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[Songwriting Advice] Size Matters: A Study in Prosody

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Mar 01, 2019 @07:00 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Size Matters: A Study in Prosody

by Pat Pattison

 LanaDelRay

Lana Del Ray’s single, Ride, creates a picturesque and surreal journey down an open road, leading us through a landscape that fuses relationships, mental turmoil and escape. The song is about motion, about the instability of a physical circumstance and mental state that causes her to lean into the future, to slide away from the confines of her past. Or something like that.

Anyway, it currently has over 62 million views on youtube, so lotsa folks like it.

Here are the first four sections:

(Insert Ride (unedited) here)

 

I've been out on that open road

You can be my full time daddy,

White and gold

Singing blues has been getting old

You can be my full time baby,

Hot or cold

 

Don't break me down

I've been travelin' too long

I've been trying too hard

With one pretty song

 

I hear the birds on the summer breeze,

I drive fast, I am alone in midnight

Been tryin' hard not to get into trouble,

But I, I've got a war in my mind

 

So, I just ride,

Just ride,

I just ride,

Just ride

 

Again, the song is all about moving. Yet, at the end of the last section, I didn’t feel the urge to move. I should have, but I didn’t. Why not?

First, let’s take a minute to talk about the concept of Prosody.

 

Prosody

Aristotle said that every great work of art contains the same feature – unity. Everything in the work belongs –supports every other element. Another word for unity is prosody – the “appropriate relationship between elements, whatever they may be.” Some examples of prosody in songs might be:

Prosody between words and music: a minor key could create, a feeling of sadness to support or even create sadness in an idea.

Prosody between syllables and notes: appropriate relationship between stressed syllables and stressed notes – a really big deal in songwriting. When they are lined up properly, the shape of the melody matches the natural shape of the language.

Prosody between rhythm and meaning: obvious examples like

 

“you gotta stop!.......(pause).................look and listen.”

 

Or writing a song about galloping horses in a triplet feel.

 

The elements of the song must all join together to support the central intent, idea and emotion of the work. Everything fits. Prosody is the appropriate relationship between elements.

Stable vs. Unstable

Stable vs. unstable is an effective window into prosody – a practical tool for creating prosody because it covers every aspect of a song: from the idea, to the melody, the rhythm, the chords, the lyric structure --everything. It governs the choices you make. Ask yourself, is the emotion in this section stable or unstable? Once you answer that question, you have a standard for making all your other choices.

 

Number of Lines

Every section you’ll ever write – verses, choruses, pre-choruses, bridges—will have (here it comes, get ready) some number of lines or other! OK, not much of a revelation. Even more specifically, every section you’ll ever write will have either an even number of lines, or an odd number of lines. Wow. Even more of an, um, revelation…

Now let’s talk a bit about an odd number of lines. An odd number of lines feels, er, odd -- off balance, unresolved, incomplete UNSTABLE. Let’s say you’re writing a verse where the idea is something like: “Baby, since you left me I’ve been feeling lost, odd -- off balance, unresolved, incomplete, UNSTABLE. Just theoretically, do you think this verse would be better with an even number of lines or an odd number of lines? Right. An odd number of lines.

This changes everything. You’ve recognized, maybe for the first time, that there can be a relationship between what you say and how many lines you use to say it. You’re feeling UNSTABLE, and the odd or UNSTABLE number of lines supports that feeling. Prosody. Your structure (in this case, your number of lines) can support meaning.

An even number of lines tends to feel, well, even -- solid, resolved, balanced, STABLE. Let’s say that your message is something like: “Baby, you’re the answer to all my prayers. I’ll be with you forever. I’m your rock. You can count on me.” How many lines should you use? Odd or even? Right. Even. You want a solid feeling in the structure to support the emotion you’re trying to communicate. “I mean it. You can trust me.” Prosody.

On the other hand, an odd number of lines feels, er, odd. Like it’s missing something. It creates a feeling of leaning forward. It feels unstable.

With this in mind, let’s take another look at these sections of Ride:

(Insert Ride (unedited) here)

 

I've been out on that open road

You can be my full time daddy,

White and gold

Singing blues has been getting old

You can be my full time baby,

Hot or cold

 

Don't break me down

I've been travelin' too long

I've been trying too hard

With one pretty song

 

I hear the birds on the summer breeze,

I drive fast, I am alone in midnight

Been tryin' hard not to get into trouble,

But I, I've got a war in my mind

 

So, I just ride,

Just ride,

I just ride,

Just ride

 

All four sections have an even number of lines. At least in this regard, all four feel stable. They don’t move. Let me repeat that: they don’t move.

Though the song is all about moving, all four sections stop. All four sections balance. That may not be an issue in the first section, where she’s stating facts. No drama, no motion, just facts.

 

I've been out on that open road

You can be my full time daddy,

White and gold

Singing blues has been getting old

You can be my full time baby,

Hot or cold

 

The even-numbered six-line section supports the facts nicely. Even the second section, where she’s giving commands, seems appropriate for an even number of lines:

 

Don't break me down

I've been travelin' too long

I've been trying too hard

With one pretty song

 

But it seems to me that sections three and four might profit from some instability, especially the title lines, the emotional centerpiece of the whole song:

 

So, I just ride,

Just ride,

I just ride,

Just ride

 

I’m an obsessive tinkerer, so I wondered what this might sound as a three lines section. It’s easy enough to toss the song into Garageband and do a little chopping, so I did. Here’s what it sounds like, omitting the third line:

(Insert Ride Edit 1 Chorus here)

So, I just ride,

Just ride,

Just ride

 

Nice. Can you feel the motion? The longing? The instability? Yup, the number of lines actually creates a feeling all by itself. It comments on the words like a film score comments on the images on the screen. It tells you how to feel about what you’re hearing, simply by applying the concept of Prosody, in this case, working with the number of lines in the section. The section moves forward, supporting the idea, Ride.

Listen to it in the context of all four sections.

(Insert Ride Edit 1 Complete here)

Still, the third section feels like it balances and stops motion with its even number of lines, making the last section have to do all the emotional work. What if the third section,

 

I hear the birds on the summer breeze,

I drive fast, I am alone in midnight

Been tryin' hard not to get into trouble,

But I, I've got a war in my mind

 

could push forward too? After all, it’s drenched with longing:

 

Back to Garageband for another edit, deleting the third line. Listen:

(Insert Ride Edit 2 Pre-Chorus here)

 

I hear the birds on the summer breeze,

I drive fast, I am alone in midnight

But I, I've got a war in my mind

 

Now, combined with the unstable fourth section, you can feel even more motion:

I hear the birds on the summer breeze,

I drive fast, I am alone in midnight

But I, I've got a war in my mind

 

So, I just ride,

Just ride,

Just ride

Now all four sections create prosody – their structures support their meaning, and, in the process, create a nice contrast between stable and unstable sections, making the third and fourth section’s forward motion seem even more dramatic:

(Insert Ride Edit 2 Complete here)

 

I've been out on that open road

You can be my full time daddy,

White and gold

Singing blues has been getting old

You can be my full time baby,

Hot or cold

 

Don't break me down

I've been travelin' too long

I've been trying too hard

With one pretty song

 

I hear the birds on the summer breeze,

I drive fast, I am alone in midnight

But I, I've got a war in my mind

 

So, I just ride,

Just ride,

Just ride

 

The structure of each section helps support the idea, using number of lines to make them move or stop.

Number of lines: one of the many tools affecting how your song creates an extra level of feeling. Don’t be afraid to use it.

Take a look at a few more applications of the use of an odd number of lines. Here are the first verses and chorus to Yes’s 1983 hit, Owner of a Lonely Heart:

(Insert Owner of a Lonely Heart (unedited) here)

 

Move yourself,

you always live your life

Never thinking of the future

Prove yourself

You are the move you make

Take your chances win or loser

 

See yourself,

you are the steps you take

You and you and that's the only way

Shake, shake yourself

You are every move you make

So the story goes

 

Owner of a lonely heart

Owner of a lonely heart

Owner of a broken heart

Owner of a lonely heart

 

If I had a lonely heart, I’d feel a sense of longing, of something missing. Try this:

(Insert Owner of a Lonely Heart Edit here)

 

Move yourself,

you always live your life

Never thinking of the future

Prove yourself

You are the move you make

Take your chances win or loser

 

See yourself,

you are the steps you take

You and you and that's the only way

Shake, shake yourself

You are every move you make

So the story goes

 

Owner of a lonely heart

Owner of a broken heart

Owner of a lonely heart

 

Now you can feel it. The odd number of lines makes a huge difference.

John Mayer did it right the first time in his Grammy-winning “Your Body is a Wonderland.” His three-line chorus creates a sense of longing, a desire for more:

(Insert Your Body Is A Wonderland unedited here)

 

We got the afternoon

You got this room for two

One thing I've left to do

Discover me

Discovering you

 

One mile to every inch of

Your skin like porcelain

One pair of candy lips and

Your bubblegum tongue

 

Cause if you want love

We'll make it

Swim in a deep sea

Of blankets

Take all your big plans

And break 'em

This is bound to be awhile

 

Your body is a wonderland

Your body is a wonder (I'll use my hands)

Your body is a wonderland

 

Without the sense of longing created by the odd number of lines, I doubt the song would have been John’s first Grammy. Judge for yourself. Listen to my Garageband edit, where I inserted an extra line into the chorus:

(Insert Wonderland Edit here)

 

We got the afternoon

You got this room for two

One thing I've left to do

Discover me

Discovering you

 

One mile to every inch of

Your skin like porcelain

One pair of candy lips and

Your bubblegum tongue

 

Cause if you want love

We'll make it

Swim in a deep sea

Of blankets

Take all your big plans

And break 'em

This is bound to be awhile

 

Your body is a wonderland

Your body is a wonderland

Your body is a wonder (I'll use my hands)

Your body is a wonderland

 

The even number of lines in the chorus stops motion and erases the sense of longing completely.

The Beatles supported the surrealism of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds effectively with this three-line chorus:

(Insert Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds unedited here)

 

Picture yourself in a boat on a river

With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly

A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

 

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green

Towering over your head

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes

And she's gone

 

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

 

Again, I’ve inserted an extra line in the chorus. Listen to the song now as it grinds to a dull halt with my Garageband-balanced chorus:

(Insert Lucy (edit) here)

 

Picture yourself in a boat on a river

With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly

A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

 

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green

Towering over your head

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes

And she's gone

 

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

 

It changes the feeling of the song completely.

Every section you write WILL have some number of lines, either odd or even. Ask yourself the simple question, “How do I feel in this section, stable or unstable?” Your number of lines, one of the many structural tools in your tool-belt, can help you gain even more emotion by supporting and enhancing your intent.

Prosody. It’s not rocket surgery. It’s simply having tools in your tool-belt and knowing how to use them. Prosody gives you an efficient window into effective composition.

Size matters.

 

 

 

Pat Pattison is a professor at Berklee College of Music, where he teaches lyric writing and poetry. In addition to his four books, Songwriting Without Boundaries (Writer’s Digest Books), Writing Better Lyrics (Writer’s Digest Books), The Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure (Berklee Press), and The Essential Guide to Rhyming (Berklee Press), Pat has developed five online courses for Berklee Online: three on lyric writing, one on poetry, and one on creative writing, all available through online.berklee.edu. His filmed series of lectures for Coursera.org has over 1,600,000 students enrolled to date. Pat has written over fifty articles for various magazines and blogs and has chapters in both The Poetics of American Song Lyrics (University Press of Mississippi) and the Handbook on Creative Writing (Edinburgh University Press). He
continues to present songwriting clinics across the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. Pat’s students include multiple Grammy-winner Gillian Welch, John Mayer, AND Tom Hambridge, Karmin, American Authors, Liz Longley, Greg Becker, Charlie Worsham, and many more.

To enter the 24th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Prosody, Berklee, songwrite, Recording, lyric writing, song demo, Pat Pattison, demo recording, Catchy Rhythm, music writing, Instrumental Lick, Lana Del Ray, ride

Music Industry's Top 10 Music Colleges

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Nov 05, 2013 @12:08 PM

The Hollywood Reporter released a ranking of America's 10 Best Music Schools last week based on a survey of academic and entertainment insiders - including composers, arrangers, music supervisors, editors and engineers. In reverse order, they are:


10. Royal College Of Music (London, UK)
The Royal College of Music is a conservatoire established by royal charter in 1882, located in South Kensington, London, England. The college regularly ranks as one of the world's leading conservatoires.
Notable Alumni: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Julian Bream (One of the Greatest Classical Guitarist of all time), James Horner (Composer for "Titantic"), Gustav Holst, L.A. Philharmonic CEO Deborah Borda

9. CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF THE ARTS (Valencia)
The California Institute of the Arts, colloquially called CalArts, is a university located in Valencia, in Los Angeles County, California. It was incorporated in 1961 as the first degree-granting institution of higher learning in the United States created specifically for students of both the visual and the performing arts. It is authorized by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) to grant Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts in the visual, performing, and as of 1994, literary arts. The Herb Alpert School of Music was accredited in 2009 to grant a Doctor of Musical Arts.
The school was founded and created by Walt Disney in the early 1960s and staffed by a diverse array of professionals. The institute was started as Disney's dream of an interdisciplinary "Caltech of the arts." CalArts provides a collaborative environment for a diversity of artists. Students are free to develop their own work (over which they retain control and copyright) in a workshop atmosphere, as respected members of a community of artists in which authority is constantly tested and where teaching works through persuasion rather than coercion. Intercultural exchange among artists helps in practicing and understanding of the art making process in the broadest context possible.
Notable Alumni: Jeremy Wall (of Spyro Gyra), Ravi Coltrane, The Airborne Toxic Event's Noah Harmon

8. NEW ENGLAND CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC (Boston)
The New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) in Boston, Massachusetts, is the oldest independent school of music in the United States.[3]
The conservatory, located on Huntington Avenue of the Arts near Boston Symphony Hall, is home each year to 750 students pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies along with 1400 more in its Preparatory School as well as the School of Continuing Education. At the collegiate level, NEC offers the Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Musical Arts, as well as the Undergraduate Diploma, Graduate Diploma, and Artist Diploma. Also offered are five-year joint double-degree programs with Harvard University and Tufts University.
Notable Alumni: Neal E. Boyd (Top winner of "America's Got Talent), Cecil Taylor, Sarah Caldwell

7. CURTIS INSTITUTE OF MUSIC (Philadelphia, PA)
All students attend on full scholarship and admission is extremely competitive in the Curtis Institute of Music. It is a conservatory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., that offers courses of study leading to a performance Diploma, Bachelor of Music, Master of Music in Opera, or Professional Studies Certificate in Opera.
Notable Alumni: Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, James Adler, Lukas Foss (USA Songwriting Competition Finalist, 2004)

6. NYU STEINHARDT (New York)
The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development is one of 18 divisions within New York University and is the oldest professional school of education in the United States. It was known as New York University School of Education till 2001.
Notable Alumni: Elmer Bernstein, Wayne Shorter, Alan Menken

5. EASTMAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC (Rochester, N.Y.)
The Eastman School of Music is a music conservatory located in Rochester, New York. The Eastman School is a professional school within the University of Rochester. It was established in 1921 by industrialist and philanthropist George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company.
Notable Alumni: Renée Fleming, Ron Carter, Jeff Beal

4. UCLA HERB ALPERT SCHOOL OF MUSIC (Los Angeles)
UCLA has departments of Ethnomusicology, Music and Musicology
Notable Alumni: John Williams, Randy Newman, Angel Blue

3. THE JUILLIARD SCHOOL (New York)
Known as the Granddaddy of all music colleges in America, The Juilliard School located in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, United States, is a performing arts conservatory which was established in 1905. It is identified informally as simply Juilliard and currently trains about 800 undergraduate and graduate students in dance, drama, and music. It is widely regarded to be one of the world's finest and most prestigious arts programs.
Notable Alumni: Barry Manilow, Henry Mancini, Miles Davis, Philip Glass, Nina Simone, Marvin Hamlisch, Wynton Marsalis, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Michael Giacchino

2. USC THORNTON SCHOOL OF MUSIC (Los Angeles)
The University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, founded in 1884 and dedicated in 1999, is one of the premier[citation needed] music schools in the United States. Founded only four years after the University of Southern California itself, the Thornton School is the oldest continually operating arts institution in Southern California.[1] The School is located in the heart of the USC University Park Campus, south of downtown Los Angeles.
Notable Alumni: Jerry Goldsmith, Marilyn Horne, Marco Beltrami

1. BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC (Boston)

Berklee College of Music
Berklee College of Music, located in Boston, Massachusetts, is the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world. Known primarily as the world's foremost institute for the study of jazz and modern American music.
Notable Alumni: Quincy Jones, John Mayer, Branford Marsalis, Al Di Meola, Melissa Etheridge, Keith Jarrett, Claude Kelly, Diana Krall, Paula Cole, Howard Shore

 

For more infromation on the USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net 

 

 

 

Tags: Berklee, Music Industry, Top 10, Music Colleges, USC, UCLA, Juilliard, Curtis Institute

Songwriting Tip: Polishing the Silver Bowl

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 @02:56 PM

Polishing the Silver Bowl

By Pat Pattison

SilverBowl 

I found a silver punch bowl in my cellar. I vaguely remembered it being a gift (from one of my weddings). It was completely covered with tarnish (an interesting symbol), and, since I was Feng Shui-ing, the required move was to toss it. As I was about to, I was interrupted by the little Midwestern voice inside my head: “IT’S SILVER!! You can’t throw it away!”

I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring that Midwestern voice, or at least sidestepping it. I tried, but as I was about to slip the bowl into the trash bag, it got louder, sounding a lot like my mom: “Nooooo! It’s SIIILVER!” “OK,” I bargained, “if I have any silver polish under the kitchen sink (where all that stuff languishes), I’ll shine up the bowl to see if it’s worth keeping.” Why would I have silver polish? I figured it was an easy escape from The Voice.

Who knew? To my surprise, I did have a jar of silver polish under the sink, (apparently another remnant from one of my weddings). Alas, let the cleaning begin.

I covered the bowl with the grey goop and, as per instruction, allowed it to dry. Wiping it off (with a clean cloth—another surprise under the sink), I discovered that, once the tarnish was rubbed away, the bowl was pretty snazzy. “I’m gonna keep this,” I said, as The Voice basked in the warm glow of its little victory.

Once I’d made the decision to keep it, I looked at the bowl more carefully, noticing the spots I’d missed. I applied more grey goop on the offending areas, waited, then rubbed it off—a bit harder this time. Ah, nice and shiny, both outside and in.

Um, except for the silver leafing all around the rim and on the four curved, leafed legs, still tarnished, with excess polish sticking in all those little crevasses. I tried rubbing with the cloth, but there was no way to get into all those places. I thought, “I’ll use my toothbrush. I can always rinse it off afterwards…”

More polish, and now the scrubbing took longer, not to mention the occasional spray from the toothbrush bristles, requiring goggles. (Silver polish stings the eyes.) The work was more localized and focused, taking longer to cover smaller areas. But finally, after rinsing with warm water, the rim and the legs were sparkling. “Good work,” I cooed to myself.

Oops. For the first time I noticed the thin etched lines swirling both on the interior and the exterior of the bowl. They were still tarnished, not an eyesore, but still not shining like they could. My impulse was to ignore them, but now The Voice reared up again. “Finish what you started. Quit being lazy.” Urrgh!

Q-tips. Again, the work was much more localized and painstaking. Following those swirls wasn’t easy, but after some close attention, a little bad language and a sore wrist, the silver bowl was finished. It glistened. Everything Midwestern in me shone with the glow of a job well done. I filled my gleaming silver bowl with apples and set it in the center of the coffee-table. Voilá!

The moral of this little tale?

It’s not like, when I found the bowl, I immediately saw that the leafing or the etchings were tarnished and needed work. I had plenty to do before I was able to notice those smaller details.

Move from bigger to smaller. Don’t sweat the small stuff until the big stuff is cleaned up.

Intent is the biggest: What’s your song about? Try to say it in one phrase.

Prosody is huge: Is this idea stable or unstable? All your decisions about structure will depend on how you answer this question.

Very, very big: The three questions every song must answer:

1. Who is talking?

2. To whom?

3. Why?

These three questions establish the Point of View of your song: 3rd Person Narrative (he, she, they), 1st Person Narrative (I, we, he, she, they), 2nd Person Narrative (you, he, she, it, they), or Direct Address (I, you). They also ask why you’re saying what you’re saying. What’s the point of the song?

Verse development is big: how can you develop your verse ideas so your chorus (or refrain, in an AABA form) gains more meaning, more emotional weight, each time we hear it.

Song form is middle-sized: Verse/Chorus or Verse/Refrain?

Deciding on things like rhyme scheme, line lengths, number of lines, is small.

Changing a line or a word is really small. Don’t spend too much time up front searching for the perfect word when you’re still working on the bigger decisions. Everything could change.

Don’t sweat the small stuff until the big stuff is cleaned up.

Gather tools. Obsessively. You’ll need them for all the different jobs you have to do. Keep them under your kitchen sink.

Happy polishing.

Pat Pattison, songwriting professor

Pat Pattison is a Professor at Berklee College of Music, where he teaches Lyric Writing and Poetry. In addition to his four books, Songwriting Without Boundaries, Writing Better Lyrics, The Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure, and The Essential Guide to Rhyming, Pat has developed three online lyric writing courses, one on poetry, and one on creative writing available through Berkleemusic.com. He has written over 50 articles for various magazines and blogs and has also filmed a free 6-week online songwriting course for coursera.org, available March 1st, 2012.  



Pat continues to present songwriting clinics across the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Several of his students have won Grammys, including John Mayer and Gillian Welch.

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Prosody, Berklee, Polishing songs, Narrative, Verse, compose

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

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

From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

by Melissa Axel

Songwriting & Editing by Melissa Axel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songwriting 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

Songwriting/Collaboration: The Power of Co-writing

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Aug 08, 2011 @05:21 PM

Creative Collaboration: The Power of Co-writing by Melissa Axel

 

Melissa Axel (Artist Relations, USA Songwriting Competition) & Andy White, photo by James E. Jacoby

Everybody knows the three keys to a successful business are "location, location, location!" For successful songwriters, there is another mantra: "co-write, co-write, co-write!"

Still, many of us have grown accustomed to making music alone in our creative caves and may be nervous about teaming up with other writers. Let's take a look at some of the benefits of creative collaboration, whether it takes place in the same room or online with a co-writer many miles away …

Different minds bring fresh perspectives. Unless you've been deliberately writing about a variety of subjects, it's likely (and natural) that your songs tend to focus on the same handful of topics you know best or care about most. Pairing with someone else brings a second lifetime of experiences to the writing table, challenging you to try on new shoes and see what another person's ideas might look like told through your eyes.

Variation opens up new melodic and harmonic possibilities. If you tend to favor the same keys and chord progressions, writing with someone whose first instrument is different from yours can lead you down fresh musical paths. Guitarists could try writing with a pianist, violinist, cellist, mandolin player, etc. (and vice versa). Also, look for people who share some of your influences and lyrical interests but are into other musical styles or approaches to songwriting as well. Always wanted to explore African grooves or incorporate bluegrass elements into a pop song? Find an artist/writer comfortable in territory that's new to you, and give it a try!

Two heads really are better than one. It's easy to beat our heads against the wall or even put a song aside for years when we get stuck on a section of lyrics or melody that just doesn't feel "right." Or perhaps you have some choruses that need verses or a song that's missing a bridge. Trusted writing partners not only bounce ideas off of each other but also can become a great for completing unfinished songs and making sure each word and note is the strongest possible choice.

So where do you find people to co-write with? They might be performing artists in your local music community, writers you know from songwriting websites and social network groups, composers who usually write instrumental music, or producers who create tracks for artists who only sing or rap. Be open to meeting songwriting partners if you travel to perform or attend songwriting conferences, too. It's easy to write across the miles with online audio/video chat programs or even by sending MP3s and lyrics back and forth via email.

If you're ready to broaden your songwriting horizons, take your time and get to know potential co-writers and their writing styles. As your songwriting becomes more plentiful, diverse, and enriching, you'll be glad you reached out and found creative collaborators who are a really great fit.

 

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 will be released September 20, 2011. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Berklee, writing songs, Co-writer, writing lyrics, Creating in a Group, collaboration, co-writing

2011 USA Songwriting Competition Radio Podcast

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Sat, May 21, 2011 @12:53 PM


MusicPlaylist
Music Playlist at MixPod.com

 

Alannah Myles, songwriter

Tune in to the 2011 USA Songwriting Competition Podcast, this features never before heard demo versions of the winners of the USA Songwriting Competition (past & present). Click on the audio player above to listen to the music. 

Music featured in this podcast by:

Kate Voegele – Only Fooling Myself

This version is the demo version before it was re-produced and re-mixed when she was signed to Interscope Records. This song went on to hit Top 40 on the Billboard Charts. 


Ari Gold – Where The Music Takes You Writers: Ari Gold, Joe Hogue 'JOJOHO' & Sean Petersen

This song is a demo version before it was remixed and reproduced and before it hit Top 10 on the Billboard charts. 


Alannah Myles – Give Me Love (see pictured above) Writers: Alannah Myles & Nancy Simmonds

Rosie Casey & Hillary Podell – Is That So Bad
Writers: Ken Hirsch, Rosie Casey, Peter Roberts & Hillary Podell

Amelia Curran – The Mistress

ASON - Be Inspired

Ian Holmes – More
Writers: Raleigh Hall & Gordon Chambers

Pepper MaShay – Does Yo Mamma Know

Christopher Tin – Baba Yetu

This song went on to win 2 Grammy awards in 2011, making Christopher the only USA Songwriting Competition winner to ever win 2 or more Grammy awards in one evening. 

 

USA Songwriting Competition promotes the art & excellence in songwriting. For more information on the 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: Berklee, Ken Hirsch, Kate Voegele, Ari Gold, Billboard Charts, Alannah Myles, Pepper Mashay, Grammy Awards, Hal David, Christopher Tin, Raleigh Hall, Amelia Curran, ASON, Gordon Chambers

Inspirational Words From Noted Songwriters And Composers (Part 2)

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, May 16, 2011 @04:10 PM

Desmond Child, Hit Songwriter
Desmond Child, Hit Songwriter

"Live life to the fullest, and then write about it. Dare to suck and put your music out there, and just keep on going" ~ Desmond Child, songwriter of #1 hits such as "Livin’ La Vida Loca", "Livin' On A Prayer" and "You Give Love A Bad Name"

 

"I felt a kinship with country music, because country has lyrics that tell stories" ~ Desmond Child

 

"Don't fall in love with everything you write, many of the times it can be improved" ~ Ken Hirsch, Hit Songwriter of songs such as: “I've Never Been To Me”, “If I Could”, etc and First Prize winner of 15th Annual USA Songwriting Competition

 

"Music is structure out of Chaos" ~ Stephen Sondheim, Lyricist

 

‎"I don't recommend analyzing a market or particular artist too much. Write the best song you can and let the professionals figure out what to do with it" ~ Billy Steinberg, songwriter of #1 Hits "Like a Virgin", "True Colors", "Eternal Flame", "Alone", etc.

 

"I guess you could write a good song if your heart hadn't been broken, but I don't know of anyone whose heart hasn't been broken" ~ Lucinda Williams, songwriter

 

"I'd rather write great songs because the word "commercial" is so subjective" ~ Beth Nielsen Chapman

 

"It's not about record companies, it's about finding other avenues to market your music" ~ Mark Mothersbaugh, songwriter, Devo.

 

"You should listen to songs and listen to what works. Listen to why a song is a hit. Check it out--not to imitate it, but there are certain things that work - hooks and melodies. Hear what works through the ages" ~ Diane Warren

 

"I think there's something strangely musical about noise" ~ Trent Reznor , songwriter, composer, former member of “Nine Inch Nails”.

 

"Songs are your best teachers. I try to learn something from every song I hear" ~ Pat Pattison, Songwriting Professor at Berklee College of Music

 

"Music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music" ~ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

 For more information on the 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, check out: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Berklee, Ken Hirsch, Diane Warren, Pat Pattison, Desmond Child, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Stephen Sondheim, Billy Steinberg, Like A Virgin, Lucinda Williams, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Mark Mothersbaugh, Devo, Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails, I've Never Been To Me