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Songwriting Tip: Why Play Other Songwriters’ Songs?

  
  
  
  
  
  


WHY PLAY OTHER WRITERS’ SONGS?

Songwriting

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

 

Songwriting Tip: Five ways to Create Inspiration

  
  
  
  
  
  

Five ways to CREATE Inspiration

Jimmy Brewer, Songwriter

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 

 

Songwriting Tip: Drawing Maximum Attention To Your Hook

  
  
  
  
  
  

by Ralph Murphy

Songwriting
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"

or

"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

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.

Murphy's Laws of Songwriting

*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 

Songwriting Tip : What to Listen For

  
  
  
  
  
  

WHAT TO LISTEN FOR

By Harriet Schock

 songwriting

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 Songwriting Tips to Turn Good Songs into Hit Songs

  
  
  
  
  
  

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

 songwriting

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

 

Songwriting Tip: Lyrics and Poetry

  
  
  
  
  
  

LYRICS AND POETRY

by Harriet Schock

Is Songwriting Lyrics and Poetry?

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

Songwriting Tip: Reading Between The Lines

  
  
  
  
  
  

Reading Between The Lines

by Bronson Herrmuth

 Bronson Herrmuth, songwriter & producer
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

The Walter Mitty- Ness of Songwriting

  
  
  
  
  
  

by Harriet Schock

 songwriting

The great thing about being a writer or an actor is that we get to live so many lives. I mean the ones you create. The ones you elaborate upon. The ones you fantasize. I'm in an amazing acting workshop for singers called the Musical Artists Workshop taught by Gary Imhoff. Sometimes in an improv, we’re given a situation and you simply have to think “what if…”  In fact, much acting is done from “what if.” What if I were in a whole different situation, a whole different life. What if I were different? A different kind of person entirely, or just a little different.

 

I remember as a child going around to my parents’ friends and asking them this philosophical question: If I had a different great-great-grandparent, would I be me only different? Or would I be a different person who’s a lot like me? Well, many years later I came to my own conclusion about that, but for songwriting, it works either way. If you’re a girl, you can pretend you’re a guy who does all those things guys do that drive you crazy.  Or you could pretend you’re unbelievably wealthy. Or maybe you’re having an affair with someone incredibly wealthy who is, of course, unhappy. (“Lyin’ Eyes” by Henley and Frey)

 

People who know my writing and/or my teaching know that I think the two most important elements in songwriting are truth and craft. They also know by “truth” I don’t mean facts.There is truth in many situations which you can find, even if you haven’t lived that particular factual situation. Some years ago I was asked to write a lyric (Misha Segal wrote the music) for a Motown film (“The Last Dragon”) in which the main character was a young African American man who was a virgin, practiced Kung Fu and fell in love for the first time. I went for the truth of it rather than the facts, none of which were helping me. We wrote a song that’s been covered by 30 people either live or on record. It wasn’t really a big “what if,” considering I’d fallen in love and I knew how that felt. That’s what I concentrated on. The songs is called “First Time on a Ferris Wheel.” Smokey Robinson sang it in the movie. Carl Anderson, my favorite singer of all time, recorded it and sang it live. It’s on my home page if you want to hear Carl sing it.

 

One of my newest songs is called “When I Write About It” and it discusses how we can change the way it really happened, whose fault it was, who left whom and basically every detail of life like we want it. And isn’t that being the creator of your own artistic universe?

 

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. 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 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 USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Songwriting Tips: 10 Elements of a Song

  
  
  
  
  
  

Songwriting Tips: 10 Elements of a Song
by Steve Cheeks

 songwriting

When studying songs and songwriting, there seem to always be common threads to the basic components of successful songs. Like most people, I am measuring a songs success by it's popularity more than any other factor, although it is not the only factor to consider. With that thought being set aside, lets look at the elements that make up songs in the Modern Contemporary Music era (the last fifty years of rock, pop, country and R&B). Please also note that these are not considered to be in any particular order.

1. Melody - The melody is the tune of the song that you sing or play. The best melodies are considered to be "catchy". This typically means that the melody is memorable, which should be the desired effect.

2. Chords (chord progression) - The chords accompany the melody of the song. This can also be, and is typically, part of the rhythm of the song. A chord progression is the order in which the chords are played.

3. Beat and Rhythm - The beat of a song is what "drives" the listener to "feel" the song (fast or slow). It is also referred to as the tempo (speed) of the song. Because music stirs our emotions, we often are drawn to a song because of the beat. The rhythm on the other hand, is the beat that the various instruments (drums, bass, guitar and keys) create.

4. Genre and Style - the genre of a song (rock, pop, country or r&b) is typically established by the beat and rhythm of the song. The style may vary once the song is constructed with the words and/or instruments. The style of the song branches out from the genre, such as, punk rock, alternative, hip hop, blue grass etc.

5. Concept (story) - All songs have a story line or theme. Typically the song title will convey the essence of that story idea and the words (lyric) will expound upon that idea or theme. The story concept and theme is typically stated in the title of the song.

6. "Hook"- Simply stated, the hook is the part of the song that you just can't get out of your head. It sort of "sticks" to your thought process, sometimes, even if you like it or not. All great (if not memorable) songs have great hooks. A song may also have sub hooks that are sections,words, phrases of music that will get inside your brain. The song title can typically be a "singable" hook or phrase as well.

7. Lyrics - What is being "said" in the song comes through the words called the lyrics. The lyric describes the concept, theme and/or title of the song. A lyric will typically rhyme in rhythmic phrases in the sections of music.

8. Song Sections - Songs are divided up into sections and have names, such as, intro, verse, chorus,bridge etc. Typically, the verse describes the concept of the title and hook that are typically in the chorus. Other sections such of music, such as the intro, bridge, lead breaks, etc., will function to support these main components of the song. Sections consist of measures (also called bars) that are typically four beats in length. Although they can be longer or shorter, sections are typically eight measures (bars) in length.

9. Arrangement - The arrangement is actually two-fold. First, the arrangement is the order in which the sections of music are placed, such as, intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus and so on. Secondly, the organization of the instrumentation, vocals and/or other parts of music that make up the song, are considered to be the arrangement as well.

10. Length - The length of a song is always a consideration, depending on the use of the song. If a song is being written and arranged for radio airplay, songs today are typically three and a half to four minutes long. They can be shorter or longer, but this is the typical length in today's musical formats. It should be stated that you will find successful songs with less (or even more) of the ten elements that are listed here. That doesn't make the song right or wrong, just different.

There are always exceptions to every rule,and in music, you will find that to be the case more often than not. In searching songs, I believe you will find most "hit' songwriters will use proven formulas with the elements listed above, in some shape or form. I always remind songwriters and musicians alike, that there are no "have to be's" in music, just "probablies." That's the purpose of using the word "typically" so often. As always, go back and study some of the songs from your favorite genre to see how many of the elements you can detect. I'm sure you will find that the more successful the song, the more song elements that are in the song. This should give you a great overview for your study. Happy Hunting!

Steve Cheeks is a Producer, Arranger, Singer, Songwriter and Psalmist. As a teacher, Steve has taught many hundreds of students how to play, perform and compose music with many different instruments. Currently, Steve is on a mission to teach the world to play and sing. He resides in Evans, Ga.

For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Songwriting Tip: The Most Important Thing Is Everything

  
  
  
  
  
  

The Most Important Thing Is Everything

by Barbara Cloyd

Songwriting
If your goal is for your songs to be hits on Country radio there are a lot of factors to consider when you write. Does every line make sense? Do they all work together to support one main idea? Is the language conversational? Is there a solid rhyme scheme? Is the melody memorable? Is the chorus catchy?


That’s just a small sampling of what it takes for a song to be a hit. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes you find the perfect rhyme that says exactly the right thing, but maybe it’s not a word people say every day. Sometimes you find a wonderfully clever line but you have to cram a few too many syllables into the melody. You have to make compromises sometimes, right?


Wrong. You have to get it all exactly right.


Once at a workshop I heard a publisher say that the people he pitches songs to are “looking for any reason to say no.” As soon as they hear one thing they don’t like, they pass and go on to the next song. If that seems harsh, remember, they have no shortage of songs to choose from. There are more than a thousand new ones written every week just by the staff writers who are writing full time with the support of a publisher. Plus every hit writer has a large catalog of songs that haven’t been cut yet. That’s your competition,
It’s also important to realize that when artists cut a song that becomes a hit, they have to live with that song for their entire career. They don’t want to make that kind of commitment if there is any little thing that doesn’t feel right.


If you want to make money with your songs, don’t settle when you write. I was told early on, “If you think maybe there might possibly be something wrong with your song, it’s wrong.” Be honest with yourself. For example, did you use a tired cliché instead of finding a fresh way to say it? Are you leaving it to the demo singer to make lines work where the words don’t fit the melody quite right? Are you keeping lines that don’t further the idea of the song because you love them? If you left a weak line in place so you could finish the song, did you go back and improve it?


Once you’ve worked out all the bugs, it can be a good idea to put your song away for a while and come back to it with fresh ears. I always do that, and it’s amazing how many times I see problems with a song that sounded like a masterpiece when I finished it. After fixing every weakness I can find my next step is to play it for other people who will be honest with me, and their feedback often points out more things that need polishing.


If all this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But if you aren’t willing to do it, there are lots and lots of writers who are. Tom Shapiro, who has written seventeen #1 hits, says that the difference between a really good song and one that will make you a lot of money is the last five percent. Your family, friends and fans are rarely as critical as Music Row. It’s great to soak up their support but don’t let it keep you from acknowledging how high the bar is set and pushing yourself to reach it.

 

Since it began in 1986 Barbara Cloyd has been hosting the open mic at the Bluebird Café, where she has seen newcomers like Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney and David Wilcox, as well as many of today’s top writers. After Lorrie Morgan took Barbara’s song “I Guess You Had To Be There” into the top 10 developing songwriters began asking Barbara for feedback and advice. This led to her career as a teacher, offering one-on-one consultations and hosting the popular “Play for Publishers” workshops. She’s also well know for her ability to spot talent and many now-successful writers and artists owe their start to introductions she made for them. For her dedication to helping writers the Nashville Songwriters Association’s gave her the Maggie Cavender Award for Exception Service to the Songwriting Community.

For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

 

 

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