Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tips: Burt Bacharach: How I Write

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Sun, May 19, 2013 @10:53 AM

Burt Bacharach: How I Write

by Noah Charney


Burt Bacharach, legendary songwriter

The great American legendary songwriter, responsible for 73 Top 40 hits on the U.S. charts (That's What Friends Are For, The Look of Love, etc), talks about how he writes a song, and the time Miles Davis complimented him. His new memoir, with Robert Greenfield, is "Anyone Who Had a Heart: My Life and Music". 


 

Walk me through the process of writing a song.

OK. It works different ways. You either work with a lyric first, and set it to music. Like the musical we just had that previewed at the old Globe. All the lyrics came first, and I set the music to it. Or a song like “Alfie,” the lyrics came first because it had to be about what the movie was about. For musicals, we have to move smoothly, seamlessly from dialogue into music, so you can see why it would not be advantageous to write music first in situations like that. But it can happen the other way, too. You can have a melodic refrain, a tune with no lyrics. Even when I’m writing with that, even if I haven’t started working with a collaborator [lyricist] on that particular song, I will begin with dummy lyrics. I’ll just make a lyric up in my head—whatever it may be. It means a lot to me to have words with me, when I’m sitting at the piano. The words should sound good with the notes that I’m singing—that helps me more than just hearing it on the piano. I need something to lead the way ... an instrument, let’s say.

 

How much do you usually write during one session?

I’m not a fast writer. Never have been. I may get the whole synthesis of something, or most of it, an initial impact. But you’re not going to get something every day. But it’s important that you visit your worksite every day, even if it’s just to improvise, touch the piano, play some chords. Be in touch with your music. I equate it with being a tennis player on the circuit. You don’t take three weeks off and expect to get by the first round at Wimbledon, you know?

 

If you feel yourself getting stuck during a recording session, what might you do for inspiration?

I just try to revisit it. I’ve been stuck. So much of the material I’ve done, I’ve made entirely myself—wrote the songs, orchestrated them. I’ve had a room full of musicians in a studio and I’ve gotten stuck on how that record should go down. That’s the key point, because for me the song lives or dies by what happens in the studio. That’s the life-or-death moment of truth. It will either succeed, which means you get as close to perfection from the vocal and orchestra ... you’ll never get 100 percent, but as close to it as possible. When I do get stuck, since I’m responsible for how that record is going down, if there is a moment that’s a bit of a train wreck, I’ll break the orchestra up and go into the men’s room. I’ll sit down inside a cubicle, on the toilet seat, totally away from the keyboard, and try to hear it all in my head. Where it’s faulting. Did the strings come in too early? I’ll hear it better in my head, and then go back into the control room and listen to the recording. It’s the fastest way. It’s worked for me.

 

Do you have any distinctive habit or affectations related to performing?

When I started to perform, I was very nervous. I grew up behind performers in the music business. It never was until I started performing live myself that I had to be in the foreground. Initially, I found it very uncomfortable, especially talking with the audience. I was kind of shy. It’s hard to talk to people! Well, it’s not hard anymore, I’ve been doing it for a long time. Some nights might be more difficult than others. When I used to play Vegas, as a headliner in those early years, I’d have a couple of Jack Daniel’s before going on stage. I wouldn’t think of doing anything like that now. That was just a short crutch at a certain time in my life.

 

Is there any song you just love and wish you had written?

There are any number I wish I’d written! “My Funny Valentine.” Two of my favorite pop songs of all time are “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” from Diana Ross’s record, and the other one would be Earth, Wind & Fire's “After the Love Has Gone.” Brilliant songs.

 

Among your own songs, do you have a favorite?

I would have to say that the importance of what “Alfie” says, its meaning. You can excerpt certain lines out of that song and think to yourself, “How meaningful is that?” In this time and place that we’re in now, “Are we meant to take more than we give, or are we there to be kind?” You know? Isn’t that true?

Absolutely. I’m curious for your thoughts on digital music composition, which is so popular these days, for instance with electronic dance music. Nowadays people can compose music just by sitting in front of their computer.

It’s just ... it works. It’s in the clouds. They’re not great pop songs, they’re not great melodies. There’s a feel to it, and excitement. It’s culture stuff.

 

Describe your morning routine.

A day at my home in L.A., I’d get up at 9:30 or 10. I work out every day, three days a week in a gym with a trainer, doing weights, two days a week in a pool with a pool trainer. When I’m out on the road like this, I stay in hotels with gyms, and I try to stay in shape. My breakfast just arrived! Wow! It’s been hours since I’ve been up today, and I haven’t eaten yet. Let’s put it this way ... I’m not in a normal routine right now.

 

What is guaranteed to make you laugh?

I try to see humor in everything. I try to see the lightness in everything. I try to instill that in my family life, with my kids. It’s a serious world out there, so let’s celebrate lightness and humor.

 

Do you have any superstitions?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I had them with the birth of my daughter, going to the hospital every day, at a certain time, by myself. I don’t have phobias anymore. When I was a kid, I used to make sure the gas jets were turned off three times. Crazy stuff. Thank God we got rid of stuff like gas jets. Ain’t enough time for that in this world!

 

Was there a specific moment when you felt you had “made it” as a songwriter?

Maybe when Miles Davis said to me, “Hey man, ‘Alfie,’ that’s a very good song.” If Miles Davis said to me that I’d written a great song, maybe all was well in the world.

 

What would you like carved onto your tombstone?

“He tried to be a very good person.”

 

 

(This interview has been edited condensed and reprinted from The Daily Beast) 

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

 

Tags: Songwriting, songwriter song writer, Burt Bacharach, process

Songwriting: Top songs by Hal David and Burt Bacharach

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Sep 04, 2012 @10:26 AM

Top songs by Hal David and Burt Bacharach

 

 Hal David, songwriter, lyricist

 Hal wrote first song for bandleader Sammy Kaye and then teamed up with Burt Bacharach to write the biggest hits in Pop history. He has won a Grammy award as well as a Academy Award. He also wrote the lyrics for the following film scores: "Wives and Lovers," "Casino Royale," "April Fools," "Lost Horizon," "After the Fox," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "Oklahoma Crude," "What's New Pussycat?" "Two Gals and a Guy," "Promise Her Anything," "Alfie," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," and "Moonraker". 

The notable songs of Hal David and Burt Bacharach. David died Saturday at age 91:

— "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head"; #1 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"This Guy's in Love with You" ; #1 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts "I'll Never Fall in Love Again"; #1 on UK Charts

—"Do You Know the Way to San Jose"; #10 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"Don't Make Me Over"; #21 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"(They Long to Be) Close to You" ; #1 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"Walk On By"; #6 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"What the World Needs Now Is Love"; #7 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"I Say a Little Prayer"; #4 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"The Story of My Life"; #15 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"Magic Moments"; #4 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me"; #1 on UK Charts

—"One Less Bell to Answer"; #2 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"Anyone Who Had a Heart"; #8 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"What's New Pussycat?"; #3 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"Alfie"; #15 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

—"The Look of Love"; #22 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts

 

His awards include:
1969 - Academy Award (Oscar)\Music (Song Original For the Picture-Butch Cassidy and the Sundace Kid)\Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head
1969 - NARAS\Grammy\Best Original Score From an Original Cast Show Album\Promises, Promises
1969 - NARM\President's Award for Sustained Creative Achievement (with Burt Bacharach)
1969 - B'nai B'rith\Creative Achievement Award (with Burt Bacharach)
1972 - National Academy of Popular Music\Songwriters' Hall of Fame induction
1991 - Lincoln College\Doctor of Music Degree
1996 - National Academy of Popular Music\Johnny Mercer Award (with Burt Bacharach)
1997 - NARAS\Grammy Trustees Award\Burt Bacharach & Hal David
1997 - National Academy of Popular Music Songwriter's Hall of Fame induction
1997 - ASCAP\Founders Award

Hal David Quotes: "Now, how do I go about the business of writing lyrics? I wish I really knew. If I did it would make writing much easier for me. Because I have no formula, sometimes it flows smoothly and other times it is like rowing a boat upstream. Most often a lyric starts with a title. A line in a book I am reading may set me off. Other times some dialogue in a play or a movie becomes the catalyst. More often than not the idea just pops into my head-where it comes from I hardly ever know....In writing I search for believability, simplicity, and emotional impact..." 

"The form of songwriting is very restrictive because it's in a very small frame. But because of its restrictions you get a bonus you couldn't get in any other art form. Because it is in this little microcosm, if it works it should have a greater explosion, a greater impact. And I think that's why songs have a greater effect on the public than almost any other form of creative work."

"I'm a laborer. I never accept my first idea. I always look for a new approach. The most difficult part of the whole process for me is letting go; of saying 'that's the best I can do,' and go on to the next song."

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

Tags: Songwriting, Burt Bacharach, Hal David

Songwriters' Versions Of Original Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Apr 16, 2012 @12:01 PM

Songwriters' Versions Of Original Songs

by Jessica Brandon

Ken Hirsch, songwriter
Ever wondered how the orginal songwriters sounded like? These are versions of various hit songs sung by the orginal songwriters, many of them are not music artists but songwriters.


Diane Warren singing "Look Away" and "I Get Weak". "Look Away" is the name of a 1989 #1 Billboard Hot 100 Chart hit written by Diane Warren. "I Get Weak" is a pop song written by Diane Warren and produced by Rick Nowels for Belinda Carlisle's second album Heaven on Earth. The song reached number 2 on the US Billboard Charts

 

Ken Hirsch performing "I've Never Been To Me" at USA Songwriting Competition showcase's at Bluebird Cafe, Nashville, TN on May 5 2011. He co-wrote this song with Ron Miller (writer of #1 hit ""Touch Me in the Morning"):

 

Shirley Eikhard performing "Something To Talk About", a song that became Bonnie Raitt's biggest hit and highest charted song in her career:

 

Legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach performs "Alfie". "Alfie" is a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David in 1965 most successfully recorded by Cher, Cilla Black and Dionne Warwick.


USA Songwriting Competition promotes the art & excellence in songwriting. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: Ken Hirsch, Diane Warren, Burt Bacharach, Shirley Eikhard, Look Away, I Get Weak, Something To Talk About, Alfie, I've Never Been To Me

Songwriters Burt Bacharach & Hal David Receive Gershwin Prize

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Oct 04, 2011 @06:11 PM

Songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David Receive 2012 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song

Burt Bacharach

The Librarian of Congress announced that Grammy and Academy-Award-winning songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David will join the ranks of Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and Paul McCartney as recipients of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Bacharach and David each will receive the Library’s Gershwin Medal next spring at an all-star tribute in Washington D.C. This will be the fourth time the honor has been awarded and the first time to a songwriting team.

The creators of dozens of hits including "I Say A Little Prayer," "Do You Know the Way To San Jose?," "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," "Walk On By," "What the World Needs Now" and "Alfie," for artists such as Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Jackie DeShannon and Herb Alpert, composer Bacharach and lyricist David are the first songwriting team to be honored with the Gershwin Prize.

"It's a great honor to receive this award and to follow the past recipients, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, it doesn't get any better than this," Bacharach, 83, said in a statement with Thursday's announcement.

In the same statement, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, "Their creative talents have inspired songwriters for more than five decades, and their legacy is much in the tradition of George and Ira Gershwin, for whom this award is named."

The first Bacharach-David song registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress, was "Peggy in the Pantry," dated May 9, 1956. Since their heyday in the 1960s and '70s, Bacharach has teamed for varied projects with other musical partners including Elvis Costello, Don Was and Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers.

(Source: Library of Congress, USA)
The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song:
http://www.loc.gov/about/awardshonors/gershwin/

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

 

Tags: songwriter, Burt Bacharach, Library of Congress, I Say A Little Prayer, David, 2012, Gershwin Prize, Popular Song, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick

Songwriting Tip: You Can Write Better Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 14, 2011 @01:08 PM

You Can Write Better Lyrics by Mark Winkler

 paper

I’ve been writing songs for over 30 years. I’ve had 150 of them cut by famous singers like Liza Minnelli and Dianne Reeves, and written songs for a hit off Broadway musical and have had tunes on the soul, pop, county, dance and jazz charts. But when I started teaching songwriting about seven years ago, I was still surprised to find out that there were simple things my students weren’t doing that could have made their songs a whole lot better.

 

1. Come Up with a 
Great Title

Dianne Warren, who has written more hit songs than anybody writing today, could have replaced the title to her No. 1 song by Toni Braxton, Un-Break My Heart, with the title Please Mend My Heart. It means the same thing. But, it wouldn’t have had one-tenth of the commercial impact. Un-Break My Heart is unique and catchy; you’ve never quite heard that thought expressed that way. But I can’t tell you how many students come to me with the most boring, pedestrian titles on their songs. A great title is more than half the battle; it tells you what to write, it attracts the listener and gets them hooked. Don’t even write word one without a great title!

 

 

2. Be Specific

New lyricists inevitably tend to be vague and non-descriptive with their words.
The best way I know how to illustrate “being specific” is through a song written by one of the greatest lyricists of all time, Johnny Mercer. In the movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn, playing a country girl who’s come to the big, bad city, is having a moment of doubt on a Manhattan fire escape, when she sings these lyrics from the Academy Award winning song Moon River: “We’re after the same rainbow’s end Waiting ’round the bend My _____ friend, Moon River and me.”

Now, she didn’t sing “good old country” friend or “gee you’re such a” friend, although both fit the line and are correct descriptions of her friend. No, Johnny Mercer had her sing “Huckleberry” friend. He couldn’t have been more specific. Huckleberries grow by the river, a country girl would know that, and it also has literary echoes of Huckleberry Finn, who was a country boy who ran away from home. So here we have one word that lifts the whole song up to another level.

 

 

3. It’s the Music, Stupid

I’ve learned no matter how good the lyric is, if the music is bad the lyric can’t save it. So you need to find yourself a great melody writer. But here’s the catchРРyou won’t find one unless you’re a wonderful lyric writer. And most professional melody writers know a good lyricist faster than you can say “prosody!” Al Kasha, my first lyric writing teacher and winner of two Academy Awards, said: “A great melody can take you into the Top 10, but a great lyric coupled with a great melody will allow you to stay there.”

 

 

4. Writing is Re-Writing

Ask any professional songwriter what sep-arates him from an amateur and he’ll say it’s his ability to rewrite. But so many of my students come in with their “precious” first drafts thinking every word is gold. They think this because it came to them during a moment of “inspiration.” I’m all for inspiration, but “perspiration” is much better. Keep coming back to the lyric until it’s as close to perfect as you can make it. Remember, it’s not the quantity of songs you write, but the quality.

 

 

5. What You Say Counts

Anyone can learn the techniques it takes to write a song. But not everyone has something truly unique to say. When I started out in songwriting, for some reason the teacher really liked my songs. Looking back on those days, I realize that it must have been because of my “content,” because back then my songs didn’t have much technique. While other people were bringing in their latest, perfectly rhymed, yet anonymous odes to love and dreams and sunshine, I was bringing in my roughly written songs about The Great Gatsby and moonlight cruises and my mother who was a singer with a big band. Unconsciously, I was doing something right. I was writing about what I knew and things nobody else had written about.

 

 

6. Step Away from Your Piano or Guitar

Burt Bacharach, who writes some of the most complex and sophisticated melodies of all time, says that when he’s writing a new melody he purposely writes it away from his piano. His thought is that if the melody stands up being sung a cappella, the chords and arrangement will only make it sound that much better. Too many writers get mesmerized by their chord selection and think they can fix anything with fancy arrangement ideas.

 

 

7. A Song is Not a Poem

One of the easiest ways I can tell if a lyricist is an amateur is if the person asks me to read their poetry. Lyrics are not poems. Though they share many things in commonРРcadence (the rhythm of the line), rhyme, etc.РРthere are in fact many differences. Songs are meant to be sung, so avoid hard-to-pronounce words and incompatible consonants. Songs are meant to be understood quickly; popular songs generally use only two distinct formsРРverse/chorus and aaba.

 

 

8. Your Lyrics Must Sing

This would seem to be a no-brainer. But the longer I teach songwriting the more I realize that the way the lyricist sets the words to the melody is as important as the content of the song. Your lyric must strive to be conversational. If you hit a high note, it should be on an open vowel. And if your melody goes down, don’t ever say the phrase “pick myself up.”

 

 

9. Need I Repeat—Repetition Works

One of the big differences in Top 40 pop and hip-hop music today is the number of “hooks” that are in each song. In the past, perhaps a pop song would have the title repeat any number of times (from one to four) in the chorus and that’s it. But in today’s era of producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin, from the time the song starts there are any number of repetitive hooks. They range from the repetition of the title to melodic hooks played instrumentally, to “nonsense syllables” to secondary hooks in the chorus.

 

 

10. Know Your Genre

As a songwriter, you have the luxury of writing in more than one format. Diane Warren has had hits in pop, AC, country and dance. But, each genre has its own strict rules and you must know them to succeed. For example, you can get away with imperfect rhyming in pop and hip-hop, but in musical theatre and cabaret you can’t. In country you must be very clear in what your saying, while if you’re writing songs for a rock group a la Coldplay or Kings of Leon you can be more metaphorical and artsy.

 

 

With over 150 of his songs recorded by artists in many genres of music, Mark Winkler is a sought-after songwriter and lyricist who has taught his highly rated “Craft of Lyric Writing” course at UCLA for five years. Winkler has developed a unique songwriting method and has successfully offered it to his students in any genre, including pop, rock, country, R&B and jazz, helping them to craft unique, professional songs and lyrics. He offers private lessons in person at his studio or via online Skype classes. Contact him at [email protected]

 

This article is reprinted with permission from the April 2011 issue of Music Connection magazine.Music Connection logo 72

Tags: Songwriting Tip, Burt Bacharach, Write Better Lyrics, Music Connection Magazine, Liza Minnelli, Dianne Reeves, Toni Braxton, Dianne Warren

Top 10 Songwriting Teams

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 26, 2010 @06:41 PM

These are the top songwriting teams/collaborations. When you put two or more heads together, you may come up with a hit or two.

1. Paul McCartney & John Lennon
With pop anthems such like "Yesterday" and Let It Be". Lennon & McCartney is argubly the best songwriting collaboraion in the world. With a resume of the best selling band in the world and the most successful songwriter of all-time (McCartney). This dynamic duo tops the list. 

 

2. Rodgers and Hammerstein
Richard Rodgers (1902 - 1979) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895 - 1960) were a well-known American songwriting duo, usually referred to as Rodgers and Hammerstein. With musicals such as "The Sound of Music" and "South Pacific", their songs have made into the mainstream Pop and became household names.


 Burt Bacharach and Hal David
3. Burt Bacharach and Hal David
With hits such as: "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head", "This Guy's in Love with You", "I'll Never Fall in Love Again", "Do You Know the Way to San Jose", "Walk On By", "What the World Needs Now Is Love", "I Say a Little Prayer", "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me", "One Less Bell to Answer", and "Anyone Who Had a Heart".

4. Elton John & Bernie Taupin
Elton has made magic with lyricist Taupin and wrote hits such as "Your Song" and Candle In the Wind". In fact the only time he didn't use Bernie was his "Victim of Love" album which resulted with no hits.

 

5. Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
With hits such as "Hound Dog", "Stand By Me" and Jailhouse Rock". They have written the soundtrack of the 50's and beyond.

 

6. Holland, Dozier, Holland
Holland-Dozier-Holland is a songwriting and production team made up of Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian Holland and Edward Holland, Jr. They are one of the greatest songwriting teams in pop music. The trio wrote and arranged many of the songs making up the Motown sound that dominated American popular music in the 1960s with hits such as "Heat Wave", "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)", "You Can't Hurry Love" and more.

 

 

7. Carole King & Gerry Goffin
With iconic hits such as "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", "Up on the Roof" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman".

 

 

8. Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
With pop anthems such as You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'", "Never Gonna Let You Go", "Make Your Own Kind of Music". This husband and wife team went on to create songs for numerous contemporary artists, winning a number of Grammy Awards and Academy Award nominations for their compositions for film.

 

9. Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman
Also known collectively as "Stock Aitken Waterman", this UK team has written #1 80's iconic hits such as: "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley, "Respectable" by Mel and Kim, and more.

 

10. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis
They have written hits for Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Mary J Blige, etc.
 

 

This article is brought to you by USA Songwriting Competition. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

 

 

 


Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, Top 10 Songwriting Team, Top 10 Songwriting Collaborations, John Lennon, Hal David, Rodgers, Hammerstein