love that wrong note - songwriting
There’s a lot to say about “wrong notes” but I’m going to concentrate here on the good ones—the ones that you wait for in a song. They’re not really wrong, but they’re unexpected and give a color to the music that is rather magical. Some occur from simply non-chordal tones called appoggiatura, and we’ve all made lots of use of these. Otherwise, the melody is too diatonic, like coloring inside the lines.
But let’s talk about wrong notes as in “that note is not in the scale” sort of wrong notes. Those are the really fun ones. My current songwriting student, a wonderful composer/songwriter, Robert Intriligator turned me on to the phrase “The Rodgers patented wrong note,” which was coined by Deems Taylor, a biographer of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Richard Rodgers was arguably one of the greatest popular composers of all time. His body of work is vast and in a huge variety of styles. But there is a characteristic he became so known for, they coined a phrase for it. I asked Robert Intriligator to find a bunch of examples for me, and I went to the piano and noticed that these are some of my favorite places in his music. For example in “Something Good” from “The Sound of Music” that raised fourth on the word “childhood” is what we wait for. In “No Other Love” (from “Me and Juliet”) he uses a raised 2nd on the word “you” in the phrase “only my love for you.” In “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' ” the “morn” of “mornin'” is on a flat seventh of the scale or raised sixth, depending upon your viewpoint. In looking over most of his “wrong note” examples, though, Robert concluded that most of them are a raised second or fourth.
Of course, in “Maria,” commonly known as “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria,” he uses a raised fourth as well as a raised second in the first line; but because they’re not held or accented, they simply seem like passing tones and aren’t as remarkable.
In order to create a bit of dissonance, the note has to stay there for a while. All consonance in a song is like a plot in a play or movie with no conflict. It’s just not interesting enough to hold our attention. I remember when I first heard “When We Dance” by Sting I waited for that note on the word “love” in the line “like I love you.” Yeah! Of course, these dissonances, wrong notes or whatever you want to call them are everywhere. They’re not just in Richard Rodgers and Sting. It might be fun for you to look for them in the music you listen to and pick out by ear what the composer is doing. Where is the “wrong note” and which scale degree did he/she augment or flat? Anyway, studying Richard Rodgers can only help a songwriter/composer since there’s so much to learn from his music.
There’s an old expression in jazz that goes something like “If you hit a wrong note, go back and hit it again in the same phrase. That way it will seem to have been done on purpose.” The trick is to find out when and where to do it on purpose the first time.

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to:

For more information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go:



Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Lyrics, Harriet Schock, Grammy Award, love song

USA Songwriting Competition Partners with Rock n Roll Fantasy Camp

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, May 19, 2015 @06:46 PM


 David Crosby, hit songwriterGinger Baker, legendary drummer from Cream

Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp returns to Los Angeles, Nov. 5-8, 2015

Campers to perform at WHISKY A GO GO




Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp is proud and excited to announce our November 2015 camp featuring two world-renowned artists that shaped and influenced the world of rock and roll as we know it: GINGER BAKER of CREAM and DAVID CROSBY of CROSBY STILLS AND NASH! 

I'm looking forward to seeing you all in November folks! Don't forget; it's not how you play, but what you say!” says Ginger. 

How close have you come to your Rock and Roll Fantasy? Maybe you stood in line to get a record album signed or maybe you were close enough to the stage to reach out and just touch an artist’s fingers as he or she ran by.

But your REAL Rock and Roll Fantasy is jamming onstage, learning songwriting tips, etc with true legends in the world of rock music, isn’t it? Or sitting in the same room with a rock pioneer and asking the questions you’ve always wanted answered. Actually spending time with genuine rock stars that have inspired countless musicians for decades.

Our Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp in Los Angeles November 5-8, 2015, offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to jam and learn from with these two legendary artists.   This is face-to-face and standing on stage with music pioneers that have been part of some of rocks’ most incredible lineups and iconic concert events in history.

Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp offers a non-competitive environment that is open to all levels of musician and music enthusiasts” says producer David Fishof.

Legendary singer-songwriter and social justice activist David Crosby is a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, inducted as a member of both the widely innovative folk-rock band The Byrds — with whom he first rose to stardom — and the Woodstock era-defining group Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Crosby played at some of rock’s most culturally significant concerts, including the Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock and the Altamont Free Concert. He is also one of rock’s most prolific collaborators, recording and playing with Bob Dylan, members of the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Jackson Browne and others.

An immense talent and a true rock and roll survivor, Crosby has lived through more music history than most people even know.

Cream, Blind Faith, Airforce, Masters of Reality are just some of the influential bands put together by superstar percussionist, Ginger Baker. 

During his musical beginnings on the London Jazz scene of the late 1950s, Peter ‘Ginger’ Baker forged a name for himself for his unconventional drum setup and flamboyant style. In 1966, after seeing Eric Clapton play in London, he formed the power trio Cream with Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce. The rest is rock and roll history!

The recent documentary “Beware of Mr. Baker” paints a colorful picture of Ginger Baker, but this 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee known as “Rock’s first superstar drummer” is definitely excited to be part of November’s camp.

Alongside these musical pioneers, will be our rock star counselors hailing from some of the greatest rock bands of all time… Danny Seraphine (Chicago), Bruce Kulick (KISS), Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Whitesnake), Ty Dennis (Krieger-Manzarek Band), Kane Roberts (Alice Cooper), Frankie Banali (Quiet Riot) plus many more…

This amazing opportunity to spend time with two of rock’s most prolific and successful artists puts you amongst the best there has ever been!  Whether you’re a seasoned musician, a beginner, or have long held on to the dream of being in a rock band, Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp will bring your rock and roll dreams to reality…no experience necessary….



For our campers, this is a life changing experience. Some of the campers play well and even gave up careers as musicians to become CEOs and lawyers. Some campers can’t play at all. What they all have in common is passion for rock music. At Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp they all get to pursue their passion – and meet, and play with the artists who became the soundtrack of their lives. It has been a fantastic experience for all of us who have been able to witness it for the past nineteen years.

David Fishof is the founder and creator of the famed Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp where rock dreams become reality. The idea came to him after years of producing rock tours throughout the word. He's been honored to work with veteran rockers, Roger Daltrey, Ringo Starr, Levon Helm, Joe Walsh, Roger Hodgson, Todd Rundgren, Jack Bruce, Dr. John, Joe Perry, and so many more. He feels fortunate to have seen their talent first hand. David's desire to share this experience with you, gave him the inspiration to produce the one-of- a-kind, Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp.

Past rock star camp headliners have included Jeff Beck, Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Roger Daltrey (The Who), Def Leppard, Alice Cooper, Sammy Hagar, Gene Simmons (KISS), Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule), Dave Davies (The Kinks), Bill Wyman (The Rolling Stones), Slash, Bret Michaels (Poison), Cheap Trick, Dr. John, George Thorogood, Jack Bruce (Cream), Joe Satriani, Joe Walsh, Meatloaf, Vince Neil (Motley Crue), Duff McKagan , (Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver), Michael Anthony (Van Halen), among others.  Go to or call 888-762-BAND to sign up or for more information.

Tags: hit songwriter, Rock n roll fantasy camp, David Crosby, Ginger Baker