Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Ya Gotta Move...Yourself !!

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 27, 2012 @03:03 PM

Songwriting Tip: Ya Gotta Move...Yourself !! 

By Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley, songwriter

One of the most valuable lessons I learned over years in writing for artists, writing with artists and taking direction from my publisher was to not study too hard.

I learned this the hard way! I’ll go way back for some examples. I was writing for a major publisher during the 90’s, and I knew that part of my job was to stay current. I would shoot for the biggest artists of the day and usually had a heads up on direction from my publisher, other writers and even producers.

I’ve always loved great singers and found it easy to hear their voice in my head when I was working on something to pitch for them. Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Aretha Franklin, Wynonna, Chaka Khan...I was a channeling fool. For years cuts were coming along but the ones I really wanted were eluding me. I would listen to everything they’d done, groove, key, subject matter and try to nail something I could hear them doing. What I didn’t think about is a really, really great artist isn’t looking for “something that sounds just like them”.

During these years I can’t tell you how many songs were put on hold by the powers that be thinking the song ( and demo) sounded exactly like their artist. At the 11th hour something would usually go amiss. You may have been there. Everything looks perfect, time to start spending the money you’re going to see...nothing to it, I’ve done my homework, my 10,000 hours and damn it...I deserve it!

As you know you need a thick skin and crazy confidence to take the rejection this career will hand out so I would grieve for a time and then jump back in. Then a funny thing happened....

As I was writing for the market I was also getting with better and better co-writers. We had the same war stories but if we wrote long enough we would eventually say let’s forget it and just write what we want, something that we can walk away and say “ I don’t care if this ever get’s cut. Then they did. In a short period of time Tina, Joe, Chaka and Wynonna cut songs that didn’t sound remotely like ones written “for” them. All songs I was proud of. Sometimes it was a creative publisher who had the imagination to hear a song as the next step for an artist even when all the powers that be said they were nuts for sending them a song so different than what was being asked for. Sometimes it was using one of those people in your network, whatever it took to get the artist to hear it.

So the big lesson for me was a true artist is trying to move forward, not repeat themselves. They want to be challenged and they want to challenge a listener or fan. Usually they don’t know what form that will take until they hear it but if the song moved you first maybe you can move them and hopefully they can move a few million other people and then...you can take that to the bank!

© Mark Cawley, Nashville, TN 3/20/12


Mark Cawleys’ 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 Kahn to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK and around the world. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cut’s 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 in the US, UK and Australia with a new one on one co-active coaching service. Visit www.idocoach.com for details. For more details on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Mark Cawley, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, The Spice Girls, Kathy Mattea, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn

Neon Hitch Speaks on Songwriting/Collaboration

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Mar 22, 2012 @12:46 PM

Neon Hitch, singer songwriter talks about her experience as a songwriter in collaboration with hit makers: 

USA Songwriting Competition caught up with Warner Brothers Recording Artist Neon Hitch at the Winter Music Conference in Miami Beach, Florida. She is a British singer and songwriter. She talked about songwriting and collaborations with hit makers such as Bruno Mars, Gym Class Heroes, 3OH!3 and Mike Posner. She had 2 songs that hit the Billboard Hot 100 Charts.

She was signed to Mike Skinner and Ted Mayhem's label, The Beats, before it closed down. She was later discovered on MySpace by Benny Blanco who flew her to New York to work with him. Their work together earned her a music publishing deal with EMI and a record deal with Warner Brothers Records. 

The Winter Music Conference is a weeklong electronic music conference, held every March since the mid-1980s in Miami Beach, Florida. 

The WMC is recognized for serving over 62,000 attendees from 70 countries in Miami Beach to get involved in the WMC week. Over 4,000 industry delegates attended, Record label representatives, publishers, and A&R attend the conference.

USA Songwriting Competition's event director Eddie Phoon (pictured below with Neon Hitch) spoke as a panelist at WMC Demo Listening Workshops and South Beach Sessions, which included legendary music producer Henry Stone. 

 

Singer Songwriter Neon Hitch With Event Director Eddie Phoon, at WMC (Winter Music Conference) in Miami Beach

For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to:http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, Neon Hitch, singer, Warner Brothers, Bruno Mars, Gym Class Heroes, 3OH!3, Mike Posner

Music Gear: iRig™ MIX and DJ Rig, iPhone app with Hardware

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 @11:23 AM


 IK Multimedia at WMC (Winter Music Conference)

IK Multimedia showcased 2 new products (See Video above) at the 2012 WMC (Winter Music Conference) in Miami Beach on March 19, 2012:

iRig™ MIX
The first mobile mixer for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. iRig™ MIX is the first mobile mixer for iPhone, iPod touch or iPad devices. iRig MIX offers the same controls you would expect from a professional DJ mixer (crossfader, cues, EQ and volume controls, etc.) in an ultra-compact mobile mixer that can be used with a huge variety of iOS DJ mixing and other apps. iRig MIX is a DJ mixer that allows DJs to use a traditional setup with two devices (one plugged into each of the independent channels) OR a single iOS device. For the single iOS device setup, the output of the single device is split into dual-mono and sent to the individual channels. Additionally – for the first time on any DJ mixer - iRig MIX can be used for mixing any type of audio source (coming from mp3 players, CD players, etc.) with an iOS device using automatic tempo matching and beat syncing. This is accomplished with X-Sync, a feature that works in combination with the DJ Rig free app from IK Multimedia that is included with iRig MIX.


DJ Rig
The pro-quality DJ mixing app. DJ Rig is a full-featured, double-deck DJ mixing app for iPhone. DJ Rig provides instant song playback from the device's music library, tempo sync, sample-based pads, performance recording and an arsenal of high-quality DJ effects. Together with the iRig MIX, DJ Rig provides the most portable pro-quality setup for mobile DJs and musicians.

DJ Rig stands out from the crowd of DJ apps for its complete set of professional features including some that cannot be found in any other app such as X-Sync. This mode allows anybody to automatically synchronize the app audio with any other external audio source. DJ Rig “listens” to the device's audio input, determines its BPM tempo and syncs the app audio automatically. Read more about iRig™ MIX and DJ Rig at:  http://www.ikmultimedia.com/irigmix/moreinfo/djrig.php

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Music Gear, iRig MIX, DJ Rig, iPhone app, Hardware, IK Multimedia

Songwriters Showcase During SXSW (Videos & Pictures)

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 @10:00 AM

Songwriters Showcase During SXSW

(Pictures by Mike Abb)

USA Songwriting Competition hosted a songwriters showcase last Friday (3/16/2012) at a beautiful scenic venue at the banks of the lake in Austin's Mozart's Coffee Roasters, with over 200 people in attendance. See Videos:

Alexander Cardinale (1st Prize Winner - Pop, 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition & Overall 2nd Prize):

 

 Video of Ed Romanoff (1st Prize Winner - Lyrics, 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition):

 

Video of: Orly (2011 USA Songwriting Competition, First Prize Winner, Folk):

 

Video of: Patrick Joseph Trio:

 

Pictured as follows:

Alexander Cardinale (1st Prize Winner - Pop, 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition)

Alexander Cardinale (1st Prize Winner - Pop, 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition & Overall 2nd Prize)

 

Ed Romanoff, First Prize (Lyrics), 2011 Winner, Singer-Songwriter

Ed Romanoff (1st Prize Winner - Lyrics, 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition)

 

Orly, Folk singer-songwriter

Orly (2011 USA Songwriting Competition, First Prize Winner, Folk)

 

Patrick Joseph, singer-songwriter

Patrick Joseph, performing as a trio. 

 

Watch out in the space for more pictures and videos. Thank you for all that performed and came to the showcase. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, USA Songwriting Competition, Alexander Cardinale, sxsw, 2012, Orly & Yagel, Patrick Joseph, South By South West

Songwriting Tip: Planting Positive Seed

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 19, 2012 @12:00 PM

Planting Positive Seed

By Daylle Deanna Schwartz

 Daylle Deanna Schwartz

Trying to succeed in a creative endeavor can feel futile at times, if not often. Doors close and people don’t respond to what you send them or to return calls. Your gig didn’t go well, your efforts to get your music licensed haven’t gotten you anywhere or your band mates are giving you a hard time. It can make you feel lost about what to do or wanting to give up. I encourage you to do some gardening for your life to up your chances for career opportunities, good people, and other goodies to bloom in profusion for your career.

 

I think of life as a garden. It needs weeding, seeds planted, watering, and fertilizer to help it bloom in ways you want. When you don’t tend your garden it gets out of control. When you don’t tend your thoughts and the seeds you plant, YOU feel out of control of your life. When you do plant the seeds for healthy blossoms and take care of them, your life blooms in a profusion of attracting many blessings.

 

It’s important to be careful not to allow weeds to grow in your garden of self: criticism, pessimism, negative thoughts, frustration, hopelessness, doubt, etc. Some weeds are pretty on the surface and may actually have flowers, which makes it harder to understand they must go. In life, people are like weeds. They may sweet talk you, pump you up about our music, offer to help you but then disappear, and other things that are common.

 

You may think you need someone who has contacts or the money to invest in your music. But if they hold you back as you wait for them to do something—while they make lame excuses for not keeping their word—they’re weeds that need to go! When I was doing my music, there were many weeds who told me what I wanted to hear. I’d get all excited, only to be let down.

 

Weeds can glom onto you in ways that make you keep them around when the thought of doing everything on your own, or trying to find better people, seems like too much work, or too scary. When they throw you a bone to make you continue to deal with them, they're still weeds. When you let them stay and spread, they overpower everything.

 

Weed your garden so your talent can bloom! Awareness is a great weed controller. It helps you spot people who are all talk and no action, don’t keep their word, ask for money with no return, etc. fast and eliminate them. Replace weeds by planting as many seeds as you can that can open doors down the road. Seeds are doing something that could potentially create an opportunity. Every little thing you do that allows another person to be aware of you and your music is a seed that might bloom.

 

Every time you send out your press kit or make a call to pursue a gig or increase your friends on social networking sites, or go to a seminar or take a class to improve your performance or meet other musicians or managers or go to panels with industry pros, or make a new friend or let people know what you need, you create a potential opportunity. Each one is a seed. Think about how seeds spread in the wind to gardens. It’s common for people to get a beautiful flower in their garden that they didn’t plant. The wind carries seeds from one garden to another. It’s the same with action seeds.

 

Every time you do something to advance or connect or let someone know what you’re doing or need, you give yourself another chance to bear the fruit of each seed. The more seeds you plant, the more chances one will sprout. I sent Oprah a press kit a year before they called me to do the show. A producer held onto it and got it out when they needed someone like me for a topic that I have expertise in—a year later! Patience helps you not get discouraged when seeds don’t sprout right away.

 

Many artists tell me they’ve succeeded because they planted as many seeds as possible by getting their music or name to as many folks who might be able to use them as possible. Thinking of each effort as a seed planted keeps you from looking at opportunities that don’t pan out as a waste. IF you have the goods to qualify for what you want, no seed is wasted. You may not hear from the person for a long time, as what happened for me with Oprah. But people who look at their efforts as seeds know that it only take one to sprout before the whole garden can start to bloom.

 

So step out and tend your own garden. Control the weeds of your garden too. You don’t need a green thumb! Look for the weeds and get rid of what you can. Plant as many seeds for what you want as possible. Then take any actions you can and EXPECT them to grow! The more you stay positive and keep believing in your talent, the more opportunities you can attract.

--------------------------

 

Daylle Deanna Schwartz is a speaker, consultant for musicians and record labels, self-empowerment counselor, and best-selling author of 13 books, including the third edition of Start & Run Your Own Record Label (Billboard Books/Random House) and Nice Girls Can Finish First (McGraw-Hill), based on lessons she learned as one of the first women to start a record label. http://www.daylle.com  For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit:http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: music business, Daylle Deanna Schwartz, Billboard Books, Run Your Own Record Label

Songwriting Tips: Your Best Friend Melody

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 @12:00 PM

Songwriting Tips: Your Best Friend Melody

by Ralph Murphy

Ralph Murphy, Songwriter

Ah melody! A songwriters best friend, your beacon in the night, an integral part of only great songs that makes your compositions shine, the signpost that points the way to a hit.

 
Yes, melody is all that and more. Perhaps too much more. As I deal with the affect of melody extensively in "The Book" and USA Songwriting Competition has asked me to be brief...I will be.

 
Unless you are dealing with an audience ready to dance and you are looking at 110 to 135 Beats Per Minute (BPM) at midnight, even then, what probably lures listener to you song is melody. However, what keeps them there is lyric, a simple story well told. I have friends tell me that they love this song or that song but they say they don't know the words. When I play "that song" for them surprisingly they know the lyric! What invites the listener into the song is melody, what keeps them there for a long time is lyric.

 
It is an interesting characteristic of the human animal that we are not very good at auditory multi-functioning.......hearing more than one moving part simultaneously. When that happens, given our preference we always defer to melody. So, where you tell your story and you want the audience to listen, remain linear otherwise you don't lead the listener to the lyric.


To quote my old pal Harlan Howard "Don't change your chord 'till you change your thought"!

 

However, on the other side of the coin, as a "creator of works" if you are called on to write for an artist with a huge vocal range and the ability to soar musically is part of their musical "persona" then you respond accordingly. One syllable words, open vowel sounds, minimal story and a huge melody are your best friends.


Always remember, you the writer must fulfill not only the listeners expectation but also the artists perception of the image they wish to project. When that happens it is a wonderful thing, everyone high fives and celebrates. When it doesn't happen the songwriter gets the blame!


Ralph Murphy is a producer and songwriter. He wrote huge hit songs such as Crystal Gayle "Talking in Your Sleep" and "Half the Way". Murphy has served as President of The Nashville Chapter of the Recording Academy and has been a NARAS National Trustee. Add to that the platinum records as a producer, the widely acclaimed Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting articles used as part of curriculum at colleges, universities, and by songwriter organizations, 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. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Melody, Ralph Murphy, Crystal Gayle, Songwriting Tips, Harlan Howard, Talking in Your Sleep, Half the Way

YES, YOU CAN BE A SUCCESSFUL SONGWRITER

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 12, 2012 @12:00 PM

YES, YOU CAN BE A SUCCESSFUL SONGWRITER by Danny Arena

Danny Arena, Songwriter

Yes, we all know it’s tough to break into the music business these days. But the news is not all gloom and doom. The truth is there are more opportunities for writers and artists today to make a living than ever before. You can be well on the road to becoming a successful songwriter or songwriter/artist if you follow some simple proven strategies:

  • MAKE SURE YOUR SONGS ARE THE BEST THEY CAN BE 
    The number one reason songs don’t make an impact on an audience or get recorded by outside artists is because they simply aren’t strong enough. Sadly, many writers waste thousands of dollars recording or demoing songs that aren’t ready to be recorded or pitched. And some waste more money hiring independent song pluggers and buying tip sheets to pitch those same songs. The music business is hard enough to break into with a killer song, much less a song that isn’t competitive. Instead of spending all that money on demos, recording studios and tip sheets -- buy a book on songwriting. Take a class. Attend a songwriter workshop or seminar. Aside from the networking opportunities you’ll encounter, you’ll probably learn a trick or two. Even if you already know the basic craft, you can still enhance your unique voice as a writer and strengthen your writing skills by incorporating new techniques into your lyrics and music. As Henry Ford said, "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty."
  • GGET FEEDBACK.
    Play your songs for an audience and see if that humorous line in the second verse really makes them laugh or if the bridge has the emotional impact you think it should. And by all means, have some professionals in the industry evaluate your song before you spend money on that demo or recording. A few professional insights on the song might save you a lot of money and heartache.
  • CCO-WRITE WITH OTHERS 
    Some feel that co-writing might compromise their integrity as a writer. But like a good marriage, there are also a lot of advantages to a good collaboration. A collaborator can bring a new perspective into a song that you never would have thought of on your own, or bring strengths to an area where you might not be as strong (e.g., music, playing, singing, etc.). As well as the obvious creative collaboration on the song, a co-writer also brings his or her entire network of friends and business contacts to the table. For that reason, we regularly hook-up cowriters at SongU.com in various songwriting challenges (the current challenge is the “blind date” challenge in which we’ve paired up over 100 writers who have never met to write long distance together). Last year, one of our members from Canada who was paired up with a writer from Hawaii collaborated on a Blues song. The Canadian writer then pitched the song to the director of a Blues Festival that happened to be in town that week. The pair ended up with their first co-write together getting recorded on a blues compilation CD alongside several well known Blues artists like John Lee Hooker. Together they accomplished what neither could have alone.
  • CHOOSE THE RIGHT DEMO
    When you do get around to demoing that great song, choose the right demo. Not every song needs a full blow-out demo. Every song has its own life and the best vehicle to showcase the songs really depends on the song. One of our SongU.com instructors, Cole Wright, a top Nashville songplugger, does a monthly feature in our e-Auditorium called “What’s Cole Pitching?” in which he plays and discusses several of the demos he’s pitched during the month. You’d be surprised how many guitar/vocal or piano/vocals he pitches and gets cut. So before you demo the song, give some thought to how to best let the song convey its message. Regardless of whether you do a full band demo or a simple piano or guitar/vocal demo, it needs to be a professional quality (i.e., the vocalist sounds like they should have a record deal and the guitar player is flawless).
  • JOIN THE DIGITAL AGE
    If you’re still recording your songs on that cassette or 8-track player and don’t know how to put them into MP3 format, you’re behind the times and are going to miss out on a lot of pitch opportunities. For example, when my wife, Sara Light, and I were writing for the Broadway show Urban Cowboy we got a call on a Friday afternoon from the director of the show that they needed us to write a new song for the close of the first act by Monday morning’s rehearsal – they needed lead sheet and worktape in hand at rehearsal. However, they were in New York City and we were in Nashville. With two days to write the song and get them a lead sheet and recording, there simply wasn’t a lot of time. If I didn’t have the skills to do the lead sheet on the computer and create/record the MP3 to email them at rehearsal, we would’ve missed a golden opportunity.
  • LOOK BEYOND THE OBVIOUS WHEN YOU PITCH 
    As the wise monkey, Rafiki, from the movie The Lion King says, “You must look beyond what you see”. Too many writers make the mistake of trying to only pitch their song to the top selling artists. You might as well buy a ticket to the lottery too because you’ve got just as much a chance of coming out ahead there. Your song is competing against the songs and networking power of every other hit writer and every other professional songwriter and publishing company around. Heck, that artist is probably writing songs for the album too and their producer probably runs a publishing company and has a vested interest in getting songs from his or her publishing company on the project. Even if your song is as good as all those other songs, it would be tough to compete against the established relationships and networking power of those other individuals. Instead of playing the lottery, play the odds. Today’s market is vastly different from what it was ten years ago. There are many more non-traditional opportunities available that weren’t available to writers before if you just look for them. For example, we have a regular pitching opportunity at SongU.com for a company in California that licenses songs for wedding slideshows, graduation slideshows and more. Some of our members make several hundred dollars a year from their songs being licensed in this way. The fact that online organizations like CDBaby.com give indie artists an opportunity to market and sell their projects means they can generate an income (and pay out royalties) without a big record label behind them. There are thousands of independent artists on MySpace - many of whom look to outside material when it comes time to record their album (and have devoted fan bases that buy those albums). With the help of the Internet, you may find surprising sources.
  • EXPOSE YOURSELF (well, at least your songs)
    Something definitely happens when you don't put your songs out there in the world for others -- they don't get cut! So take advantage of every outlet, every possibility, ever opportunity. You never know which will be the one that pays off. One of our members received a contract offer from MTV for use of some of her songs in one of their TV shows because they stumbled onto her songs on her website. If people can’t hear your song or find it, they can’t fall in love with it and want to license it or record it.
  • CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE
    Finally, remember that success is an ongoing journey, not a destination. As soon as you get your first single song contract, you want a staff deal. You land your first cut and then you hope for a single. You get a single and then you set your sights on having that #1 hit. You score a #1 hit and then they tell you that no one takes you seriously in the business until you have at least three #1 hits. In other words, this road has no end in sight. So enjoy and celebrate your achievements along the way.

Whether you are just learning to upload an MP3, a new open tuning on your guitar, or place in a songwriting contest – you are successful. Most of us did not choose this as a career. It chose us. We write songs simply because we can’t imagine life if we didn’t. So as long as you’re on this journey, you might as well buckle up and enjoy the scenery.

-Danny

About Danny Arena:
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer who has worked as a staff songwriter for Warner/Chappell Music and Curb Magnatone Music Publishing. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition. He is currently an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville and has been a member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University as well as a guest lecturer at the Berklee College of Music and Belmont University. Together Danny and Sara collaborated on composing songs for the Broadway show "Urban Cowboy: The Musical" which was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founders of the online educational website www.SongU.com which provides multi-level songwriting courses developed and taught by award-winning songwriters, song feedback and mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Danny Arena, Tony Award, Successful, Warner/Chappell Music, Curb Magnatone Music Publishing

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 06, 2012 @12:00 PM

 

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

 

A successful songwriter gets you creative in a hurry 

By Joe Bouchard

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

 

When many of the great rock songs were written in the ’60s, writers would hack out a song in an hour or two. For example, “A Hard Day’s Night” was written by John Lennon overnight. The next morning it was done and ready to record in a few hours.

I’m very happy with the songs I’m doing these days. The biggest change to my working style in the last three years has been my “Demo in a Day” habit I’ve gotten into. It goes like this:

 

1. Start with a great hit song.

 

2. If you can’t find a hit song in your bag, use any song sketch that you’ve got. Or cover somebody else’s song. You’ll learn if you force yourself to dig, and be creative. Remember—even the great songwriters write a stinker sometimes, but keep pushing.

 

3. Get a good computer (Mac is my preference, but many successful writers make brilliant music on PCs too) and sequencer/DAW program. Learn the programs thoroughly. If you are having a problem with a program, look up a solution on YouTube. Chances are some geek has posted an answer, and can show you how things work without reading the manual.

 

You don’t need a lot of fancy hardware. I use only two mics for demos, an SM57 for guitars and a RØDE condenser for vocals. Most everything can be done with a direct box, or with plug-ins in the sequencer. My recording program is MOTU Digital Performer, I’ve been using it for years; occasionally I’ll use Pro Tools, and have started using Logic too.

 

4. Demo the song. Work quickly.

 

 

Morning

 

Get up early. Shut off all emails, Facebooks, don’t answer the phone—let the answering machine pick up all calls. Don’t watch the morning news, or check the weather. Make coffee.

 

First, record a Guide Demo to a click if you can—mono or stereo, it doesn’t matter— with just simple piano chords, or acoustic guitar chords. Don’t be fussy. Just throw an open mic in the room and wail away. Don’t fix any wrong notes or out-oftuneness, the cruder the better. This Guide Demo will force you to stay focused to get you to the finished “Demo in a Day”.

 

Put the Guide Demo in the top track of your sequencer. You will be turning this on and off as you work on your “Demo in a Day”.

 

Add markers at the top of your sequencer that mark the intro, verses, choruses, any bridge, and the ending.

 

Now do a rough drum track. I use Toontrack Superior Drummer; the sounds are very realistic and I have hundreds of MIDI drum files that give me any style I might want. I even bought other drum MIDI files from a company called Groove Monkee. They all work seamlessly with Digital Performer. Making drum parts is only a matter of drag and drop from the Groove section of the plugin to a MIDI track that is assigned to the Superior Drummer instrument.

 

Use markers to vary the drum parts as a real drummer would. Add fills either a bar or two bars before each new section. It’s easy to see on the screen when a new section is coming. Usually the drum feel is the hardest to nail, so try different parts until you are happy with the feel and how it expresses the feeling in the Guide Demo. Be patient, this could take up most of your morning.

 

Break for lunch when you’ve got the drum part programmed.

 

 

Noon

 

Right after lunch start recording rhythm guitars. The goal is to have a finished song by the end of the day, so you can’t get too fussy with sounds. I often use a Line 6 POD for guitar. It’s fast and it works. The sounds are very mixable. Even Pete Townshend admits to using one in a pinch. Next do piano parts or other coloration

 

parts. Percussion can help too. Bass parts you can do last, or first—it’s up to you. Don’t spend a lot of time on fixing little things. Loop a part if you stumble in the 2nd verse, or 2nd chorus.

 

Doubling parts will make it sound like a classic rock song. I don’t double with copy and paste and time shift, I prefer to actually play the same part twice and pan them L and R. It sounds like the way music was made in the late ’60s and early ’70s. [See this month’s Talkback for hints on creating doubled parts quickly—Ed.]

 

Sing a rough vocal. Add harmonies. Double the harmonies. Replace the rough vocal with a better vocal. I don’t like Auto- Tune, but I might use the tiniest amount on a rough spot.

 

All the time I am recording, I’m reaching for plug-ins that do my eq, compression, and reverb. If I need to automate part of the mix, I’m doing that as I’m recording.

 

 

And night

 

Break for dinner. After dinner, mix it down. It shouldn’t take too long to get something reasonable, since you’ve already set up eq and compression as you were recording. When you get a mix, load in onto your MP3 player. Take a short drive in your car and test the mix. I always do the “car test” for mixes. Remix until satisfied.

 

By now it’s about 10 PM. Do you know where your song is? It should be mixed and presentable to your friends, relatives and the rest of the band.

 

I’ve spent months working on certain song demos. In the end, with that style of recording the results are mixed at best. The “Demo in a Day” technique works better. By forcing yourself to work quickly it’s easier to keep zeroed in on the emotional focus of your song.

 

By the end of the day you will hear whether the song is going to be great or not. If it isn’t, don’t sweat it, you’ve only invested one day of your time; tomorrow you can go on to a new song. The perfect song is waiting around the corner.

 

Joe Bouchard is a singer, songwriter, and bass player who has worked with his brother Al in bands like Blue Öyster Cult— he was first interviewed in our October 2011 issue. To learn more about his music, visit www.bluecoupeband.com.

 

Excerpted from the March edition of Recording Magazine 2012.   ©2012 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. 5408 Idylwild Trail, Boulder, CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information, call: 1-800-582-8326 or www.recordingmag.com  For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net


Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, 4-track, Joe Bouchard, tip

Songwriting Tip: From Demo To Master

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 05, 2012 @02:15 PM

From Demo To Master: Arranging, Recording, Mixing & Mastering by Melissa Axel

MelissaAxel, JustinPeacock conduscting string section

As with previous posts, we continue from the recording artist perspective (rather than pitching a song to a vocalist) where the last article, From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience, left off. This post explores how the song "Golden Rule" was arranged, recorded, mixed, and mastered for release on the album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS …

With pre-production complete and crucial decisions made about song structure, lyric edits, and more, "Golden Rule" was finally ready for recording … or was it? Not quite yet. Before we could take the song into the studio, we still had to finalize the instrumentation and arrangement to build the overall vibe of the track.

We'd chosen a great drummer/percussionist for the album, and our producer arranged a meeting with him to go over the feel of the song. They each brought some great groove ideas to the table (our producer has a percussion background as well), and the drummer and I played together a bit to lock in the most natural tempo.

Hearing how the piano and drums fit together, we decided the song would feel great with an upright bass. We hired a terrific player versed in jazz and rock who brought various textures to the album, and for this track, a jazzier pop feel worked best. We talked through the song, played with some ideas, and then it was time to record the rhythm section. We tracked piano, drums and upright bass live in the studio with each instrument isolated in its own room, separated by glass windows for eye contact.

No matter how good your musicians are and or how much you've rehearsed, there's a special magic you're going for in the studio that only comes from letting go and playing until everything "gels" between the performers. Our session was no exception, and once I'd recorded a scratch vocal as our guide for the song, I was free to focus on the nuances of the piano part and how it connected with what the other musicians were doing. Once we had something down that we were all pleased with, I went back and recorded the rubato (out of time) intro and outro sections by myself on piano.

With the basics down, we turned our attention to the arrangement. In essence, "Golden Rule" is a song about empowerment, and we wanted a string section to bring out its emotional strength. It needed to sound both fresh and familiar—inspirational without being cheesy, moving without being "over the top." Violinist/composer Kailin Yong listened to our basic tracks and created an arrangement for violin, viola, and cello that built up to great intensity and also provided a sense of comfort and universal acceptance to the listener.

Once the arrangement was complete and we were all happy with a midi demo of the parts, we scheduled a recording session for the strings. Kailin played lead violin, joined by Tom Hagerman (DeVotchKa) on second violin, Mackenzie Gault (Flobots) on viola, and Beth Rosbach (Sphere Ensemble) on cello. Our producer took on the role of conductor, with an engineer who specializes in live recording at the board.

The string players were charged with bringing more to life than just notes on the page: each musician would also fill the music with the emotions of his or her own experiences from childhood. Though I knew some of them well, I had just met others for the first time that day, so we connected for a bit and exchanged a few brief stories before tracking began. As we layered several takes of the string section, a mini string orchestra evolved before our ears, and I heard the incredible difference it makes to record live musicians.

After the strings were finished, it was time to lay down the final vocal. Every singer needs to feel supported by the music, and I realized how much easier it is to deliver a solid, heartfelt performance with a strong, grooving rhythm section and beautiful string arrangement backing me up. We spent some time listening back to the takes and comping the best phrases into a cohesive track that reflected the message and openness of the song.

But capturing great performances with great sound is not enough: the complete picture of a song is brought to light by an exceptional mix, and we were fortunate to be working with a producer whose specialty is mixing. He had a vision for each song—and the entire record—from the beginning, as well as a strong understanding of my own sonic preferences. We left him to his own creative devices and returned to find the unique sound and placement of each instrument perfectly treated in a stunning mix that drew the listener in and highlighted all of the most special moments of the song.

The final mix of "Golden Rule" (and eleven other songs) then went to our mastering engineer, who processed or "sweetened" the audio to maximize sound quality for both CD/digital and vinyl/analog formats. Since the sound of this music was intimate, sweeping, and highly organic, we chose to master the album for high dynamic range. Unlike many "wall of sound" tracks released since the compact disc began to dominate the industry, compression was used sparingly to keep the quiet parts quiet and the big orchestral parts loud and powerful by contrast. The result is a listening experience of greater sonic depth (and an absence of ear fatigue).

"Golden Rule" had completed its evolution from demo to master. From pre-production to arranging, to recording, mixing and mastering, the process was a detailed, lengthy, and enriching one that not only prepared us well for future recording projects but provided a fulfilling creative journey in and of itself.

 

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS is reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Tori Amos. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

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