Songwriting Tips, News & More

Legendary Music Producer Phil Ramone Dies

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Sat, Mar 30, 2013 @04:43 PM

 

Legendary Music Producer Phil Ramone Dies

(edited by Jessica Brandon)

 

Phil Ramone, legendary producer

Phil Ramone has worked with virtually every top music star including Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, Elton John, and Paul Simon, often as a producer, occasionally as a songwriter. He recorded Marilyn Monroe’s infamous performance of “Happy Birthday” to JFK. He’s the co-founder of A&R Recording, Inc. He had a key role in the release of the first ever album, Billy Joel’s 52nd Street.

A former violin prodigy and expert engineer, he worked with Dylan, Sinatra, McCartney, Bennett, Charles, Streisand, Simon, Joel and Bacharach and spent more than 50 years in the business.

Phil Ramone, the instinctive music producer whose mixing mastery for Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Paul Simon and Billy Joel helped fashion some of the most sumptuous and top-selling albums of his era, has died. He was 72. 

Ramone was married to Karen Ichiuji-Ramone (a.k.a. Karen Kamon, who had a top 100 hit in 1983 "Manhunt", featured in the hit movie and stage musical "Flashdance"), with whom he had three sons.

The 14-time Grammy winner and 33-time nominee once dubbed “The Pope of Pop” was hospitalized in late Feb. with an aortic aneurysm in New York and died Saturday morning at New York Presbyterian Hospital, according to Ramone's son Matt.

A native of South Africa who at age 10 performed as a violinist for Queen Elizabeth II, Ramone spent years working as a songwriter, engineer and acoustics expert in New York before charting a path that would make him a trusted studio partner in the eyes (and ears) of the industry’s biggest stars.

Among the albums on which he worked were Streisand’s 1967 live A Happening in Central Park; Paul & Linda McCartney’s Ram (1971), sandwiched between the Beatles and Wings eras; Dylan’s aching Blood on the Tracks (1975); Simon’s pop classic Still Crazy After All These Years (1975); Joel’s critical and commercial breakthrough The Stranger (1977); Sinatra’s last-gasp Duets (1993), a model of technical wizardry; and Charles’ final album, the mega-selling Genius Loves Company (2004).

Ramone served as a songwriter in New York’s famed Brill Building music factory and worked early on with Quincy Jones, Tom Dowd, Creed Taylor, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller and Burt Bacharach & Hal David, among others. In 1959, he launched the A&R Recording studios on Seventh Avenue in New York, where Blood on the Tracks and so many other classics were recorded.

“Players are like prodigies, thoroughbreds," he added. "You have to handle them with care.”
Born on Jan. 5, 1941, Ramone at age 3 began studying the piano and violin, and he attended the Juilliard School in New York as a teenager. Although he was an accomplished performer and composer, he was attracted to the technical side of music and became a wizard working with the dials.


Ramone was nominated for 33 Grammy awards, winning 14 awards and a technical Grammy for a lifetime of innovative contributions to the recording industry:
1965 – Best Engineered Recording (non classical), for Getz/Gilberto
1970 – Best Musical Show Album for producing Promises, Promises
1976 – Album of the Year for producing Still Crazy After All These Years
1979 – Record of the Year for producing "Just the Way You Are"
1980 – Album of the Year for producing 52nd Street
1981 – Producer of the Year (non classical)
1984 – Best Album Of Original Score Written For A Motion Picture Or A Television Special, for Flashdance
1995 – Best Musical Show Album for producing Passion
2003 – Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, for producing "Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings The Blues"
2005 – Album of the Year and Best Surround Sound Album for producing Genius Loves Company
2006 – Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for producing The Art of Romance
2007 – Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for producing Duets: An American Classic
2012 – Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for producing Duets II

 

For more information on the 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Songwriting, producer, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Phil Ramone, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Rod Stewart

Songwriters Showcase Pictures & Videos at SXSW

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 @03:19 PM

USA Songwriting Competition presented a showcase at during world renowned "SXSW" in Austin, TX:

Danny Fastfingers, Austin, TX

 Danny Fast Fingers

 

Scott Fant, Austin, TX
 Scott Fant

 

Rachael Sage, USA Songwriting Competition winner
 Rachael Sage (Honorable Mention Winner)

Andrea England, USA Songwriting Competition
 Andrea England (Finalist, 12th Annual USA Songwriting Competition)

Berteal
 Berteal (Finalist, 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition)

Michael Wesley Stinson, USA Songwriting Competition
 Michael Wesley Stinson

 

Watch videos:

 Michael Wesley Stinson

 Rachael Sage

Watch more videos here >> 

*Hosted by Mike Abb

For more information on the 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Songwriters Showcase, songwrite, sxsw

Songwriting Tip: When the Well Runs Dry

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Mar 07, 2013 @09:00 AM

When the Well Runs Dry

 Mark Cawley, songwriter

By Mark Cawley

I don’t believe in writers’ block so much. I do think you’re gonna have dry spells; periods of being uninspired from time to time. If it goes on long enough, self doubt can creep in until you wonder how you ever wrote a song in the first place. So how do you do your best to keep the well full?

You prepare. One definition of prepare is to “make ready beforehand for some purpose”. Nothing beats that moment of divine inspiration…but if you’re writing songs for a career you know you can’t conjure up these things every time. Sometimes it helps to have done some homework and stockpiled ideas for those days when you need something to get you going.

Keeping a list of ideas/titles has always been my favorite. I can’t tell you how many times these lines that I heard, read, or found have worked their way into a song on a day when I had nothing. I’m not the first to come up with things you can do to be creative when you’re not actually writing; there are some tried and true ways to use your time wisely: writing down bits of conversation, walking down the aisles of a bookstore and jotting down titles that catch your eye, watching movies and television with your paper and pen close by. You can highlight lines in newspapers, magazines, and books until all these things make their way onto a list of ideas for the future. Being intentional in your search for ideas can really pay off in the long run.

One of the secrets for me has been to make sure I get these lines all in one place. Doesn’t matter if they seem disconnected, I found them at all different times so there’s no thread anyway. Keeping them handy has been the key. Being able to throw out lines to a co-writer or just pore over the list while I’m playing guitar/keys or looking for a drum groove has gotten me unstuck more times than I can count. Some of these never turn into anything but can spark something else, some of them become titles, and lots of them find their way into verses or bridges.

If you write music, switching instruments is another lifesaver. Write on something you’re not familiar with and you’re bound to eventually come up with something different and inspiring.

Lastly, just taking a break can help. Give it a rest for awhile and do whatever lets you replenish your mind and body. I’ve taken breaks that range from just taking a quick walk to going weeks without touching an instrument.

Refresh, replenish, and refill the well... before it runs dry!

 

About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley's songs have appeared on more than 15 million records. Over a career based in LA, London, and Nashville his songs have been recorded by an incredibly diverse range of artists. From Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cuts in Country, Jazz & R & B. His groundbreaking website Song Journey created with Hall of Fame writer Kye Fleming was the first to mentor writers from around the world one-on-one online. He is currently writing and publishing as well as helping writers and artists in the US, UK, and Australia with a one-on-one co-active coaching service, iDoCoach. Check it out at www.idocoach.com

For more information on the 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Mark Cawley, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross, Chaka Kahn, writers block, Spice Girls

Songwriting Tip: The Power of Simplicity

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 06, 2013 @09:00 AM

THE POWER OF SIMPLICITY

by Danny Arena

Danny Arena, songwriter

 

As the boundaries of country music continue to expand, it’s easy to get so caught up in modulations and syncopated rhythms that we can forget the power that a strong, simple melody can have. In my songwriting classes I teach at SongU.com, I try to make a point of giving one assignment to write something simple musically.

 

SIMPLE ISN’T EASY

While a melody may be described as "simple" by someone, the writing of it is usually far from easy. It involves achieving a perfectly natural balance between repetition and change so that the song is easily singable, but not boring. In this column, we’ll look at two of the components that make up a strong, simple melody. We have a tendency to think our own melodies may become dull when a musical phrase is repeated two or three times. As a songwriter full of musical ideas, it’s easy to end up with a song that has too many melodic ideas. In truth, some of the most well-known melodies like, "Yesterday" (Lennon/McCartney) and "Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" (Leigh) rely heavily on repetition. If one of our main goals as a songwriter is to write something that's easily memorable, then by far the best technique available is the power of repetition.

 

USING VARIATION

The downside of repetition is that too much of it can bore the listener. I like to think of it this way. Suppose you were eating spaghetti with red sauce for dinner four nights in a row. Probably by the time the third or fourth night rolled around, you’d be tired of eating the same exact meal. Now, imagine that you change the meal slightly each night: the first night - spaghetti with red sauce; the second night - Chinese sesame noodles; the third night - lasagna; the fourth night - penne pasta with garlic and olive oil. By making a few changes, the same meal can still be satisfying. It’s like that with your music - a little variation goes a long way.

 

As an example of the power of repetition with change, let’s take a look a hit song my wife, Sara Light co-wrote with Arlos Smith called “Home To You”. The verse consists of a total of eight measures, but only two musical ideas, one of which is the following two-measure pattern that starts the song:

 Sara Light & Arlos Smith “Home To You”

What makes the melody particularly memorable is the fact that this musical idea or motif is immediately repeated two more times (see example below). By the time the second verse rolls around, the melody is very familiar.

 "Home To You" by Sara Light & Arlos Smith

From the song, "Home To You" written by Sara Light & Arlos Smith. © Mamalama Music (ASCAP)/Good Ol Delta Boy Music (SESAC). All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Although the initial musical idea (in example 1a) is repeated three times in a row, there are several subtle variations employed that help keep us tuned in to the music, allowing the repetition to work its magic without us becoming bored.

VARIATIONS KEEP THE LISTENER TUNED INTO THE SONG

Notice the first time the musical idea appears, the chord pattern is a G chord followed by D (with an F# bass). But when the musical idea is repeated, the chord pattern changes and an Em7 chord is substituted for the G, which is then followed by C chord. This small harmonic variation in chord structure the second time allows us to return to the initial chord pattern again (G, D/F#) for the third time with fresh ears. Also, notice that each time the two measure musical pattern repeats, the melody begins the same, but ends a little differently. This is a type of variation commonly known as melodic variation and it is often due to the changing of the chords in the musical motif as in the case here. Finally, notice that rhythm of the melody changes slightly each time the musical phrase is repeated but is close enough to the original musical idea that it still reinforces it.

 

So the next time you hear one of your favorite songs on the radio, try to listen for some of those subtle variations in the music. They may be small, but they can make a big difference.

 

Hope to see you on the charts.

-Danny

 

About Danny Arena
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer and professional songwriter. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition, and serves as an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville, and an adjunct member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University. In addition, he has been invited to teach songwriting workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad, and performs his original songs regularly in Nashville at venues like the Bluebird Café. As a staff songwriter for Curb Magnatone Music Publishing, he composed several songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founder, CEO, and one of the main site developers of www.SongU.com, which provides over 100 multi-level courses developed by award-winning songwriters in addition to online coaching, co-writing, industry connections, and pitching opportunities.

 

For more information on 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, Bluebird Cafe, songwrite, Danny Arena, Tony Award, Simplicity, Volunteer State Community College, Vanderbilt University