Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Melody Is Like A Fingerprint or Signature

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jun 21, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Melody Is Like A Fingerprint or Signature

by Harriet Schock

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In my songwriting course, I cover melody and chords as well as lyrics. I’ve learned so much about songwriters this way. Melodies don’t always reflect the actual personality of the composer the way handwriting might, but it certainly stays within a certain box with his or her name on it. Some songwriters in their melodies stay very step-wise, using notes that are close to each other most of the time and with a lot of rhythmic repetition. Some love leaps of a particular nature leading to an unexpected chord. Some composers write the melody over the chords but think of the chords before the melody. Some add chords after the melody is written. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out one’s on chronology since the chords and melody affect each other so intimately. One thing I’ve noticed for sure: If a writer can’t hear chords and pick out other people’s chords by ear, his/her chords will sound arbitrary and will have to be “thought out” rather than “heard” when he or she is composing a melody.

There are signature sounds to certain songwriters. I’ve discussed before the way Richard Rogers used non-chordal tones, often outside the scale, referred to as “the Rogers wrong note.” It’s what we wait for. Non-chordal tones in melodies are frequently the best part, but it still has to have an inevitability to it in its entirety, not sound like the chord was pulled out of a bag or placed there because it had a note in common with the melody.

Now let’s take the example of collaborations. I used to think that when part of a lyric was written first and the composer was brought in to write the melody afterward, that the lyricist had dictated the rhythm of that melody. But I’ve noticed that so many different rhythms of melody can result from the very same lyric, I no longer think that. I do believe, though, that the second verse should be written to the melody the composer writes. Counting syllables never works well because it’s really beats that must be counted and accents followed for the prosody to be right. It’s just much easier to write the second (and third) verses to the melody. That’s what we do when we start a song writing melody and lyrics together. It always amuses me when a songwriter will say “I just write melody and lyrics at the same time, so I can’t write lyrics to an existing melody.” I always remind them that yes, they write the 2nd verse lyric to an existing melody. They have to admit that it’s true.

Try discovering the melodic fingerprint of certain composers. Some are quite versatile and it might be hard to know, especially in the beginning when they’re still searching for their styles. But after a few decades of writing, it’s interesting to listen to a lot of one great composer’s melodies and discovering his or her fingerprint or signature. And if you’re still looking for your style, it might be advisable to play their songs by ear. It could beneficially affect your own compositions in the future and one of those swirls you become known for might have come from some great composer’s thumb.

 

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 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 towww.harrietschock.com

  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Harriet Schock, song demo, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs

Songwriting in Nashville

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 @07:00 AM


Songwriting in Nashville

By Jason Blume

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When I first came to Nashville, the joke at demo sessions used to be, “Which melody do y’all want? Number 3 or number 4?” The implication was that country melodies were all alike -- and only the lyric mattered. Now, the lyrics still have to overflow with details, pictures, and unique angles--but that won’t matter if they’re not attached to a killer, fresh, instantly memorable, hook-laden MELODY!

As part of my most recent webinar (in addition to the song critiques) I identified the melodic tools used in some of the biggest current hits. It really hammered home for me that “outside” songs (not written by the artist or co-producer) have to have EXCEPTIONAL melodies and rhythms.

For the people who complain that country music today is crap and that it ain’t country anymore … I have two things to say:

1) Music in every genre changes and evolves (thankfully!). Motown, the Beatles, Aretha, Sinatra, are all amazing and have all had their time of ruling the radio airwaves--but we can’t get those kinds of songs recorded by today’s artists. So, why should country music stay frozen in time? I LOVE the old country standards, but if I want a successful career, I can’t write songs that would have been appropriate for Hank, Patsy, Jones, Johnny, or anybody else who is dead, and expect today’s artists to record them; and

2) If you think today’s songs are poorly written or just cranked out crap, try writing “I Drive Your Truck,” “Drink a Beer” or “The House That Built Me,” or melodies as fresh and instantly memorable as those in “Came Here to Forget” (Blake Shelton); “Somewhere On a Beach” (Dierks Bentley); and “Church Bells” (Carrie Underwood) -- ALL OF WHICH WERE WRITTEN BY OUTSIDE WRITERS -- NOT THE ARTISTS.

Another issue came up during the webinar …

When I critique songs I frequently ask, “Who do you hear this song for?” You should always be prepared to answer that. A publisher will almost definitely ask that question. If you cannot come up with a list of artists who are currently having hits and do not write their own material exclusively, then you are probably not writing material that targets the current market. This is a business, and part of our job is to be aware of the kind of material being recorded by artists who are currently on the radio--and do not write all of their own songs. We need to write for those artists’ future albums – – not rehash what they’ve already done. Our ticket to success is to give them material that will deliver them to the next level.

Sometimes, I hear songs that are truly terrific--songs that I love--but they are not the kinds of songs publishers can pitch and earn money from. In some cases, it’s because these are “singer/songwriter” songs--the kinds of songs that performing writers write for themselves. In other instances, they might sound like they’re from a different era. I spent years writing both of those kinds of songs and bitterly complaining (while working hideous temp jobs) that my songs were “better than the crap on the radio.” I desperately wanted a publishing deal, but I wasn’t writing the kind of songs a publisher could place. The turning point came when I accepted that if I wanted to write for catharsis that was fine. But if I wanted to earn a living as a songwriter, I needed to write songs with lyrics and melodies that would compel an artist (or publisher or record label exec) to choose my song over a thousand others (including those written by the current hit-makers, as well as the artist and the producer). I still needed to write from my heart--but I needed to also target my listeners’ hearts.

It takes EXCEPTIONAL songs to break through--and those songs must have outlets in the current market. Publishers and other music industry pros are starving for those songs, but they have no need for perfectly crafted, predictable ones. One of the things I love so much about teaching songwriting is that so many of the skills we need to take our songs to that next level are learnable--and that amazing songs really can change lives.

 

Now, time for the sales pitch. July dates for interactive song critique webinars are now posted on my website. The webinars combine in-depth critiques of a song from every participant, lessons, and topics such as “what publishers want”; “how to take a lyric to the next level”; and “how to pitch songs,” as well as Q&A. Note: Every session has filled up--and half the attendees are “repeat offenders.”

http://www.jasonblume.com/song-critique-webinars.html



Jason Blume is the author of This Business of Songwriting and 6 Steps to Songwriting Success (Billboard Books). His songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, etc. Jason’s songs have been included in films and TV shows including “Scrubs,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Assassination Games,”, etc. A regular contributor to BMI’s MusicWorld magazine, he presented a master class at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and teaches songwriting throughout the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, the U.K., Canada, Bermuda, and Jamaica. After twelve years as a staff-writer for Zomba Music, Blume now runs Moondream Music Group. For additional information about Jason’s latest books, online classes, instructional audio CDs, and workshops visit www.jasonblume.com.


To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, songwrite, Recording, song demo, Jason Blume, song structure, demo recording, writing hit songs, Honing Your Craft, demo sessions

Songwriting Tip: You Signed a Deal You Shouldn’t Have. Now What?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jun 07, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: You Signed a Deal You Shouldn’t Have. Now What?

by Erin M. Jacobson

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You signed a deal without having a lawyer review it or you didn’t listen to your lawyer’s music industry advice when (s)he told you not to sign. Several months later, you realize that you probably shouldn’t have signed that deal. Maybe you find that your vision isn’t quite in sync with the other party, maybe they haven’t followed through on the promises they made you or maybe they just turned out to be bad people. Now that you have already committed yourself to this agreement, what are your options?

Here’s some music industry advice: your first step is to contact an attorney. If you did not previously have an attorney review the deal, you need to have an experienced music attorney review it to assess the obligations of each party and whether there are any provisions that would allow you to get out of the contract. If you previously had an attorney review the deal, have that person review it again for the same reasons. It is possible the situation may be remedied by one of the following options:

  1. Contract Termination
    Sometimes contracts have clauses in them that allow for the parties to terminate the contract. These provisions are often tied to certain circumstances, which may be beneficial to you or may complicate matters depending on whether those circumstances have been met.

Another option is having a conversation with the other party where hopefully both of you can come to a mutual agreement to go separate ways. In the alternative, the parties may agree to terminate the contract albeit on not so amicable terms. In this case there will probably be some sort of termination and settlement agreement, where the terminating party might be subject to a penalty or payment to get out of the deal.

  1. Renegotiation
    If you still want to work with the other party but under changed circumstances, another option is seeing if the other party is open to renegotiating some terms of the contract. In reality, a renegotiation in this situation should only be to correct or improve the current problems, not to try to get better terms just because you want more than to what you previously agreed.

Your relationship with the other party and status in the industry both greatly affect a potential renegotiation. If you are a new artist without a proven track record or previously established track record, you are really at the mercy of the company as to whether they will agree to a renegotiation.

Having greater leverage and/or a good relationship with the company will greatly help you here.

  1. Litigation
    If you’ve tried both of the above options and neither have worked, you may want to consider litigation––i.e. suing the other party to get out of the contract. Although you may be prepared to or actually file a lawsuit, many of these matters do settle out of court, usually saving you a lot of time and expense. Once again, this scenario will probably be subject to a termination and settlement agreement and may come with penalties. However, this is sometimes much easier and faster than litigation, which can be lengthy and very expensive.

 

If you decide to pursue the litigation route, you should make an informed decision based on the time and expense involved.

Further, while some attorneys will take a case on contingency (meaning that they only get paid if they win your case) and get a percentage of your recovery from the case, most attorneys do not and will require an hourly rate and an upfront retainer.

Be respectful of the attorney’s policies and don’t try to persuade him or her to take the case.

The moral of the story is to always have an attorney review a contract before you sign it and carefully consider your attorney’s music industry advice.

The ultimate decision whether to sign is yours, but it is much more difficult to change or terminate a contract after signature than negotiate or walk away from a deal before it is signed.

Don’t sign any deal just because you are excited to have been offered one. Careful consideration of whether this is the right deal for you may save you a lot of future grief.

 

Disclaimer: The content contained in this article is not legal music industry advice and does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state. If this article is considered an advertisement, it is general in nature and not directed towards any particular person or entity.

 

[Reprint Permission granted by Music Connection magazine]

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ERIN M. JACOBSON
 (themusicindustrylawyer.com) is a practicing music attorney, experienced deal negotiator and seasoned advisor of intellectual property rights who protects Grammy and Emmy Award winners to independent artists and music companies. Jacobson also owns Indie Artist Resource (indieartistresource.com), the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection offering template contracts and other services meeting the unique needs of independent musicians.

  

To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, collaborations, Contract Termination, Music Publishing Deal, Renegotiation, Music Publishing Contract, Record Contract, Litigation