Tools For The Songwriter: Audio In The Land Of The Free
By Eleanor Goldfield
Get your songwriting rig started for nothing
There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but believe it or not, there is such a thing as free audio software. For those of you looking to get into demoing, writing, or simply laying down ideas in your own studio setup, this land of the free has some cool tools to get you going.
It’s the (wo)man, not the machine...
It’s tempting to spend big money on audio gear; much of it is expensive, and money can seem insignificant when you’re passionate about something like audio. It’s not like having a passion for collecting seashells.
That being said, the amount of expensive gear you have is not indicative of your abilities. This point was made starkly clear to me one day when I asked Ed Cherney (Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Iggy and the Stooges, etc.) what his thoughts were on home studios. He spun around in his Aeron chair, a Neve 8048 console behind him and an iPhone in his hand. “Got one of these?” he asked, pointing to his phone. I nodded. “Give it to me and I’ll make you a hit record. It’s who’s behind the tools, not the tools,” he said with his contagious grin.
Not all great gear is expensive, some of it is even free (read on!), and you can build your rig one piece at a time. I can’t tell you how many great producers and engineers I’ve spoken to that started their stories with “All I had was...”
What follows—the breakdown
I’m breaking this up into two sections. The first section is for those of you who already have a DAW such as Pro Tools, and a MIDI controller. This section will focus on how to make sounds from within those programs, with tools other than what you use to simply record your own voice or instrument through a mic.
The second section is for those of you who don’t have a studio setup. There I focus on software programs for simple recording and for some synth use, as well as tools other than a DAW and MIDI controller, tools that will still allow you to create and demo.
Pro Tools pre-loaded
This is about free stuff, so I won’t tell anyone to go buy Pro Tools. But if you have Pro Tools or an equivalent DAW, then you can make use of many free plug-ins and add-ons, and we’ll mention some right here. I’ll stick to virtual instruments and simulators—compressors, delays and such processors can wait for another day.
All the major DAWs come with numerous synth sounds and virtual instruments; you should explore yours exhaustively before you spend money on add-ons and third-party libraries. I won’t go to the length of listing all those DAWs with their included sounds—but I do encourage you to get to know whatever is waiting to be discovered in your own DAW.
As I work primarily in Pro Tools, an industry standard, I’ll start by mentioning the virtual instrument plug-ins that you get for free when you first install and open the program. Many of you are likely to purchase it sooner or later, and as with any new purchase, it’s nice to know the full range.
Xpand, now Xpand 2, is one package that I’ve used a lot, not only on demos but in finished recordings. From soft, hard and action pads to ambience, percussive and polysynths, Xpand allows for an infinite amount of experimenting and layering. There are four separate MIDI inputs, each instance housing 4 channels, to be used discretely or blended; for example, setting all four to channel 1 will layer all four sounds together. Alternatively, you can choose to turn on and off different inputs, switching between sounds. Each input has two effects sends, level controls and timbre adjustment parameters such as envelope depth, cutoff, release, arpeggiation and modulation.
The ethereal sounds in Xpand are my favorites. I consider the simulations of real instruments to fall short, but they can be interesting pieces in a more abstract synth ensemble. For a large part of a score I did for an alternative psychological thriller, I pulled eerie and freaky sounds from Xpand.
Structure Free is another one that I’ve had fun experimenting with. It’s a sample player that allows you to import your own samples and effect them. As you can imagine, there is a paid version of Structure that allows for even more creative depth, but as a jumping-off point, the free version can really set the mind spinning with all sorts of possibilities. As in Xpand, you can have up to four instruments or patches at one time, from your own library or from Structure’s built-in library. There are two edit windows in which to effect your patches, including filters, filter envelope, velocity, pitch, key range and more.
Vacuum looks really really cool in its “post-apocalyptic” graphic design. This monophonic tube synth has only a single sound, but lots of parameters to play with. Spending some time with the knobs and switches can give you a really interesting layered piece.
Boom, a drum machine and sequencer, works great as a quick and easy way to set up some sequencing ideas that you can later replace with either real drums or with a more advanced, true-to-life drum program.
DB-33 is a tonewheel organ with a rotating speaker, as in B3 and Leslie. Simple and straightforward in design, no bells, no whistles. And Mini Grand is an acoustic grand piano, no explanation needed there.
Eleven is an amp simulator. Pro Tools comes with a free version of Eleven. [If the name Eleven doesn’t ring a bell, then we suggest you watch This Is Spinal Tap—Ed.] Like Boom, this can serve as a jumping-off point, a way to lay down ideas that will then be augmented by another program—or, in my case, the full version of Eleven. Two cabs and two heads may sound like an overly stripped-down version, but it’s about a million times better than attempting electric guitar direct without a simulator.
In addition to what Pro Tools includes already, there are companies that offer free demo versions of their plug-ins—not as advanced or in-depth as the full versions, but still allowing for experimentation, demoing and recording.
Some demo versions will cut out or make irritating sounds as you use them. Since I have the patience of a 2-year old on caffeine, particularly when creating, I steer clear of these. Also, I’m sure there are many more than what I’m covering here [kvraudio.com is a good place to start looking—Ed.], but here is a glimpse into the wonderful world of free third-party plugs.
Native Instruments offers some of the best free virtual instruments that I’ve used. For free, you can download Reaktor 5 Player, Guitar Rig 5 Player and Kontakt 5 Player, which include libraries of more than 300 sounds and effects. Here, the sound quality is really the highlight. These free players offer a sprinkling of the company’s acclaimed and varied sounds, from drums to synths to keys. Supported formats include stand-alone, VST, RTAS (Pro Tools 9 and 10), AAX Native, 64-bit AAX, and Audio Units. They’ll run on Windows 7/8 and Mac OS 10.7+ and require 3 GB of disc space.
SampleTank FREE by IK Multimedia is another expandable version of the full SampleTank. It comes with 58 sample-based sounds and 146 preset sounds, ranging from modular Moog to female choirs and acoustic guitar. Supported formats are standalone, Audio Units, RTAS and VST, on Windows XP/Vista/7/8 or Mac OS X 10.5+.
Symptohm Melohman PE (Performer Edition) by Ohm Force comes with more than 1200 presets, and lets you throw in your own samples, toggle between 7 different MIDI controller modes, and augment and bend the sound with built-in parameters. It offers two different graphical skins: a clear classic layout, and one that “embodies the true spirit of Ohm Force” (see the screenshot and rejoice). It’s available for Mac and Windows in VST, Audio Units, and RTAS (some bugs have been reported when used in Pro Tools 10).
Addictive Drums (XLN Audio), BFD (FXpansion) and DrumCore (Sonoma Wire Works) can be had in free, stripped-down versions of their full drum programs.
Addictive Drums is a fully functional demo with kick drum, snare, hi-hat and cymbal. Windows 7/8 and Mac 10.6+ in VST, Audio Units, RTAS, AAX and stand-alone.
BFD2 demo will only run as a standalone on Windows XP/Vista/7/8 or Mac. It won’t let you import any samples, you just use the 9-piece kit that comes with it. You can’t save or export anything but the demo will run forever and has no expiration date.
DrumCore also doesn’t time out and supports VST, Audio Units and RTAS for Mac 10.4+ and Windows XP/Vista/7/8. It comes with two kits, as opposed to 100 in the full version, a basic grooves library, and no standalone capability.
Zero-dollars recording software
Let’s say that Pro Tools, Logic or another paid DAW isn’t in your studio setup but you want software on your computer to record demos and ideas. Well, fret not. There are free recording software programs out there. I have used a few of these myself and the others come suggested by students and friends. I’m sure a Google search could unearth even more.
GarageBand from Apple comes free on new Macs and has an incredibly user-friendly platform. Simple controls, simple navigation, all while delivering thousands of built-in synth sounds and virtual instruments as well as loops. A “Windows version” is supposedly out there, but I can’t speak for its legality or its stability—it’s not offered by Apple.
Audacity is a fairly well-known program that I’ve used primarily for editing and exporting OGG files. It has high-fidelity capabilities (up to 32-bit float) and is simple and streamlined. Although it only supports VST or coded (via LADSPA or Nyquist) versions of plug-ins, it has built-in EQ, compression, pitch shift, noise canceling, echo, reverb and fun little tricks like “voice cancellation” which removes center-panned audio through inversion. It is available for Mac OS 10.4+, Windows XP/Vista/7/8, and Linux.
Ardour offers pay-per-month software DAWs but also has a free version that simply doesn’t allow for plug-in settings to be saved. For me, this was never a big pain as I learned on analog gear where I had to handwrite all the settings for later recall anyway. Ardour is an incredibly versatile platform that allows for unlimited track count (CPU dependent), internal and external routing (to other software and hardware), AU plug-in use, Pro Tools-like transport recording, and access to any of your sample libraries without compatibility issues. You do have to download the Jack Audio Connection kit which essentially allows for Ardour to communicate with audio interfaces and connect various applications, such as Ardour, to external hardware. Ardour runs on Mac OS 10.4+ (not tested on 10.6+ however) and Linux.
Wavesurfer and Traverso DAW are two free programs that seem to be more for the computer-savvy and tech-interested. I have used neither. Traverso seems to have much of the functionality of the above software programs, including multi-track capabilities, importing, editing, effects, and automation. Both run on Mac OSX, Windows and Linux.
And finally, let’s talk about iOS apps. Even more so than plug-ins and DAWs, the number of apps available for the audio world is astronomical. I won’t list them all here, obviously, but again I will list those that I can vouch for, either personally or through human contacts (like my Editor). My list is mostly for the iPhone; be aware that iPads offer different and expanded possibilities.
If you’re like me, you don’t always get great ideas when you’re conveniently seated in front of your DAW. You get ideas in the car, on the bus, in the grocery store, at dinner, and so on. In these imperfect situations, you know you just have to hum that melody or lay down that riff idea or you’ll lose it and never write the most amazing song ever! I feel your pain.
But I’m not a fan of the iPhone’s voice memo recorder. I can’t label or organize notes besides an arbitrary date and time stamp, and it has a finite record time, but it won’t tell you what that is.
QuickVoice, however, is something that I use for everything from interviews to guitar-riff ideas and vocal melodies. You can record upwards of an hour of audio, title it and send up to 5 MB of information (around 3 minutes) as a CAF file or ringtone. It also offers different recording-quality settings, allowing you to choose smaller file size or higher-quality audio.
Tape from Focusrite is a cool little iPad recorder with good basic features and great organizational options for files.
Pocket Wavepad, another free app that allows you to record and then effect audio, lets you get a bit more in depth, even to start editing.
Hokusai Audio Editor is a free multi-track recording app, even more of a heavyweight, allowing for several audio tracks to run simultaneously, imported or recorded. You can then effect, edit and export your finished product as a WAV, MP4 or transfer to your computer via USB or Dropbox.
SampleTank, the aforementioned synth, also comes in app form. Much like the plug-in, the app has hundreds of instruments and patches for you to choose from, layer, and record. With a 4-track MIDI recorder and drum pads, you have access to over 120 user presets, more than 600 instruments and built in-insert effects.
Alchemy Synth Mobile Studio from Camel Audio is another free app that delivers a powerhouse of creativity in a user-friendly interface. It delivers high-quality audio in everything from guitars and basses to synths and drum kits. Much like SampleTank, it has a 4-track sequencer and drum pad window, with added fun and functional tidbits like tilt and inertia to physically control sounds.
Groovemaker is skewed towards the DJ realm but still a great tool for electronic creations. It comes with over 120 loops that you can mix, remix, edit and layer in real time to create a unique blend of your own style and ideas.
easyBeats LE is a free 808-style drum machine app. If drums are your forte, this app can combine your own generated rhythms with built-in samples to create a beat on the go—easily.
Guitar Free and Piano Free, as well as Real Guitar Free are apps that let you play the instrument on your phone, but not record. However, with features that allow hammer ons, strumming, and plucking, you can work that riff out on the go and make a note of the tab or arrangement until you get a chance to record it.
Clearly, whatever it is that you’re looking to create, there is no shortage of free software to assist you in your musical endeavors. I’ll just throw in one last audio geek musing: Take heed that there’s always a paid upgrade (or, on iOS, an in-app purchase) to be had; some are worth it, some aren’t. As with most things in life, this paid vs. free gear is a balance. Have fun in the land of the free!
(Reprinted with permission by Recording Magazine)
Eleanor Goldfield is a Los Angeles-based writer, musician and freelance tech and studio consultant. She is lead singer in the hard rock band, Rooftop Revolutionaries, and works with several studios and pro audio professionals in management and consulting capacities. For more info, check out eleanor-swede.com.
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition: http://www.songwriting.net/enter
25 Mistakes Music Artists Make
By Eric Alexandrakis
A rogues’ gallery of slipups every recording songwriter should avoid!
They’re everywhere, like cheap wine in a crinkly brown Mini-mart bag. Some think they look cool walking around drinking out of it, but in the end, it shows no control... no discipline... no clue. Yes, you know what I’m talking about. Or do you?
I see them every day: those constant mistakes that artists make without thinking. Some are minute, some are grand, some are just so incredibly dumb—but all can be avoided with some simple logic, and restraint from laziness.
WARNING: The things you are about to read are real. They have been taken from real examples of bad promo campaigns and bad career decisions. If you happen to recognize yourself in any of these examples, I apologize, but... No I don’t. If you haven’t fixed what you’re reading about yet, here’s hoping you’re now embarrassed enough to do so!
1. I’m going to make a living from music and be rich and famous... and the best part is, I don’t have to do real work!
You know how you go to college to train, work toward a major in order to get a full-time job to support yourself, and work for years to build your profession to make a better living and to improve, blah blah blah? Yeah, guess what!
Making music a profession requires the same attention to detail. It’s a full-time job which requires daily investment, generally until the day you die, or until you have enough niche success to sustain you so that you don’t have to work anymore. Don’t read past this line until you come to grips with this scary reality.
How cool, you kept the crinkly brown bag from the Mini-mart, I’m glad. Now keep breathing into it... that’s right... sloooowly... don’t pop it, because you’ll need it for the rest of your life. Or for the rest of your musical career. Or both.
2. Who needs a plan? I’m just getting started here, I can wing it...
Start with a two-year plan with monthly goals. Design it like a business plan. If you have to make a bar chart with pictures of girls stacked on top of each other for measurement, so be it. Without a plan, you’re spinning your wheels and I’m wasting my time writing this.
3. A bio? I can handle that, I just have to tell everyone I’m a genius!
No, you can’t write it yourself, and neither can your English major cousin Miri. Yes, yes, Auntie Grizelda is always raving at family get-togethers about Miri’s wonderful grades... as her department-head boyfriend 20 years her senior sits next to her looking posh in his bowtie, asking you to pass the yams.
Sorry, I got carried away... No I didn’t—get a proper bio written. Comparing yourself to every major rock star and hit album in a bio does not make you relevant. I see this all the time. “With a voice like Bono and a stage presence like Michael and a political awareness reminiscent of Lennon...” Yeah, and just a hint of cinnamon. You have to leave it up to the critics to call you the next Kevin Federline. (Assuming that’s what you want.)
If you need help with your bio and absolutely don’t know where to turn, I’ll let you in on someone I’ve personally worked with successfully. Have a look at the website for Katy Krassner, www.katykrassner.com, and if you like what you see, commission her to write you a bio. She writes bios and press releases for major artists, actors, brands, and indie labels.
4. Website? You’re kidding, right? Everybody just uses Facebook!
I’m a bit of a hypocrite on this one, as for the last few years I’ve been using Facebook as my hub, but I am now constructing a proper site. FB has worked well with a lot of EDM artists and labels, for example, but ultimately it’s a trend. What if it went away tomorrow? Do you really want all of your content to live only on Facebook? It’s just best to be able to have your own separate hub, where you can control your content entirely, and not be subject to weird rules where suddenly a picture of you taking a bath is owned by some corporation and ends up on a billboard on I-95.
By a “proper” site, I don’t mean use a free template from some random business site or whatever. Hire a reputable company via word-of-mouth/research (yes, even this takes effort), and do it right. If you must use a service that offers template sites, at least use one like HostBaby, one that understands what musicians really need in their web content and won’t leave you with a site that doesn’t deliver.
5. The world will recognize the genius in my every note.
Just because you can make music, doesn’t mean it’s good. I know a guy (one of many, actually) who has all the right intentions, but his ego is out of control. He has money and thinks that just because he has the means, his music is good. It’s average, and worst of all, he can’t sing, but thinks he can sing and doesn’t take criticism.
Take the criticism, it’ll save you money in the long run, but don’t take it from Auntie Em. She’ll always love your singing. My Aunt Pauline loves my piano playing and tells everyone about it, but she’s never heard me play.
6. I’m on Internet Radio!
No one cares if some random internet radio station inIndianais playing you. Your mother might, but she already got her copy of the album for free. Focus on the greatest audience, with the most practical and realistic means.
7. We’re growing our brand organically!
Organic food rots faster because it lacks those evil preservatives. Remember that. Do it right.
8. My music’s available on iTunes!
Don’t sell your music on iTunes, unless you have a good cover or can get into the “New Releases” section. What’s the point of creating a middleman? Why invest in a publicist, radio promoter, etc. so that iTunes can prosper? Just direct everyone to your site and sell direct from there.
9. Singles are the new Albums!
Why are you selling singles? If you can’t write a decent album, you have no purpose. Don’t listen to this nonsense about the album being dead. Make a good one, and sell it as such. If you’re going to put marketing efforts and dollars into one song, sell an album as a whole and make $10 instead of 99 cents. Just don’t stop promoting it after two months. 10 songs = 10 months of promo possibilities. Duh!
10. I’m looking for a label and manager...
How nice. Have you sold 20,000 copies on your own? Because if not, they aren’t looking for you. If you’re not willing to do the work, no one of value or credibility will either.
11. On social networks, posting the same posts promoting the same songs over and over again will eventually get people to buy the music.
No, people will start deleting you, and you will look desperate and lame.
12. I can tell folks I’ve sold 2 million albums even though the RIAA says I haven’t. Who’ll know?
Don’t think people won’t check riaa.com. I always do.
13. I’m too cool to pay bills on time... or at all.
If you couldn’t afford it, you shouldn’t have ordered it. Don’t blame it on the fake accountant.
14. What do you mean, that’s not what the contract says? That’s not how I read it!
Read and understand your agreements, and blame yourself for not getting what you thought you were getting. If you paid for one month of promotion, don’t ask to Skype with the promoter every month for 4 months, after your month has expired.
15. My new producer had two Grammies and a platinum album... in 1985!
Just because a producer has some decent credits...from 20 years ago, doesn’t mean they are worth your hard-earned cash. I’ve seen some ridiculous deal points in my day. Everything from $10K/song production costs, to 3 points + 10% of all placement fees on top. Stay away from this nonsense. I’ll hook you up with a great and affordable mixer. Just ask.
16. There’s nothing wrong with my image!
Yes, well. We can tell you’re really 50 and not 25, Madame. Dude, about that beard—ZZ Top was cool 20 years ago. Even a poor musician can afford $3 for a razor and shaving cream. I don’t care if it’s part of your vibe, what would you say if your mother saw you?
Tattoos are overdone and usually done badly, and you can’t take them off if you decide you hate them. And unless you’re in the iTunes top 10, you shouldn’t be wearing leather pants.
17. Wait. Image? What’s that? Do I need one?
And please don’t dress like a bank teller and pose with a guitar looking vaguely dissatisfied. I’m mystified at how imageless some artists can be. Did you not have posters of your favorite musicians on your walls when you were younger? Like, ever?
18. Faking people out is edgy, folks like to be fooled.
Deception is not a marketing tool. If you lie, it will always come back to bite you. You don’t have to disclose your debit card PIN, just be realistic.
19. I’m too cool to have a budget!
Pretending you have money when you don’t is beyond idiotic. Have more confidence in yourself and write a good song.
20. I got straight to the secretary of this big guy inHollywood, piece of cake!
Good for you, bub. When’s the premiere?
21. Yeah, I post more pictures than songs, so what? It’s all about image, right?
We get it, you’re in love with yourself, but if you spend more time posing for pictures than writing and releasing music, people will notice just that.
22. Meh, who cares what I tweet, as long as I do it a lot?
It’s called “social” networking for a reason. Be social, entertaining, charming, interesting and most of all, engaging.
23. I’ve got 100,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter!
Yeah, but between 0 and 10 impressions per post. No sucker will believe you really have that many people interested in you with those numbers. Social networking is an art and a science, and it seems that brands are finally starting to realize its importance. A great example of how social networking is supposed to work is at facebook.com/DuranDuran. The aforementioned and wonderfully talented Ms. Katy Krassner runs it.
24. This is serious stuff, man! Don’t you dare laugh at me!
Martin Solveig is a really cool electronic artist fromFrance, and he has a really fun sense of humor and is willing to laugh at himself. Have a look at some of his videos on YouTube. It’s about music and entertainment, not about trying to show off the fake jewelry or Bugatti you borrowed for the shoot.
25. Play every day? Why?
That’s what you’re supposed to do, remember? And don’t just play. Be a music student, not a rockstar wannabe. Learn everything you can, because ultimately it will come down to how good the music is, not how much of a poser you can be.
(Reprinted by permission from Recording Magazine)
Eric Alexandrakis is a highly successful songwriter, producer, and recording musician. He has had several Top 40 hits on the Adult Contemporary charts, has licensed hundreds of songs for film and video, and recently completed a remix of Depeche Mode’s new single “Should Be Higher”. Learn more at www.ericalexandrakis.com. And he’s recommending Katy Krassner because he likes her work, and thinks you will too.
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition: http://www.songwriting.net/enter
How to Keep Your Publisher, Manger, Agent, Producer and Label Happy
By Molly-Ann Leikin, Song Marketing Consultant
You’ve heard of the running of the bulls in Pampola? When you’re famous, that’s exactly how people will stampede, tripping over themselves and killing their young, desperate to give you whatever you want. They’ll take all of your calls before you even make them, answer your texts instantly, come to your parties, early, with cases of Cristal, and help your kids with their pre-school entrance essays.
Until then, while you’re still on your way up, and determined to catch someone’s life-changing ear, the job of making the population of your business entourage happy is all on you. Period.
The good news: your Publisher, Manager, Agent, Publicist, Label (PMAPL) can only make money when you do. The bad news: with sixteen hours in a work day, the bulk of their time is spent on The Guarantee. If they represent artists who are making 18-wheelers stashed with cash right now, chances are good they won’t drop everything to put their team on your standby gig at Starbucks, North Eastern Outer Mongolia. Know that. Deal with it. Don’t call and leave hate messages or deliver dead fish wrapped in the L.A. Times to their offices. (Please note: no fish, no newspapers. That goes for all other dead protein, and periodicals, too.)
There are millions of talented people out there vying for your PMAPL’s time. At this point, the person on the other side of the desk has all the power in your life. Period. Here’s how to keep your career moving forward, and eventually turn that all around in your favor.
l. Set the ground rules with your PMAPL as to who will contact whom, and when. Try to get a timeline commitment up front, so you don’t have to send the noodge mail, “R U shining me on or did U really die?” Instead, suggest setting up a call once a month. That’s fair and reasonable.
2. Respect those ground rules. When PMAPL’s start getting the “Where’s My Money” messages, they will quickly lose interest and reassign your project to the back burner or the shredder altogether, preferring to work with professionals who respect other people’s time and priorities.
3. Don’t dump your drama on your PMAPL. “Dude, my pick-up was booted, had to blow off my probation officer again, plus the kidlet is starting to look exactly like Arnold Schwartzenneger.” You wouldn’t want anyone to lay that on you, right? So only do and say what you would want to hear if you were on the PMAPL’s side of the desk. Keep everything professional.
4. Don’t try to get your PMAPL’s attention with ostentatious gifts. You can’t afford the Bentleys they want. At least not yet. When you can, they’ll steal the needed funds, in plain sight, from your royalties.
5. Remember that your PMAPL’s are your business partners. They can only make money when you do. Let them do their jobs for you. Yours is to write/sing/perform, and attend every industry function, shaking hands, smiling, gathering business cards, asking when it would be convenient for you to call.
6. Hang this on your fridge.
© 2014 Molly-Ann Leikin www.songmd.com email@example.com
Molly-Ann Leikin (rhymes with bacon) created the Songwriting Consultation industry. In the past five years, 6 of her clients have won Grammys. Eleven more are Grammy nominees. The author of “How To Write a Hit Song, Fifth Edition” and “How to Be a Hit Songwriter”, Molly is an Emmy nominee, has 15 gold and platinum records, taught songwriting at UCLA, and works by private consultation only. She practices yoga, takes long, brisk walks and flosses, daily.
Contact Molly for your Hit Song Marketing Consultation/Evaluation at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
MAKE Your Song a Hit
by Dave Kusek
It’s one thing to write a hit song, but getting people to hear it is another story. There are thousands of “hit-worthy” songs out there that most people never even hear. It’s unfortunate, but you can start changing that trend by taking a more proactive role in the marketing of your song. This is an active business. Chance are you won’t randomly get found and thrust into the spotlight. You need to MAKE your song a hit. You’ll have to start small, but starting at all will put you ahead of the pack.
Make your song a Hit
Marketing the Process
The process of songwriting is one of the best opportunities to connect with an audience. Of course, if you’re writing songs with hopes they are used by another artist, this strategy may not be useful to you. Keep in mind though that unless you have a publisher with connections on your side, your song may never get to that high profile recording artist. Try your best to get that connection, but don’t make waiting a habit. Sitting on an unreleased song forever isn’t going to get you very far.
People love the process. Try posting “rough-drafts” of your song on YouTube or make Vine clips for Instagram or Twitter with short lyrical sections.
People love a story. I’m sure you’ve listened to lyrics and found yourself speculating about their meaning or what drove the songwriter to put those thoughts and emotions into song. Try writing blogs about the inspirations you’re feeling as you write. Stories give you the opportunity to connect with people on a level that goes beyond music. Maybe you experienced a profound event or a death. Maybe you have a passion for hiking and were inspired by that feeling of accomplishment you get at the top of a mountain. Whatever it is, people can connect with those stories. Tell yours. We want to hear it.
Stories that go beyond music also allow you to shine in a much less crowded space. In the music industry you’re just another songwriter in the crowd, but in the world of hiking you can be the star. Take this concept a step further and use those stories to get coverage for your song outside the music space. Eileen Quinn draws her inspiration from sailing and, as a result, was able to get coverage from sailing magazines and blogs.
These updates throughout the entire process keep you in the front of your fans minds.
Songwriters can sometimes feel isolated from the rest of the music industry. Recording and touring artists have to be out there interacting with people. You don’t have to stay behind the scenes - this year, make it a goal to get out there and meet people. Remember that this is a personal business. Emails aren’t going to cut it. Call people up, invite them to your show, meet them for coffee.
You don’t have to go on a full-blown tour, but try playing some smaller, singer-songwriter type gigs in more intimate environments where people can really connect with your song. Connect and collaborate with local bands. Maybe they’d be interested in covering one of your songs. Or, even better, maybe they know someone who could get your music in front of a publisher.
Try to get connections to people outside the traditional music industry. YouTube personalities, bloggers, and amateur photographers are just some of the options available to you. Many people who run YouTube channels are always looking for new music to use in the background of their videos. These people are tastemakers - their following really trusts their opinion - and just having your music there is enough to get their followers to check you out.
The key with everything is to start small. It takes time to get the opportunities that will really make your career. But writing a great song and just waiting for your big break won’t make a hit. Get out there, be proactive, and start taking the first steps towards the songwriting career you deserve.
About Dave Kusek:
If you’re ready to take a more active role in your own songwriting career, check out the New Artist Model online course. Sign up for the mailing list and get access to 5 free lessons.
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:http://www.songwriting.net
Songwriting: It’s Like Riding a Bicycle
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:http://www.songwriting.net
Remember when you learned to ride your first bicycle? It wasn’t easy. You fell down a lot, but you kept trying. At first you needed someone to hold on, keeping you steady. Then you used training wheels to help you stay upright as you pedaled. Then, finally, you were able to ride on your own. You had found that complicated thing called balance. After that, it was a breeze! The process of writing songs is a lot like riding a bike. It’s all about finding a balance!
=> Balance Melody, Chords, Lyrics – Writing a song that listeners will love involves finding a good balance between melody, lyrics, and chords. If you have a busy lyric with a lot of words and images then writing a melody that’s easy for listeners to follow might make it easier for them to understand and remember the song. It gives your song a chance to make a greater impact. When there’s too much going on, listeners miss important moments and they may just tune out.
The Singer-Songwriter genre, for example, is often lyric heavy and you’ll notice that, while the melodies make use of interesting phrase lengths and phrase starts, there are plenty of repeated melody patterns — lines repeated in sets of two, three, or four, organizing the melody so listeners can take it in easily while focusing on the lyrics. An extreme example of balance between lyrics and melody can be heard in the Rap genre. Lyric content and lyric rhythm have taken over, while the melody notes have become almost a monotone.
On the other hand, if you have a complicated melody with a lot of rhythmic interest and interval jumps, try keeping your lyric straightforward and easy to follow, maybe use more repetition in your chorus lyric than you normally would.
A good rule of thumb: As the attention-grabbing quality of one of your song elements goes up – lyrics, melody, or chords – think about lowering the others. This doesn’t mean the other elements should become simple and predictable. Instead, try organizing them in patterns or using more repetition so listeners can focus on the more complicated things.
=> Study the balance in your genre – Each genre has a balance of melody, lyrics, and chords giving it a characteristic sound. For instance, the Pop genre tends to have plenty of melodic interest while keeping lyrics focused on an emotion, asking listeners to FEEL the lyrics rather than think about them. The Country genre, on the other hand, relies on lyric stories with plenty of physical detail. Listeners need to pay attention to the lyric in order to get the full impact. As a result, melodies tend to be a little less complex than in the Pop field. This doesn’t mean you can write a boring melody! You’ll still need to keep your listeners interested. But you might want to use fewer melodic twists than you would in the Pop genre.
=> Balance craft and inspiration – Balance is also an essential part of your approach to songwriting as a whole. Finding a balance between inspiration and song craft can help you express your deepest thoughts and feelings and in a way that listeners can understand and respond to.
Inspiration is the heart of your songwriting. It’s what guides you, tells you what’s important, and delivers that brilliant line out of the blue. But inspiration can be a very personal thing and it may not always be there when you need it. Sometimes it can even deliver inspired lines for a different song! But, if you balance it with a good amount of song craft, you can get the most from your inspiration, communicating effectively and surrounding those inspired gems with lines that support them.
=> It takes time to find your balance – Just like riding a bicycle, it takes practice to learn what good songwriting balance feels like. When you learn a new melody or lyric writing technique, don’t expect to immediately fold it into your songs and smoothly ride off into the sunset. There’ll be some wobbles and falls. You might scrape your knees a few times. But, just like you did when you were a kid, get back up on your bike and try again. Once you get the feel, you’ll be flying down the sidewalk with the wind in your hair in no time!
=> Get some training wheels – The best songwriting “training wheels” are hit songs. These songs already have good balance, the kind that listeners are comfortable with. This week, learn how to play and sing one recent hit song that you like. (You can find the current radio charts at BDSradio.com.) Notice the balance between lyrics, melody, and chords. How is the melody organized? Which melody lines are repeated and how many times? When do the lyrics simply repeat and when do they demand attention? Try writing a song with a similar type of balance.
Best of all, like riding a bike, once you learn what balance feels like you never forget!
by Robin Frederick
Robin Frederick has written more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records, Executive Producer of 60 albums, and the author of “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” available at Amazon.com. Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: www.RobinFrederick.com and www.MySongCoach.com.
USA Songwriting Competition hosted a Songwriters Showcase during SXSW in Austin, TX on March 14, 2014. It marks the 12th Annual Songwriters Showcase in which USA Songwriting Competition started way back in 2003 at then Borders Books and Music. The annual showcases has showcased up-and-coming songwriters. Notable past songwriters included: Kate Voegele (2005 USA Songwriting Competition 1st Prize winner, Billboard Top 10 Artist) who was signed to Interscope Records, Ari Gold (2007 Overall Grand Prize Winner), who hit Top 10 on the Billboard Charts after winning the Songwriting Competition and Jordan Zevon (2009 Overall Grand Prize Winner).
Our 2014 edition included songwriters at Mozart's Coffee Roasters in Austin, Texas, such as:
Leni Stern (Honorable Mention Winner)
D.B. Rielly (Honorable Mention Winner)
Tony DeSare (First Prize Winner, Jazz)
For more information on entering the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit:
USA Songwriting Competition Winner Hits #1 On Billboard Charts
American Authors, the winner of the 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, is making huge waves this week with their new hit single 'Best Day Of My Life'. It has been gaining momentum, hitting #1 on the Billboard US Adult Pop Songs Charts, making it their first official #1 single. They beat the likes of mega-hit music acts such as One Direction, A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera, Lorde and Bastille. The song also hit #11 this week with a bullet on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts.
On top of this, the song was certified Platinum today, meaning it sold a total of 1 million copies. They are the first USA Songwriting Competition winner to ever hit #1 and certified Platinum [by Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)].
From Unknown To Stardom
They entered the USA Songwriting Competition as unsigned independent band and came out winning the USA Songwriting Competition, getting signed and hitting the charts. They hace also appeared on hit TV shows such as "Tonight Show with Jay Leno", "Conan O'Brien" and "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson".
American Authors also appeared on "The Ellen Show" performing this song last month.
The song is also featured in the hit movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and featured on the hit TV show "The Voice" more than once with the top 5 finalists singing this currect hit song.
The song is written by Zac Barnett, Dave Rublin, Matt Sanchez, James Adam Shelley, Aaron Accetta and Shep Goodman. American Authors is an American indie rock band based in Brooklyn, New York, and who are signed to The Island Def Jam Music Group.
The band of brothers met at the Berklee College of music, and up until 2012 were known as The Blue Pages. Under this moniker, the group released two extended players, Anthropology and Rich With Love, both of which were met with enough interest to keep the band relevant.
They won overall grand prize and first prize (Rock/Alternative) with their song ‘Believer’. This song appears as the first track in their full length album "Oh, What a Life", released this week on March 3rd.
About USA Songwriting Competition
USA Songwriting Competition has a long history of having winners getting recording and publishing contracts, have their songs placed on the charts as well as having their songs placed on film and television. The top two winners of 2011: Nenna Yvonne and Alexander Cardinale were signed to Interscope Records after their win. The 2007 winner hit Top 10 on the Billboard charts with his winning song. The 2005 Winner of the Country category had his winning song cut by Country Superstar Faith Hill. The 2005 winner of the Pop category was signed by Interscope Records; she went on to hit Top 10 on the Billboard 200 Album charts. Our 2008 winner appeared on David Letterman TV show and was signed to a record label.
For more information on entering the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit:
Songwriting Tip: Grammar Matters
by Harriet Schock
Yes, I meant that both ways. I’m writing on matters of grammar and I’m also writing in case grammar matters. So for a songwriter, when does it matter? Well, I suppose that depends upon your target audience. If you’re a novelist, it always matters. That’s why book writers have editors. Today, even a great storyteller may make the usual grammatical errors, especially if he went to school in the last decade or so. But even if a person has been taught in the best English class there is, he may make the usual mistakes. His brain is simply Teflon where the rules of grammar are concerned.
So who is the target audience for your songs? Does it matter to your listeners if you make sense? If communication is desirable, then grammar is very helpful because it actually helps a person be clear. And if you’re performing in a club, you’d better not lose the listener because your communication wandered off into the woods. Grammar can help keep you in sync with your listener.
Now I’m not talking about “proper speech” that would prohibit you from being colloquial. Technically it’s “whom are you kidding?” But no one in his right mind would say that in a song. It’s not the way people talk. One of my biggest hits had the word “ain’t” in the title and used a double negative. I did it on purpose. So I’m not being a purist. I’m just trying to make the point, for instance, that if you said “I lay here and drink my coffee” some people would be confused, because “lay” is the past tense of “lie.” So how could you be lying here yesterday and drinking your coffee today? So technically, it’s “I lie here and drink my coffee” or “I lay here and drank my coffee.” The whole lie/lay thing is confusing to people but it’s simply a matter of whether it’s something you do (lie) or something you do to an object or person (lay). You lay the book on the table. You lie on the bed. Eventually the dictionary will simply put “lay” as a synonym with “lie” because usage dictates meaning. (That’s how we’re losing the difference between “imply” and “infer.”) But at the moment they don’t mean the same thing so if your target audience knows the difference between “lay” and “lie,” you’ve just lost some points by using it wrong. I know, I know “Lay lady lay” was wrong, but Dylan couldn’t very well say “Lie, lady lie.” To add to the confusion, “lie” has two meanings.
There are many examples of these grammatical pitfalls. For instance, if you’re making a lyric sheet for someone to look at, remember that “The book is on its side”—not “it’s side.” There are whole websites and discussion groups devoted to the fact that there is no apostrophe in the “possessive its.” Auto correct can get you in trouble when you’re texting because that thing wants to put apostrophes in everything. And while we’re talking about apostrophes, don’t use them to create a plural. It’s not “Come hear these singer’s.” The plural of “singer” is “singers” for heaven’s sakes. And don’t say “I have sang”—it’s “I have sung,” just like “I have drunk,” not “I have drank.” Bad grammar may not affect how well you sing, but it’s enough to drive a literate person to drink. And who knows? You might just have some literate folks in your target audience.
Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "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 two other Jaglom films and is starring in the current movie “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Harriet is in the process of writing the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. 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. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on he rbook (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to:www.harrietschock.com
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:http://www.songwriting.net
Oscars 2014: Who Will Win Best Original Song Race?
Competition this year is between four nominated songs: "Happy," "Let It Go," "The Moon Song" and "Ordinary Love." The 86th Academy Awards will take place March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles.
The Academy Award for Best Original Song is one of the awards given annually to people working in the motion picture industry by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). It is presented to the songwriters who have composed the best original song written specifically for a film. The performers of a song are not credited with the Academy Award unless they contributed either to music, lyrics or both in their own right.
1) "Let It Go" from Frozen
Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Performed by Broadway sensation Idina Menzel
2) "Ordinary Love" from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Music by Paul Hewson (Bono), Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen; Lyric by Paul Hewson (Bono).
Performed by U2
3) "Happy" from Despicable Me 2
Music and Lyrics by Pharrell Williams
Performed by Pharrell Williams
Pharrell Williams is on a roll. He was featured in two of last year’s biggest songs, just swept the Grammys with four wins.
4) "The Moon Song" from Her
Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze
Performed by Karen O
Surprising Songs That Did Not Make Past Oscars
Songs that were published prior to a film's production having nothing to do with the film, such as "Unchained Melody" in the 1990 film Ghost and "I Will Always Love You" in the 1992 film The Bodyguard, cannot qualify (although "Unchained Melody" was nominated when first released for the 1955 film Unchained). In addition, songs that rely on sampled or reworked material, such as "Gangsta's Paradise" in the 1995 film Dangerous Minds, are also ineligible.
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to http://www.songwriting.net
CO-WRITING: THE NO FREE ZONE
By Pat Pattison
The best advice I ever got on co-writing was from Stan Webb, my first professional co-writer. When Tom Casey, a VP at SESAC in Nashville, set the appointment up for me, he asked Stan to talk to me a bit about the Nashville co-writing process, a process that dominates the songwriting culture there.
I was waiting in the SESAC writer's room with my notes and titles, some complete lyrics, song ideas, and I was feeling nervous. I, after all, am a big-time Professor at the biggest time music school in the world - Berklee, where I teach lyric writing. What if I can't come up with anything? What if he thinks all my ideas are dumb? They don't look too good to me right now either... What if he thinks I'm a fraud? Not only would that humiliate me, but it would put my students' credibility in question too, and it'd be all my fault. Why am I here? Maybe I should leave while there's still time. Couldn't I say I have food poisoning?
Too late. The door opened and there stood Stan Webb, my co-writer for the day, a guy with hits. Stan is a burly guy. He looked a bit shaggy, wearing bib overalls, a tattered t-shirt, and work boots, looking like he'd just come off the farm (which, in fact, he had--he owns one, bought with songwriting royalties). He came in and did something curious: he shut the door, re-opened it, shut it again and then pushed hard to make sure it was closed. Hmmmm. Was he worried about folks listening and stealing our good ideas? I was deeply concerned just with having a good idea. It would have been a relief to have an idea good enough that a secret listener would want it.
He sat down opposite me on a couch and seemed to size me up. He grinned and said, "Is that door closed?" Yikes. "Yes it is," I answered carefully, not knowing where he was going with this. Was it a secret initation? "Good, I'm glad it's closed," he said, "because you can probably tell by looking at me that I'm gonna say some of the dumbest things you've ever heard." I stayed quiet. I was more worried about what he thought of me. He went on, "And if you do your job right today, you're gonna say some of the dumbest thing I ever heard, professor or not." "No doubt there," I thought. He grinned again and said, "But, as long as that door is closed, nobody needs to know how dumb both of us are. I won't tell if you don't."
He told me that he hoped I didn't mind, but Tom had asked him to talk to me about the co-writing process in Nashville, so he wanted to tell me just a couple things before we got going on a song. I told him to take his time.
He said, "SAY EVERYTHING that comes to your head. Say it out loud, no matter how dumb it is. Don't censor anything. If you say something really dumb, you might give me an idea that's not quite as dumb. And then I might have a decent one that gives you a better one that gives me a great one. If you'd never said the dumb one, we would never get to the great one."
"So that means that we'll never say "no" to each other. A co-writing room is a "NO" FREE ZONE. If you say something and I don't like it, I just won't say anything. Silence is a request for more, more, more. It says 'just keep throwing stuff out there.' When either one of us likes something, we'll say YES. Otherwise, just keep going."
We had a great writing session. I lost my fear of looking like a fool. I came up with a lot of dumb ideas, and my dumbest idea of all led us to the best part of the song. We really did say everything. And the silences were golden - what a great way to ensure that we always get the best out of each other: nobody has to defend anything, and the only ideas that make it into the song are automatically ones we both like. The "NO" FREE ZONE gets the best out of both writers: there are no arguments, and there never needs to be compromise.
I've always been grateful to Stan for his wise advice that day. It helps me every time I co-write, but also every time I write. My inner critic (most frequent co-writer) has also learned to abide by the "NO" FREE ZONE. And Stan's words still echo in the songwriting classrooms at Berklee College of Music, where literally hundreds of students have worked in the "NO" FREE ZONE and have had great co-writing experiences because of it.
I've added some advice of my own to Stan's, because, in Berklee writing classes, we talk ABOUT writing a lot. Lots of process, lots of techniques. And it really helps their writing, learning about what goes into it - what tools are available. My students learn to talk about writing very well. They are good technicians as well as good writers.
Thus, my advice: never talk about writing in a co-writing room, especially about technique. You're supposed to be writing, not talking about it. Stay inside the song, inside the characters. Don't run away to the intellectual level. Most people are tempted to talk about those wonderful technical effects in their lines - assonance, rhythm, deep thoughts or metaphors-- out of fear -- to cover their bases and try to dress up what they're afraid might be a dumb idea, in academic robes. A dumb idea is still dumb, even with professorial robes on. Just write. And write fearlessly.
One final thought: in terms of SAYING EVERYTHING, I hereby grant you permission to write crap. Lots of it; all the time; the more the better. Remember: crap makes the best fertilizer.
Pat Pattison is a professor at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA.
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:http://www.songwriting.net