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[Songwriting Advice] How to hack the songwriting process

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jun 08, 2018 @06:30 PM

How to hack the songwriting process

by Ged Richardson
WhatItTakesToWriteAHitSong
Songwriting is as old as the hills, so writing songs should be straight forward enough right? Wrong! Penning a song that stands the test of time and resonates with an audience is one of the hardest things to do. You need to boil down the essence of a feeling, or a mood, or an emotion into a 3 or so minute song.

Fortunately our friends over at Zing Instruments have been studying songwriting for some time and have come up with some ‘hacks’ that help accelerate the songwriting process.

There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank piece of paper. Starting the process of writing a new song can take just as long as finishing it - give one or all of these a try and see if they work!

Write the beat and melody first and lyrics last
There’s nothing that wastes time quite like writing a set of great lyrics and then discovering that there’s no way you can fit that many syllables into one verse. If you know how many beats you have to fill, that’s half the job done for you.

Writing the melody before the actual words is also a great way to accelerate your songwriting. Since you’ll know how a particular lyric is going to sound, it’s easier to fit the meaning to the music. After all, can you imagine if the “happy birthday” song was set to extremely atonal jazz? The lyrics must fit the mood.

It’s also an easy way to make dissonance your friend. The Smiths were particularly adept at writing overwhelmingly cheerful sounding music that emphasised the melancholic tone of Morrissey's vocals. 

 
Switch from 4/4 time signatures
If you’re really stuck for ideas, doing nothing more than changing up the time signature for a few bars will help you draw attention to hook lines and connect different parts of your song structure together. The simplest way to do this is to simply kill every instrument, guitar pedal and the rest, except for the drums and have that switch to 3/6 timing for a brief moment, before reverting back to 4/4.

 
Use Chord Inversions
Everyone is used to hearing chords in their typical form, with the root note being the deepest and each tone going up in pitch. To instantly make any chord progression more interesting, simply invert it so that the root note is the highest, and the fifth is the deepest. This takes no extra work at all and can instantly help you to progress with writing a song as it gives you an easy way to switch up your bass line and add flavour to an otherwise dull song.

Modulation for faster variety
On the second or third verse of a song, it can be a little dull to stick with the same old progression. However, since writing a whole new sequence is going to take just as much time as the first one, switch to the relative minor or major scale of the one you were using before. To do this, take the 6th note of the major scale and use that as the root note for the relative minor. Now you can write the exact same sequence, but using the intervals of the new scale instead. This is handy for making a moodier reprise of an early part of your song.

Leave sections blank
This might not sound like you’re actually writing a song, but bear with us here. Instead of painstakingly writing out the entirety of a solo, leave a bar or two completely empty. If your guitarist (or whoever will be doing the solo) is competent at improvisation, this is a great way to give them a chance to show off their technical skills without getting too far away from the overall character of the song. If they don’t know how to improvise, make sure that they know the major and minor scales of the key at the very least and let them loose. Since it’s only a couple of bars, it won’t be difficult or particularly noticeable if done poorly.

This is also a great way to make each gig unique, which dedicated fans will love.


Outline the structure first
Instead of writing each part of the song in sequence, develop the overall direction first. If you know what each piece of the song has to accomplish, then it’s much quicker to write those parts in detail. This way, you don’t suddenly realise halfway through the writing process that the last bar of the chorus doesn’t actually work with the first bar of the next verse, and vice versa.

The theories of cadence and voice leading are particularly useful here, as you can simply jot down some of the basics to refer to whilst writing a song.


Learn to read and write music
Many guitarists, bassists and other non-classical instrument players are more used to reading tablature than staff notation. However, developing fluency with this method of writing music allows you to apply your musical knowledge much more easily as you can visually see the development of music. Tablature is great for quickly teaching other people how to play a song, but as a songwriter you need to know why it sounds that way.

Staff notation helps with this, as you can easily see how the notes relate to each other tonally. It’s also much quicker to write once you’re fluent, and will contain absolutely everything you need to know about a piece of music when done properly. This eliminates a lot of the guesswork that can crop up after you’ve written a piece of music and forgotten some of the more subtle details about how it sounded in your head.

In Summary
Armed with these tricks, your songwriting skills will change practically overnight. It doesn’t matter if you apply all of them at once (although that isn’t entirely practical) or try them out a few at a time. Your own process is going to be a factor in this, so perhaps some of them won’t be entirely applicable. Don’t fret about this, just do the ones that feel ‘right’ to you.
 
 
Ged Richardson is founder and editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments, a music blog dedicated to helping teach 1 million people how to play music and connect with their creative side (to find their 'Zing'). https://zinginstruments.com/

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Melody, songwrite, song demo, chord progression, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Re-writing, time signatures, beats, structure, Modulation, Chord Inversions

[Songwriting Advice] Choosing the Chords That Work With Your Melody

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 02, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Choosing the Chords That Work With Your Melody
by Gary Ewer

Choosing the Chords That Work.jpg

You’ll notice that when you’ve got a melody, the notes of that melody imply the chords you’re likely to use. That’s not to say that you’ve got no choice in the matter, of course. For every chord you might use, there is a list of chords that could serve as substitutes. Just as an example, here’s two versions of the opening of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” each version using different chords:

VERSION 1: I  I6  |IV  I6  |V  I  |V  V7  I|| (C  C/E  |F  C/E  |G  C  |G  G7  C||)

VERSION 2: vi  iii  |V/V  V4-2/V  V6  |  IV6  I6-4  |  ii6  V  I  ||
(Am  Em  |D  D7/C  G/B  |F/A  C/G  |Dm/F  G  C  ||)


When songwriters get stuck at the chord progression stage — where they just don’t know what chords they’re supposed to be using — the main cause of the distress is a simple one: forgetting to listen to the melody!

The notes of your melody are going to be the main guide. After considering the notes, you then need to know a bit of chord theory. Not much, actually, just these following points:

  1.     Good pop chord progressions make great use of the circle of fifths. If you’re not sure how that works, give this article a read: “The Circle of Fifths Progression: Making It Relevant for Songwriters.” All that’s meant by this is that for most progressions, you’ll find many spots where the distance between the roots of adjacent chords is a 5th, like this progression: C  F  Dm  G  C. From C down to F is a 5th; from Dm down to G is a 5th; and from G down to C is a 5th. This is a vital part of good chord structure.
  2.     Good pop chord progressions target the tonic chord. The tonic chord is the one representing the key of your song. If your chorus is in C major (like the bit of “Twinkle Twinkle” I used at the beginning of this article), C is the tonic chord. Chord progressions should (usually) seek out that chord. They’ll often start on the tonic, wander away, but immediately try to find it again. In the progression C  F  Dm  G  C, you can hear the progression trying to find that tonic C chord again, certainly by the time you’ve reached Dm.
  3.     Good pop chord progressions tend to make most of the chords change on strong beats. To find the strong beats, simply tap your foot to the music. Your musical brain will automatically sort it out. Your foot will go down on a strong beat, and up on a weak beat. Start adding chords on strong beats.
  4.     Good pop chord progressions honour the function of the chords. Chord function can be a tricky concept, but for pop music, it tends to be rather simple, and you can get away with considering three basic functions: the tonic function, the pre-dominant function and the dominant function. The tonic function is typically represented by the tonic (I) and sometimes the vi-chord, the pre-dominant function by the IV or ii-chord, and the dominant function by the V-chord. Each function has a list of substitutes that can be used. To learn more about this, read “Creating Good Progressions: It’s All About Chord Function.”


You’ll find that occasionally putting a chord on a weak beat works well. In VERSION 1 above, the final bar has a chord on beat 1 (a strong beat), beat 2 (a weak beat) and then the final chord on beat 3 (another strong beat).
Don’t Forget to Listen!

There’s a lot of experimenting that goes into creating a chord progression for your melody. Here’s a summary of points to remember:

  1.    Listening carefully to the melody is the most important part about adding chords. Discover the notes your melody uses. Look at each strong beat, and then look at the weak beat that follows.
  2.     The chords you choose should use the strong beat note and most (not necessarily all) of the weak beat notes.
  3.     As you work out your progression, keep in mind the need for many adjacent chords to use roots that are a 5th from each other, and use the tonic as a musical target.
  4.     Find songs that you like and play or sing through the melody slowly without chords. Then play the chords and sing the melody. Notice how the progression targets the tonic, and make note of where the chords change. Most of the time, you’ll notice those changes happening on strong beats.

    Read more in Gary Ewer’s book, Beating Songwriter’s Block. Visit beatingsongwritersblock.halleonardbooks.com and enter the discount code AP2 at checkout to receive 20% off the list price and free domestic shipping (least expensive method)!

Information on the 23rd 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, song demo, chord progression, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Re-writing, Gary Ewer

7 Beatles Secrets about Songwriting I wish I'd Discovered Decades Sooner

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 10, 2018 @08:00 AM

7 Beatles Secrets about Songwriting I wish I'd Discovered Decades Sooner (Part 2)

by Jessica Brandon
Beatles.jpg

The song writing styles of John Lennon and Paul McCartney not only differ from each other fundamentally, but also change over time, affected and influenced by each other.  The songwriting partnership between Lennon and McCartney is extremely legendary. They employed so many tricks that anyone can add to their songwriting arsenal. Here are some secrets and tricks of the Beatles:
 
 
1. Change up your chorus
This shows up in their hit "She Loves You". Unusually, the song starts with the hook right away, instead of introducing it after a verse or two. "She Loves You" does not include a bridge, instead using the refrain to join the various verses. The chords tend to change every two measures, and the harmonic scheme is mostly static.
 
 
2. All Blues to Your Melody
When recording “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, On Track 3, McCartney played bass while Harrison played the Bass VI, sometimes doubling McCartney's bass line and sometimes playing full chords. (This capability was one of the benefits of the Bass VI; it could be played as a bass or as a regular 6-string guitar.)
 
 
3. Mode mixture & Delay The Root Chord
"Eleanor Rigby" is played mainly in staccato chords with melodic embellishments.
 
The song is a prominent example of mode mixture, specifically between the Aeolian mode, also known as natural minor, and the Dorian mode. Set in E minor, the song is based on the chord progression Em-C, typical of the Aeolian mode and utilising notes ♭3, ♭6, and ♭7 in this scale. The verse melody is written in Dorian mode, a minor scale with the natural sixth degree. "Eleanor Rigby" opens with a C-major vocal harmony ("Aah, look at all ..."), before shifting to E-minor (on "lonely people"). The Aeolian C-natural note returns later in the verse on the word "dre-eam" (C-B) as the C chord resolves to the tonic Em, giving an urgency to the melody's mood.
 
The Dorian mode appears with the C# note (6 in the Em scale) at the beginning of the phrase "in the church". The chorus beginning "All the lonely people" involves the viola in a chromatic descent to the 5th; from 7 (D natural on "All the lonely peo-") to 6 (C♯ on "-ple") to ♭6 (C on "they) to 5 (B on "from"). This is said to "add an air of inevitability to the flow of the music (and perhaps to the plight of the characters in the song)".
 
 
4. Use non-diatonic chords and secondary dominants & Utilise The Outside Chord
"Strawberry Fields Forever" was originally written on acoustic guitar in the key of C major. The recorded version is approximately in B♭ major; owing to manipulation of the recording speed, the finished version is not in standard pitch (some, for instance, consider that the tonic is A). The introduction is played on a Mellotron, and involves a I–ii–I–♭VII–IV progression. The vocals enter with the chorus instead of a verse. In fact we are not "taken down" to the tonic key, but to "non-diatonic chords and secondary dominants" combining with "chromatic melodic tension intensified through outrageous harmonization and root movement".
 
“I Want To Hold Your Hand’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ Voice leading in the Plagal cadence Here is a summary of the action in a IV–I change (in the key of C), highlighting the important ‘inner’ voice leading.”
 
 
5. Restate Your Lyrics
Lennon's lyrics "A Day in the Life" were inspired by contemporary newspaper articles, including a report on the death of Guinness heir Tara Browne. John Lennon wrote the melody and most of the lyrics to the verses of "A Day in the Life" in mid January 1967. Soon afterwards, he presented the song to Paul McCartney, who contributed a middle-eight section.
 
 
6. Take Risks
Example: Here There and Everywhere(1966)
In many ways, the opposite of Eleanor Rigby in that it is rich and complex harmonically speaking.  The first time Paul really spreads his compositional wings and takes bigger risks with ascending major chord sequence.
 
The introduction beginning "To lead a better life" opens in the key of G and involves a I–iii–♭III–ii–V7 chord progression. The ♭III (B♭ chord) on "I need my love to be here" (arpeggiated in the melody line) is a dissonant substitute for the more predictable VI (E7) that would normally lead to the ii (Am) chord.
 
 
7. Change of Keys from Minor to Major
The song as originally issued by the Beatles is in the key of A minor, changing to A major over the bridges. Aside from the intro, the composition is structured into two rounds of verse and bridge, with an instrumental passage extending the second of these verse sections, followed by a final verse and a long instrumental passage that fades out on the released recording. All the sections consist of an even sixteen bars or measures, which are divided into four phrases.
 
The chord progression over the verses includes a shift to a ♭7 (Am/G) on "all" (bass note G) and a 6 (D9 (major 3rd F♯)) after "love" (bass note F♯) to a ♭6 (Fmaj7) on "sleeping" (bass note F). According to musicologist Dominic Pedler, the 8–♭7–6–♭6 progression represents a hybrid of the Aeolian and Dorian modes. The change to the parallel major key is heralded by a C chord as the verse's penultimate chord (replacing the D used in the second phrase of each verse) before the E that leads into the bridge. Musicologist Alan Pollack views this combination of C and E as representing a sense of "arrival", after which the bridge contains "upward [harmonic] gestures" that contrast with the bass descents that dominate the verse. Such contrasts are limited by the inclusion of minor triads (III, VI and II) played over the E chord that ends the bridge's second and fourth phrases.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, songwrite, lyric writing, song demo, The Beatles, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Re-writing, syllables, key change, non-diatonic chords, Mode mixture

[Songwriting Advice] Some Tips on Editing and Re-writing A Lyric

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 03, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Some Tips on Editing and Re-writing A Lyric
by Cliff Goldmacher

TomKimmel.jpg
I’d like to introduce you to Tom Kimmel. Along with releasing several major label albums as an artist himself, Tom has written songs covered by Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt and Randy Travis among others. Tom’s insights into the lyric-writing process are well worth a good read. Enjoy!

Re-writing A Lyric.jpg

For some of us, a lyric rushes out into the world before we can think much about it and sometimes it’s a fine lyric, just as it is. Other times, even if we feel a strong personal connection with the lyric, it could be strengthened with a little work.

On the other hand, often a lyric comes in dribs and drabs, and once we have a complete draft we might be so relieved that we declare it finished prematurely.

In both cases, a lyric might benefit from a fresh perspective and a willingness to tinker a little.Songwriting Tips

Ted Kooser, one of my favorite poets, says that even when one of his poems comes out in one piece he still plays with it a bit to see if it might be improved. He hastens to add, however, that no matter how much or how little re-writing the poem requires, he wants it to read as if it flowed from the pen.

We songwriters have a similar goal. We want our songs to slide by easily without calling too much attention to themselves even if the lyric has real content and depth. To that end, there are a couple of references I return to.

When I’m re-writing a lyric I first ask myself if the song has what I call a strong through the door factor. In other words, I want the words to sound good and to sing well so well, in fact, that if someone heard the song through the door they’d enjoy it!

In order to achieve that, I may record a working version of the song-in-progress and listen to it softly or from a distance not analyzing the words, but listening for the sound and flow of the words. Do the words seem to roll off the tongue or do I stumble over certain sounds, words or phrases?

Chances are that if a lyric doesn’t sound good from the other side of the door, it won’t sound good up close either. So, in my book, it’s very important that a lyric sound and feel good. If it doesn’t, I can begin my re-write by asking these questions:

1. Do the syllables I emphasize when singing my lyric coincide with the notes emphasized in my melody? If not, I’ll try to adjust.

2. Do the number or words or syllables I’m placing in my lines and phrases make it easy for me to sing the song? If I’m cramming in too many syllables in a line or phrase, I can experiment with simplifying by making my phrasing less busy.

3. Likewise, I may need to add words or syllables to more closely coincide with notes of melody that I’m emphasizing.

4. Are most of the vowel sounds in my words easy to sing? For example, I’m probably going to avoid placing the words hat or it over a very high note!

Of course, strong lyrical content is extremely important to most songwriters, so the second way I approach a re-write or edit is by examining how the lyric unfolds as the song develops. I may ask myself, “Does my lyric and song unfold in a way that is satisfying, that holds the listener’s attention as well as my own?”

To consider this when I coach songwriters and lead workshops, I suggest that a song is very much like a three act play. Some of the story – be it a literal tale or an emotional or spiritual narrative – is revealed in the first act, which most often is the song’s first verse and chorus. The second act usually the second verse and chorus is a new beginning; more of the story is introduced and then summed up in the second chorus. The remainder of the story is then told in the third act often the bridge and final chorus.

In my own work, if I then see that I reveal too much, too soon in my songI make changes. One technique espoused by a friend of mine is to take the first verse and make it the second verse… and to write a new first verse that is more of a prologue… so that the story has somewhere to go! Likewise if the song is slow to develop, I have the option of trying my second verse as the first verse. Experiment!

Bottom line: a song is not a painting. It doesn’t exist all at once. It has a beginning, middle and end, and it needs to flow, rise and fall throughout its lifespan. (In filmmaking they call this advancing the narrative.)

So let’s say I’ve got my song sounding good and I’ve got my story unfolding in a nice way. There’s still one question I ask about my lyric and that is, “Are all the lines in my lyric relevant to my theme?” In other words, does my whole lyric support the point or theme of my song? If I have some filler lines or phrases I’ll probably want to work on the song a bit more.

Finally, I have found that considering the above questions gives me a context for my writing. There are numerous details I can attend to, but if I don’t place the work of re-writing into this larger context, then all my work on the details likely won’t bring about the hoped for result.

In closing, I’ll share a technique I use over and over in the process of finishing or re-writing. If I’ve come to feel that I’ve been trying too hard to complete something that I’m using too much mental muscle because I’ve lost the creative thread then it’s important that I step away from the song, let it rest and come back to it fresh.

The single most helpful way I know to do this is to make a rough recording of the song, singing only the words I’m happy with and humming in places that might need a stronger lyric. It’s important that I don’t force words that don’t sound right or make sufficient sense. Then and this is keyI listen to my rough recording at bedtime. (And by that I mean listen last thing before I turn off the light.)

It’s amazing how often the right words will bubble up from the subconscious the next day… or soon thereafter.
 

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, songwrite, lyric writing, song demo, Cliff Goldmacher, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Re-writing, Tom Kimmel, syllables

[Songwriting Advice] 5 Tips for When You Have Songwriter’s Block

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 12, 2018 @08:00 AM

[Songwriting Advice] 5 Tips for When You Have Songwriter’s Block

by Jon Anderson
songwriters-block.jpg

There aren’t many things more frustrating than staring at a blank page, waiting in vain for inspiration to strike.

If you’re a songwriter, there’s a good chance you know the feeling: words and melodies stuck in the back of your mind, full of potential but miles from becoming a coherent song. If you’re in front of your instrument, maybe you play through a few guitar licks that feel like old habits, or press out the piano chords you’ve been working through for months - but still nothing comes.

Or maybe you have a song that’s half written, and you’ve been playing through the existing parts over and over, hoping for the rest of it to spring to life - but it never does. Eventually, you either start playing fully completed songs that already exist, or just put the instruments away completely and give up.

It’s songwriter’s block. And, while it’s definitely exasperating, it’s also not uncommon.

Even prolific songwriters go through periods where writing feels hard. But, here’s the thing: they get through it - and so can you.

Stuck by songwriter’s block? Don’t give up. Here are five easy things to shake up your routine just enough to find the spark of inspiration you’ve been missing.

 

1. Start a “Lyric List”

One of the most practical ways to avoid songwriter’s block is to keep a running “lyric list.”

Basically, this is a place where you can write down words as they come to you, at any place and at any time. Too often, songwriters will be hit by the turn of a phrase, or a certain combination of words and ideas, only to have it disappear by the next time they pick up their instruments.

Yes, ideally, lyrics will come to you when you’re sitting down and intenti trying to write. But, probably more often, they’ll come to you while you’re driving, or while you’re doing the dishes, or while you’re talking to a friend.

Here’s what I recommend: keep a journal or running Google doc available to yourself at all times. When the words come, capture them in your list. They may be phrases, ideas, or both - the important thing is to record the things that inspire you.

Then, the next time you’re staring at a blank page and find yourself stuck, open up your list, and see if any of the ideas and words that have come to you in the past can spark inspiration in the place you are now.

 

2. Go for a Run

Sometimes, the mind just needs a change of speed. If you’ve been trying to write for hours and nothing’s coming, try going for a run. Anything that gets your heart rate up will do, but there’s something about running - and biking, too - that can put you in a helpful headspace.

Scientifically speaking, exercise helps to increase the blood flow to your brain, which can facilitate better mental processes (and maybe help you make musical connections that weren’t happening before).

Besides that though, there’s something about consciously checking out of songwriting and into a completely different activity that can help you to get unstuck. Whether it’s the scenery, the air, or the mental perseverance it takes to make it through your running route, the fact is that there’s something about running that helps get the creative juices flowing. But don’t just take my word for it - a bunch of famous writers were runners, too.

So, the next time you’re stuck, try going for a run.

 

3. Go Read Something

In the same way that checking out of a song and into running can jog your creative process, checking out of songwriting and into reading can help you, too.

Again, part of the benefit is in the mental switch. When you read, you’re immediately entering into ideas that aren’t your own - worlds, characters, stories, and words that offer a perspective through a different set of eyes. Who knows? You may find the inspiration you’ve been missing in a quote from the protagonist of a book, or you might find the the ideas in a story compelling enough to reprise in your song.

Another reading avenue I recommend: reading the processes of writers you admire. There are tons of songwriting blogs out there that dig into the ideas of songwriters. Go ahead - try searching for interviews with your favorite songwriters to get insight into their writing process.

Reading through their words and discovering what makes them tick may just help you to get unstuck.

 

4. Switch Parts

Let’s get a little more tactical. Have you been stuck with a great verse that you just haven’t found the chorus to follow up? Or, maybe you’ve written what you think is an ear-catching chorus, but have had a hard time getting the verses to flow from it.

Try switching things up. The easiest thing to do is to move parts that you’ve already written to the bridge - there’s a lot of creative freedom to be had in the bridge, after all, and many ideas can fit into that spot.

Maybe, though, what you’ve thought was the chorus makes more sense as the pre-chorus. Or, what you’ve been using as a verse is better suited to being the chorus.

If you’re stuck, try making a simple switch. Sure, there’s a chance that moving your song components around won’t help.

But there’s also a chance that it will.

 

5. Switch Instruments

Last but not least, one helpful way to get unstuck is to put down the instrument you’ve been trying to write on, and pick up another.

There’s a huge difference between writing on guitar and piano, for example - just look at songs by Lady Gaga versus songs by Bob Dylan.

Stylistically, different instruments and sounds can lead you into different creative spaces. What you were constructing as a ballad on keys may feel looser and more upbeat on an acoustic guitar - and that could be just what the song needs. Or, what you’d been writing on your acoustic may sound like another piece entirely when you switch it over to an electric.

So, if you’re experiencing songwriter’s block, try writing a song on something else.

 

Keep Writing

Hopefully, a few of these ideas can help you overcome your songwriter’s block. Tactics aside, though, your biggest keys to coming unstuck will always be to examine things from new angles, and to keep writing.

So, if you have songwriter’s block, no matter what you do, don’t give up. Keep listening, keep trying new things, and keep writing.

If you do, the songs will come.

Jon Anderson is the founder of Two Story Melody, a music blog dedicated to uncovering the stories and processes behind beautiful songs. He's likes indie (or any good) music, good stories, and mango ice cream. twostorymelody.com


Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Writer’s Block, Melody writing, Lyric Writing Mistakes, Mismatched Syllables, Rewrite, Re-writing, Jon Anderson

[Songwriting Advice] How to Write Song Hooks That “Hook” You in

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 05, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] How to Write Song Hooks That “Hook” You in
by Jason Blume

How to Write Song Hooks.jpg

The more you have, the better your chances of having a hit...

What constitutes a hook? Any element of a song that grabs a listener’s attention and “hooks” them in. With there being so much competition for our listeners’ attention, including multiple hooks throughout our songs has become more important than ever.

According to an article in The Atlantic magazine, “A short-attention-span culture demands short-attention-span songs. The writers of Tin Pan Alley and Motown had to write only one killer hook to get a hit. Now you need a new high every seven seconds—the average length of time a listener will give a radio station before changing the channel.” In that same article, Jay Brown, co-founder of Jay Z’s Roc Nation label, was quoted as saying, “It’s not enough to have one hook anymore. You’ve got to have a hook in the intro, a hook in the pre, a hook in the chorus, and a hook in the bridge, too.” Mega-hit songwriter/producer Ester Dean, with hits by artists including Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, echoed this sentiment almost word for word.

Note that some people refer to a song’s chorus as its hook, using the word “chorus” and “hook” interchangeably. But hooks can be in any section of a song. Let’s take a look at some of the various types of hooks we can incorporate into our songs.

Instrumental Hooks
Including musical hooks—catchy melodic phrases that repeat throughout our songs and do not include lyrics—can help keep our listeners engaged. In some instances, such as those listed below, an instrumental lick serves as the heartbeat of the song.

It would be hard to find a more iconic musical hook than the one that is the basis of the Rolling Stone’s seminal hit “Satisfaction” (written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards). Keith Richards’ driving guitar lick is every bit as memorable as the melodies Mick Jagger sings.

“Layla” (recorded by Derek and the Dominos and written by Eric Clapton and James Beck Gordon) is fueled by Clapton’s iconic lick. This musical motif is heard during the song’s intro and repeatedly throughout the chorus. It is interesting to note that the song ends with an entirely different instrumental segment.

Notice the use of multiple instrumental hooks in Vanessa Carlton’s self-penned hit “A Thousand Miles.” The song opens with an instantly identifiable musical phrase played on piano. It also features a piano interlude between the lines sung in the verses, as well as an additional hook (played by strings) in the pre-chorus.

A strong case could be made that in the aforementioned songs, the instrumental hooks are the songs’ most memorable and important components.

Signature Licks
In many cases the musical hook is introduced at the onset of the song. In these cases, they can also be considered signature licks. In my article for BMI’s The Weekly I defined a signature lick as a memorable melodic motif—an instantly recognizable musical phrase—that is heard at the beginning of the song. It is also sometimes heard throughout the song, especially during the turnaround, the musical interlude between the end of the first chorus and the subsequent verse.

Unique Instrumentation
The instruments chosen to perform a riff or a lick can make a major contribution to the song sounding hooky and differentiating itself from the competition. The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” is a prime example. It features a catchy lick paired with the sound of an electro-theremin to create a hook that played a big role in propelling the song to countless critics’ “Greatest Songs of All Time” lists.

An excellent example of a musical hook made more memorable by the sound of the instruments playing it can be heard in Little Big Town’s first #1 single and CMA Country Song of the Year, “Pontoon” (written by Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, and Luke Laird). The catchy lick, played by a mandolin and mellotron synthesizer, is heard during the song’s introduction, throughout the verses, and in the song’s turnaround.

In American Idol winner - Phillip Phillips’ “Home” (written by Phillips with Drew Pearson and Greg Holden) an instrumental section essentially takes the place of a chorus and is the most unforgettable part of the song. It is interesting to note that the melody of this section is performed primarily by vocals singing the syllables “ooh” and “ahh” and includes no other lyrics.

“Wipe Out” (written by Bob Berryhill, Pat Connolly, Jim Fuller, and Ron Wilson, and performed by the Surfaris and covered by the Ventures), one of the most recognizable songs from the sixties, was probably most famous for its use of a drum pattern as a hook.

Another instantly identifiable drum pattern serves as an exceptionally effective hook in Imagine Dragons’ “Believer” (written by Daniel Reynolds, Justin Tranter, Benjamin Arthur McKee, Daniel Wayne Sermon, Robin Lennard Fredriksson, and Mattias Per Larsson). This pattern provides a melodic hook throughout the entire song, except for the breakdown section.

Non-Lyric Vocal Hooks
Sounds such as “ah,” “oh,” “ooh,” “hey,” and “I” can create powerful hooks when sung to memorable melodies. One of the most memorable elements in the Bee Gees’ disco classic “Stayin’ Alive” (written by Maurice, Barry, and Robin Gibb) comes each time they sing the phrase “ah ah, ah ah,” followed by the title.

Nonsense syllables, such as “rah rah, ah-ah-ah, ro mah ro-mah-mah,” and “Gaga oh-la-la,” are sung by Lady Gaga to establish an utterly unique hook that burns into listeners’ brains in her massive #1 hit “Bad Romance” (written by Lady Gaga and Nadir “RedOne” Khayat).

And there is no overestimating the contribution of “yeah, yeah, yeah” to the Beatles’ “She Loves You” (written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney).

Catchy Rhythms
Listen to the songs referenced below and you’ll hear how unique rhythms can become a song’s most hooky element. The syncopated rhythms heard throughout Jason Mraz’s breakthrough single “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” (written by Mraz with Lauren Fownes, Scott Spock, and Graham Edwards) create a hook in and of themselves.

The catchiest, most memorable moment in the Supremes’ iconic hit, “Stop! In the Name of Love” (written by Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, and Eddie Holland) is the pause after the word “stop.”

A “Money Note”
An unexpected, ear-grabbing note can serve as a powerful hook. The “money note,” as it is sometimes called, refers to that “wow” note that can be largely attributed to a song’s success. It can be a high or low note, as long as it demands attention. For a great example, listen to the low note that accompanies the word “low” in Garth Brooks’ “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” (written by Dewayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee).

Lyric Hooks
While most people associate hooks with melodic elements, lyrics can be hooky, too. A compelling story that keeps a listener waiting to learn what happens can keep our audience hooked in. Great examples of story songs include “Ol’ Red,” recorded by George Jones, Blake Shelton, Kenny Rogers, and written by Don Goodman, Mark Sherrill, and James Bohan) and “Lola” (recorded by The Kinks and written by Ray Davies).

A unique title or a phrase within the lyric can also serve as a hook. Listen to Sugarland’s clever “It Happens” (written by Kristian Bush, Bobby Pinson, and Jennifer Nettles) to hear an exceptional example of a lyric hook.
 
Summary
Note that in all of the referenced songs the hooks are heard repeatedly. While we want to serve up multiple hooks, we also want those hooks to repeat throughout the song, so they become familiar to the listeners.
 
Whether your hooks are comprised of memorable instrumental phrases, unique sounds, nonsense syllables, unexpected rhythms, attention-grabbing titles, money notes, they are the tools you can use to hook in your listeners—and keep them on the line.
 

[Reprinted by permission from BMI]

Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on three GRAMMY-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies.

Information on the 23nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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[Songwriting Advice] Is Music Publishing The Holy Grail?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Feb 20, 2018 @03:21 PM

[Songwriting Advice] Is Music Publishing The Holy Grail?

Music_Publishing_Contract.jpg

by Graham Turner

 

I started writing songs quite late in life relatively.

I’d mostly had a successful career in management and business, having started and managed one very successful business, followed by another disastrous one that ended up costing me my house.
It was during the aftermath of my failed business venture that I wrote a song that opened the door to my unexpected creative path.

Within my first two years of writing, I was offered 28 separate single song contracts with various publishers.

Strangely, I don’t really know why I set out to get a publishing deal, other than it seemed to be the Holy Grail of songwriters I’d met at the various Network Events I’d attended. I was even invited out to Nashville for a month to write with some of the best writers on the Planet. I learned a lot in a very short space of time. I was like a sponge; soaking up every piece of information I could. Lots of Tips and Tricks, about writing better songs, but also lots of plentiful advice about getting published.

I figured that while I was in Nashville, I would write and record 4 songs, get 100 CD’s done and put them in a rucksack so I could knock on every door on Music Row.

Before I left London, I went to see Dr Richard Niles, who had previously picked out one of my songs at a Network Event, as “ an excellent example of songwriting”.

I went to his house and played him 14 songs in the hope that he’d think all my songs were fantastic.
I came away quite bruised to learn that he didn’t think quite as much of some of these other efforts as the one he’d picked out previously.

He did narrow things down to 5 “potential hits’ that I could take with me.
So, armed with my new CD, I went door-knocking Nashville and was surprisingly, soon offered 4 single song contracts. I was over the moon.

I came back to London feeling like I had made it. I also came back with some regret; realising that I had, after all these years of being very commercially aware, I hadn’t actually given enough time to my creative side. Oh boy ! I wish I had discovered songwriting earlier in life.

A couple of weeks later, the publishing contracts came through.

I’m no lawyer but it was at this moment that I’m glad I had the business background I’d had, because to me, the contract was so loaded in favour of the Publisher, I thought “how can I even begin to negotiate this?”.
I took some legal advice, and sure enough, I needed to go back to the publisher and ask some pretty blunt questions about changing the terms to a more favourable arrangement.
A few days went by, and I was met with an email which basically said “ this is the same contract we’ve been using for years; if it’s good enough for Scottie Turner, it’s good enough for you. I thought “ who the hell is Scotty Turner? Little did I know he’d written with everyone from Buddy Holly to Willie Nelson.

I did say it was a steep learning curve.

There was no advance, completely exclusive rights to use my songs as they damn well please, anywhere in the world, for as long as they wanted and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it, even if I wanted to get out of it, in the event that they didn’t do anything at all with my songs. There were no guarantees about how they would help me promote the songs. So, in short, they were happy to sit back and take the money, but, as far as I could see, they were never actually going to do anything for their money, and no transparency about showing me any accounts.

I can see why some people get duped into thinking a publisher is a great person to have in your camp once a song is making money,  providing the terms are on an equal footing, but why on Earth would someone be so keen to sign something so detrimental? I didn’t get it. I still don’t get it, even now.

I’m still offered publishing deals, some from independents, some from Major publishers. I have friends, professional writers, who have either left their publisher or who can’t wait to get out of their publishing deal.

Some have had advances but most don’t. Either way, an advance is only a loan against potential future income. You still have to pay it back.

I probably sound like I’m against publishers. I’m not.

I’m happy to sign any deal that is going to be mutually beneficial, but like anything in this business, if it’s good enough for Scottie Turner, it probably means it belongs in a bygone era where Musicians and Songwriters were exploited, and it isn’t worth signing. Some might argue though, that with Streaming sites offering creatives like us such a pittance, the Scottie Turner model is as prevalent today, just living in the clouds.

There are 4 or 5 publishers that I deal with who I trust implicitly and who help me progress my songs. I have built these relationships from a humble door knock or from meeting them at network events. I don't drive them mad, but when I have something I think they could work with or they have something they think I can help with, we reach out.
 
Be careful out there with any deal that’s offered to you and seek proper legal advice. The Musicians Union provide some legal assistance for free as part of your membership and most lawyers are happy to give you some introductory advice before you commit to any fees.

We hope you enjoyed this story and piece of advice, to find out more about our friends at Music Gateway you can visit their website and check here Music Gateway Review.


Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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[Songwriting Advice] Does Songwriting Take A Village?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Feb 12, 2018 @08:00 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Does Songwriting Take A Village?

by Mark Cawley

Co-Writing.jpeg

 

The multi-way co-writes have been on songwriters' minds. This is the fifth consecutive year that all Top 3 winners of the USA Songwriting Competition were co-writes. A staggering 29 out of 30 songs in the Top 10 country category for the past 3 years were all co-writes.  And songwriters e-mailed us and called us to say "you are so unfair, all your top winners are all co-writes!".
 
The debate rages on about co-writing and the current state of multiple writers on a song. Check out the songwriting credits on the Grammy nominees for best song this year. A lot of names, eh? No Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Bacharach and David, Elton and Bernie and defiantly no Brian Wilsons or Carole Kings.

"Despacito," Ramón Ayala Rodriguez, Justin Bieber, Jason Boyd, Erika Ender, Luis Fonsi & Marty James Garton Jr., songwriters (Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber)


"4:44," Shawn Carter & Dion Wilson, songwriters (Jay-Z)
"Issues," Benjamin Levin, Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Julia Michaels & Justin Drew Tranter, songwriters (Julia Michaels)


"1-800-273-8255," Alessia Caracciolo, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, Arjun Ivatury, Khalid Robinson & Andrew Taggart, songwriters (Logic featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid)


"That's What I Like," Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip, songwriters (Bruno Mars)

I've had major cuts that I wrote on my own, with a co-writer, with 2 co-writers and even a few with 5. When I've gotten up to more than 2 I got a little confused about who did what I admit. But…

As I mentioned, Ive had a few experiences with 5 or more writers including a #1 with Day And Night” by Billie Piper and the story behind that one is a typical example of how it can happen and, in this case, I couldnt complain. I was writing a bunch with Eliot Kennedy in the UK and Eliot had a team at Steelworks in Sheffield. The studio turned out a bunch of hits, sort of Motown style. Artists came in, the team wrote with them, did pre-production in house as well as the final record.

I loved this process enough to sign with them on their joint venture with Universal. Gave me some great opportunities I never would have had otherwise as most of these projects werent taking outside songs. I might do my part with Eliot, his partners take it to final production, the artist is there and, in the end, multiple writers. It becomes about numbers and how much faster you can turn out songs with a team. I had the same experience writing with The Spice Girls there and more. Did I miss the idea of writing on my own or with another writer? Sure, but I found I could do that AND write with a group sometimes but, and its a big but, it worked because much of my time was spent as a team member.

Beyond this method you see lots of songs that, due to losing (or settling) a lawsuit are legally required to add the writers of the original source of inspiration or sample. Case in point, “Uptown Funk” now has 9 writers listed. I love that song so…can it still be inspired if it takes a village to produce it?

All this is a hot topic of debate with songwriters the past few years. I coach writers all over the world and I understand the frustration when they feel it’s impossible to break in to a production team or to write a song that could be pitched to the Beyonces of the world. It’s not impossible but it is getting pretty rare to see a song written by one writer, not connected in some fashion to the label or production team associated with the record.

So…what’s the kid in his or her bedroom, making music and dreaming supposed to do? How about 4 ideas to start?

  1. Be your own artist. You still might get pressure from a label to write with the current crop of hitmakers but at worst your ideas make it to the record!

  2. Develop mad tracking skills. More and more successful writers are coming from the ranks of track guys. Even here in Nashville you might find a great track guy in the same writing session with a couple of proven hit makers.

  3. Similar to my 2nd point but in this case, become part of a production team. Maybe you start by making tea and graduate to being a part of the creative process. For this you need to be a good hang as well as adept at more than one skill.

  4. Be awesome. An overused word but in this case it works. Be so awesome in your songwriting that the powers that be can’t overlook you. Still hard to be heard but some of the ones who have made this work took to the streets, to social media and to clubs until their tribe grew and they became names. Ed Sheeran is one great case in point. Started as a busker.

In the end, this current state is just that . . . the current state. Complaining about the songwriting business and how unfair it is or how “watered down” the songs are is good fodder for social media posts but not for change. For that I think you work within it or work outside it and again…be awesome


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 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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[Songwriting Tips] Finding Time to Write

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Feb 01, 2018 @08:00 AM

[Songwriting Tips] Finding Time to Write

By Sara Light
Finding Time to Write.jpg

 

Sara and her husband Danny have been contributing articles on songwriting for a few years on our blog. In this latest edition, Sara talks about taking the time to write songs - which many songwriters today can certainly relate to her.

“Who will free me from hurry, flurry, the feeling of a crowd pushing behind me, of being hustled and crushed? How can I regain even for a minute the feeling of ample leisure I had during my early, my creative years? Then I seldom felt fussed, or hurried. There was time for work, for play, for love, the confidence that if a task was not done at the appointed time, I easily could fit it into another hour. I used to take leisure for granted, as I did time itself.”  — Bernard Berenson, Sunset and Twilight, from the Diaries of 1947-1958

I am finding that the older I get, the more difficult it is to feel unencumbered. I do not have the same sense I did in my 20’s and 30’s of having the time or energy to follow my muse, explore my own interests, or even rest my mind.  The tasks that I commit to now, even the ones I voluntarily choose, come with a sense of heaviness;  How will I fit that in to my schedule? What do I prioritize today? If I do THIS, it’ll take away from THAT.

I’m beginning 2018 pretty well. I’m back to starting most days with a yoga video and green tea BEFORE I check my schedule, answer my emails and walk my dog. I’m even on a streak with my Head space meditation app and I’m finally able to turn off my brain at night and get some deep sleep. And, check this out, I’m writing a blog entry (an activity that I enjoy, but usually fits into the “how will I fit that into my schedule today?” category).

Some of the lessons I find that are working for me this year that I haven’t tried in the past are:

  •      Doing a little bit consistently can be as satisfying as going “all in”.  This is a good one for songwriters. If you only have a couple of minutes to work on a song today, do that. Don’t wait until you have half a day to devote to writing a whole new song. If you think one new title today call that your day’s work and let yourself feel accomplished.
  •     Good is good enough.  Perfection isn’t a mandatory requirement. Just get the job done the best you can in the time you have and move on. Don’t berate yourself for not doing something exactly the way you imagined.  This frees up a lot of time.
  •     Deadlines are often flexible.  I have been noticing that a lot of the people around me also feel crunched for time. Because of that, they often are more than happy to move around appointments and extend deadlines. They, too, have a million other things they can fit into that slot.  Flexibility reduces stress.
  •     Take a break from social media. Yikes, lately, I have been seeing so many articles about the addictive (aka drug-like) qualities of those pings and likes and notifications. It wasn’t a coincidence that on my birthday this year, as much as I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the sweet notes and well-wishes throughout the day on Facebook, I also left my notebook with my favorite recipes on a shelf in the grocery store (never to be recovered), threw my dog’s leash out with the trash and generally walked around with fog-brain as if I were hung-over.  This week, I resisted the urge to post a cute picture of my daughter hugging our dog in the unusually snowy day in Nashville. That meant that I also missed seeing all the  photos of my friends’ kids. But the payoff was additional time and FOCUS.
    “The only way past it, is through it.”   This is my new mantra every time my procrastination instinct kicks in. I got this one from an interview by Gretchen Rubin of writer Greer Hendricks .
 
About Sara Light
Sara Light has been writing professionally in Nashville since 1996. Her credits include the John Michael Montgomery title track and the hit single "Home To You" which received an ASCAP airplay award in addition to being named SESAC song of the year for having garnered 2 million spins on radio. She also composed songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy, The Musical" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score." Sara has always combined her love of teaching with her love of songwriting and has given countless songwriting seminars throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 2001 she co-founded, along with her husband Danny Arena, the online educational website www.SongU.com. Besides being one of the main administrators (and now bloggers) Sara teaches Song Feedback and Lyric Writing at www.SongU.com

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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Top Ten tips for Entering Songwriting Competitions

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Sun, Jan 07, 2018 @07:24 PM

Top Ten tips for Entering Songwriting Competitions

By Jamie Anderson & Ira Greenfield
Innovative-Songwriting-Process.jpg

Most people think that entering Songwriting Competitions have to be a pain-inducing experience that’s akin to getting a root canal. The truth is that many songs that have done well have taken steps to make sure the songs sound good.  You’ll discover when you read through these 10 tips on entering songwriting competitions doesn’t have to be a long and complicated process. In fact, you probably have all the knowledge you need to write a great song now.
 
It is always good to enter Songwriting Competitions to test out how good your songs really are. Here are ten tips to help you improve your chances of doing well in Songwriting Competitions:  

1. Vocals & Pronunciation. Put the vocals high in the mix, make sure pronunciation is clear. The lyrics can’t be judged if they can’t be heard. If people unfamiliar with your song can’t follow the story, then you need to remix it so the band doesn’t overpower your poignant lyrics. Also, make sure that the vocalist pronounces the lyrics properly. Our event director Eddie Phoon was a distinguished panelist at a Nashville Music Conference many years ago on a demo listening panel. The panel consisted on A&R director from record labels and music publishing companies, they listened to a Rock/Alternative song and everyone in the panel liked it except him. He said he liked the song but not the lyrics, he said he didn't get the lyrics “Open Your Ass”. The band responded “No, it's open your ears”, the crowd roared with laughter! Lesson learned: pronounce your lyrics properly, make sure the listener knows what you are talking about.

2. Make sure you’ve put your song in the right category. Just because you sing about Nashville doesn’t make it a country song. Load it up with weepy pedal steel, a mournful fiddle and make sure there’s a little twang in the singer’s voice. If you don’t sound like Carrie Underwood or Eric Church, hire someone who does to sing your song. Is it jazz? It should have something beyond one ninth chord and a host of major chords. Use chord substitutions to give it that smooth jazz sound. Is it folk? Add an acoustic guitar. Bluegrass? Better put in a banjo. Lyrics are important, too. If you’re singing about trucks and bars, it’s not jazz, unless you’ve been at said bar and consumed a couple of six packs. Listen to songs popular in that style and note the lyrics and arrangement. Don’t be that songwriter who wastes a good song by submitting it in the wrong category.

3. Arrangement & Collaboration. It’s not an arrangement contest. We don’t care if Clapton is your guitar player. Give us a compelling story or lyrics rich in metaphor. If you want to show off that hotshot guitar player, try a best band contest.  Instrumentals are in another category, of course, and for those, make sure there’s an engaging melody that repeats several times.

If you feel that you are great in writing great melodies but not that great in writing lyrics, go find a lyric writer. In the past 5 years of the USA Songwriting Competition, all top winning songs were written by more than one songwriter. Same goes for the Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts, most of the hits todays are multi-way collaborations.
 
4. Have a short intro. The judges have already listened to a hundred songs and consumed a pot of coffee. They don’t need a 24-bar intro. I know “Stairway to Heaven” has a really long cool intro, but then again, you are not Led Zeppelin. Be kind. If you’ve got lyrics, get to them in 8 bars or less. If it’s an instrumental, get to the central melody right away.

5. Have a lyric sheet that actually reflects what’s being sung. If there’s a word or two that’s different, no problem, but make sure you’ve included all the verses and everything that’s key to the song. If you forget the last verse, we’ll never know if mama gets out of prison. A missing bridge, especially one with the theme of the song, could cost you that coveted winning prize.
 
6. Avoid common rhymes like heart/start, fire/desire, shelf/self, do/blue, together/weather, right/light, and light/night. These are typical clichés. "You are my fire, the one desire...". They’ve been used in thousands of songs and have completely lost their emotional impact. A good rhyming dictionary can help you. Don’t forget about imperfect rhymes – these are the ones where the vowel sound matches but maybe not much else, such as right/fly or cape/lane.
 
7. Don’t use rain as a metaphor for sadness. Fred Rose already wrote “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and Willie Nelson already sung it. You can’t top that. Likewise, don’t use a storm as a metaphor for anger or a sunny day for being happy. Pretty much, stay away from weather metaphors. Besides, songs like these have been done before. So, try to write in a refreshing manner.

8. Tune your guitar. Many judges are musicians and unlike some audience members, they not only notice stuff like that, they’re distracted by it. Likewise, if your drummer is always a half beat off or if the harmonies are sour. Sure, it’s not a best band contest, but why complicate matters? Many of the song demos are sign way off key. It would be rather difficult for the judges to hear the melody if it is sung off key.
 
9. Don’t tell us your emotions, show us. “I’m sad you left me,” is boring. Tell us about the rose pressed in the family bible or how you found his keys on the kitchen counter. Think like a good cinematographer. A talking head is coma-inducing (“I feel sad” or “You’re so mean”) but add a vivid landscape and a great mystery and you’ve got Citizen Kane. In other words - show, don't tell.

10. Look for a unique angle and use detail, avoid being derivative. “She broke my heart and left me” has been sung a million times. We don’t care anymore. “She slammed the door and on the way out, ran over my foot with her new cherry red Ford truck” – now that’s interesting. Use all your senses. Did he give you a rose? How did it smell? Don’t just tell us it’s red – go to a thesaurus and tell us it’s fuchsia, deep pink or maroon. Don’t tell us you like his kiss. Tell us how it tastes. Don’t tell us her dress is pretty, tell us it feels like warm silk.

Many songs that we hear are rather derivative in it's melodic lines as well as parts of the lyrics feels as if it has been plagiarized.
 
We have heard submissions in the USA Songwriting Competition where songwriters try to write the derivative songs that were number one on the charts at one time and end up being awkward. One case was a songwriter who took the entire track of Jennifer Lopez song "If You Had My Love" and wrote a similar melody to the background music, even the melodic line's rhythm was so similar. The chorus even copied the melody of the original song. Our judges thought the song has been plagiarized big time, let alone not being creative as the judges left the room singing to Jennifer Lopez song instead of this song that was entered. Needless to say, that song didn't win.
 
Now go tune your guitar, fire the drummer and write some great songs.
  
 
Jamie Anderson is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist who’s taught songwriting and other courses at Duke University, arts centers, in her studio, and via Skype. Her experience in music is varied, from songwriting competition director to playing hundreds of gigs in the US and Canada. She’s also judged other song contests and released ten albums of original music. Coffee is her super power. www.jamieanderson.com and www.jamiebobamie.wordpress.com

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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