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[Songwriting Expert Advice] What's Up With Today's Melodies?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Mar 24, 2017 @06:33 PM

[Songwriting Expert Advice] What's Up With Today's Melodies?
by Jai Josefs

 melodies.jpg

Melody writing has changed radically in the 21st century, and successful writers know exactly what that change is and how to incorporate it. Their songs sound fresher and more contemporary and, as a result, are the ones that more frequently get signed to film/TV licensing deals as well as publishing deals. Let's examine specifically what the difference is.

Every melody contains two elements – pitch and rhythm. The pitches are the actual notes that are sung while the rhythm is where those notes land in time against the groove. In the 20th century more emphasis was put on interesting pitches and their relationship to the chord progression. But in the 21st century the rhythm of the melody has become the primary focus for creating listener appeal. That's why so many songs today can use only a simple chord loop (instead of the rich variety of chords used in the 20th century) and still remain thoroughly engaging and compelling. Listen to the first 15 notes of Ed Sheeran's recent hit "Shape of You" for example. All 15 are the exact same pitch, but the intricate rhythm completely engages you and captures your attention.

Writers tend to be influenced by the songs they listened to in their formative years when they first discovered music. So the instinctive tendency of veteran writers who don't stay current is to write in the 20th century style that emphasizes pitch over rhythm. On the other end of the spectrum, some friends of mine recently sent their 16-year-old daughter to study with me, and at her first lesson I asked her to play something she had written. Her creative process was totally instinctual and she didn't even know a verse from a chorus, but at first listen what she played sounded like it came right off the radio. That's because the only melodies she had been exposed to in her young life were contemporary and rhythmically based. For those of us who have been around a bit longer, it's crucial that we investigate these modern melodic techniques so we can incorporate them into our writing.

A good way to begin that process is by analyzing the melodies of today's hit songs. To illustrate how melody writing has evolved, I'm going to compare two songs written on the same theme – female empowerment. The first one was written in the 1970s in the traditional style of that era. The second is a recent breakthrough hit from 2016.

Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" has a very simple melodic rhythm. Almost all of the notes are eighth notes (two notes per beat) and the phrasing is relatively uncomplicated. The verse consists of two shorter phrases followed by a longer phrase all of which start exactly one beat before the beginning of the measure. Then that same pattern is repeated. There is a bit more variety in the chorus, but the phrasing is still basic and repetitive and most of the notes are eighth notes.

Let's contrast that with Daya's recent hit "Sit Still Look Pretty" (if you're not familiar with it give it a listen – it's also brilliant lyrically and has some very cool and remarkable rhymes). The verse phrases instead of being grouped in twos or threes like the basic short-short-long, short-short-long pattern of "I Am Woman" are actually in patterns of five that go short-short-short-long-long, short-short- short-long-long. In addition they all start in different places. The first and third begin after the downbeat of the measure, the second is entirely in the last half of the measure, and the fourth and fifth start before the measure with 16th note pick-ups. Then we hear the pre-chorus where the melodic rhythm shifts to all 16th notes (four notes per beat) for the first three phrases followed by a fourth phrase that is all eighth notes. The chorus that follows begins right on the downbeat with a phrase that lasts for two full measures – twice as long as any phrase we've heard so far. It's then followed by two off-beat 16th note phrases that are half a measure each and the hook/title which is one measure long. Notice the constant variation in eighth and 16th notes, phrase starting points, and phrase patterns. This creates a dynamic melody that is always fresh and grabs the listener's attention. In terms of melodic rhythm and phrasing "I Am Woman" is like an old Chevy, and "Sit Still Look Pretty" is more like a Ferrari.

If you want to write songs that are relevant today, it's a great idea to listen to more tunes by contemporary hit artists like Ed Sheeran and Daya and focus on analyzing how they use melodic rhythm. It will make your songs sound exciting and up-to-date, and hopefully lead to more placements and airplay.

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Jai Josefs http://jaijomusic.com/ is a world renowned songwritng coach as well as a successful songwriter/producer. He has taught songwriting at UCLA, the Songwriters Guild, and dozens of seminars and conferences throughout North America. He is also the author of “Writing Music For Hit Songs” which is used as a text on contemporary music composition at universities worldwide. Many of his students have gone on to successful careers in the industry and secured major label record deals, publishing deals and placements in film and television.

Jai has also had a successful career as a songwriter/producer himself working with such well-known artists as Jose Feliciano, Little Richard, and Pam Tillis, and doing projects for such companies as Universal, RCA, Motown, and Disney. In addition, his original songs have been featured in over 60 TV shows on every major network as well as over 20 major motion pictures with such stars as Harrison Ford, Billy Bob Thornton, Jessica Lange, Mark Wahlberg, and Denzel Washington.

Jai currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area where he leads a monthly workshop called SongShop, details of which can be found here:

http://jaijomusic.com/songshop-songwriting-workshop/

He is also available for private coaching in the Bay Area and worldwide via Skype.

 

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, chord progression, writing lyrics, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, Melody writing

It’s Never Too Late to Write a Great Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 15, 2017 @08:00 AM

 [Songwriting Expert Advice] It’s Never Too Late to Write a Great Song 

by Sara Light

I’m still learning.” – Michaelangelo, at age 87

Songwriting is a craft that you can begin working on at any stage in your life. Unlike recording artists, who often have pressure to look and dress a certain way or to be a certain age, songwriters never have to “look the part.” Even in Nashville where it’s common for a songwriter to become “famous” among the locals, nobody cares how old they are, if their vocals are perfectly pitched, or what size dress they fit in.  They can show up to play a gig at the famous Bluebird Cafe in a t-shirt and old jeans (not even black ones) and their songs speak for themselves.


bluebirdcafe.jpg.

Great Nashville songwriters like Harlan Howard, Richard Leigh, Bobby Braddock, Tom Shapiro, Jeffrey Steele, Al Anderson and Gretchen Peters were, or still are, cranking out hits for young recording artists in their 50’s and 60’s (and that list is just off the top of my head). Singer songwriters like Elton John, Sting, Dylan, Springsteen, Billy Joel, and Cyndi Lauper all continue to write new material and reinvent themselves well into their prime. So, if you’re reading this and have a desire to write songs, nothing is stopping you. I would only add as a caveat that you have to be willing to continue to learn, to grow, and to be open to your surroundings…but that’s not rocket science.
For a little more inspiration, here’s a short list of diverse folks who accomplished great things at a more “mature” age. I culled this list from Goodreads.com and a couple of Google searches and admittedly haven’t fact-checked it, but it seems right to me!

*J.K. Rowling was 30 years old when she finished the first manuscript of Harry Potter.
*Mark Twain was 40 when he wrote “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, and 49 years old when he wrote “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
*Rosa Parks was 42 when she refused to obey the bus driver’s order to give up her seat to make room for a white passenger.
*Suzanne Collins was 46 when she wrote “The Hunger Games.”
*Charles Darwin was 50 years old when his book On the Origin of Species came out.
*Leonardo Da Vinci was 51 years old when he painted the Mona Lisa.
*Ray Kroc Was 53 when he bought the McDonalds franchise and took it to unprecedented levels.
*Dr. Seuss was 54 when he wrote “The Cat in the Hat.”
*Colonel Harland Sanders was 61 when he started the KFC Franchise.
*Ronald Regan entered politics at age 55 and eventually became the oldest person to ever become President, at the age of 69.
*Artist Paul Cézanne was 56 years old when he was given his first art exhibition.
*J.R.R Tolkien was 62 when the Lord of the Ring books came out.
*Peter Roget invented the Thesaurus at age 73.
*George R.R. Martin was 63 when HBO purchased the television rights for his A Song of Ice and Fire series and launched the mega-hit “Game of Thrones” for which Martin actively writes and produces.
*Grandma Moses started painting at age 76. Three years later her art was hanging at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City! Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

GrandmaMoses.jpg
Write on, friends!
Sara

 

Sara Light is a professor at SongU in Nashville, TN, USA. Go to: www.songu.com

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Harlan Howard, song demo, writing lyrics, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, Never Too Late, Bobby Braddock, Richard Leigh

Structure Creates Expectations

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 08, 2017 @08:00 AM

 [Songwriting Expert Advice] Structure Creates Expectations

by Pat Pattison

patpattison.jpg

Lyric structure creates expectations. That’s what it’s for. To take you on a journey, and, as any good mom knows, to get the kids all revved up about what they’re gonna see, to build up excitement as the trip gets closer. Then to watch their eyes get bigger as they stretch their necks trying to see around the corner. Almost there…

Or sometimes she tells you to just get in the car. You’re going somewhere, but she won’t tell you where. It’ll be a surprise. Moms are like that sometimes. So is structure.

Moms are supposed to provide structure, to organize things so the kids have the right kind of journey, whether to Pirate’s Cove or through life. You’re the mom. You get to choose what kind of trip you want your song to take.

Let’s go.

 

Valentine

Chanelle Davis

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

 

These first two lines create little, if any, expectation. You could be going anywhere. If the next line had been

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

Someone to say he’s mine

 

Then we’d have expectations. We now know what should come next: a line to match and rhyme with line 2. The principle at work is the Principle of Sequence. Since line 3 mimics line 1, we expect line 4 to mimic line 2. Something like

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

Someone to say he’s mine

Someone who wouldn’t go

 

Now it feels done.

 

Of course, that’s not how the lyric really goes at line 3. It’s:

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

And hear a little midnight saxophone

 

Mom is being coy here. The line lengths (measured by the number of stressed syllables) are:

 

I ónce had a Válentíne 3 stresses

Sómeone to wálk me hóme 3 stresses

And héar a líttle mídnight sáxophóne 5 stresses

 

Ignore the rhyme just for now, and concentrate on the line lengths: They feel unstable and tell us to keep going, though it’s not entirely clear where. Though, from the twinkle in mom’s eye, it feels like the line lengths should be going somewhere like:

 

I ónce had a Válentíne 3 stresses

Sómeone to wálk me home 3 stresses

And héar a líttle mídnight saxophone … 5 stresses

Da DUM da da DUM da DUM 3 stresses

DUM da da DUM da DUM 3 stresses

Da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM 5 stresses

 

But, of course, there’s that pesky rhyme, dragging its feet by hanging on to line 2:

 

I once had a Valentine x

Someone to walk me home a

And hear a little midnight saxophone a

 

Now we’re not sure what to do. We’re getting mixed stop/go messages from mom. She’s really got us set up for a surprise:

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

And hear a little midnight saxophone

I got kisses in the night

From my Valentine

 

Not what we expected at all. It feels a little incomplete – a little disappointing. After all that suspense, all we get are two short lines that rhyme. It feels as though we thought we had something to look forward to and it didn’t really happened – it stopped short.

 

Probably feels like you would if you once had a valentine who disappointed you…

 

Then we start again:

 

Used to drink my chardonnay

And smoke my cigarette

We danced around the room just silhouettes

I sang Auld Lang Syne

For my valentine

 

Same trip. At least we’d been warned what would happen. It feels like two complete sections, both of which feel misty and soaked with longing.

 

Note especially the two lovely ambiguities:

 

Used to drink my chardonnay

 

Since there’s no pronoun here, the subject could be “I,” “he,” or “we.” All three work, and stack up on each other to give us a picture of the relationship. He was drinking her

Chardonnay and smoking her cigarette. He was a taker, not a giver. But of course, she drank and smoked too, and remembers it fondly. That’s when ambiguity works best: 2 or more meanings, all of which work. “Ambiguity” is, for me, a positive term. It’s productive. It deepens meaning. It’s contrast is “vagueness,” a negative term which promotes confusion – which doesn’t commit to anything specific.

 

The second ambiguity:

 

I sang Auld Lang Syne

For my valentine

 

“For” could mean:

 

  1. I performed it, I sang it to him,

  2. I sang a farewell song.

 

Again, both of them work – the best kind of ambiguity: two or more meanings, each of which adds something to the song.

 

By the end of this verse, it feels like we’re probably wandering through an AABA song form. So now, of course, the music moves us away, and, after an interlude, we hear this:

 

Love does funny things

And when it gives you wings

 

Unlike the first two lines of the song,

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

 

These lines,

 

Love does funny things

And when it gives you wings

 

Feel like a unit. If we traded a “w” for a “t,”

 

Love does funny things

And then it gives you wings

 

We’d feel like everything was solid. Alas, that pesky “when” asks us to keep going. But notice, it is the content that pushes forward here, not the structure. The content says “I won’t be finished until “when” is resolved. And now we hear,

 

Love does funny things

And when it gives you wings

You're a fool for thinking you can fly

 

Now the content is resolved, but the structure is, for the first time, clearly telling us where we’ll go next:

 

Love does funny things a 3 stresses

And when it gives you wings a 3 stresses

You're a fóol for thínking you can fly b 4 stresses

 

The third line is screaming to be matched, ideally by

 

Love does funny things a 3 stresses

And when it gives you wings a 3 stresses

You're a fóol for thínking you can fly b 4 stresses

DUM da DUM da mark c 3 stresses

Da DUM da DUM da heart c 3 stresses

Da da DUM da DUM da DUM da cry b 4 stresses

 

Or at least by something like,

 

Love does funny things a 3 stresses

And when it gives you wings a 3 stresses

You're a fóol for thínking you can fly b 4 stresses

Da da DUM da DUM da DUM da cry b 4 stresses

 

But what really happens…? Though mom is chirping away about how much fun we’re going to have and how we’ll remember this trip all our lives and isn’t it wonderful to be so excited, suddenly, poof, she stops the car, and says we’re not going anywhere. We turn around and go back where we started:

 

Love does funny things

And when it gives you wings

You're a fool for thinking you can fly

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

And hear a little midnight saxophone

I got kisses in the night

From my valentine

 

Yikes! Us kids howling in the backseat to keep going and whining “It’s not fair!” Mom meanwhile is driving us home without an explanation.

 

Here’s the whole trip:

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

And hear a little midnight saxophone

I got kisses in the night

From my Valentine

 

Used to drink my chardonnay

And smoke my cigarettes

We danced around the room just silhouettes

I sang Auld Lang Syne

For my valentine

 

Love does funny things

And when it gives you wings

You're a fool for thinking you can fly

 

I once had a Valentine

Someone to walk me home

And hear a little midnight saxophone

I got kisses in the night

From my valentine

 

What a perfect journey for the feeling of the song. You thought you had someone special and fell in love, thinking you could fly. Then the strong feeling that something more had to come of it, and then when it didn’t, you couldn’t even finish telling the story. So you interrupt yourself and return to your original thought, like you’ll be repeating it over and over for a long time.

 

Something special happens with rhyme here. Remember that we could have kinda finished the bridge by adding only one line?

 

Love does funny things a 3 stresses

And when it gives you wings a 3 stresses

You're a fool for thinking you can fly b 4 stresses

Da da DUM da DUM da DUM da cry b 4 stresses

 

Pretty much the same thing is accomplished here:

 

Love does funny things

And when it gives you wings

You're a fool for thinking you can fly

 

I once had a Valentine

 

So the unrhymed 3rd line of the bridge “targets” sonically to the title of the song, increasing its visibility and deepening its emotion by turning the spotlight on “Valentine,” which now turns mildly ironic. (See “The Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure” on “strategic positions” and “sonic targeting.”)

 

In most AABA forms, we usually expect the 3rd verse to tie everything up – to make a new and final statement. Here, we’ve already seen the 3rd verse – we started with it, though now we’re looking at it through new eyes and with more emotion. We’ve felt the disappointment of an interrupted love affair.

 

The interrupted bridge conspires with the song form, the repetition of the first verse rather than an expansion into the new thought of a 3rd verse, to create a character who will live with this bittersweet feeling forever, always regretting, always feeling like something wasn’t finished. Always going backwards time and again, just like the song form. Just like the interrupted bridge.

 

Nice trip, mom.

Here is the audio link to this song:

https://soundcloud.com/chanelledavis/valentine

 

Pat Pattison is a professor at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA.

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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The Best AND Worst Advice For Successful Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 01, 2017 @08:00 AM

 

The Best AND Worst Advice For Successful Songwriting

by Mark Cawley

MarkCawley-Songwriter2.jpg

This is delicate stuff for me. I coach writers all over the world; some with wildly different goals, talents, and dreams. For me it’s not as much nuts and bolts as trying hard to find real life examples of a successful path--and an equal amount of cautionary tales.

As with any advice, I would start with considering the source. Is the person qualified to give direction? For me, I always wanted to hear from someone who was in the trenches. Someone who had actually been where I wanted to go. I like to flip to the back of the book and read the credits before I start “how to”-ing.

Just by virtue of doing what I do, as long as I’ve done it, I’ve built up quite a stash of hard-earned wisdom (with plenty of mistakes mixed in).

 

Let’s start with the best advice:

1. Jump! When you’re stuck, complacent, or just bored creatively; shake things up! For me this has meant actually picking up and moving to L.A., London, and Nashville over the years. Sometimes with no plan and certainly no plan B! It can be scary, but you’re an artist and that’s what artists do sometimes. They jump into the unknown. Every jump I’ve ever made has made me a better, and more aware songwriter. It’s as important to live and experience things as it is to study and practice your craft.

2. Study the Great Ones. Like most writers I know, I learned by deconstructing songs. How are they put together? Why do some relate to so many people and become hits? Just the process of breaking down songs and putting them back together gets in your DNA as a writer and is bound to make you better.

3. Network. This can be a hard one for us introverts but I promise, those connections you make will come back time and time again to be invaluable. I still connect with writers I wrote with 20 years ago. They’re great co-writers but more importantly, great friends and you need friends to survive in this business.

4. Be Fearless. Maybe the best advice I ever got. The best cuts I’ve ever had came from songs that were written without a “net”. If I surprised myself and loved the result, chances are someone else will.

5. Be a good hang. You’re in it for the long run and believe it or not, the writing community is smaller than you think! Being prepared, considerate, and a good listener makes you someone people want to work with again. Word spreads!

 

Now the worst advise:

1) Have a plan B. To do this job you have to not be able to not write. See #1 above.

2) Only write what you know. You can argue this, as I have with several of my coaching clients. “The only true songs are the songs written from my own personal experience”. That’s the argument . I would argue that unless your life is unbelievably interesting and eventful, the well will run dry quick. Great to write from real life but it’s also pretty cool to make something up sometimes!

3) Focus on being creative, someone else will do that messy “business” part. I tried that, doesn’t work. Be a student of the business, it’s your career and no one is going to care about your career like you do.

4) Follow the songwriting rules. Obviously, learn ‘em. So you can break ‘em! Like any craft, you want to learn the ABC’s...but then you want to invent some of your own.

5) Great art requires suffering. I’ve written some of my best sad songs when I was insanely happy and some of the most upbeat ones when I was down. If you just write every day, you’ll experience it all. Promise.

 

About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals through iDoCoach.com. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. . He is also a judge for Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to  USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriter Magazine, sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , Mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK, a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops including ASCAP, BMI and Sweetwater Sound. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 20 years in Nashville, TN.

  

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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