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
Obscurity vs Clarity
By Harriet Schock
I believe that there’s an invisible line that goes from the mouth of the singer to the ears and heart of the listener and if that line is broken by a lyric that makes no sense, the listener’s attention leaves.
Of course, there are many examples of songs that make no sense and have been hits, but when you cite these as examples, I would ask: 1) Was the melody and harmony so killer that people loved it in spite of the lack of clarity? 2) Was it sung by someone so famous that anything they put out will become a hit? 3) Was the audience chemically altered so that each song and bite was better than the one before, no matter what they were hearing or eating?
I have taught songwriting since 1986 and occasionally I’ll have a student who announces he wants to write an obscure song. And granted sometimes songs in films can be a bit generic so that the story takes place on the screen, not in the lyric. But even there the lyrics need to make sense. I find that thetwo most common reasons for someone’s wanting to write an obscure, ambiguous lyric are: 1) His craft is limited and he thinks he’s being clear when he’s not or 2) He’s not willing for the real story to come out for personal reasons.
There’s a vast difference between writing on two levels and being ambiguous. I believe songs should make sense when you first hear them. Then upon second and third listening, deeper meaning can be discovered. Ambiguity generally leaves the listener wondering what you actually meant.
All of this has been about the lyric. But needless to say, the melody and harmony (chords) are vitally important. They are the wavelengths that carry the lyric along that invisible line I mentioned earlier. Obscurity breaks the line, but a weak melody completely dissolves it.
As performers we can tell when we have a strong melody, compelling harmony and a lyric that moves the listener. That’s when the audience is very quiet and attentive. Sometimes they cry, and we like that too.
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 herbook (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
The Backyard Connection
by Mark Cawley
If you've been writing songs for awhile you have to have heard someone preach about the value of networking and getting connected.
Pretty much a given, you can create in a vacuum but you can't grow there.You may be all alone in your room and in your head when you create but to get that song (and you as a writer) in front of people it takes more people. More people means connecting and more connecting. Takes a village to raise a hit. Where to start?
Scour the village!
What does that look like for a beginning writer or a writer living outside of a major music center? It takes some digging on your part. For instance, I coach songwriters from all over the US and beyond these days and many live in places like Indiana, just to pick one. I urge them to look for a local resource first. If you write lyrics but don't play an instrument see if you can connect with someone who's a good player. If you're a songwriter but don't have production skills look for someone around you who's making magic in the basement. Grow together.
One of my favorite ways to connect in these cases is to, in the words of John Hiatt "pull my pony up and hitch my wagon to your star". Is there someone you've heard in a local club? Online? At church? Who's a diamond in the rough? Connect with them. So many writers made a career of working with an unsigned artist and as the artist gained attention, as good ones tend to do, the songwriter’s name was attached. I'm not just suggesting you pitch your songs to this budding artist but suggest you offer to co-write. Get them invested in the song and as they rise so will you. Not every artist we know and love came from LA, New York or London. Some of them came from small towns and for the sake of my point, the pride of Seymour, Indiana, John Mellencamp.
I Was Born In A Small Town
I know John a bit from my days of playing in Indiana and most of the people connected to him in the beginning were all local players. The guys I saw in the local bars where the same ones I saw years later at the LA Forum. Some of his earliest hits were co-written with a local lyricist named George Green. John worked with what he had around him.
Sure the odds go up if you move to one of the cities I mentioned and put yourself out there but in the meantime make the most of what's right in your backyard. Might seem like a small connection but it just might be the one to hitch your pony to. Oh yeah, one more Hoosier...John Hiatt.
Got Nothing Against the big Town
In defense of the writers and artists that make the big leap to a major market, most of the ones I know worked hard at making and keeping connections. One of my favorite illustrations would be the number of them that offered to sing demos for songwriters, sometimes cheap, hoping that as the writers song gets heard someone will discover the singer. In my first few years in Nashville it was common for me to call some of these folks like Gretchen Wilson, Brett James, Clay Davidson, Ruby Amanfu and Neil Thrasher to sing a demo for me. Worked out pretty well for me and for them.
No matter how you get your break, you never stop connecting on any level in this business you chose.
Photo: Google Images
Mark Cawley's songs have appeared on more than 15 million records. Over a career based in LA, London, and Nashville his songs have been recorded by an incredibly diverse range of artists. From Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross and Chaka Khan to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cuts in Country, Jazz & R & B. His groundbreaking website Song Journey created with Hall of Fame writer Kye Fleming was the first to mentor writers from around the world one-on-one online. He is currently writing and publishing as well as helping writers and artists worldwide with a one-on-one co-active coaching service, iDoCoach.
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
The Dos and Don’ts of Co-Writing
by Cliff Goldmacher
The top winning song of the 2013 USA Songwriting Competition was written by six different songwriters. Collaboration on writing songs have been around for years. Cliff talks about the dos and don’ts of co-writing.
Looking back over twenty years to my first songwriting efforts, I remember my creative process as so personal and fragile that I was dead certain I would never open it up to another songwriter. This would have seemed like co-painting or more like co-dating...just not going to happen. However, two things DID happen. One, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, the co-writing capital of the world, and, two, I wrote a lot more songs which stopped me from thinking of each of my song children as untouchable and precious. Ultimately, I simply wanted to create more and better songs and co-writing became a big part of the process. Over the years, I’ve experienced (sometimes the hard way) a few of the big “dos” and “don’ts” of co-writing and thought I’d cover a few.
Decide in advance if you’re going to bring ideas or start “cold”
There are advantages to both approaches. If you’re new to the co-writing process or possibly a little nervous about how your upcoming session will go, preparing in advance with anything from a list of song titles to lyrical and/or musical hooks can go a long way towards a smooth-running session. However, as a more experienced writer, I go into sessions with younger artists without preparing ideas because I anticipate that our initial discussions and time spent getting to know each other will provide the material for our collaboration. All this to say, there is no “right” way to do this.
Show up on time and ready to work
I know we’re all artists and we’re all supposed to be flaky, creative types but you’re now writing to hopefully generate income from your music so it’s also a business. Treat it that way. You wouldn’t show up late for work or cancel because you didn’t feel like going so don’t do it with your co-writing sessions either. Showing respect for the process and your collaborator goes a long way towards setting the tone for a productive co-write.
Make a plan on how you’ll both promote the song
The reality of the music business is that collaboration doesn’t end with the finished song. There will be subsequent discussions about demo costs, pitch opportunities and any one of a number of other details. What this really means is that in order to make yourself an “attractive” co-writer, you should remember to bring as much to the table as possible. This could mean bringing an industry connection or pitch opportunity or even having a recording studio where you and your co-writer can do the demo for free. It’s helpful to remember that the actual co-write is easy/fun part and it’s all the other parts of the process that ultimately make for a successful collaboration. Truly successful collaborations often extend beyond just writing the song.
Discuss percentages for each co-writer
After writing close to a thousand songs, my assumption is that all my “from-scratch” collaborations are even splits. This means 50/50 if there are two of us, 33/33/33 if there are three of us, etc. I consider it bad karma (and frankly exhausting) to count words or try and figure out who created what when the song is done and then try to adjust percentages. Just know that some days you’ll contribute more and some days your co-writer(s) will and that it all evens out in the end. If the song is brought to you mostly (or even partially) finished, then be clear on what the split will be in advance so there isn’t a misunderstanding later on. It’s simply better to just deal with this stuff. Also, it’s considered bad form when discussing your collaborations later to state that you “really wrote most of it” or any variation thereof. The bottom line is that without your collaborator the song wouldn’t be the same song that it is no matter what was directly or indirectly contributed.
Putting the business aside again for a moment, the collaborative process, at its root, is about trust and chemistry. The following “don’ts” are suggestions about how to avoid damaging or compromising that trust.
Don’t ever criticize a co-writer’s suggestion
This is the ultimate vibe killer. There is vulnerability in trusting someone with your ideas and it only takes one “that sounds stupid” or “that’s a bad idea” to kill the goodwill that should be part of the process. This is not to say that you won’t hear (and suggest) dumb things in the process of a co-write. It happens all the time but it’s enough for you to simply say you’d rather keep looking for another idea or try something else at that point in the song. There’s no percentage in saying someone’s idea is “bad” or “wrong.” First of all, this is art and it’s subjective but more importantly (and I’ve seen this more times than I can count) you could crush an admittedly weak idea that was only going to be a stepping stone towards a truly great one. Be patient with your collaborator and yourself and you’ll be amazed at the results.
Don’t insist on one of your ideas if your co-writer doesn’t seem interested in it
You may be in the middle of a co-write and come up with a snippet of lyric or melody that you absolutely love but for some reason your co-writer just doesn’t get it. My suggestion is to make your best case for it and if your co-writer doesn’t like it, let it go. It’s that simple. There are too many ways to write a song to derail the process over a simple disagreement. The key to collaboration is making sure you’re both on board with an idea before moving forward. That being said, if you feel your collaborator consistently doesn’t like ideas that you feel are strong, there’s no rule that says you have to keep writing with this person.
Don’t edit too harshly early on in the session
There’s real value in keeping a co-write moving along. Squeezing too hard on a single line or section of the song too early in the process can take all the creative energy out of a session. Better to either keep in a “good enough” line with the understanding you’ll come back to it when you begin to review what you’ve written or take a break if the line just isn’t coming. There will always be time for editing but I’d suggest not going too deep on that front at the expense of getting the shape and form of the song together first.
Don’t push too hard to collaborate with a more established/successful songwriter
As songwriters, we all know who the hot/marquis writers are. We hear their songs on the radio, meet them at music conferences and, in some cases, came up with them from when they were “nobody.” The unwritten rule I’ve observed is that it’s better to be asked to co-write by a more established/successful writer than it is to ask them to co-write yourself. If your personality is such that you just can’t wait for that to happen, my recommendation is that you should ask once, politely and don’t take it personally if the writer isn’t interested or doesn’t have time. It’s abundantly clear what you, as the less experienced/successful writer, stand to gain from the collaboration but it’s up to the more successful writer to decide if your talent, motivation and, yes, connections warrant them taking the time to collaborate with you. It’s simply the law of the jungle. Hopefully, you’ll be in a position to write with a less experienced/successful writer yourself one day and you’ll treat that writer exactly as you’d hope to be treated yourself.
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of co-writing rules but simply a few guidelines to help those new to the game to understand it a bit better. The best kinds of co-writes are the ones where both collaborators feel like they’ve written something better than either could have written alone.
Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars. Go to http://www.educatedsongwriter.com/webinar/ for the latest schedule. Cliff’s company, http://www.NashvilleStudioLive.com, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos. You can download a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” by going to http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com/ebook. Facebook: www.facebook.com/EducatedSongwriter Twitter: edusongwriter
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net
By Jessica Brandon
Where were you on November 22, 1963? I wished I can say where I was, but I wasn't born yet. However, In remembrance of the sad day 50 years ago when John F. Kennedy was assasinated, here's a look at 10 Songs remembering John F. Kennedy, some songs are also honoring the late president:
"Life in a Northern Town" - Dream Academy (1985)
"The Day John Kennedy Died" - Lou Reed (1982)
"Sympathy for the Devil" - The Rolling Stones (1968)
"He Was a Friend of Mine" - The Byrds (1965)
Bob Dylan, 'Chimes of Freedom'
"Civil War" - Guns N' Roses (1990)
"Brain of J" - Pearl Jam (1998)
"Born in the 50's" - The Police (1978)
Otis Spann, 'Sad Day in Texas'
The Beach Boys, 'Warmth of the Sun'
Do you have a song Remembering John F Kennedy? If so, we would like to hear from you, please post your YouTube or Soundcloud URL in the comment box.
For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net
Songwriting Tip: The Windup & The Pitch
The basics of pitching songs for licensing
By Eric Alexandrakis
Everyone and their father’s sister’s roommate’s uncle is trying to get into the music licensing game. I started over ten years ago when indies were just starting to realize how accessible it was, given the right methods and avenues. Unfortunately people’s perceptions of how the system works are quite skewed, and considering how most artists are generally lazy by nature (you know it’s true), too many prefer complaining over taking the time to learn how it all works. I mean, let’s face it... it takes a lot of time and expense to perform this type of trial and error, and unless you are a trust-fund kid with ample time on your hands, how are you supposed to do it?
As with everything else in life, if you want it badly enough, you will find a way. I developed my work and contacts while working full-time for someone else. It was pure hell trying to do both, and have a family with a child, but I wasn’t going to be stuck working for someone else for the rest of my life, and I had a dream of independence via music.
I pulled all-nighters, did some free work, invested in quick trips that were necessary, took and continue to take criticism, lived and learned. These notions aren’t indigenous only to the beginning of the building process. They are lifelong commitments, and require constant updating. It’s the nature of the beast. So prior to trying to understand the process, one has to understand oneself. Before you lace on your hiking boots, see if you are cut out for a lifetime of general uncertainty and upward climb.
Pitching songs is quite easy, if you’re willing to go through the process of learning. Obviously I won’t give away all of my secrets, but generally speaking, there is a lot of common sense behind it. It’s a blend of psychology, organization, consistency, persistence, learning when to chill, time, and money. Sound like business as usual? Well, it is—but right off the bat, if you’re sloppy and have the writing skills of Beavis and Butthead, don’t bother. It will come out, and no one, and I mean no one will give you the time of day. This will generally define how you deal with things, and whether you are cut out to make contact with humans in general.
Avoid the wrong route
I remember, as a green and idealistically naïve kid, attending various seminars, guest speaker events (prior to really getting into the belly of the music business), and being perplexed by the amount of totally useless advice that “panels of industry professionals” would provide. I mean if you felt that attempting to break into the music business was futile prior to arriving, upon leaving these panels, a Ph.D. in cement stirring was looking much more appealing. It wasn’t just the reality of how difficult it is to break into the business, it was that combined with the completely useless and ambiguous direction offered by those who claimed to be “authorities” on these important matters.
Some examples. How would a logical person, brought in to mentor, judge music and artists after only allowing 20 seconds of a tune played? After hearing one of my songs, one radio guy on a panel said to me, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus!” (You can hear the track in question at http://bit.ly/1duuDXH) Is that really constructive criticism? I mean The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song” doesn’t get into the chorus until1:15, and Micky Dolenz is flat on the whole tune... and it’s a masterpiece!
Now I understand how radio works in trying to hook people quickly, but music is never so cut and dried. Little did he know it, but right at that very moment, that little lo-fi Electro piece he was dismissively ignoring had already been included in 200,000 MP3 players from Rio Audio, was being played on college radio, and was the song that put me in the top 10 running to play on the televised American Music Awards, sponsored by Coca-Cola... all at the same time. (But hey, what the heck do they all know?) The first 100 or so tracks I ever licensed to TV were recorded on a borrowed 4-track, while I had cancer, and later while I was receiving chemotherapy. A music supervisor at MTV heard the sound, and licensed everything. These tunes still get licensed and used all over the place even today.
Another artist’s music was also played for the panel, something that sounded like it was from the ‘60s, it was quite cool. A panelist said to him, “What can I do with this? Go back and bring me something that sounds like today.” I was shocked. I thought it was one of the coolest things I’d heard in recent times, and the panelist basically judged it irrelevant.
Here’s the thing. As long as you can objectively stand behind yourself with confidence, nothing these “experts” say matters. A credible person with credible ears would be able to notice something in a certain tune or artist, and make constructive criticism, not “don’t bore us, get to the chorus”. So after that I made a vow to never put myself in any sort of “judging” contest again, as I felt it literally had no value or credibility.
Now there are also those other seminars with panels of “professionals” who give other types of advice. I’ve been on several of them actually, and every time I am invited, I think of this one panel I attended as a graduate student. It was a panel on pitching songs for licensing. The job of the panelists was to take questions on what a music pitch for licensing was, but none of them could answer. Their answers went something like this:
“Well, I own a studio. What you have to do is come to my studio, pay a small recording fee of about $5K/per song, get the song recorded, and go out and pitch it.”
Wow, thanks for the epiphany. Pitch it to whom and how?
Upon hearing a song: “Oh yeah, that’s great, you should try to get that in a baby food ad, it has that vibe.”
Thanks for the studio advertisement. So, basically, I have to spend a fortune at your studio to make it. How do I get the music to the powers that be? Can you tell me who to contact for the baby food ad, or any ad?
Choosing the right way
Pitching is not spending $5K to do one song, or randomly picking brands you think the music will fit in. To put it simply, pitching is just like any other business:
~ Make a plan (What is your goal? What is your sound? Are you an artist going for the spotlight, or a behind the scenes person focusing on production music?)
~ Focus on your target market (Music supervisors who deal with certain types of productions/sounds)
~ Organize and personalize your presentation (Which show/network/etc. am I sending this to?)
~ Make a professional presentation (Well written, not over the top, not superlative
nonsense attempting to impress: present yourself as a company, not an artist)
~ Establish your web presence, bio, etc.
~ Get your music perfect—both sonically and in songwriting
~ Network, because your life depends on it
~ Collaborate when it feels valuable to do so
~ Seek out ad agencies, study who they represent and what work they have done
~ Subscribe to IMDB.com, and keep an eye on what’s in production and who the music supervisors are
~ Contact music supervisors (you can find them on IMDB, and in other resources online)
~ Read the credits at the end of movies and TV shows (become acquainted with names in main positions)
~ Watch clips of shows with licensed music on YouTube (and understand how songs are edited to picture, what parts of the songs are used and why)
~ Be persistent (you will find yourself banging your head against a wall quite often)
~ Sign up with as many free (and credible) non-exclusive services as you can find
~ For deeper involvement than free services, hire a credible company to send your music out.
Once you’ve gotten into the groove with this first batch, everything else should come naturally. Just make sure to avoid some of the more obvious mistakes, because those can be your downfall before you even begin...
Avoid these mistakes
So here are five mistakes I see artists make.
1. “Oh man, I have this great rock song. It’s perfect for something like a Transformers movie or a Volvo ad!”
Yeah? Cool, how did you know what the supervisors on those projects are looking for? For all you know, they could be looking for heavy metal reggae, or Chinese polka music played on a didgeridoo. Don’t assume, because as the old adage says, when you assume... If you approach a supervisor like this, I guarantee that they will think you’re an idiot.
Know who you are approaching, know what they are working on, know what they prefer (some supervisors have their own musical style/preference), learn about the brand and its past incarnations. If none of this exists, ask them if they are currently looking for content. A polite request like that can disguise prior lack of knowledge of their work... to a certain degree. This is where a credible company that knows precisely what supervisors want (because they ask rather than assuming) comes in really handy.
2. “I’m going to send them the most amazing package ever, with color photos, a video, T-shirt, etc.”
Free stuff is fun for them, for if they love you, they’ll wear your shirt. Otherwise it’ll go to the interns, who might wear it to feel like they are in the music biz, or use it to line their dog’s bed.
Don’t waste money on extra color photos, fancy paper, etc. All they care about is the music and whether this artist has anything significant behind them, to bring some kind of promo symbiosis/placement value to their company, the show, etc. I would, however, suggest sending your materials in an envelope/package that sticks out from the generic brown envelopes.
When you think about it, if you have a deadline, are very busy, and need to recommend a song to someone right away, what do you reach for? You generally reach for your favorite artist out of loyalty, or something you happen to be listening to during that period of time... if it fits the producer’s/director’s request. So due to this, you have to make sure you beat out all of the rest, and of course, have the best sounding master, song, image, presentation and social networking vibe you can.
Gifts are fun, but don’t go over the top with a Vespa or anything. Make it thoughtful, or a cool promo. I remember a band from the ‘90s called Moonpools & Caterpillars who had yo-yos with their logo on them. I still have mine! Plus, it helped that their album was a pop masterpiece with gorgeous art. Check ‘em out!
3. “I’m going to call this person so many times, I’ll bore them into saying yes.”
The only response you’ll get from that method is either silence, or two words we all know so well.
Approach them like a company, not an artist, and ask them what the accepted followup frequency is. Some will say that they will reach out when they have needs, but generally don’t, so following up once a month is probably fine. If you find that they don’t generally respond to anything, mail them samplers of no more than an EP’s worth of tunes every month or so. Visit the city, alert them to your presence in the city, and try to get a casual meeting in.
Don’t be pushy, don’t give pathetic sob stories (you’d be surprised), and exude confidence, knowledge and speed. That will gain you respect. Send them cards on holidays, keep up with them on Facebook (without being a stalker!), and develop things slowly. It will take time, but persistence, consistency, and professionalism go a long way, whether you are the artist, or you’re representing all of your friends’ bands.
4. “I’m awesome, and the next big thing, and they are going to know it.”
Awesome. No one cares.
Just present yourself properly, and if that is true, someone will notice. You have to be told you are awesome—you can’t tell others that, because then you totally lose credibility. A bio comparing yourself to Bono, Jagger, Bowie, and Thor is not going to convince anyone that you are Ziggy MickThunderGod Hewson. Lose the ego and the leather pants.
I’ve said it for years... an artist’s biggest enemy is not lawyers, not managers, not producers, not labels, not publishers, and not Yoko Ono... it’s the artist himself. I have a song about this called “I Love Me”. I wrote, recorded and played all of the parts in one take on a portable 16-track recorder one evening as a demo, with zero overhead, and it’s been licensed to all sorts of TV and ads. Check it out at http://bit.ly/1580hko
5. “I’m going to pay this company $6K and I’m bound to get a license somehow”, or “That company wanted to charge me a fee for pitching! Screw them, they wouldn’t take a percentage, total crooks.”
I have a friend who signed up with a licensing company that insisted on her paying around $3K for a college radio campaign, in order to be eligible for pitching. After her college campaign, they got her a reality show license, and then told her that she had to pay them an additional fee for them to clear the song. Blackmail extortion! Then on top of that, they told her she had to pay an additional $2K or so to be part of a conference, to further push her music to licensors. Well, she ended up spending over $6K with them, and ended up with nothing. It’s a great example, more so because she then came to my company for a fraction of the price, and ended up with something like 25 songs licensed to 12 shows all at once, in the same month.
The stars do not align every day, but they do when they do. Supervisors want what they want, when they want it. As long as the package fits what they need at that time, and the quality is good, it can pay off sooner than later. The trick, though, in working with a pitching company is to learn via word of mouth who is good—they do exist and they’re out there and you can work with them—and not pay attention to message board trolls with no accomplishments to back up their opinions who play Wii all day and talk smack about everyone.
As for the whole idea of asking people/companies to pitch your music for a percentage: if you’re not willing to do the work, why would anyone else do it for free? There are companies that have an automated program with thousands of tracks in them, who are paid for their service by networks, and can expose artists for free on a percentage basis. The only thing is, you’re part of a huge number of songs, may not get the personal exposure needed, and your song might get licensed for $1, of which the company then takes 50%. Can you still buy a box of Tic Tacs for 50 cents? These companies have devalued songs for licensing like you would not believe. Get into a credible system, analyze the company, and don’t assume that you are entitled to free labor or access to someone’s contacts gratis.
When you have to struggle, you are more appreciative and understanding of what it takes to become truly successful.
I recommend to all artists that they take control of their work, learn the ropes, and appreciate the process, because it turns them into better decision makers. It can take a long time, and yet sometimes it doesn’t. Try it yourself. You’ll learn a lot about how badly you want it, and whether you’re in it for the long haul.
[Permission Reprint 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 various media, and recently completed a remix of Depeche Mode’s new single “Should Be Higher”.
For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net
Songwriting Tip: A Strong Opening Line Is Important When Writing Lyrics
By Anthony Ceseri
Having a powerful opening line is an important gateway into the lyrics of your song. A great lyrical introduction is an awesome way to get listeners interested in your story right off the bat. Plus, if it’s boring, you run the risk of losing them. People have really short attention spans these days, so effectively grabbing their attention early is crucial.
Having said that, I better get to my point… and make it quick! I recently revisited a great example of a strong opening line in the song “Round Here” by Counting Crows. The first line of the song says:
Step out the front door like a ghost into a fog,
Where no one notices the contrast of white on white
This is a great intro for a few reasons. The first is it’s really visual. Any time you engage the senses, you’re probably doing a good job of inviting people into your story. This line does that by engaging your sense of sight. It’s easy to picture a ghost and a fog as described here. Immediately, we set a stage of what this lyric will look like in our heads. And it’s effective.
It’s even fun to try and visualize the slight contrast that might actually be there between what we envision a ghost to look like and a thick fog.
In addition to that, this is a fantastic simile. There’s a comparison being made between someone who feels they just aren’t being noticed by the world, and a ghost in a fog. The element that ties these two thoughts together to make it an effective simile, is the idea that no one can see this person. It works very well.
This opening line is also very intriguing. After hearing it, I already want to know more because it’s so interesting. Had the first line had the same idea, but been said more simplistically and generically, I wouldn’t care as much. What if the song had opened with a line like this:
Step out the front door
Feeling like no one can see me
Eh. Suddenly I just don’t care as much anymore. I mean, it’s basically saying the same thing as the real first line, but in a bland, non-descriptive and generic way. Maybe I’d listen carefully to the rest of the lyrics. But maybe I wouldn’t. The “ghost into a fog line” is infinitely stronger and makes me want to stick around for more.
You can see how putting a really strong line up front is a great way to get your listeners excited about your story right off the bat. Granted, you want to keep them interested as your story continues along, but that first line can be crucial to getting their attention. Good imagery with a strong simile or metaphor, like we saw in the opening line of “Round Here,” is an awesome way to get your song rolling.
by Owen J. Sloane
Co-Writing A Song?. . .
Take Care Of Business First!
Co-writing songs with another co-writer or a producer can be a great way of improving or exploiting your songs, but caution must be exercised to ensure that you don’t end up with a split in ownership of the copyright, or other consequences, you don’t anticipate. In the following article Owen J. Sloane, Esq. Partner: Gladstone Michel Weisberg Willner & Sloane, ALC–Los Angeles, CA offers eight solid tips to help you through the co-writing process.
1. When you sit down with a co-writer to start co-writing a song, make sure to establish that when the song is finished you will mutually agree on the splits in writing. In the absence of a written agreement, the Copyright Act provides a default position that divides copyright ownership in the song equally regardless of the relative quantity or quality of the material created by each co-writer. And there is no distinction in copyright law between lyrics and music or between writer’s share and publisher’s share. The percentage of ownership is based on 100 percent of the song, including lyrics, unless you agree in writing to a different split. And that split will apply even if the music is exploited without the lyrics and vice versa, unless you specifically provide in writing that the writer’s intent was not to merge lyrics and music together, but to treat them as separate copyrights. In that case, the writer of the lyrics and the composer of the music would split income as agreed only when lyrics and music are used together. Establish at the outset that ownership of the final song will not necessarily be divided equally.
2. Rappers are writers. A rapper who contributes original material to your song is entitled to share equally in the ownership of that song with all other writers, unless you and he/she mutually agree otherwise and put that agreement into a signed writing. Also a person who supplies beats may claim an interest in the song resulting from use of those beats. This is still unsettled in law, but don’t take a chance and don’t use beats supplied to you without an agreement in writing as to how much of the copyright you are willing to give up to the creator of the beats.
3. Once the song is finished, agree on the splits and commit that agreement to writing. A simple agreement listing the song title, the percentage of the song owned by each writer, i.e. “the splits,” dated and signed by each co-writer will suffice for each song.
4. If your song is completed and submitted to a producer or musicians for recording, unless otherwise agreed, the producer and the musicians who record the song may acquire a copyright interest in your song by reason of their contribution(s) of original material to the song during the recording process. Not all contributions will entitle them to a copyright interest, i.e., minor tweaks to the song, licks created by musicians and arguably even beats, may not qualify for copyright protection. Accordingly, make sure it is agreed up front in writing, whether the producer and/or the musicians will have been deemed to contribute anything to the song itself in your opinion to vest in them an interest in the song. If so, the splits should be agreed upon in writing and if not, the producer and musicians should sign off waiving any claim to an interest in the copyright in the song. Since the copyright in the recording is different from the copyright in the song, a separate agreement should be reached regarding both copyrights.
5. Register the copyright in the song and the sound recording with the Library of Congress as soon as possible. Although registrations do not ask for the percentage of ownership, they do ask you to indentify each author or claimant. Such applications can therefore be evidence of how many writers contributed to a song and their names and whether they are claimants.
6. If you register a song and later collaborate with a co-writer or a producer or other third party who adds new material, you can separately register the new version of the song. The new registration should identify the new material and will protect only the new material and establish a claim to co-ownership by the additional writers in the new material only. The splits for the song resulting from the incorporation of the new material need to be agreed to in writing but in such an instance the co-writers of the new material will acquire an interest only in the song embodying the new material and not in the song as originally registered.
7. If you agree that someone else has an interest in the copyright, be aware that under US law, each co-writer has the right to license the entire song on a non-exclusive basis and collect 100 percent of the compensation, subject to an obligation to account to the other co-writers. If you are an artist and want to control licensing to other artists, or want to approve usages, which you may find objectionable, you must have an agreement with the co-writers that either everyone must agree on a particular usage, or you as the artist have the exclusive right to approve usages.
8. Although each co-writer has the right to license 100 percent of the song non-exclusively, most licensees will require that all co-owners agree to a license. Accordingly, if you are an artist and want to compel other co-writers to issue licenses or agree to a license that you need as an artist, i.e., for a video, or for another synchronization usage, you need to cover that in the agreement as well, otherwise co-writers can nix a license by refusing to license or by asking for too much money.
(Reprinted with permission from Music Connection Magazine)
Owen J. Sloane is a veteran music attorney who has represented many major artists over the years including Kenny Rogers, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Steve Winwood, Elton John and many others. Currently, he represents Daughtry, Rob Thomas (Matchbox 20), Suzanne Vega, and the Frank Zappa Estate, among others. Sloane authored this article with the assistance of Rachel Stilwell. Firm website: http://www.gladstonemichel.com. He may be reached at email@example.com
For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net
Easy Way to Write a New Song Lyric (Even if You’ve Got Writer’s Block)
For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
“How, as a human being, does one face infinity? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums, through encyclopedias and dictionaries…” –Umberto Eco
The fastest and easiest way to write a new song lyric is to begin making a list.
You're no stranger to list-making. Lists help you remember what to buy at the grocery store. They track things you need to do today. Bucket lists store famous places you want to see, people you want to meet, life experiences you want to have before you die.
In short: lists help us make sense of a chaotic world. They help us plan, prepare, and organize our lives. But even aside from all their practical uses, lists can also be entertaining and beautiful in their own right.
“Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck'd cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
All ripe together
In summer weather…”
–”Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti
Lists Can Be Emotional
An old friend of mine likes to sit and list out things that make her happy and things that she's grateful for. She says making these lists lifts her mood and focuses her attention on positive things.
Every time she does that, whether she realizes it or not, she's writing her own personal version of “My Favorite Things“. The lyric of that Rodgers & Hammerstein classic is really just a long list of pleasing images, helped along by some delicious-sounding rhymes.
And the structure couldn't be any simpler: it's a list song! Just a list, plus a few lines of commentary toward the end. In modern terms, that lyric could be somebody's Pinterest board set to music.
Five Famous List Songs
In case you need more inspiration…
“Reasons to Quit“–by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. In the verses of this lyric, the singer lists out reasons why he should stop smoking and drinking, struggling to convince himself to kick the habit.
“50 Ways to Leave Your Lover“–by Paul Simon. A bit of false advertising here: the chorus lyric lists ways to leave your lover–but only five. Where are the lost forty-five ways, Paul? Oh well, we get the idea.
“I've Been Everywhere“–by Geoff Mack. This song packs 91 towns into two minutes and 45 seconds. The song's four verses are just tongue-twisting lists of cities for the singer to test her memory (and lung capacity) against. I've been performing this one for years, and this song sends a thrill through the audience every time. Probably because the audience is placing bets on whether you'll turn blue and pass out at the end of a verse…
“Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)“–Cole Porter wrote many list songs in his day that have since gone on to become classics, but “Let's Do It” was his first. Each verse is a list of people, animals, and even objects that “Do It”: one verse lists birds; another lists sea creatures; another lists insects. So really each verse is a sub-list.
“Hate it Here“–by Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. The singer lists out ways he's been keeping himself busy ever since his love left. Little chores, little things to stay busy–mowing, sweeping, laundry, checking the phone and the mail over and over again… this song's a great example of how a simple list can tell a story.
More List Songs
- “21 Things I Want in a Lover” by Alanis Morrissette
- “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” by Eric Maschwitz and Jack Strachey
- “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?”, a sea chantey
And this is just a tiny fraction of the list songs you can find out there in the musical wild.
Keep your eyes and ears sharp for lists–they turn up often in articles, novels, poems, lyrics, and in your own life. Any given list could be a song. Even something as seemingly mundane as a grocery list reveals something about the person making it.
Let's Do It (Let's Write a List Song)
Maybe one of the topics above got your gears turning–here they are recapped, plus a few extras:
- Things you love (a kind of Pinterest board set to music)
- Reasons to [do something you're reluctant to do]
- Things you admire in a lover
- Things you do to keep busy while avoiding [something unpleasant]
- Things that remind you of [a person or place that's important to you]
You can write from your own perspective or you could write as a character. Any one of these list song ideas could easily sprout hundreds and hundreds of variations. If you write a “My Favorite Things”-style list song from the perspective of Gengis Khan, by the way, please let me know.