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Jessica Brandon

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Songwriting Tip: From Demo To Master

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 05, 2012 @02:15 PM

From Demo To Master: Arranging, Recording, Mixing & Mastering by Melissa Axel

MelissaAxel, JustinPeacock conduscting string section

As with previous posts, we continue from the recording artist perspective (rather than pitching a song to a vocalist) where the last article, From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience, left off. This post explores how the song "Golden Rule" was arranged, recorded, mixed, and mastered for release on the album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS …

With pre-production complete and crucial decisions made about song structure, lyric edits, and more, "Golden Rule" was finally ready for recording … or was it? Not quite yet. Before we could take the song into the studio, we still had to finalize the instrumentation and arrangement to build the overall vibe of the track.

We'd chosen a great drummer/percussionist for the album, and our producer arranged a meeting with him to go over the feel of the song. They each brought some great groove ideas to the table (our producer has a percussion background as well), and the drummer and I played together a bit to lock in the most natural tempo.

Hearing how the piano and drums fit together, we decided the song would feel great with an upright bass. We hired a terrific player versed in jazz and rock who brought various textures to the album, and for this track, a jazzier pop feel worked best. We talked through the song, played with some ideas, and then it was time to record the rhythm section. We tracked piano, drums and upright bass live in the studio with each instrument isolated in its own room, separated by glass windows for eye contact.

No matter how good your musicians are and or how much you've rehearsed, there's a special magic you're going for in the studio that only comes from letting go and playing until everything "gels" between the performers. Our session was no exception, and once I'd recorded a scratch vocal as our guide for the song, I was free to focus on the nuances of the piano part and how it connected with what the other musicians were doing. Once we had something down that we were all pleased with, I went back and recorded the rubato (out of time) intro and outro sections by myself on piano.

With the basics down, we turned our attention to the arrangement. In essence, "Golden Rule" is a song about empowerment, and we wanted a string section to bring out its emotional strength. It needed to sound both fresh and familiar—inspirational without being cheesy, moving without being "over the top." Violinist/composer Kailin Yong listened to our basic tracks and created an arrangement for violin, viola, and cello that built up to great intensity and also provided a sense of comfort and universal acceptance to the listener.

Once the arrangement was complete and we were all happy with a midi demo of the parts, we scheduled a recording session for the strings. Kailin played lead violin, joined by Tom Hagerman (DeVotchKa) on second violin, Mackenzie Gault (Flobots) on viola, and Beth Rosbach (Sphere Ensemble) on cello. Our producer took on the role of conductor, with an engineer who specializes in live recording at the board.

The string players were charged with bringing more to life than just notes on the page: each musician would also fill the music with the emotions of his or her own experiences from childhood. Though I knew some of them well, I had just met others for the first time that day, so we connected for a bit and exchanged a few brief stories before tracking began. As we layered several takes of the string section, a mini string orchestra evolved before our ears, and I heard the incredible difference it makes to record live musicians.

After the strings were finished, it was time to lay down the final vocal. Every singer needs to feel supported by the music, and I realized how much easier it is to deliver a solid, heartfelt performance with a strong, grooving rhythm section and beautiful string arrangement backing me up. We spent some time listening back to the takes and comping the best phrases into a cohesive track that reflected the message and openness of the song.

But capturing great performances with great sound is not enough: the complete picture of a song is brought to light by an exceptional mix, and we were fortunate to be working with a producer whose specialty is mixing. He had a vision for each song—and the entire record—from the beginning, as well as a strong understanding of my own sonic preferences. We left him to his own creative devices and returned to find the unique sound and placement of each instrument perfectly treated in a stunning mix that drew the listener in and highlighted all of the most special moments of the song.

The final mix of "Golden Rule" (and eleven other songs) then went to our mastering engineer, who processed or "sweetened" the audio to maximize sound quality for both CD/digital and vinyl/analog formats. Since the sound of this music was intimate, sweeping, and highly organic, we chose to master the album for high dynamic range. Unlike many "wall of sound" tracks released since the compact disc began to dominate the industry, compression was used sparingly to keep the quiet parts quiet and the big orchestral parts loud and powerful by contrast. The result is a listening experience of greater sonic depth (and an absence of ear fatigue).

"Golden Rule" had completed its evolution from demo to master. From pre-production to arranging, to recording, mixing and mastering, the process was a detailed, lengthy, and enriching one that not only prepared us well for future recording projects but provided a fulfilling creative journey in and of itself.

 

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS is reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Tori Amos. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, From Demo, Master, Arranging, Recording, Mixing, Mastering

Songwriting Tip: The Prosody of Mystery in Mystery Train

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Feb 17, 2012 @01:00 PM

The Prosody of Mystery in Mystery Train

By Pat Pattison, songwriting professor

 Pat Pattison, songwriting professor

Ok, so who still cares about the young Elvis and his Sun Records recordings? Simple stuff, right? Sure. Scotty Moore and Bill Black are just rock-a-billy hicks thumping away the best they can, them good ol’ southern boys.

 

So why does Elvis’ Mystery Train still feel like a mystery to be unraveled, fresh on every listening? Have you heard it recently? C’mon, download it and check it out. Then come back.

 

So? Did you try to count it out? Go back and simply tap out the downbeats. See how you do. I’ll wait.

 

It can be a little confusing. Simplify it a bit. Forget the intro and start counting downbeats one beat before Elvis comes in with “train arrive.” It’s a pretty brisk tempo.

 

How many bars do you count before he starts line 2?

 

Right. Ten bars:

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

| / / / / | / / / / | / / / /| / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / |

 

Train ar-ri--------------ive sixteen coaches long

 

Then another ten bars:

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

| / / / / | / / / / | / / / /| / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / |

 

Train ar-ri--------------ive sixteen coaches long

 

Pretty neat. It throws you off balance, both the ambiguous entry (did you expect it there?) and the unusual ten bar phrase. Maybe, um, mysterious, eh?

 

But made even more mysterious because of the introduction. Now count it. I’ll wait.

 

Yup, six bars, but with a wrinkle. The first downbeat is pretty foggy, with the guitar starting in the half bar and playing its figure on & 3 &, making it even harder to find the downbeat. So it’s an unusual six-bar intro.

 

Then the vocal starts back-heavy (after the downbeat) in bar seven – the actual first bar of the ten-bar verse. Even more mysterious.

 

Only when you get to the “chorus,” the conclusion of the sequence, do you get to a stable 8-bar section, where he slams the door, letting you know what the mystery train has done to him:

 

Well that long black train got my baby and gone

 

Note, however, that the front-heavy (starting on the downbeat) “chorus” picks up in the tenth (weak) bar of the verse “Well that…,” making even the stable 8-bar sequence a tad ambiguous. Then the long/gone rhyme puts the finishing touches on the section.

 

There’s prosody galore in this treatment. The verse is unstable and mysterious – even spooky – while the “chorus” leaves no hope for our hero. It’s a nifty use of a third level of phrasing – how many you have bars in a section.

 

Either Scotty and crew had no idea what they were doing, or they really did. I’d opt for the latter explanation. Even if they didn’t think of it in terms of prosody, you can. And you can use it in your songwriting.

 

Go get ‘em.

 

© 2012 Pat Pattison 

Pat Pattison is a Professor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Songwriting. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Prosody, Songwriting Tip, lyric writing, expert

Songwriting Tip: Writing Words to Music

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 @12:06 PM

Writing Words to Music

by Harriet Schock, hit songwriter, teacher

Harriet Schock, hit songwriter

I write music and lyrics, but when I write with a composer who doesn’t write lyrics, I frequently let him/her write the music first. Some people have asked me how I actually put words to music that already exists. Even when I write the lyric first, I generally write a verse and chorus before I set it to a melody. So the second verse is always written to a melody, no matter how I start the song, with melody or with lyric. I find it amusing that songwriters who write words and music simultaneously sometimes say they could never write to a melody, and yet they write the second and third verses to a melody routinely.

If I’m given a melody with no lyrics at all and no title, I think it’s easiest for me to start with finding the title in the melody. Determine where that is and come up with a title and concept you really love. Then, find where the sections of the song are and find where the music is rhyming. By that I mean, find out which notes are in a repeated sequence, rhythmically, although they may be on different actual notes (Like “yesterday” and “far away” in the first line of the song “Yesterday”) This will determine your rhyme scheme, although it won’t be etched in stone.

Now, before you start pouring the lyric into the melody, be sure you’ve spent some time in your viewpoint and either know WHAT you’re going to say or where you’re coming from as the person who’s speaking. Otherwise, you’ll always sound like you’re “outside” the song and you’ll end up writing lyrics that sound like “lyrics” and draw the attention of the listener away like bad acting draws people out of the movie.

Of course, you also have to make sure the words sing well—that’s probably the most important thing of all. Make sure the syllables that are accented in the music are what would be accented in speaking. You can’t distract the listener with words that don’t flow well with the music. This means that if you’re writing up-tempo songs with lots of 16th notes, you’d better keep the consonants down to a minimum. Find combinations of words that roll off the tongue really easily and naturally with not a lot of stops. We’re not lucky enough to write in a Romance language like Spanish or French. English is a Germanic language and lots of things stop the flow of air. Maybe the reason why lines like “All I really wanna know” appear so often in dance tunes, is that they flow without stops on the air current. On the other side of the coin, “Would he make me stop and ask” in the same melody would give both singer and the listener a nervous tick.

Maybe that’s why we hear that “Ham and Eggs” was the original dummy lyric to “Yesterday.” Working with nonsense syllables can sometimes just get words that sing well into the spaces and break the silence barrier. From there, you can start writing the real lyric. At this point, all the principles of good writing should be applied. I cannot stress enough knowing what you want to say BEFORE you start filling in the melody notes with syllables.

I see songwriting as similar to parenting. No one’s really experienced in or prepared for it when we start. And we all just find our way. By the time we master it, the children are grown and the songs that embarrassed us early in our careers have, hopefully, been replaced by our newer work.

© 2012 Harriet Schock

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

For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Harriet Schock, Writing Words to Music, Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady

Songwriting Tip: The Money Hello

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 15, 2012 @01:00 PM

The Money Hello By Molly-Ann Leikin, Co-writer, Song Marketing Consultant

 

Molly-Ann Leikin, hit songwriter

Your new project is finally finished. Time to switch into marketing mode.

But you don’t know anybody. Sleezeballs, maybe, but no one legit.

First, lose the sleezeballs.

Then, compose a snappy introduction. Use it at every industry function, and in all contact mail.

I call it the money hello. You’ve only got a few seconds to convince busy strangers that taking the time to read or hear your pitch, let alone listen to your work, will lead them to an instant eighteen-wheeler full of unmarked hundreds.

Try something like this:

I’m Jalapeño Pincus. I write and sing New Country, there are ten hit singles on my new CD,

Word is there’s nobody better than you at what you do, so I want us to meet before I sign with someone else.”

The letter you don’t want to write is: “kno job kno fud wiffe run offf w truk n trukker gotta sail mi songs t mak bayl..” Nobody wants to hear your sad story. Or deal with your give-me-strength spelling. So re-read what you write before sending it. And rewrite it, too. Just as if it were a song.

A powerful, short intro is essential to capturing someone’s attention. It’s like getting to the hook quickly in a song. While composing your message, be sure to ask how, and in which format, to submit your work, to whose attention, at which address, the anticipated turn-around time, and how to mark the message/package so it won’t be mistaken for spam.

 

Let me know how you do.

© 2012 Molly-Ann Leikin

 

Molly-Ann Leikin is an Emmy nominee. The author of “How to Write A Hit Song” and “How to Be A Hit Songwriter”, she has written themes and songs for over five dozen TV shows and movies, including “Violet” that won an Oscar. Through co-writing and song marketing consultations, four of Molly’s clients have Grammy nominations, another won an Emmy, and so far, with Molly’s help, over 6000 of her other lyricist and composer protégées have placed their work in TV shows, movies, on CD’s and in commercials. Molly would be happy to discuss a co-write or consultation with you: 800-851-6588 [email protected] www.songmd.com

 

For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Molly-Ann Leikin, Song Marketing Consultant, Co-writer, The Money Hello

Songwriting: Top 10 Best Love Songs of All Time

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Feb 14, 2012 @01:51 PM

Top 10 Best Love Songs of All Time by Jessica Brandon


Today being Valentine's day, I thought it would be most appropriate to release the list of the Top 10 best love songs of all time. These love songs are some of the biggest hits of all time. Not surprisingly, big voiced pop Divas such as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand are all on this list that have recorded these pop standards. All of the songs listed have hit #1 on the Billboard 100 charts. 


10. Woman In Love - Barbra Streisand (3)
"Woman in Love" is performed by Barbra Streisand and taken from her 1980 album, Guilty. The song was written by Barry and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees. "Woman in Love", as the lead single, became one of the most successful songs of Streisand's music career. It spent a total of 3 weeks at the number-one position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Streisand's fifth (and last to date) number one on this chart. It also spent five weeks atop the adult contemporary chart, her sixth number one on that tally. The song also proved very popular internationally, reaching number one in many countries, including the United Kingdom.

9. I Just Called To Say I Love You - Stevie Wonder (3)
"I Just Called to Say I Love You" is a song, produced, written and performed by Stevie Wonder. It was one of Wonder's most commercially successful singles. The song was first featured in the 1984 comedy “The Woman in Red”, along with two other songs by Wonder, and scored number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks from October 13, 1984, and also became Wonder's only solo UK number-one success, staying at the top for six weeks.

8. Nothing Compares 2 U - Sinead O'Connor (4)
"Nothing Compares 2 U" is a song by Irish recording artist Sinéad O'Connor, released as the second single from her second studio album, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. It was written by Prince for one of his side-projects, The Family. However, it wasn't until O'Connor recorded and produced the version along with Nellee Hooper when it became a worldwide hit. An iconic music video was shot and received heavy rotation on MTV. This son spent 4 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, in addition it was a number-one in Billboard Alternative Songs chart.

7. The Power of Love - Celine Dion (4)
Gunther Mende, Candy DeRouge, Jennifer Rush and Mary Susan Applegate wrote this song. "The Power of Love " is the second single from Céline Dion's 1993 album, The Color of My Love. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks, the first Céline Dion single to do so. Originally recorded by Jennifer Rush (#1 in UK for 5 weeks), it has also been recorded by many other artists such as Laura Branigan, Air Supply, and translated into several languages, becoming a pop standard.

6. (Everything I Do) I Do It For You - Bryan Adams (7)
"(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" is a power ballad performed by Bryan Adams and co-written with Michael Kamen and Robert John "Mutt" Lange, featured on the soundtrack album from the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and on Adams' album “Waking Up the Neighbors.” It was an enormous chart success internationally, particularly in the United Kingdom, where it spent 17 consecutive weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart (the longest in British chart history), 7 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, and nine weeks atop the RPM singles chart in Canada. It was a number one hit on several charts, making it Bryan Adams' most successful song.

5. Endless Love - Lionel Richie & Diana Ross (9)
"Endless Love" is a song written by Lionel Richie and originally recorded as a duet between Richie and fellow soul singer Diana Ross, used in the movie of the same title. Billboard has named it the greatest song duet of all time. This song became the biggest-selling single of Diana Ross' career, topping the Billboard Hot 100 charts for 9 weeks. The song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for Richie, and was the second song with which Ross was involved that was nominated for an Oscar. It also won a 1982 American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Single.

4. You Light Up My Life - Debbie Boone (11)
"You Light Up My Life" is a ballad written by Joe Brooks, and originally recorded by Kasey Cisyk for the soundtrack to the film of the same name. Debby Boone, was recruited to record the single, which became a massive success, topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a record-setting ten consecutive weeks (at that time). It easily became the most successful single of the 1970s in the United States, and set a new Hot 100 record for longest reign at No.1 (at that time).

3. We Belong Together - Mariah Carey (14)
This song is a multi-way co-write by Mariah Carey, Jermaine Dupri, Manuel Seal, Johntá Austin, Kenneth Edmonds, Darnell Bristol, Bobby Womack, Patrick Moten, Sandra Sully. This became Mariah Carey second most successful song in her career so far. Billboard listed it as the "song of the decade" and the ninth most popular song of all time. Besides its chart success, the song broke several airplay records.

2. I'll Make Love to You - Boyz II Men (14)
1994 number-one hit single by R&B group Boyz II Men for the Motown label. The song, which was written by Babyface, was the lead single from their second album II. The single spent 14 weeks at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The song ties “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston and “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey as the song that spent the second most weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

1. I Will Always Love You - Whitney Houston (14)

Whitney Houston, singing "I Will Always Love You" in her video of the same name
Originally written by Dolly Parton, released in November 3, 1992, the single spent 14 weeks at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, which at the time was a record, recorded by the late great pop diva, Whitney Houston, used in the movie “The Bodyguard”, this is Whitney Houston most successful song in her career. This song ties with “I'll Make Love to You” Boyz II Men and “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey as the song that spent the second most weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, behind Carey's 1995 collaboration with Boyz II Men, "One Sweet Day" (which spent 15 weeks at number 1).

 

Do you think any other love songs should be on the list? Please write your comments below, we would love to hear from you!

 

This is brought to you by USA Songwriting Competition. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: Songwriting, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Top 10 Best Love Songs of All Time, Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion

On Being A Professional Songwriter

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Feb 09, 2012 @12:00 PM

On Being A Professional Songwriter by Danny Arena 

Almost Famous? Money For Nothing And Your Chicks For Free? I received an email this week from a songwriter who thought writing a hit song would lead them to financial independence. This is not the first time I have received such an email. In fact they come regularly, this was the second email on the topic I received this week (I'm staring at another one right now). I still had to shake my head and wonder. Is there really that much misinformation out there about the business of being a songwriter? If so, I really need to find out who's doing the PR for the entire songwriting profession and congratulate them on a job well done. 


Well, let's shed some light on this and talk about some of these reasons why you might consider becoming a songwriter:

  • Fame? Ummm, actually no. The songwriter usually remains unknown unless they are also the artist singing the song. How many non-songwriters out there know who Joe Leathers is? Did you know that Tim McGraw sang a song Joe co-wrote called, "Still" recently on the ACM Awards on national TV? How about Georgia Middleman? Keith Urban sang a song she co-wrote, "I'm In" , on the ACM Awards. Both songs are likely to be big hits, yet not many people will know the writers behind the songs. Dave Berg was ASCAP Songwriter of The Year a couple years ago. This is considered one of the highest awards a songwriter can receive...does his name ring any bells? Probably not unless you're in the music business. And those rare times when the songwriter is mentioned or acknowledged, it's not uncommon to find incomplete or missing relevant information. I read in the newspaper the day after the ACM's the following blurb: "For his latest single, Keith Urban looked toward one of his favorite writers, Radney Foster, for a rockin number called, "I'm In". The author of the article managed to leave out the name of Radney's co-writer on the song, Georgia Middleman (Radney is a former major label artist, hence the extra recognition he has). No, fame and glory are definitely not included in the benefits package for the professional songwriter. Sure, you might get a "that's cool" at your high-school reunion when they find out what you do for a living. But the truth is that even the most successful songwriters are only well-known in a relatively small circle.
  • Make Lots of Money? Yes, surely, you should consider becoming a songwriter if money's tight and you need to make a few bucks quickly. Uh, no. Do you know the difference between a large pizza and a songwriter? One of them can feed a family of four (the other delivers the pizza for a living). Know how to make a million dollars as a songwriter? Start with 1.2 million. There's a reason why jokes like this exist. It's because there's a grain of truth in them. Very, very few songwriters actually make a living from writing songs full time. Those that do usually have been working steadily at it for a very long time. It might take a good 7-15 years working at it full time before you actually start seeing any money from your hard work. And yes, if you are one of the few songwriters who catches lightning in a bottle and lands a big hit song, you might make $300,000 in one year (before taxes). But as any financial advisor would tell you, when you average that big windfall over the 10 years prior when you've made next to nothing, it turns out you would have done better financially working at the local Lowe's Hardware. Plus you'd get health benefits (something that's not part of the deal when you're a professional songwriter). So, if you're looking for a sound financial plan, landing a gig as a professional or hit songwriter probably isn't the best career path for you.
  • Job Stability? Sorry, no. The couple hundred songwriters who are lucky enough to land a steady gig writing songs usually sign a 1-5 year contract with a publishing company that has an option at the end of each year. That option is for the publishing company to decide whether or not they want to keep you around for another year. In other words, every year you're "on the bubble". So if you go a couple of years without some significant action on your songs, you're likely to be out on the streets looking for another writing deal. I might also add that the job itself is inherently fraught with highs and lows. Having lived this life now for a number of years, I most definitely would not call it a "smooth ride". One day you might get a call from the head of the record label on his airplane saying that they're going to cut one of your songs on a well-known group. But a month later, the group breaks up or declares bankruptcy. You might find out you have the next single on an established artist on a major label. But then out of nowhere, the record label shuts its doors and your single is dead in the water. You could attend opening night on Broadway and see your songs performed on stage but come back to the hotel to an email that informs you that your publishing company is closing so they can't pick up your option. Signing on for a career in songwriting is definitely signing up for a roller coaster ride [author's note: yes, as you've probably guessed, those are all real examples from the life of real songwriters, myself included]. 
    Ok, so why become a songwriter then if it's such an incredibly difficult, unstable and financially unwise lifestyle? Well, Well, every once in a while all the stars line up in the universe and it's magic. You hear your song on the radio or you watch Tim McGraw singing your song on TV or Raul Esparza belting your song on Broadway. And it's that one brief moment that you always dream about as a songwriter...it's the thing that keeps you going through the days when you're out of a job, or people criticize your work and tell you that it's impossible to make it as a songwriter. You work your butt off for 10-12 years to get that one brief second where you feel like it's all worth it. And when it happens, it's truly a magical moment. My wife, Sara Light and I, have been lucky enough during our years as songwriters to catch lightning in a bottle a few times. I was actually nominated for a Tony Award the same year as three of my childhood idols who I always wanted to be like -- Elton John, Billy Joel and Michel Legrand (you may not recognize this last name...see point #1 above about fame). It was an unbelievable dream come true for me.

So while watching the ACM Awards on TV the other night, the first thing I did when I saw Tim McGraw singing Joe Leathers song was to email Joe a note to congratulate him. Right after that, I phoned Georgia Middleman and did the same...because when you get down to it, here's the thing. Songwriting is a calling - not a career choice. Those who succeed as songwriters didn't pick it as a lifestyle. Songwriting picked them. If I could give this up and choose another career and be happy doing it, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But I can't. This is what I do. It's what I've always wanted to do. It's what fills my soul. And given the choice, I'd do it all over again. Every professional songwriter I know is the same way. We can't not write songs. That business stuff -- just comes along for the ride, good and bad...and if you're still reading this and I haven't managed to convince you to not become a songwriter by this point, then welcome to the hood. You're a songwriter.


Songwriter Danny Arena Danny Arena 
is a Tony-Award nominated songwriter and co-founder of www.SongU.com. SongU.com provides multi-level song writing courses developed by award-winning songwriters, song feedback, mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, Songwriting Tips, Danny Arena, Tony Award, professional

Top 10 Best Songwriting Books

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 08, 2012 @12:09 PM

Top 10 Best Songwriting Books by Jessica Brandon

 

We have been receiving questions "Can you recemmend us the best books on songwriting?", "Is this the best book ever on songwriting?". Here is our Top 10 list of the best songwriting books:

 

How to Be a Hit Songwriter: Polishing and Marketing Your Lyrics and Music by Molly-Ann Leikin
Molly-Ann Leikin is the award-winning songwriter and songwriting consultant who helps good songwriters all over the world become hit songwriters. Whether your work just needs a little rewriting, polishing or some strong connections, Leikin will guide you step by step to the top of the charts.

 

Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting by Jimmy Webb

Jimmy Webb, songwriter
Jimmy Webb is a legendary songwriter wrote household hit songs such as "MacArthur Park", "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", "Galveston". This book he write covers technical matters from basic chord theory and rhyme schemes to the protocol of pitching songs, Webb draws on a trove of personal anecdotes from a career spanning more than two decades.

 

How to Write a Hit Song by Molly-Ann Leiken. Molly-Ann Leiken presents an insider's look at the challenging and rapidly changing role of a professional songwriter. When someone with a house full of gold and platinum records sits down and says, "This is how I did it!" the rest of us are blessed to listen and learn.

 

Writing Better Lyrics - by Pat Pattison This book does exactly what it's name suggests, it will help you write better lyrics. It has so many exercises and ways to generate lyric ideas.

 

Melody in Songwriting: Tools and Techniques for Writing Hit Songs (Berklee Guide) -by Jack Perricone. This book examines hit songs and learning from them. This book will make you appreciate the value of this idea.

 

The Craft and Business of Songwriting by John Braheny. Examples from world class songwriters such as Paul McCartney, Lenny Kravitz and TLC. This book has been a bible for songwriters for a long time. 

Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo. I have learnt a lot from this book. Popular songwriters (songwriting giants) including Carole King, Paul Simon, Frank Zappa, Randy Newman, and Madonna discuss their songwriting methods and the way their classics came to be.

The Craft of Lyric Writing -by Sheila Davis. This is a good book with a strong focus on the lyrical side of songwriting. It is both educational and entertaining.

6 Steps To Songwriting Success: Comprehensive Guide To Writing And Marketing Hit Songs -by Jason Blume. Jason has had songs recorded by The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and many others. He has also won the USA Songwriting Competition (First Prize) in the past. Learn from the pro himself!

The Songwriters Idea Book: 40 Strategies to Excite Your Imagination, Help You Design Distinctive Songs, and Keep Your Creative Flow by Sheila Davis. Everyone wants to be original, and this book can be a very helpful tool towards that end. It's great book to help break you out of your normal way of approaching lyric writing, not to mention aid when you are blocked.

 

This article is brought to you courtesy of USA Songwriting Competition. For more information on thew 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Molly-Ann Leikin, Top 10 Books On Songwriting, Jimmy Webb, John Braheny, Jack Perricone, Sheila Davis, Jason Blume

Songwriting Tips: From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 01, 2012 @01:55 PM

From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

by Melissa Axel

Songwriting & Editing by Melissa Axel

After my last article Demo vs. Master Recordings, I was asked to share how one of my own songs moved through the demo stage to completion. That and this post are both written from the recording artist perspective (rather than songwriter pitching songs for other singers to record). This is the evolution of "Golden Rule," from my album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS …

"THIS IS IT!" The rush of adrenaline, hard work rewarded, that magical feeling of inspiration successfully translated into a complete, singable tune … You know the feeling you get when you've just finished writing a new song. Eureka, you've done it! But, you're not done with it.

At least, I wasn't done when I shouted from our piano in mid-afternoon triumph for all the neighborhood cats to hear. Even after the editing stage, "Golden Rule" went through several major revisions—the kind best made by sitting down with a trusted musical advisor (in this case, our producer) to carefully analyze a basic recording of the song. The changes made in this pre-production stage turned a pleasant but complex tune into an engaging song with a clear message of love and self-acceptance.

One thing we noticed in the first piano/vocal demo was that there seemed to be two different pre-choruses in the song—and each one appeared twice. This took power away from the composition by creating several different build-ups that never fully paid off. It felt great to play and sing those sections, but as a listener, even I got lost when I heard my initial recording. Where was the peak of the song?

Another issue was how the perspective of the song progressed. It began in third person about a struggling little girl, shifted to the girl's voice questioning her situation, and then to mine, empathizing with everyone who'd gone through the same thing. It seemed like an interesting story arc at the time, but I had admittedly come up with a narrative that was too confusing to clearly deliver its point. What was the punchline … and whose line was it, anyway?

After a hard look at each section of the song, we decided to stick with the first pre-chorus. I let go of lyrics I was originally attached to when I saw how much more powerful the song became without them. We also cut down the instrumental parts, keeping just a short vocal vamp and a quick instrumental build-up to the "bookend" outro. With so many lyrics on the cutting room floor, we no longer needed to give the listener as much musical "buffer" to process what was being said.

Still, I adored that other section, whatever it was. Those chords just felt like they belonged, and the statement "but everyone is special, everybody's unique / that's what they say, and I'd like to believe it" was only the key point of the whole song. A-ha—that was no second pre-chorus, it was the end of the bridge—the climax! Those words now mark the shift from third to first person as we continue into the chorus, "so I sing, soft but strong, 'there is nothing wrong with you.'" Sure enough, these few lines had also functioned as a pre-chorus, because the chords lead back up to the final chorus, only even stronger this time.

For me, transforming our demo in pre-production was the most crucial part of the recording process. Between tightening the form, upping the tempo, and putting unnecessary bits on the chopping block, we cut over two minutes from the song, clarified its structure, and made its core message crystal clear. Having settled on these essentials, we gave a revised piano/vocal demo to the string arranger and other musicians as we prepared to take "Golden Rule" into the studio.

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS is reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Tori Amos. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Berklee, demo, writing songs, songwrite, Master Recordings, singer songwriter, Regina Spektor, editing, Norah Jones, Tori Amos

Songwriting Tips: The Easy Way to Write Hit Melodies

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 @01:48 PM

The Easy Way to Write Hit Melodies

By Molly-Ann Leikin, Song Marketing Consultant

www.songmd.com

 Molly-Ann Leikin, Hit Songwriter & Consultant

To write stronger, memorable, singalongable tunes, here’s the process I use.  It has worked for 88% of my clients.  The 12% who didn’t have success, just plain didn’t do it.

My way isn’t the only way to write a melody, but if you are having issues with this part of your songs, here are six quick steps that work. 

When my songwriter clients send me their songs for consultation, and there is a problem with their tunes, it’s usually because these writers are playing chords, expecting them to do the melody’s job.  They can’t.  But when the notes come first, voila. 

The entire second chapter of the fifth edition of my book, “How To Write a Hit Song”, is about writing stronger melodies.  All of chapter eleven in “How To Be a Hit Songwriter” focuses exclusively on advanced melody construction. 

In both books, I define a melody as a series of single notes, with rhythm – something we hum or whistle.

Here’s how I write a melody.  There are 532 songs that are now on or have been on the charts because the writers tried this process:   

l. Put your guitar aside for now.  I know that sounds blasphemous, but when you change the process, you can change the result. C’mon.  Try it. 

2. At a keyboard, keep your left hand behind your back, while you choose individual notes with one finger on your right hand. Don’t play chords.  Just choose notes.  I’m watching…

3. Record everything.  Listen back, tweak what you’ve got, record, listen, tweak, record again, listen again, tweak, record.  Repeat this for a week.  Save all takes.  Then, at the end of that week, listen to everything.  

4. Assuming you like what you’ve written and rewritten, use those notes – no chords – just those notes – as your chorus melody.

5. Repeat the process for the verse melody, then the bridge, making sure the rhythm and melody of each section are completely different from the other two, and from anybody else’s song.

6. When you’re satisfied that the melody of each section is original and irresistibly singalongable, THEN add the chords. 

Let me know how you do.

 

Molly-Ann Leikin is an Emmy nominee.  The author of “How To Write A Hit Song” and “How To Be A Hit Songwriter”, she has written themes and songs for over five dozen TV shows and movies, including “Violet” that won an Oscar. Through marketing consultations with Molly, four of her clients have Grammy nominations, another won an Emmy, and so far, with her help, over 6000 of Molly’s lyricist and composer protégées have placed their work in TV shows, movies, on CD’s and in commercials.She’d be happy to set up a consultation with you:  www.songmd.com[email protected],  800-851-6588.

For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: song writer, Song writing, Melody, Molly-Ann Leikin, How To Write A Hit Song, Songwriting Consultant, Write Hit Melodies, How To Be a Hit Songwriter

Songwriting Tip: Demo vs Master Recordings

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jan 16, 2012 @01:51 PM

Demo vs. Master Recordings by Melissa Axel

Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jeane Baker

Demo vs. master recording—what's the difference? You might as well ask the difference between Norma Jeane Baker and Marilyn Monroe. In the same way we evolve from blossoming youth, searching for the best ways to express ourselves, to realizing our potential as a self-possessed adult, a song often undergoes a drastic transformation from rough demo to fully produced track.

The purpose of making demo recordings is manyfold:

* to get feedback from industry professionals to address melody or lyric issues of a song before beginning the production stage

* to create a sketch of the song for making pre-production decisions, such as tempo, feel, instrumentation, and arrangement ideas

* to share the song with musicians and other members of the production team to decide on parts and prepare for recording

* to compare basic recordings of a number of different songs being considered for recording full production and choose the best or most urgent ones to focus on

Making demos can be as simple as performing the song into your phone's voice memo app or using a computer program like GarageBand to flesh out a basic accompaniment to the melody. Or, many cities have demo studios you can hire, complete with session musicians and a vocalist who will perform in the desired style for pitching the song to a recording artist (be aware that in most cases, you will not retain the master recording rights to be able to license these tracks for use in film and television or to put on your own release and sell). By nature, demos should not be fully produced but remain stripped down so music professionals can easily envision possible arrangement and stylistic ideas for the song.

Master recordings, on the other hand, are fully produced "broadcast quality" tracks. Whether recorded at home or with a producer at a recording studio, they should be professionally mixed and mastered to be ready for radio and online broadcasting, available for sale, and placeable in film and television. Unless you are deliberately recording a live performance, masters require several weeks to months to a year or more of preparation. You will need to spend significant time in pre-production and rehearsals with your team (producer, arrangers, musicians, co-writers, etc.) fine-tuning the song form, instrumentation, arrangements, tempo, feel, and overall sound or vibe just right for the finished recording.

Like Norma Jeane and the iconic screen personality she became, both are beautiful—and at their core, they are one and the same. As we saw many times with Marilyn's image though, diamonds in the rough run the risk of being over-produced or sexualized, feeling too "manufactured" and in danger of straying too far from the authenticity that made them so special in the first place. If we follow our instincts and mold raw inspiration into a polished presentation that best serves the song and reflects its original joie de vivre, that fundamental essence will ring true in the final creation.

 

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS is reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Tori Amos. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: Berklee, demo, producer, 4-track, music production, Master Recordings, Norma Jeane Baker, Marilyn Monroe