REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION
by Harriet Schock
Edna St. Vincent Millay once said “Life is not one damned thing after another; it’s the same damned thing over and over.” In songwriting, it may seem as if the same damned thing over and over is not only permissible but called for these days. However when it gets to the point of torture, it might be best to change the melodic phrase. And maybe even the lyric—hey live dangerously.
Yes, there is a lot of persistent repetition in pop radio presently, but I think that it often sounds “trendy” rather than just current. It’s like fashions. Yes, you see them everywhere for a while—but they don’t stay in fashion. It may start at Neiman Marcus but by the time you see it at K Mart, it’s over. So if you’re writing songs you hope might be around for a while, I would suggest you avoid the same melodic and/or lyrical phrase repeated and repeated until 1) You FINALLY get the listeners’ ATTENTION or 2) You drive them so crazy, they change the station.
Some repetition is necessary, of course, such as a repeating chorus, or a melodic motif that you repeat the rhythm of and change the notes….even an interval that repeats. For instance, think of the bridge to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The first and third lines “Someday I’ll wish upon a star” and “Where trouble melts like lemon drops” are melodically identical. But the second and fourth lines, (“And wake up where the clouds are far” and “High above the chimney tops”) even though they have the same rhythm are on different notes from lines 1 and 3 as well as from each other. Need I say this is not a trendy song. It’s been a standard for decades. It will sound just as good decades from now.
Songs that are simply well written about things people care about will stay around for a while. If you like repetition, use it until YOU get tired of the phrase. Don’t keep repeating it because you think that’s a current way to write. Tomorrow it might not be.
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 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 and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com
For information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net
by Ralph Murphy
Hit songwriter Ralph Murphy talks about songwriting in Nashville and what it takes to create a song demo for that market.
Every time a songwriter (or songwriters) finishes a song, the inevitable question comes up: How should this piece of work be demoed? Let's start by defining what we are taking about. Demo is short for "demonstration," which Webster's Dictionary tells us means "an explanation by example, a practical showing of how something works or is used."
So, step back from your song and take a long, hard look at it. What are its strong points, and what is the simplest, most eloquent way to show it off, i.e. to demo it?
Start with a simple guitar/vocal presentation and apply some logic. If you feel that simple will be enough, then fine. But make sure the guitar playing is excellent, the vocal is solid and well performed (by solid, I mean in tune and in character with the song), and the basic quality of the recording is good -- no pops or hiss or dropouts.
Embellish When Necessary
If the major part of the song is a big chorus, add a harmony part and perhaps a piano. If it's up-tempo and rhythmic, add an electric guitar and maybe some percussion. Now, there are songs that are great vehicles for records, but need a full demo to show them off. So, take out that second mortgage!
Look the Part
And finally, aside from clear labeling (the title, your name, telephone number, address, and the copyright notice) and a neatly typed lyric sheet (in upper-case letters), use a good quality CD (or mp3) when you pitch your song. Don't put a million dollar dream on a ten-cent recording.
Your song is copyrighted for your lifetime plus 50 years, so remember for at least 50 years, the demo you make today will be the only representation of how you really intended your song to be dressed. Make sure it's dressed for success.
Ralph Murphy, hit songwriter and expert, has been successful for five decades. He wrote huge hit songs such as Crystal Gayle's "Talking in Your Sleep" and "Half the Way". Consistently charting songs in an ever-changing musical environment makes him a member of that very small group of professionals who make a living ding what they love to do. Add to that the platinum records as a producer, his success as the publisher and co-owner of the extremely successful Picalic Group of Companies and you see a pattern of achievement based on more than luck. Achieving "hit writer" status has always been a formidable goal for any songwriter. *His new book Murphy's Laws of Songwriting "The Book" arms the songwriter for success by demystifying the process and opening the door to serious professional songwriting. Hall of fame songwriter Paul Williams said in his review of the book "If there was a hit songwriters secret handshake "Da Murphy" would probably have included it. To buy his book, please click here: http://www.songwriting.net/ralph-murphy-book
To enter the 20th Annnual USA Songwriting Competition, click here: http://www.songwriting.net/enter
The 5 Minute Songwriting Class
By Michael Anderson
If you have been reading this series of articles you know that I have been referencing film and screenwriting as another paradigm for creative use of technique in your songwriting.
I have lately found a source of inspiration that has been quite a revelation to me in that I found someone preaching the same guerilla techniques for film that I have been preaching for songwriting.
His name is Robert Rodriquez, and you may know his work from films such as “El Mariachi” and “Sin City”.
Anyway, he also has a book about his experience in making his first feature length film, “El Mariachi”. The book is called “Rebel Without A Crew”, and the narrative has similarities with my experience in the music business – a good read if you are into seeing how other people have pulled it off.
Part of his book is the “10 Minute Film School” – I thought I might vamp on that concept for songwriters:
“The 5 Minute Songwriting Class”
Part I: The first thing is you need a good idea – I have lectured on that over and over here. Creativity is about process – the old “success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” routine – but without that 10% inspiration the other 90% of your work is a waste of time. In fact, you can hire the “perspiration” part if you have the money – somebody will take your money and do all the necessary work for you if you know how to delegate and focus in that way.
But if you are a struggling artist chances are you will end up doing most of the work yourself too because you can’t afford to hire somebody to be your “go fer”. That is OK, as Robert Rodriquez repeatedly points out, the only way to really be sure you are getting what you need is to do it yourself. That means learning all the little “processes” in the overall big picture process – learning your instrument, learning your tools for recording, learning your business procedure.
But the initial spark is where it starts. Eddie DeGarmo told me that genius is defined by limitations – in other words, making what you have to work with work in your favor – do something on a low budget someone with all the resources in the world can’t do because they don’t have the focus for that. Find a creative way to solve a problem that no one could have come up with in any other way.
To find that magic “idea” I recommend a few exercises that again, I am sure you have heard before.
A: “Morning Pages” – direct from “The Artist Way” formula – you can do them in any way that works for you but the point is to get writing immediately in the morning while your brain is still connected to your creative subconscious and start flowing.
Working without interruption starting first thing in the morning gets more creative work done than anything else I have ever found – a close second is late at night when it is quiet and you are tired – the same process – connecting to that part of your creative self that is a bit left of your reasonable, rational normal thought process.
B: A similar process – the “Artist Date” - again, straight from “The Artist Way”. Set aside time to goof off. Do nothing. Do what you want. Relax.
I know, you don’t have time. Well, you can’t force creativity any more than you can make time go backwards – it is a flow and you need to find the rhythm of it – it is in another dimension, a parallel universe - and you need to find it – sync to it - it will not find you through your will. It may smack you upside the head at any moment, but you can’t control that. You have to be ready for it.
Part II: Do it. Write it down and record it. Use what you have, when you have it. Don’t wait for the ideal guitar, perfect piano, latest software, newest recorder, machine, time, professional studio, whatever. Again, do it with what you have, when you have it. And do the very best you can do with what you have available. But also:
A: Lower your expectations. Some people never do anything because they have such egotistic perfectionist tendencies that they can’t allow themselves to make a mistake. Get over that. Make mistakes. Fail. Learn. Do. Get better. Do it all again.
B: Have a goal – what are you going to do with the demo? What are you going to do with the finished product? What do you need to do to get it to that point and how can you do that now?
Part III: Mainly, enjoy the process of your work – enjoy the rush of the new idea. Enjoy the satisfaction of actually hearing a new part, a new line, a new creative way of doing something no one else has done – say the same thing in a fresh new way.
Entertain yourself – make your melody, your lyric, your demo something you want to experience over and over again and show to people you trust who appreciate you.
When you get there the other people will find you.
Class dismissed. Go write a song.
You can contact Michael Anderson or purchase his “Little Black Book of Songwriting” at michaelanderson.com
For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
WHY PLAY OTHER WRITERS’ SONGS?
by Harriet Schock
Many songwriters start out in cover bands and play other people’s songs for years before they start writing. This offers a large palette of chords and melodies to choose from. The brain is a very good computer but like a computer, what comes out is dependent upon what goes in. If you learn a few chords and start writing songs, never having played others’ songs—by ear or even reading charts—your songs may show it.
My mentor, Nik Venet, used to say that Picasso could paint a picture to look exactly like the object or person—representationally. The point of this is that he had the craft of painting DOWN before he developed his own style. I think it’s a good idea to play the songs of those writers and singers you admire. Then when you write your own songs, some of that will have rubbed off on you. And if you can duplicate someone else’s song, your craft will simply be stronger. Not recognizing a chord when you hear it will mean that chord is simply not in your musical vocabulary any more than not recognizing a word in a sentence when you hear it.
Even lyrically, it’s a good idea to listen, listen, listen. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, listen to what that lyricist is doing and ask yourself how he/she did it so you can add that to your toolbox. But right now I’m discussing the merits of listening to music written by others.
I know excellent writers who say they don’t want to be influenced by the music of others, so they don’t listen to it. Maybe that’s true currently, but you can bet they have been influenced in the past. Before they were writing, they listened to all kinds of music from all sorts of sources. You can’t go into a restaurant, a grocery store or an elevator without hearing music. You can’t be on hold on the telephone without hearing music. Granted some of these musical influences are pretty deadly, but you hear them. So you might as well prime your mental computer with something you love. That affinity you have for the song, mixed with the mere hearing of it, will allow it to enter into your computer and you will find that your own music has benefited greatly.
Think of a song you’ve always loved. Pick it out by ear, or if necessary, look at the chord chart or sheet music. Play it over and over. Dive into that song. Go back to the original and make sure you got it right. Play your copy of it, then play the original, then play your copy of it again. See if the next song you write has a little of the wondrousness of that song you’ve been swimming in.
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 three other Jaglom films as well as starring in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s current film, “The M Word” features Harriet’s song, “Bein’ a Girl,” sung on camera. 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 courses 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 her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com.
For more information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
Five ways to CREATE Inspiration
by Jimmy Brewer
We all know the feeling. You sit down to write your next song and you’re confronted by the dreaded ‘blank page syndrome’. You might sit there for hours, staring at an empty page or screen before you eventually lose your enthusiasm and give up for the day. It doesn’t have to be this way! Here are a few simple inspiration generating ideas for lyric writing that can help you break away from the fear of nothing and get back to the creation of something:
1) Object Writing
Every morning pick a random word (or check out www.objectwriting.com for new examples each day), set a timer for ten minutes and write freely using your senses to guide you. Writing from your senses helps to take the listener on a journey instead of just telling them what is happening. Over time this will enrich your writing with powerful imagery and in the short term could generate some interesting ideas for development. Visit my blog for some examples and be sure to check out Pat Pattison’s book ‘Writing Better Lyrics’ to find out more.
2) Facebook Statuses
People write some soppy, emotional, stuff on Facebook, use it! Be careful not to fall into the trap of sitting on Facebook all day, refreshing the page waiting for a good status to catch your eye. Instead, make a note of anything that resonates with you while you’re scrolling through your news feed waiting for the kettle to boil or eating your breakfast cereal…
3) Column Title Generators
These can be quite cool. Make two or three columns on a page and have a different category for each one. For example on one side you might have a colour and on the other have an inanimate object, or an item of clothing (think ‘Raspberry Beret’) or even the weather (‘Purple Rain’…definite Prince theme going on here). Fill each column up and mix and match until something strikes you as being interesting or coveys an emotion that you think could be developed into a song. Get creative with the categories and you’ll be amazed at what you can find. Sheila Davies’ book ‘The Songwriter’s Idea Book’ contains lots of excellent ideas like this.
4) Little Pocket Notebook
Often when you’re out and about you might hear certain phrases that jump out at you. Usually by the time you get home you’ve forgotten about them. I like to carry a tiny notebook and pen around just in case I see something quirky written on an advert on the side of a bus, or I overhear a conversation in the queue at the coffee shop. Always try and keep your eyes and ears open and stuff will find you. I guess these days you could just use your phone, but I think there’s something about actually physically writing something down that makes your subconscious mind remember it a bit clearer. Once you’ve filled a few pages you can pick one and put it on your terrifying Blank Page and there you go, it’s not blank anymore!
5) Rip Off Without Ripping Off
If you hear a song and you think ‘Wow, what a beautiful sentiment’ or ‘What an interesting way to say that!’, Strip away the imagery and take that underlying emotion and think up some other similar ways of conveying that feeling (maybe start by object writing it and see what comes out). This way you’re not taking the image of the original song and turning it into a cliché, you’re getting to the heart of what the artist is trying to say and retelling it in your own unique style.
These are some of the methods I like to use, and very rarely now do I sit staring at a white page. These ideas can help you to spend less time thinking about writing and more time actually writing. Please leave me a comment with your own ideas, I’d love to hear them!
For more songwriting tips and some free music visit my blog at www.jimmybrewermusic.com/blog
To enter the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
by Ralph Murphy
As you go through your song's story and the verses, check your rhyme scheme. Whatever it is -- change it in your chorus.
For instance, change an A B A B rhyme scheme to A B C B.
The reason you do this is to subtly alert listeners that something important is coming. A change in rhyme scheme combined with the change in melody going into the chorus should have them ready for the hook.
A couple of effective ways to get the most out of your hook (90 percent of the time, your title is the final line or hook) are to:
1. Put an internal rhyme immediately preceding the hook line
For an example,
"I love you, you love me too,
But we can't make it"
"I hate your dog, he ate my frog,
And now I hate you."
"And now I hate you" and "But we can't make it" are the lines you intended to emphasize (i.e your hooks).
2. Don't rhyme your hook with anything
A great example of this can be found in Larry Henley's and Jeff Silbar's "Wind Beneath My Wings." In their chorus, except for a very subtle implied rhyme with the word "everything," which is tucked in the middle of the second line ("and everything I'd like to be"), the title stands alone. It's also, on examination, made very singable by the use of alliteration. The W's in "Wind Beneath My Wings" really make it soar. (I hope "soar" is spelled right!)
Write a hit!
Ralph Murphy, hit songwriter and expert, has been successful for five decades. He wrote huge hit songs such as Crystal Gayle's "Talking in Your Sleep" and "Half the Way". Consistently charting songs in an ever-changing musical environment makes him a member of that very small group of professionals who make a living ding what they love to do. Add to that the platinum records as a producer, his success as the publisher and co-owner of the extremely successful Picalic Group of Companies and you see a pattern of achievement based on more than luck. Achieving "hit writer" status has always been a formidable goal for any songwriter. Never more so however than in the 21st century. Catching the ear of the monumentally distracted, fragmented listener has never been more difficult. Getting their attention, inviting them in to your song and keeping them there for long enough for your song to become "their song" requires more than being just a "good" songwriter.
*His new book Murphy's Laws of Songwriting "The Book" arms the songwriter for success by demystifying the process and opening the door to serious professional songwriting. Hall of fame songwriter Paul Williams said in his review of the book "If there was a hit songwriters secret handshake "Da Murphy" would probably have included it." To get the book, enter 3 or more songs at the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition and receive this exclusive book
WHAT TO LISTEN FOR
By Harriet Schock
Yes, I teach songwriting. But 28 years ago when USC called and asked me to teach it, I said it couldn’t be taught. The next year, I gave in and started teaching and I’m very glad I did. But there is a way that most successful songwriters learn to write and that’s by studying other songwriters whom they admire.
I still do that. I will hear a lyric or a chord change and I’ll think “OMG! I never thought of doing that! I can do that!” And then my writing just gets better. You might think of doing that.
If it’s a chord change, you just figure out what the composer did and put that chord or that movement of harmony into your musical toolbox. If it’s a melodic approach, you add that as well. Maybe that writer uses a certain rhythmic approach to melody you never thought of or maybe there is an interval you’ve never used. I remember when Bobby Brown used a particular diminished chord in “My Prerogative.” Nearly every other song that year decided to use that diminished chord one way or another. It’s not that the chord had never been used before, but somehow its use that way woke people up to the chord.
Lyrically, I remember when I first heard the Dobie Gray hit, “From Where I Stand,” written by Jennifer Kimball and Tom Schuyler:
“From where I stand you are the break of day
You are a silver thread, a star light in the evening
I could hardly feel my heart before you held it in your hands
And I hope you will you will never fall from where I stand.”
I was enamored of the way they used a known expression and then twisted its meaning to be literal later in the lyric. I then did it quite a few times in songs of mine “For What It’s Worth” and “You Are” and probably others. I did this thinking I had learned it from “From Where I Stand.” In fact, much earlier I had written the title song of my second album “You Don’t Know What You’re In For,” using the very same device, unknowingly.
“You don’t know what you’re in for
Love can be the prison as well as the crime
And you don’t know what you’re in for
But you still have to do your time.”
Because I never realized the device existed, it wasn’t really mine to use. So now I have my students word such devices in order to have them for the future. For example, what is Hugh Prestwood doing in “The Song Remembers When”?
“That’s just a lot of water underneath a bridge I burned,”
Can you put it into words? Think about it for a minute before reading on.
He’s taking two expressions that share a common word and hooking them together into one sentence. Once you’re aware of it, you’re off and running.
I subscribe to TunaDay, which is a wonderful daily song sent out by Rob Meurer, who is not only one of the best lyricists/songwriters out there but who also has a virtual Wikipedia of songs in his head. Recently he reminded me via TunaDay (you can sign up for it for free from his website at www.robmeurer.com) of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.” Study that lyric for lots of devices and tips on great songwriting. And while we’re on the subject, check out Christopher Cross’s new CD, “Secret Ladder.” Rob Meurer wrote most of the lyrics. It’s a virtual treasure trove of great lyrics—and of course, Christopher Cross’s melodies, chords and vocals are fabulous also. http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Ladder-Christopher-Cross/dp/B00MD0PVOU/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1415825728&sr=1-1&keywords=secret+ladder
You can learn by listening and then you can deduct all your CDs and equipment as research! When you go to H&R Block, you can quote me.
Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady." Her songs have been recorded by many other artists and used in 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 current film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Harriet wrote 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 is currently writing lyrics (Misha Segal, music) for “Platypus, the Musical.” In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and an 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 and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com
For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
5 Tips to Turn Good Songs into Hit Songs
by Jason Blume
Hit songwriter Jason Blume breaks down how a perfect pitch leads to a smash hit
I recently hosted one of my monthly BMI Nashville Songwriter Workshops, where each of the 50 attendees had an opportunity to pitch one song to a successful publisher. Typically, at these workshops, with few exceptions, every song played was perfectly crafted. The writers have mastered the use of current song structures; the lyrics made sense and were well written; rhymes were where my ear expected them to be; and the melodies worked well with the chords—avoiding any dissonance. Yet the publisher took copies of only five songs—10 percent of those that were pitched.
It was a good reminder that “perfectly crafted” is a starting point, but it isn’t enough. In order to rise above the competition, our songs need to go beyond the expected, pushing the creative envelope and differentiating themselves from the hundreds—if not thousands—of other well-written songs that are all vying for a coveted slot on a major label artist’s recording.
A publisher once told me that when he plays songs at meetings with record label executives, he needs his songs to “slap them out of their A&R trance.” The same holds true when pitching songs to record producers and recording artists. The publisher went on to explain that these industry pros are bombarded with songs—mostly written by published songwriters with track records—so all of the songs under consideration are good, but only those songs with that extra something jump out of the pile and demand attention.
Similarly, writers who play their songs for publishers, in the hope of securing a publishing deal, need to take into account that the publisher probably already has an extensive catalog of songs, and possibly staff writers, for which he or she is responsible. There should be compelling reasons for a publisher to choose your song over the competition—elements that instantly announce that your song is unique and exceptional and that it is destined to become a smash hit that will elevate an artist’s career to the next level.
Imagine that every song needs to score a minimum of 100 points to become a hit. Some of those points will typically be earned by the lyric, some will be awarded because of the melody, while others might come from the musical backing track.
So… what elements can you add to your songs to provide those extra points that compel artists, publishers and record label executives to choose your songs over the competition and carry them to the top of the charts? The more components we include, the more points we rack up and the better chance for success. Let’s look at some ways to separate songs from the pack—and transform them from good to wow!
Include Unique Melodic Elements and Unexpected Melodic Intervals
A memorable melody is essential—but only those melodies that feel fresh and original will rise above the competition. There are several ways to ensure your melodies grab attention. The tools described below can take a song to the next level.
Listen to the intervals used in Kris Kristofferson’s classic, “Help Me Make it Through the Night.” The note choices in the first line are anything but predictable. Similarly, listen to Neil’s Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done,” and note the unexpected note and chord choices. A more contemporary example is Pink’s hit “Try” (written by Busbee and Ben West), which incorporates unexpected melodic intervals that allow the artist to soar vocally, matching the intense emotion of the lyric.
Stock melodies won’t contribute to a listener choosing your song over the competition.
Add Instrumental Hooks
By adding instrumental hooks—catchy instrumental melodic phrases—you give your listeners another reason to latch on to and connect with your song. For example, the distinctive tenor saxophone line sampled from Balkan Beat Box’s “Hermetico” provides some of the most memorable moments in Jason Derulo’s smash hit “Talk Dirty.”
It accomplishes this both by incorporating an instantly recognizable lick—and introducing a sound that’s fresh, attention grabbing, and not typically heard in hip-hop. The baritone sax part heard in the verses contributes yet another special element. Similarly, the catchy tenor sax line woven through Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” was one of the most distinctive elements of that number one hit.
I’m not implying that using saxophones is the magic bullet. Hit songs have included instrumental melodic hooks that were played on keyboards, banjos, electric and acoustic guitars, accordions, fiddle, bass guitar, harmonica and countless other instruments. It’s interesting to note that in Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” the added melodic hook that helped propel this song to the top of the charts was performed by a combination of instruments and vocals—without lyrics.
Including unique, memorable instrumental motifs, and instruments and/or sounds that go beyond the expected can take your songs to the next level.
Incorporate Fresh Rhythms
There has been a recent trend of infusing hip-hop rhythms into contemporary country songs. This can be found in hits such as Blake Shelton’s “Boys Round Here” (featuring Pistol Annies), Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kinda Night.”
Regardless of musical genre, one of the most effective ways to separate your songs from the pack is to craft melodies that give the vocalists interesting rhythms to sing. This is often accomplished by incorporating syncopation.
There are countless examples of hits that use this technique. Some exceptional ones to study include Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart,” Eli Young Band’s “Drunk Last Night” and Lorde’s “Royals.”
Melodies that go beyond stock, predictable rhythms differentiate themselves from the competition.
A Fresh Lyric Concept and Title
It’s obvious that building your song on the foundation of a strong lyric concept—an idea that millions of listeners can relate to—is important. But to elevate your song from good to exceptional, explore a new angle in your lyric, a fresh approach or a novel way to express your concept. This can be done in both the title and the individual lines of lyric.
Notice how intriguing the titles and corresponding concepts are in classic songs such as “Billy Jean,” “Hotel California,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Take This Job and Shove It” and “Proud Mary.” There are also countless examples of contemporary hits that have unique titles and lyric angles, such as “Roar,” “I Hope You Dance,” “(What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You) Stronger,” “From a Distance,” “Alien,” “I Kissed a Girl,” “The House That Built Me” and “I Drive Your Truck.”
At the time I wrote this article, seven of the top 10 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart had one-word titles, demonstrating their popularity. Hits with one-word titles have included: “Problem,” “Rude,” “Fancy,” “Cruise,” “Crazy,” “Wanted,” Stay” and “Domino.”
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ GRAMMY-nominated hit “Same Love” blazed new territory with a lyric that tackled the topic of same-sex love and marriage. It’s interesting to note that the chorus of that song is sung from the first-person perspective. By avoiding “preaching” to the listeners, and not telling them what they should think or feel, the song evoked emotion by allowing its audience to empathize with the singer.
If you were a recording artist seeking material, would you choose a title and concept as interesting as one of those listed above—or a more mundane idea such as “Oh, Baby I Love You,” “You’re the One I Need,” “I Miss You”? A great title and an equally strong concept can be the ticket to take your song to the top of the charts.
Incorporating Nonsense Syllables/Non-Lyric Vocal Hooks
A publisher at one of my workshops told the attendees, “When you add a ‘na-na-na,’ an ‘oh, oh, oh,’ ‘hey, hey, hey,’ or some other sounds the audience can sing along with, you increase your song’s chances of being recorded ten-thousand-fold.” I’m guessing it might not help quite to that extent, but his point is an important one.
One of the catchiest and most memorable elements of Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert’s number one duet, “Somethin’ Bad,” is the “oh, oh, oh” sung during the intro and included throughout the song. Similarly, Bruno Mars featured a hook sung on the syllables “oh, yeah, yeah, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” during the intro of his GRAMMY-nominated “Locked Out of Heaven.”
The use of non-lyric vocal hooks is not limited to any specific genres, and exceptional examples of these can be heard in Lady Antebellum’s “Compass,” Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” Britney’s “Till the World Ends,” Feist’s “1-2-3-4” and Keith Urban’s “Long Hot Summer.” While it won’t be right for every song, this tool is an important one that can help sear your song into listeners’ brains.
In summation, if you don’t give an artist, an A&R executive, record producer, music publisher—or your listeners—a compelling reason to choose your song over the competition—they won’t. Think outside the box and give your songs those extra points that can turn them from good songs to hit songs!
[Reprinted with permission from BMI Music World Magazine]
Jason Blume’s songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Azar, and John Berry (“Change My Mind,” a top 5 single that earned a BMI “Million-Aire” Award for garnering more than one million airplays). In the past year he’s had three top-10 singles and a “Gold” record in Europe by Dutch star, BYentl, including a #1 on the Dutch R&B iTunes chart. Jason authored three of the best selling songwriting books, 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting, and is in his nineteenth year of teaching the BMI Nashville Songwriters workshops. A regular contributor to BMI’s Music World magazine, he presented a master class at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and teaches songwriting throughout the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, the U.K., Canada, Bermuda, and Jamaica. He is also a winner of the USA Songwriting Competition (in 2002).
For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
LYRICS AND POETRY
by Harriet Schock
I’ve noticed a lot of people confuse poetry and lyrics. I think reading poetry can make you a better lyricist because good poets do the following things that lyricists should also do:
1) Say a lot in a few words. I call it emotional shorthand
2) Write visually or show don’t tell
3) Use irony
4) Use conversational language, especially found in modern poetry.
I have all my students read the poetry of Charles Bukowski and Billy Collins. There’s something about Bukowski that gets writers to “catch” irony. I don’t think you really learn to be ironic, but you can “catch” it like you would a cold. I’ve had students who had never had a drop of irony in anything they’d written come in after a week of reading Bukowski and suddenly they had developed the skill of being ironic. Even though Billy Collins also writes with irony, it’s Bukowski I’ve noticed they catch it from more than Collins.
Poetry can inspire lyrics, just as other lyricists can inspire songwriters. But poetry is not lyric writing. I used to be a member of a group of poets and I’d bring in a lyric for a new song. If my song had a chorus, they’d all complain, “But you’ve said that!” Yes, a repeating chorus is definitely a convention of songwriting, not poetry—or Broadway for the most part, but that’s a different subject.
Some lyricists also use the word “poetic” to absolve themselves from writing something no one understands. Of course, that’s not being “poetic.” It’s merely being obscure and that’s a choice, in some cases. In other cases, the writer simply cannot be clear, thinks and writes in a jumbled manner which does not communicate anything to the listener and, in a last ditch effort to defend it, says he’s being “poetic.”
The structure of a song is different from poetry, as well. Verses, choruses, pre-choruses and bridges are of no concern to poets but they are important to lyricists. How the lyric fits the melody is vitally important as well. Furthermore, modern poetry rarely rhymes and lyrics usually do. So if you’re a poet, you may be on your way to becoming a lyricist, but there’s a lot to lyric writing that poets may be aware of. Conversely, songwriters and lyricists becoming aware of modern poets is something I highly recommend.
If you’ve never seen “Born Into This,” the film about Charles Bukowski, you might want to check it out. There’s at least one songwriter in there it how important an influence Bukowski was on their writing.
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 three other Jaglom films starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s current film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. 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. 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 and consultation, go to:www.harrietschock.com
Reading Between The Lines
by Bronson Herrmuth
Whenever you sit down to write lyrics for your new song, be sure and say what you mean. Never assume that your listeners are going to be able to read “between” the lines because they won’t. Count on this because it’s not going to happen. Every song you write should have a very distinctive beginning, middle and end to the story you are telling. The simpler you can say it, the better. As songwriters, we all deal with this and how you handle it is going to make the difference between writing a great song, or just a good one. Great is the objective of course, because great songs have the ability to inspire great singers to want to sing them, no matter how many other singers have rendered their versions. This is why the greatest songs get covered over and over as the years go by. The song is so great it never ceases to inspire great vocalists to want to put it on their record too in their own distinctive style. You have to say exactly what you mean, with each and every word you commit to your lyric sheet. Don’t worry about this as you’re writing the original draft because doing so often means your song will never get written. The best songwriters have mastered the craft of rewriting. They have the ability to detach themselves emotionally from their creation and go back and rewrite it to make sure this is the outcome. This is easier said then done but it’s essential to learn the craft of rewriting and develop the ability to go back before you call your song finished and go over it with a fine tooth comb to make sure you’ve achieved your goal. Try this. After you’ve written your song give it as long as you need for the initial excitement you feel wears off and it becomes just another song you’ve written. For some it’s a day or two, for others maybe a week or two or longer. We all have those songs we really like but we’ve never finished, and maybe that’s the one to try first. Every completed thought in your song - and usually that’s each line - pull it off to the side and then look back at your title. There should be no gray area, no doubt, that the line you’ve written relates directly to your title. To give you the idea, if your song title is “Snow Plow” and as you’re going through each line and you see the words – walking through the desert – this is a line that needs to be rewritten and quick! I refer to these lines as “burrs” and in many cases a potential song title to be pursued at a later date. You’ll find these burrs quickly if you go through your song line by line and each and every one needs to be rewritten before you call your lyric complete to your new song.
Based in Nashville, Bronson Herrmuth has worked in music publishing and production for more than 30 years. He is president of Al Jolson Black and White Music, Jolie House of Music, and Iowa HomeGrown Music. Signed as a recording Artist with RCA Mexico from 1981-1985 with Iowa band, The Ozone Ramblers. He is a songwriter, band leader, a multi-instrumentalist, and he has toured 44 states and 18 countries as a performer. He's traveled the USA speaking at Music Conferences as a Panelist, a Mentor and Workshop Instructor. An associate writer for MusicDish.com, 5 Star Productions, Country Music News International, a contributing author to the Indie Bible, a columnist for MusesMuse.com, and the Nashville Music Guide. Bronson is the author of the book “100 Miles To A Record Deal”, and his soon to be released new book is called “Opening The Closed Door”. He’s the Host of radio programs for Creative and Dreams Music Network, a founding member of acoustic duo Crowding 50, and a member of the Nashville Association of Talent Directors (NATD). For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net