Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: The Missing Link

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 @03:04 PM

THE MISSING LINK

by John Capek

 songwriting

Popular songs as we know them today perhaps found their shape and form with one of the seminal founders of American popular music, Stephen Foster. Stephen Foster is often credited as "America's First Composer" and widely regarded as one of the first who made professional songwriting profitable. Foster wrote songs that we often mistakenly think of as folk songs. His songs include:

“OH! SUSANNA”, “OLD FOLKS AT HOME” (SWANEERIVER)”, “MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME” “BEAUTIFUL DREAMER” “DE CAMTON RACES” (CAMPTOWN RACES, DOO DAH) and “JEANNIE WITH THE LIGHT BROWN HAIR”

 

The form and nature of these songs are significant in their connection to everything that followed. These songs were short, had verses and chorus’s or refrains, they were easy to learn and repeat and they tapped into the popular culture of their time. It is profoundly significant that we still know these songs now, about one hundred and fifty years after the time that they were written.

 

Stephen spent much of his life in Pittsburgh where he worked consistently at his songwriting,.  As a professional songwriter he had made it his business to listen to the various styles of music circulating in the immigrant populations of the newUnited States.  He used images and a musical vocabulary that would be widely understood by everyone.  Foster worked very hard at writing, sometimes taking several months to craft and polish the words, melody, and accompaniment of a song before sending it off to a publisher.  His sketchbook shows that he often labored over the smallest details, the right prepositions, even where to include or remove a comma from his lyrics.

 

It is also important and significant to know that Foster kept his own account books, documenting in detail how much his publishers paid him for each song, He also estimated his probable future earnings on each piece.  His contracts were written out in his own hand.  These contracts are the earliest written agreements that  we know of between American music publishers and individual songwriters.

 

Within twenty years of Foster’s death, the concept which he had a large part in creating, that of writing songs for publishers for money, developed into what came to be called Tin Pan Alley, named for a street in New York City (West 28th StreetbetweenBroadway and Sixth Avenuewhere all the music publishers had their offices.) By 1890, sheet music sales of popular songs was a thriving multimillion dollar business.

Had Stephen Foster survived for another twenty years, it is possible that his catalogue of songs would have been worth hundreds of million dollars.

 

The immediate successors to Stephen Foster’s legacy were numerous well known songwriters who’s work has survived them. Irving Berlin had his first significant hit with Alexander’s Ragtime band in 1911. Show Boat, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, was the first hugely popular musical comedy in 1927.  "Ol'ManRiver" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" are songs that have become standards in the “great American songbook George Gershwin's folk opera Porgy and Bess premiered in 1935. Summertime is an all time standard song from that show

 

The electric guitar was first seen around 1936. Alan Freed invented the term Rock and Roll in 1951. Berry Gordy formed Motown records in 1959

The Beatles had their first major hit with I want to Hold Your Hand in 1964

Hip hop, a blend of rock, jazz, and soul with African drumming,  was born in theSouth Bronxin 1978 or perhaps in Kingston Jamaica with dub DJ’s earlier than that.

 

Tin Pan Alley, the center and focal point of American popular music can be directly linked to another New York institution and landmark. That landmark, the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway became the very definition of pop music in the 1950’s and 1960’s

 

By 1962 the Brill Building contained 165 music businesses: a musician could find a publisher and printer, cut a demo, promote the record, and cut a deal with radio promoters, all within this one building. Some of the better known songwriters associated with the Brill building include:

 

   * Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller

   * Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman

   * Gerry Goffin and Carole King

   * Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry

   * Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

   * Burt Bacharach and Hal David

   * Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield

   * Hugo & Luigi

   * Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

   * Paul Anka

   * Jim Croce

   * Bobby Darin

   * John Denver

   * Neil Diamond

   * David Gates

   * Billy Joel

   * Kris Kristofferson

   * Roger McGuinn

   * Joni Mitchell

   * Carly Simon

   * Paul Simon

   * Phil Spector

   * ChipTaylor

   * James Taylor

   * Gene Pitney

   * Artie Kornfeld

 

I believe that there are two seminal key ingredients that link the various stages of unfolding of popular music. The first is the dedication of the writer to his art and craft. The second is the economic factor.

 

In describing the writer’s dedication to his art and craft, I have discussed how meticulous Stephen Foster was in fine tuning and perfecting his tunes.

 

On a similar note it is useful to read Rennold Wolf’s account of how he, Irving Berlin, Vincent Bryan, and Channing Pollock worked together on a show song inAtlantic City:

 

     “We assembled in Mr.Berlin's imposing suite of parlors, where there was a piano.... Seated at the instrument, he was not long in conceiving a melody, which immediately he began to pound out. All night, until dawn was breaking, he sat on the stool, playing that same melody over and over and over again, while two fagged and dejected lyric writers struggled and heaved to fit it with words.... One cigarette replaced another as he pegged away; a pitcher of beer, stationed at one end of the keyboard, was replenished frequently; and there he sat, trying patiently to suggest, to two minds that were completely worn out by long rehearsals and over-work, a lyric that would fit his melody. Mr. Pollock and I paced the floor; we sat, in turn, in every chair and on every divan in the rooms; we tore at our hair; we fumed, we spluttered, and probably we cursed”..

 

These examples of work ethic continue as the songwriters process to this day. I personally have spent six months fine tuning a song, where the first draft or sketch took a few minutes to unfold. My peers work in the same way.

 

In discussing the second important link, the economic factor, it is significant to know that most of the successful songwriters who’s work has transcended time and genre were also very aggressive entrepreneurs.

By the age of 15, George Gershwin had quit school and was a pianist and "song plugger" for a Tin Pan Alley publisher.

One of the first "popular" music publishers in Tin Pan Alley  was T.B. Harms. T.B. Harms started out as a songwriter. His company ultimately became George Gershwin’s publisher.

 

At the time, songwriters were also "songpluggers," a term that is still used today. Instead of waiting for the market to come to the publisher, the publisher would use songpluggers to take songs to the market. A songplugger's main job was to place songs with performers. Songpluggers were aggressive and influential, singing to passing crowds, going to department stores and sports events, and just about anywhere they could find an audience.

 

As I have suggested, I believe that the two major ingredients involved in success as a songwriter are:

 

1  Serious and meticulous attention to detail of craft.

2.. A dedicated investment of time and energy into the business of songwriting.

 

In recent months there has been a lot of hand wringing, whining and complaining about the state of the record industry. InCanada, there has been the biggest decline in CD sales in the history of the world. Similar situations are occurring everywhere. Industry think tanks are focussed on how to monetize the new paradigm.

 

No-one anywhere has suggested that perhaps the reason that CD sales are about to die is that the songs suck.

 

There was a time where singers and bands were not the writers of the songs that they performed. Songwriters and artists were two separate entities. In our current environment, artists write their own songs. This has repercussions. I believe that rather than blaming the intrusion of a new technology on the demise of the record industry, I would point to the fact that there are no great songs being written that will last for 150 years or more like the songs of Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin or Cole Porter.

 

Perhaps the cycle will bring back the art and the craft of songwriting when the attention to detail and art and craft become a priority again. At that point i believe that the audience, the market will respond and be willing to spend money for music of quality.

 

Rod Stewart leads the list of popular music icons who have recorded John Capek compositions. Others include Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Toto, Chicago, Olivia Newton John, Little River Band, Heart, Manhattan Transfer, Isaac Hayes and Amanda Marshall. John Capek’s most performed award winning songs include : “Rhythm of My Heart”, ”This”, ”Soul on Soul” and “Carmelia”.  Capek’s most performed productions include Dan Hill’s Billboard hit duet with Vonda Sheppard, “Can’t We Try” as well as work with Ken Tobias, Gene McLellan, Good Brothers and Downchild. As a keyboard player, John has recorded with Diana Ross, Olivia Newton John, Ian Thomas, Marc Jordan, Dan Hill, Kermit, The Chipmunks, The Simpsons and countless other international performers. John’s songs are heard in the feature films, “A Perfect Storm”, “Cocktail”, “Blown Away” and many others. For more information go to www.johncapek.com

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, tip, Stephen Foster, craft

Songwriting Tip: Beginnings

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Sun, Jun 15, 2014 @09:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Beginnings

by John Capek

Songwriting

What comes first. lyrics or music?   That’s probably the most common question I am asked when I conduct workshops and seminars.

 

My answer is that the more variety that a songwriter can add to starting a song, the better.

I try to start each song that I write from a different point of view as my starting point.

 

The choices include:

 

1. Writing a full lyric first and then putting it to music.

2. Writing a full track without melody first.

3. Writing a full track of music with melody but no lyrics.

4. Writing based on a song title.

5. Writing based on a story concept

6. Writing based on a beat or drum loop.

7. Writing using a musical instrument that is not your primary instrument of writing. If you are a keyboard player try a guitar, or vice versa.

 

All of these are valid and commonly used, or of course a combination of any.

 

My latest writing technique has been to try to write a complete lyric draft first without even thinking about music. Apple Loops has revolutionized my song writing. Once I have a draft of a lyric, I’ll explore a bunch of possibilities in Apple Loops and choose a groove, usually a guitar lick that works for the first line of my lyric. The rest of the song usually unfolds like a jigsaw puzzle from that point on.

 

1. Writing a full lyric first and then putting it to music.

 

In order to write a lyric first, we need to have a starting point for that. Many of my song writing friends and peers always carry a notebook with them during the day and keep one close when they are sleeping. A particular person encountered during the day, a sign on the street, a line from a newspaper or from something on TV is usually a catalyst for a word or line or visual image that can be noted and used at a later point.

 

I find that in my case, I never think about or analyze my song structures. Usually that first line will dictate where the song is going to go structurally.  A teacher friend of mine has noted that 90% of all; songs follow a structure similar to the children's nursery rhyme

 

MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB

IT’S FLEECE WAS WHITE AS SNOW

EVERYWHERE THAT MARY WENT

THE LAMB WAS SURE TO GO

 

Although that may be an oversimplification, I find that structural simplicity is a good thing to aspire to . In fact simplicity in general works best

 

2. Writing a full track without melody first.

 

Many producer/musician/songwriters work this way. If you have skills as a musician producer, many lyricist/melodists enjoy writing to tracks.   The majority of my song covers were written using this method.  When I have produced a track to submit to a lyricist/melodist, it is produced in a specific manner that I have found works very well.

In my case I try to make my tracks either very contemporary sounding or sometimes, in the case of a ballad, as timeless as possible.  The most important thing to do with tracks, is not to turn them into instrumental songs. They must leave space for the lyricist/melodist to add their part.

 

3. Writing a full track of music with melody but no lyrics.

 

One of my successful recordings was written using this method. I wrote a track and then added my own melody on top of the track. The lyricist then simply wrote the words to my melody and the song was completed. many famous tin pan alley songwriters wrote songs using this method. I have found that it works particularly well with ballads.  As a keyboard player I have been able to suggest melody ideas to the lyricist that are unique and unusual. This can lead to interesting places that may not have been thought of had the lyricist come up with a melody to a track

 

4. Writing based on a song title.

 

Often an event can happen in ones life or in the world that can inspire a song or story. Sometimes a persons name will do. When writing to a title, I often suggest to my students that they write a short prose story based on that title. That story then forms a data base of information that will feed the resulting song.

 

5. Writing based on a story concept

 

A much utilized song writing exercise used by a number of teachers is to write a prose story first. A common approach is to write a story based on a first love. In writing prose stories, we try to add as much detail as possible to give our own unique take to the story. I have found this to be a great starting point for songs. It is something like writing a small play or movies. in fact I believe songs are very similar to little plays or movies.

 

6. Writing based on a beat or drum loop.

 

In hip hop and rap, beats predominate. Again a simple starting point would be to go through the volumes of beats that are available and jam some words along with the beats. i find that it doesn’t matter at first if the words make sense or not. Ultimately as a a result of constant repetition a line will come through that makes sense and defines the meaning of the beat. A song lyric can then unfold based on a starting line.

 

7. Writing using a musical instrument that is not your primary instrument of writing. If you are a keyboard player try a guitar, or vice versa.

 

I am a good keyboard player. On guitar, I know three chords. However some years ago I produced and wrote an entire rock album written exclusively with my limited knowledge of guitar. This created a simplicity and rock feel that I could never have achieved had I used my normal writing instrument.

 

Song writing collaboration is a great way to extend ones vocabulary in writing songs. That vocabulary can be extended with different genre’s, styles age differences, geographical location and different specialization and skills.

 

 

Rod Stewart leads the list of popular music icons who have recorded Capek compositions. Others include Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Toto, Chicago, Olivia Newton John, Little River Band, Heart, Manhattan Transfer, Isaac Hayes and Amanda Marshall. John Capek’s most performed award winning songs include : “Rhythm of My Heart”, ”This”, ”Soul on Soul” and “Carmelia”.  Capek’s most performed productions include Dan Hill’s Billboard hit duet with Vonda Sheppard, “Can’t We Try” as well as work with Ken Tobias, Gene McLellan, Good Brothers and Downchild. As a keyboard player, John has recorded with Diana Ross, Olivia Newton John, Ian Thomas, Marc Jordan, Dan Hill, Kermit, The Chipmunks, The Simpsons and countless other international performers. John’s songs are heard in the feature films, “A Perfect Storm”, “Cocktail”, “Blown Away” and many others. For more information go to www.johncapek.com

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric writing, John Capek, composing music

Songwriting Tip: Rhyming

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 @05:19 PM

Songwriting Tip: Rhyming

by Harriet Schock

 Harriet Schock, hit songwriter

When it comes to rhyming, the opinions are varied. I grew up on the music my parents introduced me to. Rogers and Hart, Cole Porter…I bet we had every album Ella Fitzgerald ever did featuring the great songwriters of the American songbook. In these songs, craft was obvious but never got in the way. The lines were sung the way one would speak, the rhymes were perfect. “Perfect rhymes” is not a value judgment—it’s a technical term. “Look and book,” “letter and better.” Not “look and pull,” “letter and her.”

 

Yes, years have passed, but still in musical theatre writing, the standard of the perfect rhyme is still upheld for the most part. I do remember hearing some wildly imperfect rhymes in some modern Broadway shows, which probably means that the rules are getting more lax. But I would not advise using near rhymes in a show any more than I would advise a person to be obscure in a lyric just because he can point to a hit song that wasn’t clear. There are many reasons why something becomes a hit or goes to Broadway, for that matter. I don’t think it’s a good idea to emulate the weaknesses of the genre you’re studying.

 

I recently met an interesting songwriter who was in a rock and roll band by day and came home and listened to Sondheim at night. He was in a band called “Christopher Cross.” Warner Brothers decided to give the lead singer/composer the name of the band but the writer I’m talking about – Rob Meurer - helped create the band with Christopher and currently writes lyrics to Christopher’s melodies. Rob also writes musical shows which are getting a lot of attention. You should simply Google him and read his lyrics. He’s got all the edge of today as well as the craft that is in danger of disappearing.

 

Why shouldn’t rhyming craft disappear, you might ask? Well, craft helps deliver emotional impact. In a song where you’re attempting to have an effect on people, if you decide that “run” and “up” rhyme because they both have the same vowel sound, you may never understand why you just didn’t connect with the listener quite enough. I know it’s becoming fashionable in pop not to rhyme at all for fear of its sounding too “legit,” “old school,” “commercial,” whatever. The problem is the music may be setting up a rhyme with a repeated rhythmic sequence in the melody. If the lyric doesn’t rhyme, it just leaves us feeling...less. And you don’t want your listeners to feel less, do you? They’re depending on songwriters to help them feel more.

 

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

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Lyrics, songwrite, Harriet Schock, composing, love songs, compose music

Songwriter Story: The Life & Struggles of a Pro Songwriter

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jun 05, 2014 @11:01 AM

STORIES FROM THE TRENCHES, LETTERS HOME FROM THE WARS. THE LIFE AND STRUGGLES OF A PRO SONGWRITER.

 by John Capek

John Capek, songwriter

It was the early nineties. Arriving in Los Angeles with Australian and Canadian hit song credits under my belt, I thought it would be a breeze to get into the scene. A year later and my life savings gone I couldn't get arrested as a songwriter, keyboard player or producer.

Somehow, I fell into the "B list" session scene as a keyboard player for songwriters who needed their songs demoed. I was a pretty good keyboard player, the pay was poor, but the work was consistent and the songwriters liked my playing.

David Gresham (a former business partner with Mutt Lang) was making annual trips to Los Angeles from South Africa promoting artists and writers from his label in Jo-berg. He needed some demos done and someone recommended me. I worked on his stuff and we became friends.

Some years later, after I had graduated into the "A - list" LA studio musician scene, David called me from South Africa quite excited about an artist he had signed. He asked me if I would try to work with him. A few weeks later, his new artist, Byron Duplessis arrived at my studio in North Hollywood.

Imagine Terence Trent Darby, Prince, Michael Jackson and Lenny Kravitz in a male model's physique with talent and a voice beyond anything that I had heard before. That was Byron.

We immediately fell into writing and recording a song and "LOVE HAS THE POWER" was born.

Without notice, Byron left, and I didn't hear back from him again for some months.

"LOVE HAS THE POWER" was pitched to all the labels. The response was great. But we consistently heard the same comment, "We can't sign an artist based on only one song"..

David called me again from South Africa asking what could be done. I had an idea. If I worked with Byron in LA, he would be just like any other R&B act. However if I went to South Africa to work with him, we might be able to come up with something interesting and unique. The idea was to combine contemporary pop with Byron's African roots.

So, I packed my bags and went off on safari. I was right. The music that we made was great and different. Back in LA, the labels jumped at it. We had record companies in a bidding war for Byron. I thought that I had it made.

One day, our combined demo/masters were being played in the offices of Columbia Records in New York, Coincidentally, the band, TOTO was next door wondering what they were going to do about a lead singer for their next recording and tour. Someone made the connection. In an instant I lost my artist.

Byron Duplessis became Jean-Michel Byron and the new lead singer for TOTO.

Almost immediately, They put a "best of" album together. "LOVE HAS THE POWER" made it to that album and is forever cast in stone, (or vinyl or whatever CDs are made of), on the TOTO album, "PAST TO PRESENT". These were the best musicians in the world at that time playing my song. There is a live Youtube performance of my song from one of the TOTO shows in Paris at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyY5EBuHHiA

I was deeply disappointed with the loss of Byron as my songwriting partner and production client. I felt that he and our songs could have been "bigger than Jesus", to quote John Lennon. But, I did get some compensation in getting a TOTO cut.

I had a strong feeling that Byron had been badly miscast as a member of TOTO and this feeling turned out to be a truth with some unfortunate results for both Byron and the band. His amazing talent is still yet to be fully expressed.

After that, there was a certain lack of creative and artistic fulfillment for me. The music in South Africa had affected me so profoundly that I had to find my way back there and make more music - at any cost.

David Gresham and I stayed in touch, bemoaning our loss and plotted to find some way to recoup. As a result, I returned to the 'veldt' with David's help and set to recording my own album. Paul Simon's, "Graceland" had just come out. To me it was a revelation and an epiphany albeit a little too smooth for my taste. I wanted to get down to the root of the matter.

INDABA, my album, was recorded in Johannesburg exactly at the time that Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I have had the profound experience of being in South Africa during "the time off starvation", which is what apartheid was sometimes called, as well as afterwards when the system collapsed. Freedom reigned.

INDABA was a musical photograph of that moment in time.

One of the songs on INDABA ultimately created its own challenges, creatively. geographically, financially, legally, digitally and business-wise and with Joe Cocker... and much more.

I'll get into that with my next installment as well as more discussion about songwriting, its craft and its art.

 

 

John Capek has achieved international acclaim as a composer, songwriter, keyboard player, producer, arranger and scorer for feature films and television.

 

Rod Stewart leads the list of popular music icons who have recorded Capek compositions. Others include Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Toto, Chicago, Olivia Newton John, Little River Band, Heart, Manhattan Transfer, Isaac Hayes and Amanda Marshall. John Capek’s most performed award winning songs include : “Rhythm of My Heart”, ”This”, ”Soul on Soul” and “Carmelia”.  Capek’s most performed productions include Dan Hill’s Billboard hit duet with Vonda Sheppard, “Can’t We Try” as well as work with Ken Tobias, Gene McLellan, Good Brothers and Downchild. As a keyboard player, John has recorded with Diana Ross, Olivia Newton John, Ian Thomas, Marc Jordan, Dan Hill, Kermit, The Chipmunks, The Simpsons and countless other international performers. John’s songs are heard in the feature films, “A Perfect Storm”, “Cocktail”, “Blown Away” and many others. For more information go to www.johncapek.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, songwrite, Recording, 4-track, A&R, Billboard Charts, Diana Ross, Billboard, musician, studio, Bonnie Raitt, Cher

Songwriting tip: Preparing yourself for a recording session

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jun 04, 2014 @02:39 PM

 

Preparing yourself for a recording session and beyond or: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!

 

By Stefan Held

Stefan Held, producer, audio engineer, musician

 

 

People tend to think that the recording process is all about the music. Unfortunately, in today’s industry, having a great song—even a brilliant song—is only one small step in a very long process. The reality is that it doesn't matter if you just started thinking about the first song you want to record or if you have 12 songs mapped out all the way to four-part harmonies in the chorus.

 

I’ve worked with thousands of musicians and helped guide them through every step of the process. The biggest piece of advice I can give is this: take a step back and DON’T jump right into the recording process.

 

There are many things to consider: figuring out how to fund raise enough money for the entire project; choosing the right song(s); deciding when to start a social media/marketing campaign; hiring or not hiring a producer; using your band or going solo; finding a studio; figuring out your style (i.e. does my hair look good??), etc. etc. Everyone will give you lots of advice. But, in my experience, here are the seven most important things to think about:

 

Fund raising

 

Okay, so you’re not a trust fund kid nor are you in line to inherit a small fortune from your Great Aunt Millie. Welcome to the club! Now, what are your options?

 

Think of this entire project as an investment in your music career. And by entire project, I mean everything: social media marketing, advertising campaigns, the recording process, album duplication, video production, album release show(s), merchandise production, the upcoming tour... And what about the next album?

 

We are constantly making choices about how we spend our money. Why pay thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars on college tuition? Simple. It’s an investment in your future. Why buy a car? It’s an investment that helps get you to work, to school, to gigs and therefore, it’s an investment in your future. Why spend all that money on a suit for that job interview? Another investment in your future. Get the picture?

 

If you are serious about music and want to make it your profession, then you need to start thinking of yourself as a business and music as your product. Start a company (like an LLC). Go to your local bank and ask for a small business loan. That’s what I did when I started my music production & marketing company –StevenHeroProductions, LLC.

 

Most studios, producers, marketing companies, etc offer payment plans and they all accept credit cards- it might be time to get those airline miles!

 

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ask family members, friends, long lost relatives for a contribution as well. But help them feel like they’re investing in something as well—call it a pre-order of the album or merchandise.

 

If the investment is high enough, offer them perks like a lifetime backstage pass or a private house concert for them and 50 of their closest friends. If the investment is smaller, offer other incentives like a signed album. I know this sounds like a Kickstarter campaign- and that’s basically exactly what it is.

 

I have seen amazingly successful online fundraising campaigns and some that crashed and burned. The basic issue: if you have 500 followers you can not expect everyone to pitch in $100 to raise the 50K you want to. You need massive amounts of real fans to achieve that, which brings me to my next topic:

 

 

 

Marketing

 

Most artists record first and market afterwards…if at all. Big mistake!

 

Unless you have a following as big as Beyonce, I strongly encourage you to start a solid social media and marketing campaign BEFORE writing the first words to your first single. Why? If you wait to market until after the single/album/demo is finished, you are wasting money on this recording. Or, if you think that you’ll simply release your new music to your existing fan base without trying to attract new followers, you are (once again) wasting money on this recording.

 

Releasing a song or an album without generating substantial buzz and without creating a strong following is useless. It’s wishful thinking. It’s akin to putting your song(s) on iTunes and hoping fans, who have no idea who you are, what you’ve done, will mysteriously find your new album and buy your tracks. But i digress.

 

Start a campaign to gain more REAL fans. Figure out if your social media campaign is in place? Branding? Are the sites synced up? Do the links work? (I know this sounds like a no-brainer- but I see this mistake literally every day). Is your content engaging? Are you interacting with your followers on a personal basis?

 

You’re probably thinking, but wait, this has nothing to do with music. But unfortunately, a huge fan base is essential to becoming a full-time musician. If you don’t sell downloads/albums/merchandise and your shows are not packed, you will never make a return on your investment--- ever!

 

What to do?

 

Start creating a team around you. Hire an intern, who you pay with a small stipend and the promise of letters of recommendation after the project is compete. Have that person spend hours every day looking for great content. Have that person interact with your fans, go to shows, meet people, etc. I hope i don't have to explain that organic followers (while important) are a slow way to go and will not bring the desired results besides close friends and family who will buy your record anyway. Don't get me wrong, a strong, solid foundation is great- just don't leave it at that.

 

You can also hire a professional company with a proven track record. Some companies offer quite reasonable rates. (Again, a lot of companies offer payment plans and all professional ones accept credit cards.)

 

Another reason to start your campaign early is to get behind the scenes video footage of you rehearsing with the band, struggling through writing sessions, fighting with band members, meeting with producers, crying and cursing out the music business and all of the over fun stages of the process. This is content gold. Fans want to be part of the entire process. The more they feel involved, the more of a “super fan” they will potentially become. These are the fans every artists loves! They buy your products, they run your fan clubs, they spread the word and they attend every show.

 

To demo or not to demo...

 

Okay, so now you started your campaign, what next? Demo or no demo…well, that depends. As a producer I always love to hear a rough version of a song. It's a great way to see if it’s in the right key for the artist, if the arrangement works or the bridge is too long or even in the right spot? How about the song’s tempo?

 

I can hear the potential of a song through a basic demo with your voice and guitar or piano accompaniment. I can get a sense of a song’s promise and its problem spots.

 

Garageband is also a great (and free) way to lay down your ideas. Did I mention it's free???

 

A word of warning: use these demos for pre-production BUT do not send them to major labels, publishers or anyone else who regularly receives tons of high quality submissions every day. If your song does not sound amazing and if it fails to grab them on every level from composition, to performance, to production, they will not listen past the first 20 seconds. The hard lesson in this business is that there is a lot of great music out there. They don’t need to spend time looking for "potential" and making "suggestions" as to how you can improve your song(s).

 

If you are lucky enough to get that song into the right hands, be sure it will TOTALLY BLOW THEM AWAY!

 

Enough said.

 

Next question:

 

Producer or not?

 

Guess what? Making demos on your laptop or recording your band's rehearsal does not necessarily make you a producer. There are professionals who have devoted their lives to producing music. They can be a tremendous asset. They provide a set of experienced ears and give you someone to call on when the studio decides not to tune the piano or provide the promised mics for your session. Besides, with a producer’s assistance, it most likely won’t even come to that. A good producer knows which studios sound great, which engineers are amazing and what studio musician show up ready to rock!

 

How to find the perfect producer?

 

Do your research, use the internet, find out what this person did for the last few years and not what they did 25 years ago!

 

Meet them in person and ask them questions. If a producer/engineer/studio owner, does not answer each and every question you have or if their answers don’t make sense - RUN!  

 

So, long story short, a great producer will most likely not only save you money by helping you making the right decisions in the first place (Yes, you heard that right- i said saving money!) but the finished product will sound highly professional and will make you stand out.

 

Now, you have raised the funds, have a solid social media strategy in place and hired the right producer- what’s next?

 

Pre-production.

 

What's that?

 

Pre-production means: sitting down with the producer and going over every song in great detail. No need to rent a $500/hr studio for that. Just meet at his/her place or a basic rehearsal studio (most producers have a studio of their own to work from)!

 

By the time you actually head into the recording studio, there should be no question about the key, the tempo, the arrangement, or any of the other basic details. It goes without saying, once the red light goes on, things may change a little. But before walking into the studio, make sure you’ve answered all of the basic questions.

 

midi or live instruments?

 

This depends a lot on your style of music- many times, it will be a combination of both. But if it’s done right, the results will be amazing and will save you some serious $$$.

 

If you want primarily live instruments, there are a couple of options:

 

Either use a full band to record live in the studio or, lay down vocal and guitar or piano scratch tracks first and then overdub one instrument at a time.

 

What you ultimately decide depends on a number of factors: Style of music? Do you have a super tight band that has a ton of studio experience? Is your pitch dead on? Are you comfortable with everyone recording at the same time? Does the guitar player deliver an amazing solo every time? Are the drummer and bassist super tight and locked in rhythmically? etc If so, a "live" recording might be the answer. Most of the larger studios have a handful of isolation booths, so you can still fix some things during overdubbing sessions.

 

If you are a solo artist and not sure what to do in terms of instrumentation, I highly recommend FIRST tracking you--and your instrument--to a click track (unless you are a hundred percent sure you do not want to add any other instruments, especially rhythmic ones afterwards) and adding layers one by one. That way the chances of overproduction are limited since you don’t pile everything on at first and then have to peel off what you don’t like later.

 

Again, every producer works differently, so make sure to pick one who works in a way that you feel comfortable with.

 

And, FINALLY!

 

The Recording

 

It’s finally time to lay down some magic!

 

If you’ve done all the work, the recording is not only going to be fun and exciting—it’s going to be quick and economical! Make sure your instrument(s) are in great shape, you have new strings/batteries, your voice is warmed up, and you are rested and ready.

 

If you followed my advice so far, you are not only on your way to amazing sounding tracks but you’ve also established a strong following with fans who are eagerly awaiting your upcoming release.

 

Next steps: planning mixing/mastering sessions, album duplication, online distribution, album release show(s), video shoot(s), booking a tour, getting your music licensed, interviews and tons more.

 

I wish you all the best on your journey and hope to hear your music soon!

 

 

 

Stefan Held is the owner of StevenHeroProductions, LLC, a music production & marketing company based in New York City. He has done music productions for MTV, MTV2, BRAVO, TLC, NBC, FOX, Discovery, VH1, Sundance, Travel channel, etc. And he has worked for USA Songwriting Competition Top Winner & Billboard Top 10 Hit Artist Ari Gold, American Idol’s Diana DeGarmo and Tony Award winner Melba Moore, etc. www.StevenHeroProductions.com

 

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Recording