Songwriting Tips, News & More

Five Songwriting Habits You Should Drop Today

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Feb 09, 2016 @07:00 AM

Five Songwriting Habits You Should Drop Today
by Jessica Brandon
GuitarFret
If you are spending hours working on writing songs and not getting the results you want, you may have a “songwriting habit” or two that needs dropped.

Here are five habits to ditch that will help you grow your songwriting —not to mention reduce the amount of time you spend on you getting your songs cut by music artists.

1. Churning and burning.  Yes, you want to have your songs cut by major music artists, and  perhaps even yourself as a singer-songwriter act, but if you are only focused on writing new songs without paying attention to existing your existing songs, you are wasting a lot of time and energy and leaving a whole lot of  lessons learnt on the table. If you have a system in place for writing songs but it is not working – if your songs are going nowhere and you are dissatisfied with your songwriting career or singer-songwriter career, maybe you may want to think “outside the box”.

2. Getting leads on Major Artists Seeking New Songs without having appropriate songs. Getting a bunch of new leads can give your ego a huge boost, but only if you have great songs that your leads want. If you have leads with no immediate songs to provide for them, or are randomly following up, you are not only wasting time, money and effort, but you could be leaving a bad impression.

3. Chasing A&R. I’ve seen it time and time again. You get a hot lead to an A&R at some record label or music publisher and you keep chasing after him while neglecting to have great songs in place that will continually attract your ideal music publisher to you. Stop chasing, start attracting.

4. Doing the same thing. If you aren’t getting the results you want—if you aren’t living your dream life—maybe it’s time to look at doing things differently. Too many songwriters look at what their competitor songwriters are doing and think they should be doing the same thing. But that doesn’t make sense if you aren’t where you want to be.

Maybe it’s time to do the opposite of what everyone in the music industry is doing and start doing what works.

5. Going it alone. Look, I get it. Working alone can be great. You can do things your way. You don’t have to listen to what anyone else thinks. You feel really good when you succeed because it’s all you.

However, we are so fortunate to have so many resources available that can help with virtually any situation, why would you go it alone? Plus having someone to collaborate with you and give you feedback and help guide you means you will get there easier and faster. Say if you are great in writing music but suck in writing lyrics, find a lyricist who can help you with the lyrics. Rememebr that Elton John was unable to write a hit song without his lyricist Bernie Taupin.

Also, all the winning songs of the USA Songwriting Competition for the past three years were all multi-way collaborations. If you take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 Charts, you will see that most of the songs on the Top 10 are all multi-way collaborations. Last year's Grammy song of the year "Stay With Me" was written by Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips, with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne receiving co-writer credits due to the song's similarity to Petty's single "I Won't Back Down" after a legal settlement.

By IMMEDIATELY dumping things that aren’t working, you’ll have the opportunity and time to apply strategies to your songwriting that do work. Who knows? Maybe you will be the next person to tell me that your big breakthrough came as a result of getting rid of something that wasn’t giving you the results you wanted.

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

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Recording, A&R, song demo, songwriter split sheet, Co-Writing Songs, Habits, bad habits, Split Sheet

Songwriting Tip: Dress Your Demos for Success

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Sat, Feb 07, 2015 @05:30 PM

by Ralph Murphy

songwriting demo

Hit songwriter Ralph Murphy talks about songwriting in Nashville and what it takes to create a song demo for that market.

Every time a songwriter (or songwriters) finishes a song, the inevitable question comes up: How should this piece of work be demoed? Let's start by defining what we are taking about. Demo is short for "demonstration," which Webster's Dictionary tells us means "an explanation by example, a practical showing of how something works or is used."

So, step back from your song and take a long, hard look at it. What are its strong points, and what is the simplest, most eloquent way to show it off, i.e. to demo it?

Start Simply

Start with a simple guitar/vocal presentation and apply some logic. If you feel that simple will be enough, then fine. But make sure the guitar playing is excellent, the vocal is solid and well performed (by solid, I mean in tune and in character with the song), and the basic quality of the recording is good -- no pops or hiss or dropouts.

Embellish When Necessary

If the major part of the song is a big chorus, add a harmony part and perhaps a piano. If it's up-tempo and rhythmic, add an electric guitar and maybe some percussion. Now, there are songs that are great vehicles for records, but need a full demo to show them off. So, take out that second mortgage!

Look the Part

And finally, aside from clear labeling (the title, your name, telephone number, address, and the copyright notice) and a neatly typed lyric sheet (in upper-case letters), use a good quality CD (or mp3) when you pitch your song. Don't put a million dollar dream on a ten-cent recording.

Your song is copyrighted for your lifetime plus 50 years, so remember for at least 50 years, the demo you make today will be the only representation of how you really intended your song to be dressed. Make sure it's dressed for success.

 

Murphy's Laws of SongwritingRalph Murphy, hit songwriter

Ralph Murphy, hit songwriter and expert, has been successful for five decades. He wrote huge hit songs such as Crystal Gayle's "Talking in Your Sleep" and "Half the Way". Consistently charting songs in an ever-changing musical environment makes him a member of that very small group of professionals who make a living ding what they love to do. Add to that the platinum records as a producer, his success as the publisher and co-owner of the extremely successful Picalic Group of Companies and you see a pattern of achievement based on more than luck. Achieving "hit writer" status has always been a formidable goal for any songwriter. *His new book Murphy's Laws of Songwriting "The Book" arms the songwriter for success by demystifying the process and opening the door to serious professional songwriting. Hall of fame songwriter Paul Williams said in his review of the book "If there was a hit songwriters secret handshake "Da Murphy" would probably have included it. To buy his book, please click here: http://www.songwriting.net/ralph-murphy-book

 

To enter the 20th Annnual USA Songwriting Competition, click here: http://www.songwriting.net/enter

 

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, Ralph Murphy, A&R, demo recording

5 Songwriting Tips to Turn Good Songs into Hit Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Oct 29, 2014 @05:15 PM

5 Tips to Turn Good Songs into Hit Songs

by Jason Blume 

Hit songwriter Jason Blume breaks down how a perfect pitch leads to a smash hit

 songwriting

I recently hosted one of my monthly BMI Nashville Songwriter Workshops, where each of the 50 attendees had an opportunity to pitch one song to a successful publisher. Typically, at these workshops, with few exceptions, every song played was perfectly crafted. The writers have mastered the use of current song structures; the lyrics made sense and were well written; rhymes were where my ear expected them to be; and the melodies worked well with the chords—avoiding any dissonance. Yet the publisher took copies of only five songs—10 percent of those that were pitched.

It was a good reminder that “perfectly crafted” is a starting point, but it isn’t enough. In order to rise above the competition, our songs need to go beyond the expected, pushing the creative envelope and differentiating themselves from the hundreds—if not thousands—of other well-written songs that are all vying for a coveted slot on a major label artist’s recording.

A publisher once told me that when he plays songs at meetings with record label executives, he needs his songs to “slap them out of their A&R trance.” The same holds true when pitching songs to record producers and recording artists. The publisher went on to explain that these industry pros are bombarded with songs—mostly written by published songwriters with track records—so all of the songs under consideration are good, but only those songs with that extra something jump out of the pile and demand attention.

Similarly, writers who play their songs for publishers, in the hope of securing a publishing deal, need to take into account that the publisher probably already has an extensive catalog of songs, and possibly staff writers, for which he or she is responsible. There should be compelling reasons for a publisher to choose your song over the competition—elements that instantly announce that your song is unique and exceptional and that it is destined to become a smash hit that will elevate an artist’s career to the next level.

Imagine that every song needs to score a minimum of 100 points to become a hit. Some of those points will typically be earned by the lyric, some will be awarded because of the melody, while others might come from the musical backing track.

So… what elements can you add to your songs to provide those extra points that compel artists, publishers and record label executives to choose your songs over the competition and carry them to the top of the charts? The more components we include, the more points we rack up and the better chance for success. Let’s look at some ways to separate songs from the pack—and transform them from good to wow!

Include Unique Melodic Elements and Unexpected Melodic Intervals
A memorable melody is essential—but only those melodies that feel fresh and original will rise above the competition. There are several ways to ensure your melodies grab attention. The tools described below can take a song to the next level.

Listen to the intervals used in Kris Kristofferson’s classic, “Help Me Make it Through the Night.” The note choices in the first line are anything but predictable. Similarly, listen to Neil’s Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done,” and note the unexpected note and chord choices. A more contemporary example is Pink’s hit “Try” (written by Busbee and Ben West), which incorporates unexpected melodic intervals that allow the artist to soar vocally, matching the intense emotion of the lyric.

Stock melodies won’t contribute to a listener choosing your song over the competition.

Add Instrumental Hooks
By adding instrumental hooks—catchy instrumental melodic phrases—you give your listeners another reason to latch on to and connect with your song. For example, the distinctive tenor saxophone line sampled from Balkan Beat Box’s “Hermetico” provides some of the most memorable moments in Jason Derulo’s smash hit “Talk Dirty.”

It accomplishes this both by incorporating an instantly recognizable lick—and introducing a sound that’s fresh, attention grabbing, and not typically heard in hip-hop. The baritone sax part heard in the verses contributes yet another special element. Similarly, the catchy tenor sax line woven through Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” was one of the most distinctive elements of that number one hit.

I’m not implying that using saxophones is the magic bullet. Hit songs have included instrumental melodic hooks that were played on keyboards, banjos, electric and acoustic guitars, accordions, fiddle, bass guitar, harmonica and countless other instruments. It’s interesting to note that in Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” the added melodic hook that helped propel this song to the top of the charts was performed by a combination of instruments and vocals—without lyrics.

Including unique, memorable instrumental motifs, and instruments and/or sounds that go beyond the expected can take your songs to the next level.

Incorporate Fresh Rhythms
There has been a recent trend of infusing hip-hop rhythms into contemporary country songs. This can be found in hits such as Blake Shelton’s “Boys Round Here” (featuring Pistol Annies), Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kinda Night.”

Regardless of musical genre, one of the most effective ways to separate your songs from the pack is to craft melodies that give the vocalists interesting rhythms to sing. This is often accomplished by incorporating syncopation.

There are countless examples of hits that use this technique. Some exceptional ones to study include Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart,” Eli Young Band’s “Drunk Last Night” and Lorde’s “Royals.”

Melodies that go beyond stock, predictable rhythms differentiate themselves from the competition.

A Fresh Lyric Concept and Title
It’s obvious that building your song on the foundation of a strong lyric concept—an idea that millions of listeners can relate to—is important. But to elevate your song from good to exceptional, explore a new angle in your lyric, a fresh approach or a novel way to express your concept. This can be done in both the title and the individual lines of lyric.

Notice how intriguing the titles and corresponding concepts are in classic songs such as “Billy Jean,” “Hotel California,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Take This Job and Shove It” and “Proud Mary.” There are also countless examples of contemporary hits that have unique titles and lyric angles, such as “Roar,” “I Hope You Dance,” “(What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You) Stronger,” “From a Distance,” “Alien,” “I Kissed a Girl,” “The House That Built Me” and “I Drive Your Truck.”

At the time I wrote this article, seven of the top 10 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart had one-word titles, demonstrating their popularity. Hits with one-word titles have included: “Problem,” “Rude,” “Fancy,” “Cruise,” “Crazy,” “Wanted,” Stay” and “Domino.”

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ GRAMMY-nominated hit “Same Love” blazed new territory with a lyric that tackled the topic of same-sex love and marriage. It’s interesting to note that the chorus of that song is sung from the first-person perspective. By avoiding “preaching” to the listeners, and not telling them what they should think or feel, the song evoked emotion by allowing its audience to empathize with the singer.

If you were a recording artist seeking material, would you choose a title and concept as interesting as one of those listed above—or a more mundane idea such as “Oh, Baby I Love You,” “You’re the One I Need,” “I Miss You”? A great title and an equally strong concept can be the ticket to take your song to the top of the charts.

Incorporating Nonsense Syllables/Non-Lyric Vocal Hooks
A publisher at one of my workshops told the attendees, “When you add a ‘na-na-na,’ an ‘oh, oh, oh,’ ‘hey, hey, hey,’ or some other sounds the audience can sing along with, you increase your song’s chances of being recorded ten-thousand-fold.” I’m guessing it might not help quite to that extent, but his point is an important one.

One of the catchiest and most memorable elements of Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert’s number one duet, “Somethin’ Bad,” is the “oh, oh, oh” sung during the intro and included throughout the song. Similarly, Bruno Mars featured a hook sung on the syllables “oh, yeah, yeah, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” during the intro of his GRAMMY-nominated “Locked Out of Heaven.”

The use of non-lyric vocal hooks is not limited to any specific genres, and exceptional examples of these can be heard in Lady Antebellum’s “Compass,” Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” Britney’s “Till the World Ends,” Feist’s “1-2-3-4” and Keith Urban’s “Long Hot Summer.” While it won’t be right for every song, this tool is an important one that can help sear your song into listeners’ brains.

In summation, if you don’t give an artist, an A&R executive, record producer, music publisher—or your listeners—a compelling reason to choose your song over the competition—they won’t. Think outside the box and give your songs those extra points that can turn them from good songs to hit songs!

 

[Reprinted with permission from BMI Music World Magazine]

Jason Blume’s songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Azar, and John Berry (“Change My Mind,” a top 5 single that earned a BMI “Million-Aire” Award for garnering more than one million airplays). In the past year he’s had three top-10 singles and a “Gold” record in Europe by Dutch star, BYentl, including a #1 on the Dutch R&B iTunes chart. Jason authored three of the best selling songwriting books, 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting, and is in his nineteenth year of teaching the BMI Nashville Songwriters workshops. A regular contributor to BMI’s Music World magazine, he presented a master class at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and teaches songwriting throughout the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, the U.K., Canada, Bermuda, and Jamaica. He is also a winner of the USA Songwriting Competition (in 2002). 

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, A&R, Jason Blume, hit songs

Songwriting Tip: Reading Between The Lines

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Oct 03, 2014 @08:14 AM

Reading Between The Lines

by Bronson Herrmuth

 Bronson Herrmuth, songwriter & producer
Whenever you sit down to write lyrics for your new song, be sure and say what you mean. Never assume that your listeners are going to be able to read “between” the lines because they won’t. Count on this because it’s not going to happen.       

Every song you write should have a very distinctive beginning, middle and end to the story you are telling. The simpler you can say it, the better. As songwriters, we all deal with this and how you handle it is going to make the difference between writing a great song, or just a good one. Great is the objective of course, because great songs have the ability to inspire great singers to want to sing them, no matter how many other singers have rendered their versions. This is why the greatest songs get covered over and over as the years go by. The song is so great it never ceases to inspire great vocalists to want to put it on their record too in their own distinctive style.   
  
You have to say exactly what you mean, with each and every word you commit to your lyric sheet. Don’t worry about this as you’re writing the original draft because doing so often means your song will never get written. The best songwriters have mastered the craft of rewriting. They have the ability to detach themselves emotionally from their creation and go back and rewrite it to make sure this is the outcome. This is easier said then done but it’s essential to learn the craft of rewriting and develop the ability to go back before you call your song finished and go over it with a fine tooth comb to make sure you’ve achieved your goal.    
 
   Try this. After you’ve written your song give it as long as you need for the initial excitement you feel wears off and it becomes just another song you’ve written. For some it’s a day or two, for others maybe a week or two or longer. We all have those songs we really like but we’ve never finished, and maybe that’s the one to try first. Every completed thought in your song - and usually that’s each line - pull it off to the side and then look back at your title. There should be no gray area, no doubt, that the line you’ve written relates directly to your title. To give you the idea, if your song title is “Snow Plow” and as you’re going through each line and you see the words – walking through the desert – this is a line that needs to be rewritten and quick! I refer to these lines as “burrs” and in many cases a potential song title to be pursued at a later date. You’ll find these burrs quickly if you go through your song line by line and each and every one needs to be rewritten before you call your lyric complete to your new song.   


Based in Nashville, Bronson Herrmuth has worked in music publishing and production for more than 30 years. He is president of Al Jolson Black and White Music, Jolie House of Music, and Iowa HomeGrown Music. Signed as a recording Artist with RCA Mexico from 1981-1985 with Iowa band, The Ozone Ramblers. He is a songwriter, band leader, a multi-instrumentalist, and he has toured 44 states and 18 countries as a performer. He's traveled the USA speaking at Music Conferences as a Panelist, a Mentor and Workshop Instructor. An associate writer for MusicDish.com, 5 Star Productions, Country Music News International, a contributing author to the Indie Bible, a columnist for MusesMuse.com, and the Nashville Music Guide. Bronson is the author of the book “100 Miles To A Record Deal”, and his soon to be released new book is called “Opening The Closed Door”.  He’s the Host of radio programs for Creative and Dreams Music Network, a founding member of acoustic duo Crowding 50, and a member of the Nashville Association of Talent Directors (NATD)For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, A&R, songwriter song writer, Bronson Herrmuth

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 Tip: To Demo Or Not To Demo

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, May 01, 2014 @05:38 PM

Songwriting Tip: To Demo Or Not To Demo

What to consider before pushing record...

recording your demo, songwriting

By James Piekarski

It's disheartening—you spent hundreds upon hundreds of dollars and countless hours on a demo, only to have industry professionals reject it.

There are many reasons for rejection—why not sort them out and eliminate as many of them as you can?

It’s all about the song

Almost anyone on a modest budget can create great-sounding demos. But the songs themselves have to be not just good songs, but rather great songs, to capture and hold a listener’s attention. Your competition is not the band down the block, but rather what’s on the radio and in the CD racks at the retailer. That’s the level you need to be aiming at.

A brief visit to unsigned-talent websites should give you an idea of how vast a pool of competitors you have. The Internet downloading phenomenon indicates that listeners want to cherry-pick their favorite songs. Like it or not, more focus than ever will be on solid songwriting.

Universal A&R veteran Reen Nalli, who has signed such artists as INXS and india.arie, says, “Why do we have to have CDs that have 10 to 15 tracks? I think you’re going to start seeing fewer and stronger tracks.”

Mike Doyle, former Writer Relations Representative at ASCAP and now in Creative at Major Bob Music,Nashville, says, “You can spend a lot of money on songs that sound great. But do your homework and make sure the song itself is where it needs to be before you ever set foot in a demo studio.”

Avoid the friends and family plan

Family members and friends are probably the worst people from which to solicit honest feedback. Your mom will love all your songs no matter how good or bad they are. Where then is one to get a really honest critique of one’s music before going through all the time and expense of creating a full-blown demo?

There are professional organizations of interest to unsigned artists who need to solicit that kind of creative input. For one, Nashville Songwriter’s Association International (NSAI) has chapters throughout theUnited States,Canada, andEurope. Typically, NSAI critique sessions are offered once a month. The sessions are refereed by an NSAI representative and feature an industry A&R or music publishing professional to offer advice. 

Dave Rivers, National Workshops Director of NSAI, comments, “The NSAI critique sessions give people an opportunity to get feedback from a pro writer who is out there writing for the market every day. We have a mail-in evaluation service as part of membership as well. And it’s heartbreaking to hear a $600 demo of a song that is pretty good, but the chorus is twice as long as it needs to be. NSAI is an organization for all genres, not just country. Having a song that is competitive is important in all genres of music.”

Songwriters Guild of America (SGA) offers similar feedback sessions on a bi-monthly basis along with other writers’ workshop opportunities. SGA also offers mail-in critique services. Performance rights organizations such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, also offer a variety of workshops where participants can have their songs critiqued, bolster their songwriting skills, and learn about the inner workings of the music business. Check their websites for their calendar of events. Many of the new web-based music services such as Broadjam, and of course the well-established on- and offline TAXI network, offer critiques as part of their membership services.

Critique Groups

How about starting your own critique group? Groups of about six to eight members work quite well. And try to work up. That is, work with others who are at least equal to if not a bit better than you. Have all the participants bring a rough work tape, or be prepared for a live performance (acoustic guitar and vocal, for example) and enough lyric sheets to go around to all the other participants. Set ground rules on how many minutes can be spent on each song.

You’ll find that critique groups are a great way to get to know other musicians’ music. And you’re sure to learn from what they are doing right and wrong. Besides, you may be able to develop some new co-writing opportunities. About co-writing, hit songwriter Gary Burr says “You’ve got a 100 percent better chance that someone in the room is going to have a good idea. It picks up the slack a little bit if you’re having an off day.”

Full production demo or guitar/vocal?

One of the most often asked questions at music industry workshops is “How full does my demo have to be?” The answers to this are all over the map and depend on the style of music and whether the track is an artist demo or a song demo. 

If the song is a pop or rock demo that showcases the sound of the band, then it really does have to sound like it’s ready for radio. Unlike country or folk, or other more song lyric-oriented styles, the overall sound, attitude, choice of drum loops, cool and crunchy guitars, and wicked groove are of equal  importance to the raw, underlying song itself. 

This is not to say that a great lyric won’t help, but lyrics in pop and rock often tend to be more metaphorical, personal for the artist, artsy/poetic, or just plain open for interpretation as opposed to folk, country and rap. For solo artists with a unique vocal styling, maybe a less elaborate demo might be OK. If you marry a great song to a great, fresh sounding track, you’ve got a “can’t miss” combination. 

For non-artist songwriters, very high-quality guitar (or piano) and vocal demos are entirely suitable for presentation to a publisher. It’s not uncommon to hear, “Great sounding track, but too bad the song just isn’t there yet.” Focusing your efforts on a professional sounding, well performed guitar-vocal demo will be time well spent. If you plan ahead correctly, you can always go back and add more tracks at a later date. If you can swing the time and expense of a full demo, great. Presenting your song as it might sound on radio will not work against you. But again, if the song (lyric, melody, basic harmony, form) is not there… 

Assuming the instrumental performance is 100 percent there, vocals sell songs. Great vocals sell more songs! Great vocals with a unique vibe and special sound sell yet more songs. It’s money well spent to have the best singer possible on your tracks. If you can do this yourself, great. If you can’t, consider trying a pro vocalist on a track and see what a difference it makes. If you’re recording your own vocal tracks, Joe Albano has a lot more to offer on this subject in his article on page 40.

The Nashville game

Nashvillehas in recent years become more than just a source of country and bluegrass music.Nashville, which has always had a strong Gospel music industry, has also become a center for rock and rap-oriented Contemporary Christian music. 

Song demos targeted at the Nashville market are lyric-driven styles, period. If the story or main idea of the song is not clear, game over. Songwriting pros inNashvilleare primarily focused on lyric and melody rather than relying on a signature synth part, drum loop, or certain guitar sound to get the song across. 

If you want to play the game inNashvillefor any style of music, your lyric craft will play a major role in your success. The song needs to stay on message. You can’t be secretly wishing the listener will pick up on the meaning of the song. You really can’t be in denial in this area. There will seldom be alternative interpretations of meaning of a country, folk, or gospel song. It is not uncommon to hear pros from the East and West Coasts comment how a visit toNashvillereally “tightens up” one’s writing skills. 

Demo Derby

The majority of Recording’s readers have at least a modest recording studio of some kind. And if you’re in a band, you already have your talent pool ready to go. However, you may have a need for professional session players, either because not all of your band members are up to the task, or because you don’t play with a band and need additional instruments on your tracks. 

Organizing a demo derby is one way to save money on session players: A bunch of songwriters pool their resources and hire musicians for a preset period of time (usually 4-hour blocks).

Let’s say that you and several songwriters want to add some saxophone or flute to a number of tracks. Most professional session saxophonists own tenor, alto, soprano saxes, and double on flute (and sometimes clarinet and even oboe). Given that, set up the mics, levels, and compression once, have the charts ready and run as many tracks as possible in the session. Since some instrumentalists are accustomed to charging by the song, be sure to work out the payment details in advance. Surprises on the session, especially regarding money, are never a good thing.

Many demo studios offer per-song pricing which includes all instrumentalists. Some studios may be able to set up demo-derby package pricing in 4- or 8-hour blocks so many writers can share the same instrumentalists on a number of songs.

Repeat chorus and fade

Art and commerce do mix. Trying to be competitive in the marketplace is not selling out. If you were to go into business for yourself, wouldn’t you explore the competition and see how you could offer something better? Why then would you not want to treat your musical career and all that plays into it in the same dogged, determined, and calculated way? 

Chances are that you’ll come away from the critique process with a better understanding of the craft and mechanics of songwriting, and perhaps with some insight into how others are hearing your music. Go write a hit!

(Article Reprinted with Permission from Recording Magazine)

James Piekarski is a composer, songwriter, producer, and recording engineer. He’s also a faculty member in The Department of Recording Industry at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN.

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, demo, A&R, critique

Songwriting Tips: 25 Mistakes Music Artists Make

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 22, 2014 @02:10 PM

25 Mistakes Music Artists Make

By Eric Alexandrakis

25 Mistakes Music Artists Make

A rogues’ gallery of slipups every recording songwriter should avoid!

They’re everywhere, like cheap wine in a crinkly brown Mini-mart bag. Some think they look cool walking around drinking out of it, but in the end, it shows no control... no discipline... no clue. Yes, you know what I’m talking about. Or do you?

I see them every day: those constant mistakes that artists make without thinking. Some are minute, some are grand, some are just so incredibly dumb—but all can be avoided with some simple logic, and restraint from laziness.

WARNING: The things you are about to read are real. They have been taken from real examples of bad promo campaigns and bad career decisions. If you happen to recognize yourself in any of these examples, I apologize, but... No I don’t. If you haven’t fixed what you’re reading about yet, here’s hoping you’re now embarrassed enough to do so!

1. I’m going to make a living from music and be rich and famous... and the best part is, I don’t have to do real work!

You know how you go to college to train, work toward a major in order to get a full-time job to support yourself, and work for years to build your profession to make a better living and to improve, blah blah blah? Yeah, guess what!

Making music a profession requires the same attention to detail. It’s a full-time job which requires daily investment, generally until the day you die, or until you have enough niche success to sustain you so that you don’t have to work anymore. Don’t read past this line until you come to grips with this scary reality.

How cool, you kept the crinkly brown bag from the Mini-mart, I’m glad. Now keep breathing into it... that’s right... sloooowly... don’t pop it, because you’ll need it for the rest of your life. Or for the rest of your musical career. Or both.

2. Who needs a plan? I’m just getting started here, I can wing it...

Start with a two-year plan with monthly goals. Design it like a business plan. If you have to make a bar chart with pictures of girls stacked on top of each other for measurement, so be it. Without a plan, you’re spinning your wheels and I’m wasting my time writing this.

3. A bio? I can handle that, I just have to tell everyone I’m a genius!

No, you can’t write it yourself, and neither can your English major cousin Miri. Yes, yes, Auntie Grizelda is always raving at family get-togethers about Miri’s wonderful grades... as her department-head boyfriend 20 years her senior sits next to her looking posh in his bowtie, asking you to pass the yams.

Sorry, I got carried away... No I didn’t—get a proper bio written. Comparing yourself to every major rock star and hit album in a bio does not make you relevant. I see this all the time. “With a voice like Bono and a stage presence like Michael and a political awareness reminiscent of Lennon...” Yeah, and just a hint of cinnamon. You have to leave it up to the critics to call you the next Kevin Federline. (Assuming that’s what you want.)

If you need help with your bio and absolutely don’t know where to turn, I’ll let you in on someone I’ve personally worked with successfully. Have a look at the website for Katy Krassner, www.katykrassner.com, and if you like what you see, commission her to write you a bio. She writes bios and press releases for major artists, actors, brands, and indie labels.

4.  Website? You’re kidding, right? Everybody just uses Facebook!

I’m a bit of a hypocrite on this one, as for the last few years I’ve been using Facebook as my hub, but I am now constructing a proper site. FB has worked well with a lot of EDM artists and labels, for example, but ultimately it’s a trend. What if it went away tomorrow? Do you really want all of your content to live only on Facebook? It’s just best to be able to have your own separate hub, where you can control your content entirely, and not be subject to weird rules where suddenly a picture of you taking a bath is owned by some corporation and ends up on a billboard on I-95.

By a “proper” site, I don’t mean use a free template from some random business site or whatever. Hire a reputable company via word-of-mouth/research (yes, even this takes effort), and do it right. If you must use a service that offers template sites, at least use one like HostBaby, one that understands what musicians really need in their web content and won’t leave you with a site that doesn’t deliver.

5. The world will recognize the genius in my every note.

Just because you can make music, doesn’t mean it’s good. I know a guy (one of many, actually) who has all the right intentions, but his ego is out of control. He has money and thinks that just because he has the means, his music is good. It’s average, and worst of all, he can’t sing, but thinks he can sing and doesn’t take criticism.

Take the criticism, it’ll save you money in the long run, but don’t take it from Auntie Em. She’ll always love your singing. My Aunt Pauline loves my piano playing and tells everyone about it, but she’s never heard me play.

6. I’m on Internet Radio!

No one cares if some random internet radio station inIndianais playing you. Your mother might, but she already got her copy of the album for free. Focus on the greatest audience, with the most practical and realistic means.

7. We’re growing our brand organically!

Organic food rots faster because it lacks those evil preservatives. Remember that. Do it right.

8. My music’s available on iTunes!

Don’t sell your music on iTunes, unless you have a good cover or can get into the “New Releases” section. What’s the point of creating a middleman? Why invest in a publicist, radio promoter, etc. so that iTunes can prosper? Just direct everyone to your site and sell direct from there.

9. Singles are the new Albums!

Why are you selling singles? If you can’t write a decent album, you have no purpose. Don’t listen to this nonsense about the album being dead. Make a good one, and sell it as such. If you’re going to put marketing efforts and dollars into one song, sell an album as a whole and make $10 instead of 99 cents. Just don’t stop promoting it after two months. 10 songs = 10 months of promo possibilities. Duh!

10.  I’m looking for a label and manager...

How nice. Have you sold 20,000 copies on your own? Because if not, they aren’t looking for you. If you’re not willing to do the work, no one of value or credibility will either.

11.  On social networks, posting the same posts promoting the same songs over and over again will eventually get people to buy the music.

No, people will start deleting you, and you will look desperate and lame.

12. I can tell folks I’ve sold 2 million albums even though the RIAA says I haven’t. Who’ll know?

Don’t think people won’t check riaa.com. I always do.

13. I’m too cool to pay bills on time... or at all.

If you couldn’t afford it, you shouldn’t have ordered it. Don’t blame it on the fake accountant.

14. What do you mean, that’s not what the contract says? That’s not how I read it!

Read and understand your agreements, and blame yourself for not getting what you thought you were getting. If you paid for one month of promotion, don’t ask to Skype with the promoter every month for 4 months, after your month has expired.

15. My new producer had two Grammies and a platinum album... in 1985!

Just because a producer has some decent credits...from 20 years ago, doesn’t mean they are worth your hard-earned cash. I’ve seen some ridiculous deal points in my day. Everything from $10K/song production costs, to 3 points + 10% of all placement fees on top. Stay away from this nonsense. I’ll hook you up with a great and affordable mixer. Just ask.

16. There’s nothing wrong with my image!

Yes, well. We can tell you’re really 50 and not 25, Madame. Dude, about that beard—ZZ Top was cool 20 years ago. Even a poor musician can afford $3 for a razor and shaving cream. I don’t care if it’s part of your vibe, what would you say if your mother saw you?

Tattoos are overdone and usually done badly, and you can’t take them off if you decide you hate them. And unless you’re in the iTunes top 10, you shouldn’t be wearing leather pants.

17. Wait. Image? What’s that? Do I need one?

And please don’t dress like a bank teller and pose with a guitar looking vaguely dissatisfied. I’m mystified at how imageless some artists can be. Did you not have posters of your favorite musicians on your walls when you were younger? Like, ever?

18. Faking people out is edgy, folks like to be fooled.

Deception is not a marketing tool. If you lie, it will always come back to bite you. You don’t have to disclose your debit card PIN, just be realistic.

19. I’m too cool to have a budget!

Pretending you have money when you don’t is beyond idiotic. Have more confidence in yourself and write a good song.

20. I got straight to the secretary of this big guy inHollywood, piece of cake!

Good for you, bub. When’s the premiere?

21. Yeah, I post more pictures than songs, so what? It’s all about image, right?

We get it, you’re in love with yourself, but if you spend more time posing for pictures than writing and releasing music, people will notice just that.

22. Meh, who cares what I tweet, as long as I do it a lot?

It’s called “social” networking for a reason. Be social, entertaining, charming, interesting and most of all, engaging.

23. I’ve got 100,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter!

Yeah, but between 0 and 10 impressions per post. No sucker will believe you really have that many people interested in you with those numbers. Social networking is an art and a science, and it seems that brands are finally starting to realize its importance. A great example of how social networking is supposed to work is at facebook.com/DuranDuran. The aforementioned and wonderfully talented Ms. Katy Krassner runs it.

24. This is serious stuff, man! Don’t you dare laugh at me!

Martin Solveig is a really cool electronic artist fromFrance, and he has a really fun sense of humor and is willing to laugh at himself. Have a look at some of his videos on YouTube. It’s about music and entertainment, not about trying to show off the fake jewelry or Bugatti you borrowed for the shoot.

25. Play every day? Why?

That’s what you’re supposed to do, remember? And don’t just play. Be a music student, not a rockstar wannabe. Learn everything you can, because ultimately it will come down to how good the music is, not how much of a poser you can be.

 (Reprinted by permission from Recording Magazine

Eric Alexandrakis is a highly successful songwriter, producer, and recording musician. He has had several Top 40 hits on the Adult Contemporary charts, has licensed hundreds of songs for film and video, and recently completed a remix of Depeche Mode’s new single “Should Be Higher”. Learn more at www.ericalexandrakis.com. And he’s recommending Katy Krassner because he likes her work, and thinks you will too.

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

 

Tags: song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, A&R, Eric Alexandrakis, recording songwriter

Songwriting for Film & TV

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jul 01, 2013 @09:45 AM

SONGWRITING FOR FILM & TV

By Robin Frederick

 SongwritingFilmTV

Thousands of songs are used in TV shows, films, and commercials each year. You've heard them in shows like Grey's Anatomy, The Vampire Diaries, House, Gossip Girl, 90210, Hart of Dixie, Nashville, and more. You've heard them in commercials for Subaru, Lowe's, AT&T, Volkswagen, and Traveler's Insurance.

When listeners hear something they like, they often head straight to the product or TV show website to find out the name of the artist or song title. Sales at iTunes can be anywhere from 20,000 (Jason Walker's "Down" featured in The Vampire Diaries to 100,000 (Ingrid Michaelson's "Keep Breathing" featured in a season-closing episode of Grey's Anatomy).

When you add in performance royalties and fees for the song's use, film & TV can provide a solid income stream that pays off over time, especially if you have numerous placements.

 

SO WHAT DOES YOUR SONG NEED TO DO?

For every song that's placed, many are auditioned - often hundreds - but only one is chosen. The song that will get the job is the one that enhances the emotion or adds impact for viewers.

Is a character discovering real love for the first time? The song needs to evoke that feeling for the audience. Is the film set in a small town in the 1950s? The song must accurately recall the era and provide the emotional mood needed. Always remember: the song serves the needs of the project.

With that in mind, it may seem a little strange that a majority of the songs that are placed in film and TV are written and recorded first, before they’re ever pitched to these projects. Often, the songs are part of an artist's CD. While they're being written, there's no way to know how these songs might eventually be used in a film or TV show.

So, if you don't know how your song will be used, how can you craft it to increase your chances of a placement?

 

WRITE UNIVERSAL LYRICS

Music users in the film and TV market often say they're looking for songs with "universal lyrics." But just what does that mean?

A universal lyric is...

A lyric that a large number of people can identify with or relate to.

A lyric that will not conflict with the specific content of a scene.

A good lyric for film and TV is universal enough to allow the song to be used in a variety of scenes while maintaining emotional integrity, originality, and focus.


Hint: Choose a common theme

Of course, no song will work for every scene but some themes and situations occur more frequently than others - falling in love, breaking up, or overcoming adversity, for example. If you choose one of these, you're more likely to be successful. Watch a few TV episodes and look for common themes. Chances are you're already using some of them in your songs.

Find out how to bring your lyric theme to life.

 

Another Hint: Don’t do the scriptwriter’s job

Too many specific physical details, like place names, proper names, and specific story details, will limit the uses of your song. For example, let’s say your song is called "Sara Smile." That was a great title for a Hall & Oates hit but… it could be confusing to viewers if there's no character named Sara in the scene. For film & TV uses, try a title like “In Your Smile” or “I Need Your Smile.” Let the scriptwriter name the characters.

 

MUSIC: THINK LIKE A FILM COMPOSER

Filmmakers have always used instrumental music to communicate mood, energy, and atmosphere to the audience, from soaring love themes to the high anxiety of a fast-paced action cue.

As songs have grown in popularity with viewers, they're being used to replace some of that instrumental music. A song that works well for film and TV is one that, like an instrumental cue, uses melody, chords, pace (tempo), and rhythm to evoke a single mood or energy level.

If you've written an uptempo song about a wild party or a slow song about lost love, you're already using tempo and rhythm to express energy or mood. Songwriters often do this instinctively, but you can hone that ability for the film and TV market, making your music even more expressive and useable. Like a film composer, you can choose a tempo and groove that physically express the energy level you want, then back it up with chords melody, and lyrics.

Listen to the instrumental cues that accompany various types of scenes: action, danger, romantic meeting or breakup, characters having fun, arguing, or being thoughtful. Notice how the music adds to the effectiveness of scene. Try writing a song that makes use of a few of those elements, something that might work instead of underscore. This is a great way to get into the film & TV songwriting mood!

Above all, listen to songs that are being used in the context of a scene and analyze what works and why. You can find all the current TV shows that are using songs at www.TuneFind.com.

Based on Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV  by Robin Frederick. Available at Amazon.com.


Copyright 2013 Robin Frederick

 Robin Frederick, songwriter

Robin Frederick has written more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records, Executive Producer of 60 albums, and the author of “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV.” Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: www.RobinFrederick.com  and www.MySongCoach.com.

 For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, USA Songwriting Competition, Robin Frederick, A&R, Rhino Records

Songwriting Tip: Write Not Just Any Song, But A HIT Song!

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 04, 2013 @01:56 PM

Write Not Just Any Song, But A HIT Song!

Q & A With Songwriter Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick, songwriter

Interview by Lorenz Rychner

 

Robin Frederick is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records, executive producer of more than 60 albums, and an in-demand lecturer on the music industry. She has written and produced hundreds of songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. In her two books, Shortcuts to HIT Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV, both of which we reviewed in this magazine, we found a treasure trove of good advice of the kind that can only come from someone who knows whereof they speak. Ms. Frederick has that kind of track record.

In this issue of Recording we focus on the recording songwriter, and we asked Ms. Frederick to address the kinds of questions that we trust will be on many readers’ minds.—LzR

Q: I want to make some money—how do I know what songs to write to make that happen?

A: Like any business, you need to give the music industry something they can sell in today’s market. The best way to do that is to study current hit songs. If you have a genre in mind when you write, it will help a lot when you’re ready to approach the industry. To find a genre you’re comfortable with, check out the music charts online and in music industry magazines. Look for hit songs you like. (Don’t study the ones you don’t like!) If you’re not familiar with these songs, listen to them on iTunes or a stream-on-demand music site. Ask yourself what it is about the song that appeals to you. How does it make you feel? Is there a lyric or melody technique you could try in a song of your own?

Q: How can I “emulate” a song without stealing from it?

A: Studying hit songs is the quickest way to pick up new songwriting techniques. You’re not looking to write a new song based on the hit—it’s a way to learn and practice songwriting craft. Songwriting is a lot like learning to ride a bicycle. You’ve got to get a feel for it, find your balance, before you can really ride on your own. Emulating a hit song is a little like putting on training wheels. It will help keep you on track and heading in the right direction as you develop new skills.

To practice songwriting with a hit song as a guide, find an existing hit with a well-defined structure—easy to identify verse and chorus sections—and a good hook. The hook is usually the first or last line of the chorus. It should be memorable and sum up the overall feeling of the song. Learn to sing the hit song’s melody. Once you can do that, write a lyric line of your own that you can comfortably sing to the hook melody of the hit. (Again, the hook is probably the first or last line of the chorus. If you’re not sure which one, then just pick one to work with.) Wherever the hook appears in the original, repeat it in your “training” version.

To  get a feel for how your lyrics sound when sung to a contemporary hit, fill out your chorus. Write more lines that support your new hook, its meaning, its emotion. Be sure they fit comfortably into the hit song melody. You don’t have to stick to every note and syllable, just get close.

Now, write a lyric for the verse. It should lead to your chorus, supporting it with more information about what the singer is feeling or experiencing. Notice whether the hit song uses images to paint a picture. Try using images in your lyric. If the hit song features conversational phrases, then you do the same.

That’s really all you need to do for this exercise. Now you’ve got a feel for the way a hit song is structured, how the lyric expresses the theme, and how it feels to sing your lyrics to a contemporary hit melody. You’re starting to “ride the bicycle.” Just remember, the hit song is copyrighted. You can’t use any part of the melody or lyric in a song of your own. The best idea is to use this as an exercise. Study successful songs and you’ll be successful!

Q: I have trouble writing melodies to go with my lyrics. Any suggestions?

A: You can use the natural melody of speech to help you find the melody that lives in your lyric. Just speak your lyric out loud with a lot of emotion. The more emotion you put into it, the more melody you’ll hear! That’s because we use the melody of speech – the pace, rhythm, volume, and pitch—to express our feelings. Try it for yourself: Say the phrase “Oh, no” in a high, fast-paced tone. Now, say it again in a low, descending voice. The first expresses anxiety, the second sadness or resignation. The words didn’t change, just the melody of speech.

What’s the emotion you want to express in your lyric? Speak the lyrics with that emotion in mind and see where the melody takes you. Then preserve the pace, the pauses, and the overall up and down movement of the pitches. Try exaggerating them to create a basic melody. It’s a good idea to record this raw melody idea so you can come back to it later. You can add chords and a rhythm track to hear how your melody would sound in a song. Feel free to play with it, change notes, add a pause, start on different beats. If you get too far away from your original idea, just go back to your recording.

Q: My friends like my songs but people in the music industry tell me they’re not commercial, my lyrics are too hard to follow and I don’t write big choruses...

A: If you’re looking to pitch your songs to the mainstream, commercial radio market—either for yourself as an artist or for someone else to sing—then you really do need to keep your listener in mind at all times. Give them enough information to make them feel that they’re right there with you experiencing what you’re experiencing. For instance, if you’re using a lot of poetic imagery, you might want to alternate that with some straightforward, conversational lines to make sure the listener doesn’t get lost. Your friends know you, they know what happened to you and how you feel, but radio listeners are complete strangers. To evoke a response from them, you might need to strike a balance.

Big choruses are important because they grab and hold the listener’s attention. For radio airplay that’s a must-have. However, there is a market that doesn’t require big choruses: songs for film & TV. This fast-growing market often prefers a simple, strong refrain line to underscore the emotion in a scene, rather than a full-blown chorus which could distract the viewer.

Q: What’s the winning formula for a hit song?

A: There really isn’t a formula. But there are song craft techniques that have proven to connect with listeners, and these are essential if you want to reach a broad audience—song structure, melodic contrast, lyric imagery, are a few. That said, the first thing you (and every songwriter) should do is express what you feel with honesty. Do that first, then go back to see if you can broaden the appeal by adding more song craft to support your theme and give it more universal appeal. Adele is a great example of a hit songwriter who blends personal songwriting with craft in a way that’s compelling for listeners.

A successful song applies song craft in a creative way, so the song sounds fresh. For instance, I love what’s happening with melodic contrast and momentum in many current hit songs. These are two techniques that listeners really love, so you should be looking at them. But it’s how you use these within your song that will make it both original and commercial. Song craft is a challenge to your creativity; it’s not there to stifle it.

Q: I don’t know what to write about.

A: There are some themes that are universal. Most people have been in relationships, enjoyed times of celebration, and most have experienced loss. These emotions are universal, not the specifics of what actually happened. Try writing a song that evokes a feeling. How did you feel when a relationship broke up? What did you feel physically? What kinds of images paint a picture of those feelings?

You can also look outside yourself for song ideas. Watch a movie or TV drama. Choose a scene and write a song that expresses the feelings, the situation, or attitude of one of the characters.

Try a different angle on a familiar theme. There are lots of songs about how bad it feels to break up with someone. How about a song about the plus side? If you’re a shy person, try writing a song from the point of view of a confident, outgoing party animal!

Q: I have trouble with my hooks, they’re just not catchy enough.

A: A good rule of thumb: Keep your hook short to make it more memorable. You could use a simple, conversational phrase, just a few words. In my book I cite three that were successful hits: “You had a bad day” (“Bad Day” by Daniel Powter, Billboard #1 for 5 weeks in 2005); “Truth is I never got over you” (“Truth Is” recorded by Fantasia, #1 for 14 weeks on Billboard Adult R&B Airplay chart), “You’re gonna miss this” (“You’re Gonna Miss This” recorded by Trace Adkins, #1 on Hot Country Songs).

Once you have a short phrase, imagine what your listener will want to know when they hear that hook, what questions will they be wondering about? What kind of a bad day and why? Gonna miss what? This tells you what the rest of the lyrics should be about—filling in the rest of the story that the hook hints at. Think of your hook as a mini-version of your song.

Q: I have trouble making my verses and choruses different enough, they all sound the same.

A: For a radio hit, your chorus has to grab attention, to shout from the rooftop “Here I am!” No more explaining, no more background information—this is the heart and soul of your song. To make sure listeners notice the chorus, use one of the most effective song craft techniques—contrast. Contrast gets attention!

If your verse is fast-paced and wordy, consider smoothing out the pace of your chorus. Hold out the notes a little longer, give the melody a more fluid feel. If your verse is in a low note range, try putting the chorus in a higher note range. A sudden jump upwards of even a few notes will catch attention and raise the emotional intensity of the song.

In fact, you’ve probably noticed that hit song choruses are often in a higher note range than the verse. That’s because when we get emotional, our voices tend to rise. By putting the chorus in a higher note range, you make use of a natural response. Listeners automatically hear more emotion in a chorus that’s in a higher note range.

Q: I can’t seem to come up with a good melody that doesn’t already sound like a lot of existing songs.

A: You’re not alone; this happens to all songwriters! A melody that sounds like a lot of others, one that’s generic or clichéd, is often just the first melody you came up with. But successful songwriters don’t stop there. They treat it as raw material, a place to start, not the final melody of the song. In fact, you can rewrite a melody, just like you rewrite a lyric.

First, take a look at the individual lines of your melody. Are they all starting on the same beat? Try varying the start times of your phrases. Starting a line on the 3rd beat of the bar or an upbeat is a great way to add a fresh sound. (The “and” in “one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and” is an upbeat.)

Are all your lines a similar length? If so, here’s a quick fix that really works and will give you melody a contemporary edge: Add a couple of notes and words to the end of one line and run it into the next, creating a single long line. Or you can start a line earlier, eliminating the pause at the end of the line before. Varying the line lengths will add interest to your melody. Eliminating pauses will add momentum.

Rewriting is both fun and creative. Enjoy yourself and try new things. Remember, if you don’t like the direction your song is going, there’s an “Undo” button. Just push it and get back to where you started. Then try something else. There are endless possibilities!

For more about Robin Frederick, visit her website at www.robinfrederick.com. Her books are published by TAXI Music Books at www.songwritingbooks.com.

This article is printed with permission from Recording magazine. For more information on recording magazine, go to: http://www.recordingmagazine.com

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit song, Melodies, Lyrics, songwrite, Robin Frederick, A&R, Rhino Records, hook, syllable