Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Five ways to Create Inspiration

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jan 09, 2015 @02:47 PM

Five ways to CREATE Inspiration

Jimmy Brewer, Songwriter

by Jimmy Brewer

We all know the feeling. You sit down to write your next song and you’re confronted by the dreaded ‘blank page syndrome’. You might sit there for hours, staring at an empty page or screen before you eventually lose your enthusiasm and give up for the day. It doesn’t have to be this way! Here are a few simple inspiration generating ideas for lyric writing that can help you break away from the fear of nothing and get back to the creation of something:

1) Object Writing
Every morning pick a random word (or check out www.objectwriting.com for new examples each day), set a timer for ten minutes and write freely using your senses to guide you. Writing from your senses helps to take the listener on a journey instead of just telling them what is happening. Over time this will enrich your writing with powerful imagery and in the short term could generate some interesting ideas for development. Visit my blog for some examples and be sure to check out Pat Pattison’s book ‘Writing Better Lyrics’ to find out more.

2) Facebook Statuses
People write some soppy, emotional, stuff on Facebook, use it! Be careful not to fall into the trap of sitting on Facebook all day, refreshing the page waiting for a good status to catch your eye. Instead, make a note of anything that resonates with you while you’re scrolling through your news feed waiting for the kettle to boil or eating your breakfast cereal…

3) Column Title Generators
These can be quite cool. Make two or three columns on a page and have a different category for each one. For example on one side you might have a colour and on the other have an inanimate object, or an item of clothing (think ‘Raspberry Beret’) or even the weather (‘Purple Rain’…definite Prince theme going on here). Fill each column up and mix and match until something strikes you as being interesting or coveys an emotion that you think could be developed into a song. Get creative with the categories and you’ll be amazed at what you can find. Sheila Davies’ book ‘The Songwriter’s Idea Book’ contains lots of excellent ideas like this.

4) Little Pocket Notebook
Often when you’re out and about you might hear certain phrases that jump out at you. Usually by the time you get home you’ve forgotten about them. I like to carry a tiny notebook and pen around just in case I see something quirky written on an advert on the side of a bus, or I overhear a conversation in the queue at the coffee shop. Always try and keep your eyes and ears open and stuff will find you. I guess these days you could just use your phone, but I think there’s something about actually physically writing something down that makes your subconscious mind remember it a bit clearer. Once you’ve filled a few pages you can pick one and put it on your terrifying Blank Page and there you go, it’s not blank anymore!

5) Rip Off Without Ripping Off
If you hear a song and you think ‘Wow, what a beautiful sentiment’ or ‘What an interesting way to say that!’, Strip away the imagery and take that underlying emotion and think up some other similar ways of conveying that feeling (maybe start by object writing it and see what comes out). This way you’re not taking the image of the original song and turning it into a cliché, you’re getting to the heart of what the artist is trying to say and retelling it in your own unique style.

These are some of the methods I like to use, and very rarely now do I sit staring at a white page. These ideas can help you to spend less time thinking about writing and more time actually writing. Please leave me a comment with your own ideas, I’d love to hear them!

For more songwriting tips and some free music visit my blog at www.jimmybrewermusic.com/blog

 

To enter the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Lyrics, 4-track, Jimmy Brewer

Songwriter Story: The Life & Struggles of a Pro Songwriter

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jun 05, 2014 @11:01 AM

STORIES FROM THE TRENCHES, LETTERS HOME FROM THE WARS. THE LIFE AND STRUGGLES OF A PRO SONGWRITER.

 by John Capek

John Capek, songwriter

It was the early nineties. Arriving in Los Angeles with Australian and Canadian hit song credits under my belt, I thought it would be a breeze to get into the scene. A year later and my life savings gone I couldn't get arrested as a songwriter, keyboard player or producer.

Somehow, I fell into the "B list" session scene as a keyboard player for songwriters who needed their songs demoed. I was a pretty good keyboard player, the pay was poor, but the work was consistent and the songwriters liked my playing.

David Gresham (a former business partner with Mutt Lang) was making annual trips to Los Angeles from South Africa promoting artists and writers from his label in Jo-berg. He needed some demos done and someone recommended me. I worked on his stuff and we became friends.

Some years later, after I had graduated into the "A - list" LA studio musician scene, David called me from South Africa quite excited about an artist he had signed. He asked me if I would try to work with him. A few weeks later, his new artist, Byron Duplessis arrived at my studio in North Hollywood.

Imagine Terence Trent Darby, Prince, Michael Jackson and Lenny Kravitz in a male model's physique with talent and a voice beyond anything that I had heard before. That was Byron.

We immediately fell into writing and recording a song and "LOVE HAS THE POWER" was born.

Without notice, Byron left, and I didn't hear back from him again for some months.

"LOVE HAS THE POWER" was pitched to all the labels. The response was great. But we consistently heard the same comment, "We can't sign an artist based on only one song"..

David called me again from South Africa asking what could be done. I had an idea. If I worked with Byron in LA, he would be just like any other R&B act. However if I went to South Africa to work with him, we might be able to come up with something interesting and unique. The idea was to combine contemporary pop with Byron's African roots.

So, I packed my bags and went off on safari. I was right. The music that we made was great and different. Back in LA, the labels jumped at it. We had record companies in a bidding war for Byron. I thought that I had it made.

One day, our combined demo/masters were being played in the offices of Columbia Records in New York, Coincidentally, the band, TOTO was next door wondering what they were going to do about a lead singer for their next recording and tour. Someone made the connection. In an instant I lost my artist.

Byron Duplessis became Jean-Michel Byron and the new lead singer for TOTO.

Almost immediately, They put a "best of" album together. "LOVE HAS THE POWER" made it to that album and is forever cast in stone, (or vinyl or whatever CDs are made of), on the TOTO album, "PAST TO PRESENT". These were the best musicians in the world at that time playing my song. There is a live Youtube performance of my song from one of the TOTO shows in Paris at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyY5EBuHHiA

I was deeply disappointed with the loss of Byron as my songwriting partner and production client. I felt that he and our songs could have been "bigger than Jesus", to quote John Lennon. But, I did get some compensation in getting a TOTO cut.

I had a strong feeling that Byron had been badly miscast as a member of TOTO and this feeling turned out to be a truth with some unfortunate results for both Byron and the band. His amazing talent is still yet to be fully expressed.

After that, there was a certain lack of creative and artistic fulfillment for me. The music in South Africa had affected me so profoundly that I had to find my way back there and make more music - at any cost.

David Gresham and I stayed in touch, bemoaning our loss and plotted to find some way to recoup. As a result, I returned to the 'veldt' with David's help and set to recording my own album. Paul Simon's, "Graceland" had just come out. To me it was a revelation and an epiphany albeit a little too smooth for my taste. I wanted to get down to the root of the matter.

INDABA, my album, was recorded in Johannesburg exactly at the time that Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I have had the profound experience of being in South Africa during "the time off starvation", which is what apartheid was sometimes called, as well as afterwards when the system collapsed. Freedom reigned.

INDABA was a musical photograph of that moment in time.

One of the songs on INDABA ultimately created its own challenges, creatively. geographically, financially, legally, digitally and business-wise and with Joe Cocker... and much more.

I'll get into that with my next installment as well as more discussion about songwriting, its craft and its art.

 

 

John Capek has achieved international acclaim as a composer, songwriter, keyboard player, producer, arranger and scorer for feature films and television.

 

Rod Stewart leads the list of popular music icons who have recorded Capek compositions. Others include Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Toto, Chicago, Olivia Newton John, Little River Band, Heart, Manhattan Transfer, Isaac Hayes and Amanda Marshall. John Capek’s most performed award winning songs include : “Rhythm of My Heart”, ”This”, ”Soul on Soul” and “Carmelia”.  Capek’s most performed productions include Dan Hill’s Billboard hit duet with Vonda Sheppard, “Can’t We Try” as well as work with Ken Tobias, Gene McLellan, Good Brothers and Downchild. As a keyboard player, John has recorded with Diana Ross, Olivia Newton John, Ian Thomas, Marc Jordan, Dan Hill, Kermit, The Chipmunks, The Simpsons and countless other international performers. John’s songs are heard in the feature films, “A Perfect Storm”, “Cocktail”, “Blown Away” and many others. For more information go to www.johncapek.com

 


For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:http://www.songwriting.net


Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Recording, 4-track, A&R, Billboard Charts, Diana Ross, Billboard, musician, studio, Bonnie Raitt, Cher

Songwriting Advice: Write Songs with Your Bandmates!

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Nov 16, 2012 @02:59 PM

Expert Advice: Write Songs with Your Bandmates!

 write songs

By Robbie Gennet

 

Many of the greatest songs have been written when two or more artists collaborate. How does such a collaboration happen? What occurs at a fruitful songwriting session? And what can happen afterward? There’s more to it than meets the eye and ear. For all the ins and outs about collaboration––particularly among bandmates––check out what multi-instrumentalist songwriter, performer, journalist and educator Robbie Gennet has to tell you.   

 

First, discuss money. This is the one topic that most often disrupts the creative process (besides girl-/boyfriends) and it is often the hardest to discuss. However, if you can come to an agreement that suits everybody in the band, you’ve set a foundation for creatively moving forward. Difficulties often come when there is a principal songwriter in the band, leaving any non-songwriting members wondering what they’ll earn if any of the songs become hits. Which leads to tip number two:

 

Discuss publishing. How do you split up the pie before it exists? We all know of band members who played or sang on Top 10 hits but don’t see any of the publishing income. So be aware that money discussions go hand in hand with the publishing conversation. There are many scenarios that bands implement, sometimes for better or worse. Much depends on who is writing the songs and how much they agree to split with their bandmates. There is no “normal” to describe a publishing agreement. But if you happen to have a great songwriter in the band, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Every band is one single away from infamy these days.

 

Know your band’s strengths. Do you have an amazing singer or great drummer? The standouts in your band can play a role in the kind of songs that you write. If you have a badass vocalist, write songs that showcases his/her voice. Got a great drummer? Unleash him and write off of his beats and grooves. Lest you think that’s gratuitous, bands like Rush, Tool and Dave Matthews Band all made it huge with unconventional drummers. Most importantly, figure out who your best songwriter is and put him to work. And if you are the main songwriter in a band, here’s a piece of advice:

 

Co-write. You may be a great solitary songwriter, and that’s fantastic for both you and the group. By all means, bring every great song you’ve got to your band. But if it’s all about your songs, the other members might feel that the band is really only about you. The easy way to assuage possible tensions is to co-write with each and every band member. Do group writing sessions. Base song ideas off of a drum groove, a bass riff, a keyboard hook, someone’s catch phrase, whatever. Whether or not you write a hit, you will build camaraderie and respect, which is so important in a band setting. You never know where that hit song is going to come from!

 

Co-listen. Jam with your bandmates and listen to one another. Don’t get in your bubble-world onstage and zone out. While you’re playing, look over at each bandmate and connect. Consciously engage and push the groove toward new places. Jamming together is the most organic form of co-writing and often times the random jams will yield some amazing parts to write songs with. Hone your craft and let the music speak for itself.

 

“If it’s all about your songs, the other members might feel that the band is really only about you.”

 

Decide on your sound. Every band has influences, some stronger than others.Alice in Chains influenced a whole bunch of bands in their wake, but without Black Sabbath,Alice in Chains might not have existed as such. What you “sound like” can come from a diverse range of sources, including certain instruments. Imagine the Doors without Ray Manzarek’s Vox organ andRhodes piano. No matter what your sound is, make sure you are not cloning someone else. It’s one thing to be influenced by a band or performer. It’s another thing to try to sound exactly like them. If you push yourself to grow, however, you’ll never stagnate long enough to be just one thing.

 

Take lessons. The best songwriters and musicians never stop learning, and many take lessons from a variety of teachers throughout their careers. In most bands, the singer either sells it or sinks it, so vocal lessons are a must. Having the “cool frontman look” is great, but blowing audiences away with your vocals is way better. Drummers are the foundation of the band and a mediocre drummer can undermine the music. Bassists, guitarists, keyboard players, all will benefit––and will be able to contribute more to your band’s collaborations––by keeping up their abilities and increasing their knowledge base. What each individual brings to the band collaboration makes a stronger collective whole. That goes for harmony vocals too.

 

Vocalize. Why practice the hell out of your instruments and leave the harmony vocals to chance? Big mistake. Figure out who your singers are in the band and put them to work. Song ideas may develop from that. If someone is not a singer but can manage some group choruses or shouts, put them in the mix but know their limits. Everyone in the band can be a better singer than they are today. Vocal lessons help tremendously, but a band should sing with one another on a regular basis. Having your vocal chops together for the live show will make your songs sound that much better live. Why underperform a great song in your repertoire? Or any song, for that matter?

 

Study songwriting. It’s one thing to know who your favorite bands or instrumentalists are, but who do you admire as a songwriter? What songs move you so much that you listen to them or play them hundreds of times? Examining songwriters will help immeasurably in your own songwriting progress. Lyrics are a craft unto themselves, as are melodies and chord progressions. Familiarizing yourself with an ever-widening variety of chords and changes will give depth to your songwriting. As you absorb new ideas, your songwriting will evolve. There’s plenty of info available from insightful people who excel at examining what makes a song really click. Find those people and soak up everything they can offer.

 

Set goals, be proactive. You have to dream big to get big; it takes hard work and planning to make something happen with your music. By setting both short- and long-term goals, a band can work with focus and organization to achieve the kind of results that matter: great songs and  recordings, great live shows and great pictures and videos too. Everyone in the band should have tasks and be accountable for some of the action. Everyone should be expected to bring something to the collaboration. No freeloaders without skin in the game, unless you want resentments to build by those handling most of the work. If you are in a band, you are running a professional business, so act like it! To be the best, you must do your best.

 (Article Reprinted By Permission by Music Connection Magazine)

Robbie Gennet is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, performer, journalist and educator living inLos Angeles,CA. His book/DVD, The Key of One, provides a notation-free approach to understanding music and a great foundation for your musical evolution. Find it at http://thekeyofone.com and at all major music retailers. 

For more information on the 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: Songwriting, 4-track, publishing, Write Songs, Bandmates, collaborate, collaboration, Robbie Gennet

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 06, 2012 @12:00 PM

 

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

 

A successful songwriter gets you creative in a hurry 

By Joe Bouchard

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

 

When many of the great rock songs were written in the ’60s, writers would hack out a song in an hour or two. For example, “A Hard Day’s Night” was written by John Lennon overnight. The next morning it was done and ready to record in a few hours.

I’m very happy with the songs I’m doing these days. The biggest change to my working style in the last three years has been my “Demo in a Day” habit I’ve gotten into. It goes like this:

 

1. Start with a great hit song.

 

2. If you can’t find a hit song in your bag, use any song sketch that you’ve got. Or cover somebody else’s song. You’ll learn if you force yourself to dig, and be creative. Remember—even the great songwriters write a stinker sometimes, but keep pushing.

 

3. Get a good computer (Mac is my preference, but many successful writers make brilliant music on PCs too) and sequencer/DAW program. Learn the programs thoroughly. If you are having a problem with a program, look up a solution on YouTube. Chances are some geek has posted an answer, and can show you how things work without reading the manual.

 

You don’t need a lot of fancy hardware. I use only two mics for demos, an SM57 for guitars and a RØDE condenser for vocals. Most everything can be done with a direct box, or with plug-ins in the sequencer. My recording program is MOTU Digital Performer, I’ve been using it for years; occasionally I’ll use Pro Tools, and have started using Logic too.

 

4. Demo the song. Work quickly.

 

 

Morning

 

Get up early. Shut off all emails, Facebooks, don’t answer the phone—let the answering machine pick up all calls. Don’t watch the morning news, or check the weather. Make coffee.

 

First, record a Guide Demo to a click if you can—mono or stereo, it doesn’t matter— with just simple piano chords, or acoustic guitar chords. Don’t be fussy. Just throw an open mic in the room and wail away. Don’t fix any wrong notes or out-oftuneness, the cruder the better. This Guide Demo will force you to stay focused to get you to the finished “Demo in a Day”.

 

Put the Guide Demo in the top track of your sequencer. You will be turning this on and off as you work on your “Demo in a Day”.

 

Add markers at the top of your sequencer that mark the intro, verses, choruses, any bridge, and the ending.

 

Now do a rough drum track. I use Toontrack Superior Drummer; the sounds are very realistic and I have hundreds of MIDI drum files that give me any style I might want. I even bought other drum MIDI files from a company called Groove Monkee. They all work seamlessly with Digital Performer. Making drum parts is only a matter of drag and drop from the Groove section of the plugin to a MIDI track that is assigned to the Superior Drummer instrument.

 

Use markers to vary the drum parts as a real drummer would. Add fills either a bar or two bars before each new section. It’s easy to see on the screen when a new section is coming. Usually the drum feel is the hardest to nail, so try different parts until you are happy with the feel and how it expresses the feeling in the Guide Demo. Be patient, this could take up most of your morning.

 

Break for lunch when you’ve got the drum part programmed.

 

 

Noon

 

Right after lunch start recording rhythm guitars. The goal is to have a finished song by the end of the day, so you can’t get too fussy with sounds. I often use a Line 6 POD for guitar. It’s fast and it works. The sounds are very mixable. Even Pete Townshend admits to using one in a pinch. Next do piano parts or other coloration

 

parts. Percussion can help too. Bass parts you can do last, or first—it’s up to you. Don’t spend a lot of time on fixing little things. Loop a part if you stumble in the 2nd verse, or 2nd chorus.

 

Doubling parts will make it sound like a classic rock song. I don’t double with copy and paste and time shift, I prefer to actually play the same part twice and pan them L and R. It sounds like the way music was made in the late ’60s and early ’70s. [See this month’s Talkback for hints on creating doubled parts quickly—Ed.]

 

Sing a rough vocal. Add harmonies. Double the harmonies. Replace the rough vocal with a better vocal. I don’t like Auto- Tune, but I might use the tiniest amount on a rough spot.

 

All the time I am recording, I’m reaching for plug-ins that do my eq, compression, and reverb. If I need to automate part of the mix, I’m doing that as I’m recording.

 

 

And night

 

Break for dinner. After dinner, mix it down. It shouldn’t take too long to get something reasonable, since you’ve already set up eq and compression as you were recording. When you get a mix, load in onto your MP3 player. Take a short drive in your car and test the mix. I always do the “car test” for mixes. Remix until satisfied.

 

By now it’s about 10 PM. Do you know where your song is? It should be mixed and presentable to your friends, relatives and the rest of the band.

 

I’ve spent months working on certain song demos. In the end, with that style of recording the results are mixed at best. The “Demo in a Day” technique works better. By forcing yourself to work quickly it’s easier to keep zeroed in on the emotional focus of your song.

 

By the end of the day you will hear whether the song is going to be great or not. If it isn’t, don’t sweat it, you’ve only invested one day of your time; tomorrow you can go on to a new song. The perfect song is waiting around the corner.

 

Joe Bouchard is a singer, songwriter, and bass player who has worked with his brother Al in bands like Blue Öyster Cult— he was first interviewed in our October 2011 issue. To learn more about his music, visit www.bluecoupeband.com.

 

Excerpted from the March edition of Recording Magazine 2012.   ©2012 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. 5408 Idylwild Trail, Boulder, CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information, call: 1-800-582-8326 or www.recordingmag.com  For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net


Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, 4-track, Joe Bouchard, tip

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