Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Obscurity vs Clarity

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 @11:03 AM

Obscurity vs Clarity

By Harriet Schock

Harriet Schock, Hit songwriter

I believe that there’s an invisible line that goes from the mouth of the singer to the ears and heart of the listener and if that line is broken by a lyric that makes no sense, the listener’s attention leaves.

Of course, there are many examples of songs that make no sense and have been hits, but when you cite these as examples, I would ask: 1) Was the melody and harmony so killer that people loved it in spite of the lack of clarity? 2) Was it sung by someone so famous that anything they put out will become a hit? 3) Was the audience chemically altered so that each song and bite was better than the one before, no matter what they were hearing or eating?

I have taught songwriting since 1986 and occasionally I’ll have a student who announces he wants to write an obscure song. And granted sometimes songs in films can be a bit generic so that the story takes place on the screen, not in the lyric. But even there the lyrics need to make sense.  I find that thetwo most common reasons for someone’s wanting to write an obscure, ambiguous lyric are: 1) His craft is limited and he thinks he’s being clear when he’s not or 2) He’s not willing for the real story to come out for personal reasons.

There’s a vast difference between writing on two levels and being ambiguous. I believe songs should make sense when you first hear them. Then upon second and third listening, deeper meaning can be discovered. Ambiguity generally leaves the listener wondering what you actually meant.

All of this has been about the lyric. But needless to say, the melody and harmony (chords) are vitally important. They are the wavelengths that carry the lyric along that invisible line I mentioned earlier. Obscurity breaks the line, but a weak melody completely dissolves it.

As performers we can tell when we have a strong melody, compelling harmony and a lyric that moves the listener. That’s when the audience is very quiet and attentive. Sometimes they cry, and we like that too.

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored two other Jaglom films and is starring in the current movie “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Harriet is in the process of writing the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on herbook (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com.

For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit songwriter, songwrite, Harriet Schock, Songwriters Tip, singer songwriter, top 40

Songwriting Tip: The Backyard Connection

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 @09:49 AM

The Backyard Connection

by Mark Cawley

Back Yard Musicians Songwriters

If you've been writing songs for awhile you have to have heard someone preach about the value of networking and getting connected.

Pretty much a given, you can create in a vacuum but you can't grow there.You may be all alone in your room and in your head when you create but to get that song (and you as a writer) in front of people it takes more people. More people means connecting and more connecting. Takes a village to raise a hit. Where to start?

Scour the village!

What does that look like for a beginning writer or a writer living outside of a major music center? It takes some digging on your part. For instance, I coach songwriters from all over the US and beyond these days and many live in places like Indiana, just to pick one. I urge them to look for a local resource first. If you write lyrics but don't play an instrument see if you can connect with someone who's a good player. If you're a songwriter but don't have production skills look for someone around you who's making magic in the basement. Grow together.

One of my favorite ways to connect in these cases is to, in the words of John Hiatt "pull my pony up and hitch my wagon to your star". Is there someone you've heard in a local club? Online? At church? Who's a diamond in the rough? Connect with them. So many writers made a career of working with an unsigned artist and as the artist gained attention, as good ones tend to do, the songwriter’s name was attached. I'm not just suggesting you pitch your songs to this budding artist but suggest you offer to co-write. Get them invested in the song and as they rise so will you. Not every artist we know and love came from LA, New York or London. Some of them came from small towns and for the sake of my point, the pride of Seymour, Indiana, John Mellencamp.

 

I Was Born In A Small Town

I know John a bit from my days of playing in Indiana and most of the people connected to him in the beginning were all local players. The guys I saw in the local bars where the same ones I saw years later at the LA Forum. Some of his earliest hits were co-written with a local lyricist named George Green. John worked with what he had around him.

Sure the odds go up if you move to one of the cities I mentioned and put yourself out there but in the meantime make the most of what's right in your backyard. Might seem like a small connection but it just might be the one to hitch your pony to. Oh yeah, one more Hoosier...John Hiatt.

 

Got Nothing Against the big Town

In defense of the writers and artists that make the big leap to a major market, most of the ones I know worked hard at making and keeping connections. One of my favorite illustrations would be the number of them that offered to sing demos for songwriters, sometimes cheap, hoping that as the writers song gets heard someone will discover the singer. In my first few years in Nashville it was common for me to call some of these folks like Gretchen Wilson, Brett James, Clay Davidson, Ruby Amanfu and Neil Thrasher to sing a demo for me. Worked out pretty well for me and for them.

No matter how you get your break, you never stop connecting on any level in this business you chose.

 Mark Cawley, songwriter

Mark Cawley

Nashville, Tennessee

1/15/14

Photo: Google Images

About: 

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

For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Mark Cawley, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross

Songwriting Tip: The Dos and Don’ts of Co-Writing

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jan 13, 2014 @06:09 PM

The Dos and Don’ts of Co-Writing

by Cliff Goldmacher

 

The top winning song of the 2013 USA Songwriting Competition was written by six different songwriters. Collaboration on writing songs have been around for years. Cliff talks about the dos and don’ts of co-writing. 

Songwriting

Looking back over twenty years to my first songwriting efforts, I remember my creative process as so personal and fragile that I was dead certain I would never open it up to another songwriter. This would have seemed like co-painting or more like co-dating...just not going to happen. However, two things DID happen. One, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, the co-writing capital of the world, and, two, I wrote a lot more songs which stopped me from thinking of each of my song children as untouchable and precious. Ultimately, I simply wanted to create more and better songs and co-writing became a big part of the process. Over the years, I’ve experienced (sometimes the hard way) a few of the big “dos” and “don’ts” of co-writing and thought I’d cover a few.

 

Dos

  1. Decide in advance if you’re going to bring ideas or start “cold”

There are advantages to both approaches. If you’re new to the co-writing process or possibly a little nervous about how your upcoming session will go, preparing in advance with anything from a list of song titles to lyrical and/or musical hooks can go a long way towards a smooth-running session. However, as a more experienced writer, I go into sessions with younger artists without preparing ideas because I anticipate that our initial discussions and time spent getting to know each other will provide the material for our collaboration. All this to say, there is no “right” way to do this.

 

  1. Show up on time and ready to work

I know we’re all artists and we’re all supposed to be flaky, creative types but you’re now writing to hopefully generate income from your music so it’s also a business. Treat it that way. You wouldn’t show up late for work or cancel because you didn’t feel like going so don’t do it with your co-writing sessions either. Showing respect for the process and your collaborator goes a long way towards setting the tone for a productive co-write.

 

  1. Make a plan on how you’ll both promote the song

The reality of the music business is that collaboration doesn’t end with the finished song. There will be subsequent discussions about demo costs, pitch opportunities and any one of a number of other details. What this really means is that in order to make yourself an “attractive” co-writer, you should remember to bring as much to the table as possible. This could mean bringing an industry connection or pitch opportunity or even having a recording studio where you and your co-writer can do the demo for free. It’s helpful to remember that the actual co-write is easy/fun part and it’s all the other parts of the process that ultimately make for a successful collaboration. Truly successful collaborations often extend beyond just writing the song.

 

  1. Discuss percentages for each co-writer

After writing close to a thousand songs, my assumption is that all my “from-scratch” collaborations are even splits. This means 50/50 if there are two of us, 33/33/33 if there are three of us, etc. I consider it bad karma (and frankly exhausting) to count words or try and figure out who created what when the song is done and then try to adjust percentages. Just know that some days you’ll contribute more and some days your co-writer(s) will and that it all evens out in the end. If the song is brought to you mostly (or even partially) finished, then be clear on what the split will be in advance so there isn’t a misunderstanding later on. It’s simply better to just deal with this stuff. Also, it’s considered bad form when discussing your collaborations later to state that you “really wrote most of it” or any variation thereof. The bottom line is that without your collaborator the song wouldn’t be the same song that it is no matter what was directly or indirectly contributed.

 

Don’ts

Putting the business aside again for a moment, the collaborative process, at its root, is about trust and chemistry. The following “don’ts” are suggestions about how to avoid damaging or compromising that trust.

 

  1. Don’t ever criticize a co-writer’s suggestion

This is the ultimate vibe killer. There is vulnerability in trusting someone with your ideas and it only takes one “that sounds stupid” or “that’s a bad idea” to kill the goodwill that should be part of the process. This is not to say that you won’t hear (and suggest) dumb things in the process of a co-write. It happens all the time but it’s enough for you to simply say you’d rather keep looking for another idea or try something else at that point in the song. There’s no percentage in saying someone’s idea is “bad” or “wrong.” First of all, this is art and it’s subjective but more importantly (and I’ve seen this more times than I can count) you could crush an admittedly weak idea that was only going to be a stepping stone towards a truly great one. Be patient with your collaborator and yourself and you’ll be amazed at the results.

 

  1. Don’t insist on one of your ideas if your co-writer doesn’t seem interested in it

You may be in the middle of a co-write and come up with a snippet of lyric or melody that you absolutely love but for some reason your co-writer just doesn’t get it. My suggestion is to make your best case for it and if your co-writer doesn’t like it, let it go. It’s that simple. There are too many ways to write a song to derail the process over a simple disagreement. The key to collaboration is making sure you’re both on board with an idea before moving forward. That being said, if you feel your collaborator consistently doesn’t like ideas that you feel are strong, there’s no rule that says you have to keep writing with this person.

 

  1. Don’t edit too harshly early on in the session

There’s real value in keeping a co-write moving along. Squeezing too hard on a single line or section of the song too early in the process can take all the creative energy out of a session. Better to either keep in a “good enough” line with the understanding you’ll come back to it when you begin to review what you’ve written or take a break if the line just isn’t coming. There will always be time for editing but I’d suggest not going too deep on that front at the expense of getting the shape and form of the song together first.

 

 

  1. Don’t push too hard to collaborate with a more established/successful songwriter

As songwriters, we all know who the hot/marquis writers are. We hear their songs on the radio, meet them at music conferences and, in some cases, came up with them from when they were “nobody.” The unwritten rule I’ve observed is that it’s better to be asked to co-write by a more established/successful writer than it is to ask them to co-write yourself. If your personality is such that you just can’t wait for that to happen, my recommendation is that you should ask once, politely and don’t take it personally if the writer isn’t interested or doesn’t have time. It’s abundantly clear what you, as the less experienced/successful writer, stand to gain from the collaboration but it’s up to the more successful writer to decide if your talent, motivation and, yes, connections warrant them taking the time to collaborate with you. It’s simply the law of the jungle. Hopefully, you’ll be in a position to write with a less experienced/successful writer yourself one day and you’ll treat that writer exactly as you’d hope to be treated yourself.

 

Conclusion

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of co-writing rules but simply a few guidelines to help those new to the game to understand it a bit better. The best kinds of co-writes are the ones where both collaborators feel like they’ve written something better than either could have written alone.

Good luck!

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars. Go to http://www.educatedsongwriter.com/webinar/ for the latest schedule. Cliff’s company, http://www.NashvilleStudioLive.com, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos. You can download a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” by going to http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com/ebook.  Facebook: www.facebook.com/EducatedSongwriter  Twitter: edusongwriter

 For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net


Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, hit song, co-writing, Cliff Goldmacher