Songwriting Tips, News & More

Music Production Tips: Producing With The Finished Track In Mind

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Aug 21, 2015 @07:00 AM

Producing With The Finished Track In Mind

by Tom Frampton

 

Well, its been a busy few weeks so I have just taken a two day ‘holiday’ from my mastering studio. I spent the majority of the time writing a new song....In my mastering studio. What can I say, music is a jobby (job/hobby) I love and getting my creativity fix is actually quite rejuvenating. Its funny how writing and creating music excites you to the point where you almost can't stop. You start writing and the next thing you know 8 hours has already passed. It becomes an obsession.  You insist on listening to your new song on repeat, no matter how sick the people around you are of hearing it. When you try to sleep you hear your chorus over and over in your head and you think of ways to make improvements. 

 

During this particular writing session I noticed that I was writing with my end goal in mind. I was thinking about what I needed to do at the writing stage to make sure my song would sound its best once finished. A mind set that I didn't have when I started producing music and knew nothing about audio engineering. I want to share with you a few of the techniques I used to keep my work in progress along the right track. 

 

Gain Staging

When I first started making electronic music I wanted everything to sound HUGE. Thats the idea right? Well, I wish someone had told me sooner that the most effective way to achieve a huge sound is with dynamic range and proper gain staging. Want your bass to sound louder? instead of pumping it up a few dB try turning everything else down. Select all the channels in your DAW, deselect the bass, Output and Master fader. Then bring the channels down until you feel the bass is where you want it to be in the mix. A mastering engineer will always ask to receive a mix down with between 3dB to 6dB of headroom. So with this in mind, always try to have the output fader peaking around -6dB during the loudest point of your track. 

 

Here is an effective way to create headroom when you don’t have any…

 

To start with, the Output and Master bus should always be set at 0dB. The Image below shows a mix that is clipping.  The red peak reading of ‘0.4’ on the output bus displays the clipping.

 

Frampton-1

 

 

To fix this select all the channels in your DAW, but deselect the Output and Master bus to leave them at 0dB. Once all the individual tracks are selected bring one of the volume faders down. They will all move down together which means that the balance of your mix will not change. Bring the levels down until the output fader shows the peak level of roughly -6db as seen in the image below.

Frampton-2

 

 

Creating Space

Low frequencies can creep in to your track unnoticed when recording vocals and guitar using a microphone. Below you can see the frequencies that are present on a vocal recording and the eq I used to cut out the unwanted low end. This doesn't change the sound of the vocal as I don't cut into the frequency range of the singer. You can apply this technique to any of your tracks but be sure to not cut the frequency range you actually want to hear.

Frampton-3

Stereo Image

Panning is a useful tool for creating space in your mix. Utilising mono signals can help free up stereo space and increase focus on high energy elements. In many scenarios it is recommended to place your kick, bass, snare and vocals in mono. These files may already be in mono but if they're not you can use the gain plugin to sum them from stereo to mono. This helps the fundamental elements of your mix become the focus of your music. This also minimises changes to these instruments when you hear your mix in mono. You can use reverb and delay to enhance your vocals without affecting your mono signal. An effective way to do this is by employing a process called parallel processing. This is where you send your audio to a bus and place the reverb on the newly created auxiliary channel. You can then mix in as much reverb as you want without altering your original mono source.

Frampton-4

 

What Is Mono?

Mono is one single channel of audio. The left and right channels of your stereo mix are combined into one signal and sent individually to both of your speakers. A surprising amount of listeners will experience your track in mono. A lot of portable speakers are mono and all car FM radios automatically switch to mono when the signal is weak. Most nightclubs and venues also play music in mono.

How should I check my mix in Mono?

In Logic, load up the Gain plugin on the master channel. Check the box below ‘Mono’ but be sure to uncheck this box when bouncing your audio. Listen and hear how your mix changes. Some instruments may be quieter or even disappear completely from you mix. This happens due to the sound waves being out of phase. Make sure you only listen in mono through one speaker. If you use two the bass will be hyped giving you a false balance of your mix. Use your reference tracks to achieve a good balance between your instruments whilst listening in mono.

Frampton-5

Conclusion

Hopefully, these little tips will help you to translate your musical ideas into your DAW the way you envisioned and give you a better final result. Ultimately, the most important part of production is having a great song. But as artists, I believe we must strive to give our fans a fantastic listening experience by presenting our music in its best possible form. Sometimes imperfections in a mix can add to the mojo of the music. On other occasions a track is praised for its impeccably clean production. Having the wisdom to know what to take out and what to leave alone is what will define your sound as an artist.

 

Tom Frampton is a owner of Mastering The Mix, a London based mixing and mastering studio. http://www.masteringthemix.com/

 

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

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Tags: Recording, Mixing, Music Production Tips, pro audio

The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Aug 20, 2015 @04:07 PM

The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout

by Clay Mills

IMG_1041-2

These three songwriting exercises are designed to get you into the flow of writing without thinking. Your best ideas come from your subconscious—and, you can tap into this with regular practice. Remember to do these exercises quickly, spending three minutes on each in rapid fire succession. I set the timer on my iPhone. Don’t judge or question ANYTHING you write down. This isn’t a test! The sole purpose is to train your creative thinking to respond on command. I find it helps to write with pen and paper, instead of typing. A lot of studies show that your brain responds differently when writing, as opposed to typing.

 

Pen and paper? Timer set? Okay, let’s go!

 

1.Write down every song title that comes to mind without censoring yourself. Work fast. Spit out titles. No judgement. Go wherever your thoughts take you. Note: These are your own original titles, not pre-existing song titles!

 

2.Choose one of your titles to play word association. Write down every word or phrase that relates to your title. Don’t think! Just work as quickly as possible. This will free up your subconscious. Here’s an example of how I free associated with one of my Darius Rucker #1 hits:

 

Title: ”Don't Think I Don't Think About It"

 

Associations: regrets, missing you, could've been, should've been, wrong choices,

mistakes, do I cross your mind?, looking back, rear view mirror, where are you today?

 

3.Choose a word in your title and play poor man’s rhyming dictionary. Write down as many rhymes as you can. Example: My title is “Don't Think I Don't Think About It,” rhyming the word, “it.” Work your way through the alphabet and add consonants to the beginning of the word. B-it, F-it, Gr-it, H-it, S-it, W-it, etc. Not all letters will work, so move quickly to the next. Today, there is less emphasis on perfect rhymes, so don't be afraid to cast a wider net: D-itch, W-itch, S-witch. In the example song, I chose to use the word "regret" as a rhyme with “it.” The meaning of the word, coupled with Darius's delivery, made it work beautifully. This exercise will strengthen your rhyming skills, so that it becomes second nature. Your goal is to spend less time “thinking" of rhymes while writing. 

 

Congratulations, you did it! Repeat daily!

Write On!  

 

Clay Mills is a 11-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. His songs have been recorded by such artist as Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Babyface, Reba McEntire, and Kimberly Locke. He has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Follow him here: www.songtown.com, at www.claymills.com, and at www.facebook.com/claymillsii

 

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

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Tags: songwriter, Song writing, Songwriting, Songwriting Tip, Clay Mills

Songwriting Tips: Oysters and Muses

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Aug 14, 2015 @03:33 PM

Songwriting Tips: Oysters and Muses

By Harriet Schock

Oysters And Muses

An oyster makes a pearl when some foreign piece of matter, like a grain of sand, has entered the oyster and he covers it with layers of nacre (mother of pearl). Basically, he’s sort of spitting at it because it’s an annoyance. I think songwriters are like that. If something is stuck in our craw, so to speak, we spit at it until we get a song. Or if we are longing for someone, unbearably, we write a song to give an outlet for all the feeling we can’t express to the missing or oblivious person. There’s usually an element of “reaching for” or “unfulfilled” or “discontent” before a pearl of a song comes out.

 

This doesn’t mean all songs are going to express anger or longing. Sometimes, there’s a longing to express gratitude or abiding devotion. But there’s a longing there, nevertheless. It’s hard to express these things in day-to-day existence. I just got an assignment from one of my correspondence course students which is going to lead to a very positive song for his wife. I dare say it will have some lovely pearls she has never heard, even over the most romantic dinner. Art has a way of condensing and purging deeper emotions that mere conversation isn’t capable of expressing.

 

So where do we get the piece of sand? I’m sure there are a few things bugging you at the moment, but they would not all be great songs. In looking for a dry and boring subject to illustrate this point, my first thought was that the IRS would not necessarily inspire a good song, but then I remembered Alfred Johnson’s song “W2” and realized that in the hands of a skillful songwriter there are no bad subjects. But is there a rule of thumb? What might work better than what?

 

I’ve been interested for a long time in what brings inspiration. It seems that having a certain distance from that which is inspiring us is essential, even if you have to find a way to get that distance on purpose. It’s no accident that there’s an expression, “Never marry the muse.” A muse is worth its weight in plutonium. I’ve known people who have stayed in totally bogus relationships only because of the songs that person inspired, when in fact, there was no real relationship in the first place. But it was the equivalent of the eggs that Woody Allen mentioned at the end of “Annie Hall.” He did it for the eggs. We do it for the songs. And for some reason, doing anything that will close that distance changes the person from being a muse to being someone too close to serve that purpose.

 

I recently read a poem by Wislawa Szymborska, a Nobel prize winner and one of my favorite poets. It’s called “I am too close,” and one of lines, and the recurring theme, is: “I am too close for him to dream of me.” She writes about having her arm under her lover’s head as he is dreaming of an usherette he saw once. She nails this concept better than I’ve ever heard it discussed. We frequently write (and dream) about fantasies and longings, much more than we dream of those closest to us.

 

On the other hand, those of us who want to have it all try to find a way to long for what we have. Goldie Hawn once said in an interview that she fantasizes about Kurt Russell, her long-term partner. This keeps the dream alive and is something I consider very good advice. There is a rampant viewpoint that the thrill of the chase is the only thrill there is. After the “prize” is “won,” the game is over. This is patently an unevolved viewpoint, but it’s so ingrained and reinforced by films and novels and songs, that we sometimes forget we have a choice. The reason I mention this in a songwriting article is that it affects the way we write. It’s not just ruining our love lives; it’s ruining our songs. It’s also helpful to know the difference between something you’re writing about and something you want to curl up with for a lifetime.

 

Some people try to harness the muse and get it to go in an “appropriate” direction. The catch-22 of this is that only when you know yourself very well can you get this to work. And most people who know themselves very well have given up trying to steer the muse. They just let it be where it is.

 

I have lots of students who are happily married who write about some old relationship they never quite felt complete about. That’s where the juices are. They don’t want to be back there in that relationship. But that’s where the muse is perched. So that’s where they go for the characters and the songs. I think this is fine. I once asked my producer, Nik Venet, why a particular couple (both very creative, great songwriters) couldn’t make it together in life when they were obviously so much in love and they wrote such powerful songs about each other. He answered with a succinct wisdom he was known for: “Fire needs more than fire. It needs wood.”

 

So back to our oyster analogy. It used to require a search of over 1000 oysters to find one pearl. Now, cultured pearls are made by putting a bead in an oyster and putting him back into the water. Then the pearls are collected. The cultured pearls are made the same way as naturally occurring pearls, except that some enterprising person decided to help nature irritate more oysters into making pearls. I realized while thinking this through that I do that on a daily basis with songwriters. I don’t have to insert the grain of sand like the person making a cultured pearl does. The songwriter already has one. They just don’t know where to look until I direct them. Once they get the knack of it, they’re off and writing.

 

Take a look at your own life. See where your beads are, and I don’t mean the perspiration on your forehead when you’re trying to pull a song out of nothing. There are plenty of sources of inspiration. Get out your radar and find that muse. She may be perched on the question mark of an old relationship. She may be looking out from the eyes of your present beloved. Or she could be leaping from the pages of an editorial that gets you crazy. Muses love to hide. But you’re a songwriter. It’s your job to find them.

 

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "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 and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. 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 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), and her new up coming book, her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com

 

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

 

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Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, lyric writing, Songwriting Tips, Harriet Schock, lyrical concept, lyrical hook

Songwriting tips: How to Write a Memorable Melody: When in Doubt, Make No Sense

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Aug 12, 2015 @04:39 PM


How to Write a Memorable Melody: When in Doubt, Make No Sense

By Anthony Ceseri

songwriting-1

Your music has to be marketable if your goal is to get it heard by the masses. There are a lot of standard tools you can use to help increase the marketability of your music, but here I want to talk about a pretty simple one.

Before I talk about it, I need to mention that the most important factor in having a marketable song is having a great melody. Hit songwriter Jason Blume says there are three things that make a song a hit. They are melody, melody and melody. Granted, if you’re an independent artist you want your song to be hitting on all levels to give yourself the best chance for success. You want to have great lyrics, instrumentation and all of the other things that go into making a great track. But melody is king.

Great melodies are memorable and singable. As a result, they’re usually fairly simple. Our minds like simple. In terms of music and melody writing, simple is easy to remember, repetitious and easy to sing along to. As songwriters a lot of times we like to overcomplicate our melodies. One of the ways we do this is by writing lyrics that are too wordy. Wordy lyrics can get in the way of your melody and overcomplicate it enough so that it’s barely even melodic anymore.

Think about how much easier it would be if you didn’t have to focus on lyrics, but JUST on the melody. Well, that’s actually an approach used in a lot of hit songs. Think about it. What if you could use simple one-syllable sounds instead of words? Then your wordy lyric problem would go away, and you’d find yourself focusing ONLY on a melody. Plus if your words are just simple sounds, your melodies become simple too, because simple melodies plus simple words/sounds would go hand in hand, right?

For that reason, if you wrote a simple melody where there were no words, but just vocal sounds, it can make your song more marketable. If you don’t believe it, I’m about to prove you wrong. Let’s refer to the hits.

 

Okay, so let’s start by checking out the first few measures of Pink’s song, “So What.” She does the whole intro by repeating “nah.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJfFZqTlWrQ&feature=youtu.be

Pretty catchy, huh? Okay, here’s another one you’re sure to have heard. Check out the first 45 seconds of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” With the exception of the phrase “caught in a bad romance,” the intro is all vocal sounds. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrO4YZeyl0I&feature=youtu.be

And don’t tell me you’ve never had that one stuck in your head. Let’s keep going. This is one I’ve been guilty of singing along to way more times than I’m willing to admit. This is “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles. Check out the first ten seconds. The melody is sung entirely on the sound “oh.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7-AUmiNcA&feature=youtu.be

Now you might be saying “Okay, I get where you’re going with this, but these songs are all really poppy. I want to want be marketable, but I think my music is edgier than the songs you’re presenting.” To that I say, fair enough. Let’s check out some rock songs that use the same concept.

Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator” starts its memorable melody entirely on hums. Check out the first few measures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3Yrhv33Zb8&feature=youtu.be

 

Or how about Alice in Chains’ classic rock hit, “Man in a Box.” The vocal intro has no real words at all:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAqZb52sgpU&feature=youtu.be

 

Let’s go back even further in time, so you can see this isn’t a new thing. Check out Cream’s “I Feel Free.” There are multiple layers of non-words happening in this intro (with the exception of the phrase “I feel free” that keeps popping in). Check it out: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb_Uu0eTNWk&feature=youtu.be

 

I think you’re getting the idea, but I’ll give you one more just to really hammer my point home. Because, if the Beatles do it, it has to be a valid songwriting technique, right? Listen to the first few bars of “From Me to You” by the Beatles:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJmXKnttMMQ&feature=youtu.be

 

Oh, and let’s not forget they also wrote “Oh-Bla-Di, Oh-Bla-Da.” The sounds are even in the title on that one. I could keep going, but I think you get the point.

 

Obviously you can’t just have silly sounds repeat throughout your entire song, if you want to keep it marketable. You’ll need some real lyrics. But if you start a song this way, it can rope in your listeners from the very beginning, the same way all of the examples above did. Then you can repeat that melody throughout your song. If you do that, you’re establishing a melodic motif that you can work from when you write the rest of your melody (which will have lyrics). If you write the nonsense lyric part first, the rest of your melody will be easier to write, because you’ll already have a piece of your melody established. Once you have that, the rest will flow easier.

You can use this concept for writing melodies, even if you don’t keep the nonsense syllables in the song. You might simply find it more freeing to just write an easy melody with vocal sounds, without having to think of any words. Then you can put words to it after, if you want. It’s certainly worth trying, if you’re stuck in a melody writing rut. And if the nonsense syllables work, you can keep them. It certainly worked for all the songs you saw above. But as always, experiment with it and have fun.

For a lot more information about writing memorable melodies, download these 2 free melody writing cheat sheets: http://successforyoursongs.com/go/melody-writing/

The 2 free cheat sheets in this package include:

The Memorable Melodies Cheat Sheet, which shows you the most important things to keep in mind when you’re writing a melody. It’s in an easy-to-follow format, so you can reference it when you’re writing your next song.

The second one is called 5 Hit Song Melody Techniques. It shows you the *exact* melody writing concepts used in 5 different hit songs, since learning from successful melodies is extremely beneficial when it comes to writing your own.

To get started with both of these cheat sheets so you can improve your melodies in your very next song, click here:

http://successforyoursongs.com/go/melody-writing/

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

 



 

Tags: Songwriting Tips