Songwriting Tips, News & More

Photos From USA Songwriting Competition's Showcase During SXSW

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 28, 2011 @08:06 PM

In response to all of you that have asked, here are the pictures of our songwriters showcase during SXSW Week in Austin, TX at Barnes & Noble book store:

 

Dave Merena Performing at songwriters showcase during SXSW

Dave Merenda (2010 USA Songwriting Competition)

 

 

Drew Jacobs

Drew Jacobs (2010 USA Songwriting Competition First Prize Winner, Novelty category)

 

Jacinta

Jacinta (2010 USA Songwriting Competition First Prize, Dance/Electronica)

 

Raleigh Hall & Ian Holmes

Raleigh Hall & Ian Holmes (2010 USA Songwriting Competition First Prize, Gospel)

 

Shane Cooley

Shane Cooley (2010 USA Songwriting Competition, Finalist)

 

Melissa Greener

Melissa Greener (2008 USA Songwriting Competition First Prize, Folk)

 

For videos of the showcase, please click here:

http://www.youtube.com/usasongcomp

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Melissa Greener, USA Songwriting Competition, sxsw, Songwriter Showcase, Shane Cooley, Raleigh Hall, Ian Holmes, Jacinta, Drew Jacobs, Dave Merenda

Songwriting Tip: You Can Write Better Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 14, 2011 @01:08 PM

You Can Write Better Lyrics by Mark Winkler

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I’ve been writing songs for over 30 years. I’ve had 150 of them cut by famous singers like Liza Minnelli and Dianne Reeves, and written songs for a hit off Broadway musical and have had tunes on the soul, pop, county, dance and jazz charts. But when I started teaching songwriting about seven years ago, I was still surprised to find out that there were simple things my students weren’t doing that could have made their songs a whole lot better.

 

1. Come Up with a 
Great Title

Dianne Warren, who has written more hit songs than anybody writing today, could have replaced the title to her No. 1 song by Toni Braxton, Un-Break My Heart, with the title Please Mend My Heart. It means the same thing. But, it wouldn’t have had one-tenth of the commercial impact. Un-Break My Heart is unique and catchy; you’ve never quite heard that thought expressed that way. But I can’t tell you how many students come to me with the most boring, pedestrian titles on their songs. A great title is more than half the battle; it tells you what to write, it attracts the listener and gets them hooked. Don’t even write word one without a great title!

 

 

2. Be Specific

New lyricists inevitably tend to be vague and non-descriptive with their words.
The best way I know how to illustrate “being specific” is through a song written by one of the greatest lyricists of all time, Johnny Mercer. In the movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn, playing a country girl who’s come to the big, bad city, is having a moment of doubt on a Manhattan fire escape, when she sings these lyrics from the Academy Award winning song Moon River: “We’re after the same rainbow’s end Waiting ’round the bend My _____ friend, Moon River and me.”

Now, she didn’t sing “good old country” friend or “gee you’re such a” friend, although both fit the line and are correct descriptions of her friend. No, Johnny Mercer had her sing “Huckleberry” friend. He couldn’t have been more specific. Huckleberries grow by the river, a country girl would know that, and it also has literary echoes of Huckleberry Finn, who was a country boy who ran away from home. So here we have one word that lifts the whole song up to another level.

 

 

3. It’s the Music, Stupid

I’ve learned no matter how good the lyric is, if the music is bad the lyric can’t save it. So you need to find yourself a great melody writer. But here’s the catchРРyou won’t find one unless you’re a wonderful lyric writer. And most professional melody writers know a good lyricist faster than you can say “prosody!” Al Kasha, my first lyric writing teacher and winner of two Academy Awards, said: “A great melody can take you into the Top 10, but a great lyric coupled with a great melody will allow you to stay there.”

 

 

4. Writing is Re-Writing

Ask any professional songwriter what sep-arates him from an amateur and he’ll say it’s his ability to rewrite. But so many of my students come in with their “precious” first drafts thinking every word is gold. They think this because it came to them during a moment of “inspiration.” I’m all for inspiration, but “perspiration” is much better. Keep coming back to the lyric until it’s as close to perfect as you can make it. Remember, it’s not the quantity of songs you write, but the quality.

 

 

5. What You Say Counts

Anyone can learn the techniques it takes to write a song. But not everyone has something truly unique to say. When I started out in songwriting, for some reason the teacher really liked my songs. Looking back on those days, I realize that it must have been because of my “content,” because back then my songs didn’t have much technique. While other people were bringing in their latest, perfectly rhymed, yet anonymous odes to love and dreams and sunshine, I was bringing in my roughly written songs about The Great Gatsby and moonlight cruises and my mother who was a singer with a big band. Unconsciously, I was doing something right. I was writing about what I knew and things nobody else had written about.

 

 

6. Step Away from Your Piano or Guitar

Burt Bacharach, who writes some of the most complex and sophisticated melodies of all time, says that when he’s writing a new melody he purposely writes it away from his piano. His thought is that if the melody stands up being sung a cappella, the chords and arrangement will only make it sound that much better. Too many writers get mesmerized by their chord selection and think they can fix anything with fancy arrangement ideas.

 

 

7. A Song is Not a Poem

One of the easiest ways I can tell if a lyricist is an amateur is if the person asks me to read their poetry. Lyrics are not poems. Though they share many things in commonРРcadence (the rhythm of the line), rhyme, etc.РРthere are in fact many differences. Songs are meant to be sung, so avoid hard-to-pronounce words and incompatible consonants. Songs are meant to be understood quickly; popular songs generally use only two distinct formsРРverse/chorus and aaba.

 

 

8. Your Lyrics Must Sing

This would seem to be a no-brainer. But the longer I teach songwriting the more I realize that the way the lyricist sets the words to the melody is as important as the content of the song. Your lyric must strive to be conversational. If you hit a high note, it should be on an open vowel. And if your melody goes down, don’t ever say the phrase “pick myself up.”

 

 

9. Need I Repeat—Repetition Works

One of the big differences in Top 40 pop and hip-hop music today is the number of “hooks” that are in each song. In the past, perhaps a pop song would have the title repeat any number of times (from one to four) in the chorus and that’s it. But in today’s era of producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin, from the time the song starts there are any number of repetitive hooks. They range from the repetition of the title to melodic hooks played instrumentally, to “nonsense syllables” to secondary hooks in the chorus.

 

 

10. Know Your Genre

As a songwriter, you have the luxury of writing in more than one format. Diane Warren has had hits in pop, AC, country and dance. But, each genre has its own strict rules and you must know them to succeed. For example, you can get away with imperfect rhyming in pop and hip-hop, but in musical theatre and cabaret you can’t. In country you must be very clear in what your saying, while if you’re writing songs for a rock group a la Coldplay or Kings of Leon you can be more metaphorical and artsy.

 

 

With over 150 of his songs recorded by artists in many genres of music, Mark Winkler is a sought-after songwriter and lyricist who has taught his highly rated “Craft of Lyric Writing” course at UCLA for five years. Winkler has developed a unique songwriting method and has successfully offered it to his students in any genre, including pop, rock, country, R&B and jazz, helping them to craft unique, professional songs and lyrics. He offers private lessons in person at his studio or via online Skype classes. Contact him at mwink@aol.com

 

This article is reprinted with permission from the April 2011 issue of Music Connection magazine.Music Connection logo 72

Tags: Songwriting Tip, Burt Bacharach, Write Better Lyrics, Music Connection Magazine, Liza Minnelli, Dianne Reeves, Toni Braxton, Dianne Warren

Strategies For A Successful Career In Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 12, 2011 @05:24 PM

Strategies For A Successful Career In Songwriting
By Sara Light

Before landing my first staff writing deal and major label cut, I served as the membership director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). Over the course of four years I worked with, talked to and counseled new and aspiring songwriters and I began to recognize certain similarities between those songwriters who continually realized their goals and those who didn't. As I watched people move to town, leave town, reach goals or give-up, I learned some important strategies to achieving long-term success as a songwriter.

Strategy 1: Find your team
From the day we make the decision to pursue our dream of becoming a professional songwriter we're beginning a long and often frustrating journey. Like Dorothy on her way to Oz, we need help reaching our destination. At first, our family and friends may be the ones to give us the emotional support we need to keep going. Eventually, however, we must expand our team of supporters to include industry professionals who can keep us moving in the right direction. Performing Rights Organization representatives (in the US: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, in Canada: SOCAN, in the UK: ALCS), publishers, professional songwriters, producers and even major label recording artists, all may eventually become part of our team. Attending songwriting workshops given by local, national and international songwriting organizations is one way to start. You never know if the unknown guy you bump into today might be the Garth Brooks of tomorrow. Just a few of the hit songwriters and artists who have attended songwriting workshops include Mark D. Sanders ("I Hope You Dance"), Mike Reid ("I Can't Make You Love Me"), Carolyn Dawn Johnson ("I Don't Want You To Go") and Dianne Warren ("How Do I Live"). By continually improving our songwriting craft and expanding our knowledge of the industry, we let our potential team know that we're serious and motivated. In addition, by having the patience to form honest relationships and showing appreciation when someone helps us, we earn the trust and respect that we need to add members to our team little by little. Rarely is success achieved overnight. It usually takes years of hard work and persistence. Take for example, Mariah Carey and Luther Vandross who were both given a helping hand by the artists for whom they had been singing backup. Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks and Vince Gill made contacts by singing demos while looking for their label deals. Luckily, we don't need everybody in town to like our songs, but we do need a strong team who does.

Strategy 2: Stay Focused
Most of the aspiring songwriters I've met actually begin with some kind of plan. For some, it is to take frequent trips from their hometown to a major music center in order to write and establish relationships. For example, Northern California songwriter, Steve Seskin ("Don't Laugh At Me"), and up-state NY songwriter, Hugh Prestwood ("The Song Remembers When"), both have had great success writing for the Nashville market. However, one thing most "out-of-town" writers would probably tell you is that making and maintaining contacts from a distance takes an incredible commitment of time, money and energy. For other songwriters, the plan is to move to a major music center and find an alternate means of income until the ship carrying their hit song comes in. Don Schlitz ("The Gambler") tells the story of how he wrote songs while working as a computer operator at night. Garth Brooks had a variety of jobs when he moved to Nashville, including selling boots.

Strategy 3: Set Goals
Even if we're living in a major music center, it's easy to get sidetracked or discouraged if things aren't happening as quickly as we might have hoped. Organization and goal setting are key ingredients to persevering and moving forward on our journey. In his book, Life Is A Contact Sport (William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1994), manager Ken Kragen, whose past and present client roster includes Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers, Travis Tritt and Trisha Yearwood, discusses how using a step-by-step approach has made him and his clients successful. Instead of looking at a desired outcome as an overwhelming task, Kragen sets smaller goals. He helps his clients create a road map beginning from where they are and the steps they need to accomplish to reach their ultimate goal. By reaching intermediate goals along the way, the payoff is constant and the journey is satisfying. I followed Kragen's advice and over the years some of the goals I set for myself and reached included: I will take guitar lessons; I will host a show at the Bluebird Café in Nashville; I will get meetings with five music publishers this month; I will write everyday; I will save enough money to demo ten songs this year; I will get a major artist cut.

Strategy 4: Take chances
In an industry as competitive as this one, we cannot afford to let our fears of failure hold us back. To "take a chance" means something different for everyone. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and different "comfort zones." What might feel like a risk to one person, might be a piece of cake to another. But, as my favorite T-shirt says, "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take." I've been told that Jodee Messina walked right up to the head of Curb Records, Mike Curb, and told him that he needed a redhead on the label. If she hadn't done that, who knows if today she'd have several number one singles and a platinum album. So keep in mind that if you're not writing a song today, someone else is. If you're not calling a certain publisher, someone else is. If you're not booking a gig - well, you get the point. If we never step outside of what feels comfortable to us we can't learn the skills we need to succeed. We must be willing to accept possible rejection or failure and keep going in spite of it. A good example of this kind of perspective and persistence is exemplified by what Thomas Edison said to his wife while watching his laboratory burn down - "that's a good way to get rid of all those mistakes I was making in there."

You've already taken a huge step, just by allowing yourself to pursue your dream. It's not always an easy thing to do, but don't let yourself give up too easily. You can do it!

--Sara

Short Bio:
Songwriter Sara Light Sara Light
is a Tony-Award nominated, hit songwriter and co-founder of www.SongU.com. SongU.com provides multi-level song writing courses developed by award-winning songwriters, song feedback, mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, please go tp: http://www.songwriting.net 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Sara Light, SongU.com, Songwriting Teacher, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN, NSAI, SongU

Songwriter Opinion: Whose Career Would You Kill to Have

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 05, 2011 @12:24 PM

Whose Career Would You Kill to Have(and what is stopping you from having it?) by Molly-Ann Leikin

 

Molly-Ann Leikin, Hit Songwriter


Yesterday, when no one was returning my calls and my lunch date bailed after I paid for valet parking in Beverly Hills, I tore into my secret stash of peanut M & M’s and made a list of everyone, in every field, whose career I’d like to have instead of mine.  

l. Mary Oliver – the poet’s poet.  Her first collection was published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich when I was an intern there during my New York City Jingle Days.   

2.Whoopie Goldberg- the funniest woman in America, if not the world.  

3. Lois Capps – the member of Congress from Santa Barbara, CA.  Think of the changes me, my chutzpah and galloping Jewish guilt could make in the U.S. House of Representatives.    

4. Michelle Kwan – the epitome of grace and strength and miracles in a small blue dress.  She often skated to one of my songs, “An American Hymn”, and I’ve always wished we could change places.  (This comes from growing up in freezing Canada where little girls were sent out in storms to amuse themselves. ) 

5. Lady Gaga

The trouble with wanting to be any of the gifted people I listed above is we already have one of each.  We don’t need two.  What our world could really use is you and your unique contribution. By trying to imitate the success of somebody else, you will miss yourself completely.

Do you well, learn how to get your name in the papers, and maybe someday, you’ll be an even bigger star than Lady Gaga, who, y’never know, could be sitting on the edge of her egg, gobbling peanut M & M’s, shushing the cattle from which she derives her wardrobe, so she can hear your new song.


© 2011 Molly-Ann Leikin www.songmd.com
Molly-Ann Leikin is a Career Mastery Coach and Songwriting Consultant.  An Emmy nominee, Molly has 14 gold and platinum records, plus four ASCAP Country Music Awards.  She's the author of "How To Write A Hit Song" and "How To Be A Hit Songwriter" and has written themes and songs for over four dozen TV shows and movies, including "Violet” that won an Oscar.   Molly has helped launch the careers of thousands of singers and songwriters, three of whom have Grammy nominations.  She can be reached at: www.songmd.com or 800-851-6588.

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, writing songs, Molly-Ann Leikin, writing lyrics, music career, musician, Mary Oliver, Whoopie Goldberg, Lois Capps, Michelle Kwan, Lady Gaga

Hit Songwriter Ken Hirsch Talks About Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Apr 04, 2011 @01:51 PM

Hit Songwriter Ken Hirsch Talks About Songwriting, interviewed by Kiran Michaels

Ken Hirsch, Hit Songwriter


Ken Hirsch won First Prize in the Pop category of the 15th Annual USA Songwriting Competition as well as the Overall Second Prize with the song he wrote "Is That So Bad", co-written with Rosie Casey, Peter Roberts and Hillary Podell. He has also written the numerous hit songs such as “I've Never Been To Me” by Charlene and top 40 hit song “Two Less Lonely People In The World” by Air Supply. His songs have been recorded by legends in the music business. He talks to Kiran Michaels about how he writes songs and how he gets inspiration for it.  

1. You have written with the top names in the business today such as Hal David ("Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head", "This Guy's in Love with You"), Gerry Goffin ("Will You Love Me Tomorrow"), Paul Williams ("Evergreen"), Howard Greenfield ("Breaking Up Is Hard to Do"), Ron Miller ("I've Never Been To Me" & "Touch Me in the Morning') and have written songs that have been recorded by the the biggest names: Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Air Supply, etc. Can you describe how you write a song? 

In my case, with most of the above co-writers, I created a complete melody first (which is always subject to change and molding)and then played it for them either live or on tape.  Most of these co-writers like to be inspired by a melody and rarely just write a freestanding lyric.  With Howie Greenfield, "Two Less Lonely People In The World" started as a title he had come up with from his personal book of titles and lyric fragments.  However, there have been just as many co-writes that happen simultaneously in the room which brings a whole other type of energy to the process.  On rare occasions I am given a partial/completed lyric or a lyric idea.  All three procedures are viable as long as the results work.  Every other blue moon I write both music and lyrics and thus avoid any creative conflicts and sharing of royalties!



2. Hal David, Gerry Goffin  and Howard Greenfield sounded like the people from the Brill Building. Did you ever write songs at the famed Brill building? 


No, when I was hitting the streets in 1970, it was kind of the end of the Brill building era  but a publisher I played my songs for in the building connected me with Doc Pomus ("Save The Last Dance For Me", "This Magic Moment"), one of the most famous of the Brill Building writers, who became my partner and mentor.  



3. How do you get ideas for creating a melody?

Other than seeing what bills need to be paid, usually an interesting set of intervals or chord progression can get the juices flowing.  

 

4. Who is your favorite songwriter, music wise? What did you learn from him/her?

In Pop it would have to be Burt Bacharach and Carol King.  Burt's sophistication combined with his innate soulfulness and Carol's ability to write hooks with a soulful energy are masterful.  They write melodies that are both accessible and unpredictable.  Then there's everyone else from Irving Berlin to Richard Rogers to Jule Styne to McCartney/Lennon to James Taylor to Ashford & Simpson, etc.



5. Who is your favorite songwriter, lyric wise?

I've been fortunate to write with some of the best so they all fall into that category.  I personally like lyrics that aren't too obscure, can be easily grasped or tell a great story.  Everyone from Sammy Cahn to Marty Panzer to so many of the country writers who really are wordsmiths of the first order.



6. How did you write your winning song? Did the melody come first or the lyrics or background music?

Our song "Is That So Bad" (co-written with Rosie Casey, Peter Roberts and Hillary Podell) actually started with a track that Peter was working on.  I added most of the melody and Rosie and Hillary, an artist we were working with, created the lyric.  It was loosely based on Hillary's own experience and then fleshed out by Rosie.  A fortunate confluence of events!  The final demo was produced by Smidi Smith and sung by Windy Wagner, so it's had quite a journey - so far! 



7. The top 3 winners this past year were all collaborations. Is collaboration in Songwriting important these days? 

It is and it isn't.  It depends on your strengths and ability to work with others.  But collaborations generally bring a lot of energy and ideas to the table that you necessarily wouldn't have come up with yourself.



8. Can you describe the collaboration with other writers and producers?

If everyone is pulling in the same direction it can be inspiring.  It helps if everyone can put their egos aside and concentrate on the work.  It's always a gamble, certain collaborators pull things out of you that you did not foresee.  It sometimes puts you into a different zone than what you're comfortable with but that can have positive results.  I've been writing a musical "An Officer and a Gentleman" with Robin Lerner ("This Kiss") and although we've never collaborated before we're both bringing different sensibilities to the project and it seems to be melding really well.  So the crapshoot this time is paying off!



9. What advice would you give to up-and-coming songwriters out there? 

It's all been said a million times but try to go with your gut and try not to compromise too much.  Having said that, try to be as objective as you can.  Don't fall in love with everything you write, many of the times it can be improved.  Don't be reluctant to give up on an idea if it's not working.  I try to separate myself from the writing and put myself in the place of the audience and imagine if I would enjoy listening to this song or if it moves me.  And it helps to have a very thick skin, never take the rejections personally - as hard as they may be to accept, there might be a fairy tale ending just around the corner.  And always keep the tape recorder running!

Ken will be performing his winning song along with a medley of his hit songs “I've Never Been To Me”, “Two Less Only People In The World”, etc at USA Songwriting Competition's showcase at Bluebird Cafe on May 5th

Tags: song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Ken Hirsch, hit songwriter, Billboard Top 40 Hit, Grammy, Gerry Goffin, Hal David, Carol King, Paul Williams, Howard Greenfield, Ron Miller, Brill Building