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[Songwriting Advice] How to hack the songwriting process

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jun 08, 2018 @06:30 PM

How to hack the songwriting process

by Ged Richardson
WhatItTakesToWriteAHitSong
Songwriting is as old as the hills, so writing songs should be straight forward enough right? Wrong! Penning a song that stands the test of time and resonates with an audience is one of the hardest things to do. You need to boil down the essence of a feeling, or a mood, or an emotion into a 3 or so minute song.

Fortunately our friends over at Zing Instruments have been studying songwriting for some time and have come up with some ‘hacks’ that help accelerate the songwriting process.

There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank piece of paper. Starting the process of writing a new song can take just as long as finishing it - give one or all of these a try and see if they work!

Write the beat and melody first and lyrics last
There’s nothing that wastes time quite like writing a set of great lyrics and then discovering that there’s no way you can fit that many syllables into one verse. If you know how many beats you have to fill, that’s half the job done for you.

Writing the melody before the actual words is also a great way to accelerate your songwriting. Since you’ll know how a particular lyric is going to sound, it’s easier to fit the meaning to the music. After all, can you imagine if the “happy birthday” song was set to extremely atonal jazz? The lyrics must fit the mood.

It’s also an easy way to make dissonance your friend. The Smiths were particularly adept at writing overwhelmingly cheerful sounding music that emphasised the melancholic tone of Morrissey's vocals. 

 
Switch from 4/4 time signatures
If you’re really stuck for ideas, doing nothing more than changing up the time signature for a few bars will help you draw attention to hook lines and connect different parts of your song structure together. The simplest way to do this is to simply kill every instrument, guitar pedal and the rest, except for the drums and have that switch to 6/8 timing for a brief moment, before reverting back to 4/4.

 
Use Chord Inversions
Everyone is used to hearing chords in their typical form, with the root note being the deepest and each tone going up in pitch. To instantly make any chord progression more interesting, simply invert it so that the root note is the highest, and the fifth is the deepest. This takes no extra work at all and can instantly help you to progress with writing a song as it gives you an easy way to switch up your bass line and add flavour to an otherwise dull song.

Modulation for faster variety
On the second or third verse of a song, it can be a little dull to stick with the same old progression. However, since writing a whole new sequence is going to take just as much time as the first one, switch to the relative minor or major scale of the one you were using before. To do this, take the 6th note of the major scale and use that as the root note for the relative minor. Now you can write the exact same sequence, but using the intervals of the new scale instead. This is handy for making a moodier reprise of an early part of your song.

Leave sections blank
This might not sound like you’re actually writing a song, but bear with us here. Instead of painstakingly writing out the entirety of a solo, leave a bar or two completely empty. If your guitarist (or whoever will be doing the solo) is competent at improvisation, this is a great way to give them a chance to show off their technical skills without getting too far away from the overall character of the song. If they don’t know how to improvise, make sure that they know the major and minor scales of the key at the very least and let them loose. Since it’s only a couple of bars, it won’t be difficult or particularly noticeable if done poorly.

This is also a great way to make each gig unique, which dedicated fans will love.


Outline the structure first
Instead of writing each part of the song in sequence, develop the overall direction first. If you know what each piece of the song has to accomplish, then it’s much quicker to write those parts in detail. This way, you don’t suddenly realise halfway through the writing process that the last bar of the chorus doesn’t actually work with the first bar of the next verse, and vice versa.

The theories of cadence and voice leading are particularly useful here, as you can simply jot down some of the basics to refer to whilst writing a song.


Learn to read and write music
Many guitarists, bassists and other non-classical instrument players are more used to reading tablature than staff notation. However, developing fluency with this method of writing music allows you to apply your musical knowledge much more easily as you can visually see the development of music. Tablature is great for quickly teaching other people how to play a song, but as a songwriter you need to know why it sounds that way.

Staff notation helps with this, as you can easily see how the notes relate to each other tonally. It’s also much quicker to write once you’re fluent, and will contain absolutely everything you need to know about a piece of music when done properly. This eliminates a lot of the guesswork that can crop up after you’ve written a piece of music and forgotten some of the more subtle details about how it sounded in your head.

In Summary
Armed with these tricks, your songwriting skills will change practically overnight. It doesn’t matter if you apply all of them at once (although that isn’t entirely practical) or try them out a few at a time. Your own process is going to be a factor in this, so perhaps some of them won’t be entirely applicable. Don’t fret about this, just do the ones that feel ‘right’ to you.
 
 
Ged Richardson is founder and editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments, a music blog dedicated to helping teach 1 million people how to play music and connect with their creative side (to find their 'Zing'). https://zinginstruments.com/

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Re-writing, chord progression, structure, Modulation, Chord Inversions, time signatures, beats, Melody

[Songwriting Advice] Choosing the Chords That Work With Your Melody

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 02, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Choosing the Chords That Work With Your Melody
by Gary Ewer

Choosing the Chords That Work.jpg

You’ll notice that when you’ve got a melody, the notes of that melody imply the chords you’re likely to use. That’s not to say that you’ve got no choice in the matter, of course. For every chord you might use, there is a list of chords that could serve as substitutes. Just as an example, here’s two versions of the opening of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” each version using different chords:

VERSION 1: I  I6  |IV  I6  |V  I  |V  V7  I|| (C  C/E  |F  C/E  |G  C  |G  G7  C||)

VERSION 2: vi  iii  |V/V  V4-2/V  V6  |  IV6  I6-4  |  ii6  V  I  ||
(Am  Em  |D  D7/C  G/B  |F/A  C/G  |Dm/F  G  C  ||)


When songwriters get stuck at the chord progression stage — where they just don’t know what chords they’re supposed to be using — the main cause of the distress is a simple one: forgetting to listen to the melody!

The notes of your melody are going to be the main guide. After considering the notes, you then need to know a bit of chord theory. Not much, actually, just these following points:

  1.     Good pop chord progressions make great use of the circle of fifths. If you’re not sure how that works, give this article a read: “The Circle of Fifths Progression: Making It Relevant for Songwriters.” All that’s meant by this is that for most progressions, you’ll find many spots where the distance between the roots of adjacent chords is a 5th, like this progression: C  F  Dm  G  C. From C down to F is a 5th; from Dm down to G is a 5th; and from G down to C is a 5th. This is a vital part of good chord structure.
  2.     Good pop chord progressions target the tonic chord. The tonic chord is the one representing the key of your song. If your chorus is in C major (like the bit of “Twinkle Twinkle” I used at the beginning of this article), C is the tonic chord. Chord progressions should (usually) seek out that chord. They’ll often start on the tonic, wander away, but immediately try to find it again. In the progression C  F  Dm  G  C, you can hear the progression trying to find that tonic C chord again, certainly by the time you’ve reached Dm.
  3.     Good pop chord progressions tend to make most of the chords change on strong beats. To find the strong beats, simply tap your foot to the music. Your musical brain will automatically sort it out. Your foot will go down on a strong beat, and up on a weak beat. Start adding chords on strong beats.
  4.     Good pop chord progressions honour the function of the chords. Chord function can be a tricky concept, but for pop music, it tends to be rather simple, and you can get away with considering three basic functions: the tonic function, the pre-dominant function and the dominant function. The tonic function is typically represented by the tonic (I) and sometimes the vi-chord, the pre-dominant function by the IV or ii-chord, and the dominant function by the V-chord. Each function has a list of substitutes that can be used. To learn more about this, read “Creating Good Progressions: It’s All About Chord Function.”


You’ll find that occasionally putting a chord on a weak beat works well. In VERSION 1 above, the final bar has a chord on beat 1 (a strong beat), beat 2 (a weak beat) and then the final chord on beat 3 (another strong beat).
Don’t Forget to Listen!

There’s a lot of experimenting that goes into creating a chord progression for your melody. Here’s a summary of points to remember:

  1.    Listening carefully to the melody is the most important part about adding chords. Discover the notes your melody uses. Look at each strong beat, and then look at the weak beat that follows.
  2.     The chords you choose should use the strong beat note and most (not necessarily all) of the weak beat notes.
  3.     As you work out your progression, keep in mind the need for many adjacent chords to use roots that are a 5th from each other, and use the tonic as a musical target.
  4.     Find songs that you like and play or sing through the melody slowly without chords. Then play the chords and sing the melody. Notice how the progression targets the tonic, and make note of where the chords change. Most of the time, you’ll notice those changes happening on strong beats.

    Read more in Gary Ewer’s book, Beating Songwriter’s Block. Visit beatingsongwritersblock.halleonardbooks.com and enter the discount code AP2 at checkout to receive 20% off the list price and free domestic shipping (least expensive method)!

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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7 Beatles Secrets about Songwriting I wish I'd Discovered Decades Sooner

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 10, 2018 @08:00 AM

7 Beatles Secrets about Songwriting I wish I'd Discovered Decades Sooner (Part 2)

by Jessica Brandon
Beatles.jpg

The song writing styles of John Lennon and Paul McCartney not only differ from each other fundamentally, but also change over time, affected and influenced by each other.  The songwriting partnership between Lennon and McCartney is extremely legendary. They employed so many tricks that anyone can add to their songwriting arsenal. Here are some secrets and tricks of the Beatles:
 
 
1. Change up your chorus
This shows up in their hit "She Loves You". Unusually, the song starts with the hook right away, instead of introducing it after a verse or two. "She Loves You" does not include a bridge, instead using the refrain to join the various verses. The chords tend to change every two measures, and the harmonic scheme is mostly static.
 
 
2. All Blues to Your Melody
When recording “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, On Track 3, McCartney played bass while Harrison played the Bass VI, sometimes doubling McCartney's bass line and sometimes playing full chords. (This capability was one of the benefits of the Bass VI; it could be played as a bass or as a regular 6-string guitar.)
 
 
3. Mode mixture & Delay The Root Chord
"Eleanor Rigby" is played mainly in staccato chords with melodic embellishments.
 
The song is a prominent example of mode mixture, specifically between the Aeolian mode, also known as natural minor, and the Dorian mode. Set in E minor, the song is based on the chord progression Em-C, typical of the Aeolian mode and utilising notes ♭3, ♭6, and ♭7 in this scale. The verse melody is written in Dorian mode, a minor scale with the natural sixth degree. "Eleanor Rigby" opens with a C-major vocal harmony ("Aah, look at all ..."), before shifting to E-minor (on "lonely people"). The Aeolian C-natural note returns later in the verse on the word "dre-eam" (C-B) as the C chord resolves to the tonic Em, giving an urgency to the melody's mood.
 
The Dorian mode appears with the C# note (6 in the Em scale) at the beginning of the phrase "in the church". The chorus beginning "All the lonely people" involves the viola in a chromatic descent to the 5th; from 7 (D natural on "All the lonely peo-") to 6 (C♯ on "-ple") to ♭6 (C on "they) to 5 (B on "from"). This is said to "add an air of inevitability to the flow of the music (and perhaps to the plight of the characters in the song)".
 
 
4. Use non-diatonic chords and secondary dominants & Utilise The Outside Chord
"Strawberry Fields Forever" was originally written on acoustic guitar in the key of C major. The recorded version is approximately in B♭ major; owing to manipulation of the recording speed, the finished version is not in standard pitch (some, for instance, consider that the tonic is A). The introduction is played on a Mellotron, and involves a I–ii–I–♭VII–IV progression. The vocals enter with the chorus instead of a verse. In fact we are not "taken down" to the tonic key, but to "non-diatonic chords and secondary dominants" combining with "chromatic melodic tension intensified through outrageous harmonization and root movement".
 
“I Want To Hold Your Hand’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ Voice leading in the Plagal cadence Here is a summary of the action in a IV–I change (in the key of C), highlighting the important ‘inner’ voice leading.”
 
 
5. Restate Your Lyrics
Lennon's lyrics "A Day in the Life" were inspired by contemporary newspaper articles, including a report on the death of Guinness heir Tara Browne. John Lennon wrote the melody and most of the lyrics to the verses of "A Day in the Life" in mid January 1967. Soon afterwards, he presented the song to Paul McCartney, who contributed a middle-eight section.
 
 
6. Take Risks
Example: Here There and Everywhere(1966)
In many ways, the opposite of Eleanor Rigby in that it is rich and complex harmonically speaking.  The first time Paul really spreads his compositional wings and takes bigger risks with ascending major chord sequence.
 
The introduction beginning "To lead a better life" opens in the key of G and involves a I–iii–♭III–ii–V7 chord progression. The ♭III (B♭ chord) on "I need my love to be here" (arpeggiated in the melody line) is a dissonant substitute for the more predictable VI (E7) that would normally lead to the ii (Am) chord.
 
 
7. Change of Keys from Minor to Major
The song as originally issued by the Beatles is in the key of A minor, changing to A major over the bridges. Aside from the intro, the composition is structured into two rounds of verse and bridge, with an instrumental passage extending the second of these verse sections, followed by a final verse and a long instrumental passage that fades out on the released recording. All the sections consist of an even sixteen bars or measures, which are divided into four phrases.
 
The chord progression over the verses includes a shift to a ♭7 (Am/G) on "all" (bass note G) and a 6 (D9 (major 3rd F♯)) after "love" (bass note F♯) to a ♭6 (Fmaj7) on "sleeping" (bass note F). According to musicologist Dominic Pedler, the 8–♭7–6–♭6 progression represents a hybrid of the Aeolian and Dorian modes. The change to the parallel major key is heralded by a C chord as the verse's penultimate chord (replacing the D used in the second phrase of each verse) before the E that leads into the bridge. Musicologist Alan Pollack views this combination of C and E as representing a sense of "arrival", after which the bridge contains "upward [harmonic] gestures" that contrast with the bass descents that dominate the verse. Such contrasts are limited by the inclusion of minor triads (III, VI and II) played over the E chord that ends the bridge's second and fourth phrases.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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[Songwriting Advice] Some Tips on Editing and Re-writing A Lyric

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 03, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Some Tips on Editing and Re-writing A Lyric
by Cliff Goldmacher

TomKimmel.jpg
I’d like to introduce you to Tom Kimmel. Along with releasing several major label albums as an artist himself, Tom has written songs covered by Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt and Randy Travis among others. Tom’s insights into the lyric-writing process are well worth a good read. Enjoy!

Re-writing A Lyric.jpg

For some of us, a lyric rushes out into the world before we can think much about it and sometimes it’s a fine lyric, just as it is. Other times, even if we feel a strong personal connection with the lyric, it could be strengthened with a little work.

On the other hand, often a lyric comes in dribs and drabs, and once we have a complete draft we might be so relieved that we declare it finished prematurely.

In both cases, a lyric might benefit from a fresh perspective and a willingness to tinker a little.Songwriting Tips

Ted Kooser, one of my favorite poets, says that even when one of his poems comes out in one piece he still plays with it a bit to see if it might be improved. He hastens to add, however, that no matter how much or how little re-writing the poem requires, he wants it to read as if it flowed from the pen.

We songwriters have a similar goal. We want our songs to slide by easily without calling too much attention to themselves even if the lyric has real content and depth. To that end, there are a couple of references I return to.

When I’m re-writing a lyric I first ask myself if the song has what I call a strong through the door factor. In other words, I want the words to sound good and to sing well so well, in fact, that if someone heard the song through the door they’d enjoy it!

In order to achieve that, I may record a working version of the song-in-progress and listen to it softly or from a distance not analyzing the words, but listening for the sound and flow of the words. Do the words seem to roll off the tongue or do I stumble over certain sounds, words or phrases?

Chances are that if a lyric doesn’t sound good from the other side of the door, it won’t sound good up close either. So, in my book, it’s very important that a lyric sound and feel good. If it doesn’t, I can begin my re-write by asking these questions:

1. Do the syllables I emphasize when singing my lyric coincide with the notes emphasized in my melody? If not, I’ll try to adjust.

2. Do the number or words or syllables I’m placing in my lines and phrases make it easy for me to sing the song? If I’m cramming in too many syllables in a line or phrase, I can experiment with simplifying by making my phrasing less busy.

3. Likewise, I may need to add words or syllables to more closely coincide with notes of melody that I’m emphasizing.

4. Are most of the vowel sounds in my words easy to sing? For example, I’m probably going to avoid placing the words hat or it over a very high note!

Of course, strong lyrical content is extremely important to most songwriters, so the second way I approach a re-write or edit is by examining how the lyric unfolds as the song develops. I may ask myself, “Does my lyric and song unfold in a way that is satisfying, that holds the listener’s attention as well as my own?”

To consider this when I coach songwriters and lead workshops, I suggest that a song is very much like a three act play. Some of the story – be it a literal tale or an emotional or spiritual narrative – is revealed in the first act, which most often is the song’s first verse and chorus. The second act usually the second verse and chorus is a new beginning; more of the story is introduced and then summed up in the second chorus. The remainder of the story is then told in the third act often the bridge and final chorus.

In my own work, if I then see that I reveal too much, too soon in my songI make changes. One technique espoused by a friend of mine is to take the first verse and make it the second verse… and to write a new first verse that is more of a prologue… so that the story has somewhere to go! Likewise if the song is slow to develop, I have the option of trying my second verse as the first verse. Experiment!

Bottom line: a song is not a painting. It doesn’t exist all at once. It has a beginning, middle and end, and it needs to flow, rise and fall throughout its lifespan. (In filmmaking they call this advancing the narrative.)

So let’s say I’ve got my song sounding good and I’ve got my story unfolding in a nice way. There’s still one question I ask about my lyric and that is, “Are all the lines in my lyric relevant to my theme?” In other words, does my whole lyric support the point or theme of my song? If I have some filler lines or phrases I’ll probably want to work on the song a bit more.

Finally, I have found that considering the above questions gives me a context for my writing. There are numerous details I can attend to, but if I don’t place the work of re-writing into this larger context, then all my work on the details likely won’t bring about the hoped for result.

In closing, I’ll share a technique I use over and over in the process of finishing or re-writing. If I’ve come to feel that I’ve been trying too hard to complete something that I’m using too much mental muscle because I’ve lost the creative thread then it’s important that I step away from the song, let it rest and come back to it fresh.

The single most helpful way I know to do this is to make a rough recording of the song, singing only the words I’m happy with and humming in places that might need a stronger lyric. It’s important that I don’t force words that don’t sound right or make sufficient sense. Then and this is keyI listen to my rough recording at bedtime. (And by that I mean listen last thing before I turn off the light.)

It’s amazing how often the right words will bubble up from the subconscious the next day… or soon thereafter.
 

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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[Songwriting Advice] How to Write Song Hooks That “Hook” You in

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 05, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] How to Write Song Hooks That “Hook” You in
by Jason Blume

How to Write Song Hooks.jpg

The more you have, the better your chances of having a hit...

What constitutes a hook? Any element of a song that grabs a listener’s attention and “hooks” them in. With there being so much competition for our listeners’ attention, including multiple hooks throughout our songs has become more important than ever.

According to an article in The Atlantic magazine, “A short-attention-span culture demands short-attention-span songs. The writers of Tin Pan Alley and Motown had to write only one killer hook to get a hit. Now you need a new high every seven seconds—the average length of time a listener will give a radio station before changing the channel.” In that same article, Jay Brown, co-founder of Jay Z’s Roc Nation label, was quoted as saying, “It’s not enough to have one hook anymore. You’ve got to have a hook in the intro, a hook in the pre, a hook in the chorus, and a hook in the bridge, too.” Mega-hit songwriter/producer Ester Dean, with hits by artists including Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, echoed this sentiment almost word for word.

Note that some people refer to a song’s chorus as its hook, using the word “chorus” and “hook” interchangeably. But hooks can be in any section of a song. Let’s take a look at some of the various types of hooks we can incorporate into our songs.

Instrumental Hooks
Including musical hooks—catchy melodic phrases that repeat throughout our songs and do not include lyrics—can help keep our listeners engaged. In some instances, such as those listed below, an instrumental lick serves as the heartbeat of the song.

It would be hard to find a more iconic musical hook than the one that is the basis of the Rolling Stone’s seminal hit “Satisfaction” (written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards). Keith Richards’ driving guitar lick is every bit as memorable as the melodies Mick Jagger sings.

“Layla” (recorded by Derek and the Dominos and written by Eric Clapton and James Beck Gordon) is fueled by Clapton’s iconic lick. This musical motif is heard during the song’s intro and repeatedly throughout the chorus. It is interesting to note that the song ends with an entirely different instrumental segment.

Notice the use of multiple instrumental hooks in Vanessa Carlton’s self-penned hit “A Thousand Miles.” The song opens with an instantly identifiable musical phrase played on piano. It also features a piano interlude between the lines sung in the verses, as well as an additional hook (played by strings) in the pre-chorus.

A strong case could be made that in the aforementioned songs, the instrumental hooks are the songs’ most memorable and important components.

Signature Licks
In many cases the musical hook is introduced at the onset of the song. In these cases, they can also be considered signature licks. In my article for BMI’s The Weekly I defined a signature lick as a memorable melodic motif—an instantly recognizable musical phrase—that is heard at the beginning of the song. It is also sometimes heard throughout the song, especially during the turnaround, the musical interlude between the end of the first chorus and the subsequent verse.

Unique Instrumentation
The instruments chosen to perform a riff or a lick can make a major contribution to the song sounding hooky and differentiating itself from the competition. The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” is a prime example. It features a catchy lick paired with the sound of an electro-theremin to create a hook that played a big role in propelling the song to countless critics’ “Greatest Songs of All Time” lists.

An excellent example of a musical hook made more memorable by the sound of the instruments playing it can be heard in Little Big Town’s first #1 single and CMA Country Song of the Year, “Pontoon” (written by Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, and Luke Laird). The catchy lick, played by a mandolin and mellotron synthesizer, is heard during the song’s introduction, throughout the verses, and in the song’s turnaround.

In American Idol winner - Phillip Phillips’ “Home” (written by Phillips with Drew Pearson and Greg Holden) an instrumental section essentially takes the place of a chorus and is the most unforgettable part of the song. It is interesting to note that the melody of this section is performed primarily by vocals singing the syllables “ooh” and “ahh” and includes no other lyrics.

“Wipe Out” (written by Bob Berryhill, Pat Connolly, Jim Fuller, and Ron Wilson, and performed by the Surfaris and covered by the Ventures), one of the most recognizable songs from the sixties, was probably most famous for its use of a drum pattern as a hook.

Another instantly identifiable drum pattern serves as an exceptionally effective hook in Imagine Dragons’ “Believer” (written by Daniel Reynolds, Justin Tranter, Benjamin Arthur McKee, Daniel Wayne Sermon, Robin Lennard Fredriksson, and Mattias Per Larsson). This pattern provides a melodic hook throughout the entire song, except for the breakdown section.

Non-Lyric Vocal Hooks
Sounds such as “ah,” “oh,” “ooh,” “hey,” and “I” can create powerful hooks when sung to memorable melodies. One of the most memorable elements in the Bee Gees’ disco classic “Stayin’ Alive” (written by Maurice, Barry, and Robin Gibb) comes each time they sing the phrase “ah ah, ah ah,” followed by the title.

Nonsense syllables, such as “rah rah, ah-ah-ah, ro mah ro-mah-mah,” and “Gaga oh-la-la,” are sung by Lady Gaga to establish an utterly unique hook that burns into listeners’ brains in her massive #1 hit “Bad Romance” (written by Lady Gaga and Nadir “RedOne” Khayat).

And there is no overestimating the contribution of “yeah, yeah, yeah” to the Beatles’ “She Loves You” (written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney).

Catchy Rhythms
Listen to the songs referenced below and you’ll hear how unique rhythms can become a song’s most hooky element. The syncopated rhythms heard throughout Jason Mraz’s breakthrough single “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” (written by Mraz with Lauren Fownes, Scott Spock, and Graham Edwards) create a hook in and of themselves.

The catchiest, most memorable moment in the Supremes’ iconic hit, “Stop! In the Name of Love” (written by Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, and Eddie Holland) is the pause after the word “stop.”

A “Money Note”
An unexpected, ear-grabbing note can serve as a powerful hook. The “money note,” as it is sometimes called, refers to that “wow” note that can be largely attributed to a song’s success. It can be a high or low note, as long as it demands attention. For a great example, listen to the low note that accompanies the word “low” in Garth Brooks’ “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” (written by Dewayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee).

Lyric Hooks
While most people associate hooks with melodic elements, lyrics can be hooky, too. A compelling story that keeps a listener waiting to learn what happens can keep our audience hooked in. Great examples of story songs include “Ol’ Red,” recorded by George Jones, Blake Shelton, Kenny Rogers, and written by Don Goodman, Mark Sherrill, and James Bohan) and “Lola” (recorded by The Kinks and written by Ray Davies).

A unique title or a phrase within the lyric can also serve as a hook. Listen to Sugarland’s clever “It Happens” (written by Kristian Bush, Bobby Pinson, and Jennifer Nettles) to hear an exceptional example of a lyric hook.
 
Summary
Note that in all of the referenced songs the hooks are heard repeatedly. While we want to serve up multiple hooks, we also want those hooks to repeat throughout the song, so they become familiar to the listeners.
 
Whether your hooks are comprised of memorable instrumental phrases, unique sounds, nonsense syllables, unexpected rhythms, attention-grabbing titles, money notes, they are the tools you can use to hook in your listeners—and keep them on the line.
 

[Reprinted by permission from BMI]

Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on three GRAMMY-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies.

Information on the 23nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, pitching songs, Jason Blume, hooks, Instrumental Hooks, Catchy Rhythm

[Songwriting Tips] Finding Time to Write

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Feb 01, 2018 @08:00 AM

[Songwriting Tips] Finding Time to Write

By Sara Light
Finding Time to Write.jpg

 

Sara and her husband Danny have been contributing articles on songwriting for a few years on our blog. In this latest edition, Sara talks about taking the time to write songs - which many songwriters today can certainly relate to her.

“Who will free me from hurry, flurry, the feeling of a crowd pushing behind me, of being hustled and crushed? How can I regain even for a minute the feeling of ample leisure I had during my early, my creative years? Then I seldom felt fussed, or hurried. There was time for work, for play, for love, the confidence that if a task was not done at the appointed time, I easily could fit it into another hour. I used to take leisure for granted, as I did time itself.”  — Bernard Berenson, Sunset and Twilight, from the Diaries of 1947-1958

I am finding that the older I get, the more difficult it is to feel unencumbered. I do not have the same sense I did in my 20’s and 30’s of having the time or energy to follow my muse, explore my own interests, or even rest my mind.  The tasks that I commit to now, even the ones I voluntarily choose, come with a sense of heaviness;  How will I fit that in to my schedule? What do I prioritize today? If I do THIS, it’ll take away from THAT.

I’m beginning 2018 pretty well. I’m back to starting most days with a yoga video and green tea BEFORE I check my schedule, answer my emails and walk my dog. I’m even on a streak with my Head space meditation app and I’m finally able to turn off my brain at night and get some deep sleep. And, check this out, I’m writing a blog entry (an activity that I enjoy, but usually fits into the “how will I fit that into my schedule today?” category).

Some of the lessons I find that are working for me this year that I haven’t tried in the past are:

  •      Doing a little bit consistently can be as satisfying as going “all in”.  This is a good one for songwriters. If you only have a couple of minutes to work on a song today, do that. Don’t wait until you have half a day to devote to writing a whole new song. If you think one new title today call that your day’s work and let yourself feel accomplished.
  •     Good is good enough.  Perfection isn’t a mandatory requirement. Just get the job done the best you can in the time you have and move on. Don’t berate yourself for not doing something exactly the way you imagined.  This frees up a lot of time.
  •     Deadlines are often flexible.  I have been noticing that a lot of the people around me also feel crunched for time. Because of that, they often are more than happy to move around appointments and extend deadlines. They, too, have a million other things they can fit into that slot.  Flexibility reduces stress.
  •     Take a break from social media. Yikes, lately, I have been seeing so many articles about the addictive (aka drug-like) qualities of those pings and likes and notifications. It wasn’t a coincidence that on my birthday this year, as much as I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the sweet notes and well-wishes throughout the day on Facebook, I also left my notebook with my favorite recipes on a shelf in the grocery store (never to be recovered), threw my dog’s leash out with the trash and generally walked around with fog-brain as if I were hung-over.  This week, I resisted the urge to post a cute picture of my daughter hugging our dog in the unusually snowy day in Nashville. That meant that I also missed seeing all the  photos of my friends’ kids. But the payoff was additional time and FOCUS.
    “The only way past it, is through it.”   This is my new mantra every time my procrastination instinct kicks in. I got this one from an interview by Gretchen Rubin of writer Greer Hendricks .
 
About Sara Light
Sara Light has been writing professionally in Nashville since 1996. Her credits include the John Michael Montgomery title track and the hit single "Home To You" which received an ASCAP airplay award in addition to being named SESAC song of the year for having garnered 2 million spins on radio. She also composed songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy, The Musical" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score." Sara has always combined her love of teaching with her love of songwriting and has given countless songwriting seminars throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 2001 she co-founded, along with her husband Danny Arena, the online educational website www.SongU.com. Besides being one of the main administrators (and now bloggers) Sara teaches Song Feedback and Lyric Writing at www.SongU.com

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, Co-Writing Songs, music publisher, record label, Rewrite, Sara Light

Top Ten tips for Entering Songwriting Competitions

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Sun, Jan 07, 2018 @07:24 PM

Top Ten tips for Entering Songwriting Competitions

By Jamie Anderson & Ira Greenfield
Innovative-Songwriting-Process.jpg

Most people think that entering Songwriting Competitions have to be a pain-inducing experience that’s akin to getting a root canal. The truth is that many songs that have done well have taken steps to make sure the songs sound good.  You’ll discover when you read through these 10 tips on entering songwriting competitions doesn’t have to be a long and complicated process. In fact, you probably have all the knowledge you need to write a great song now.
 
It is always good to enter Songwriting Competitions to test out how good your songs really are. Here are ten tips to help you improve your chances of doing well in Songwriting Competitions:  

1. Vocals & Pronunciation. Put the vocals high in the mix, make sure pronunciation is clear. The lyrics can’t be judged if they can’t be heard. If people unfamiliar with your song can’t follow the story, then you need to remix it so the band doesn’t overpower your poignant lyrics. Also, make sure that the vocalist pronounces the lyrics properly. Our event director Eddie Phoon was a distinguished panelist at a Nashville Music Conference many years ago on a demo listening panel. The panel consisted on A&R director from record labels and music publishing companies, they listened to a Rock/Alternative song and everyone in the panel liked it except him. He said he liked the song but not the lyrics, he said he didn't get the lyrics “Open Your Ass”. The band responded “No, it's open your ears”, the crowd roared with laughter! Lesson learned: pronounce your lyrics properly, make sure the listener knows what you are talking about.

2. Make sure you’ve put your song in the right category. Just because you sing about Nashville doesn’t make it a country song. Load it up with weepy pedal steel, a mournful fiddle and make sure there’s a little twang in the singer’s voice. If you don’t sound like Carrie Underwood or Eric Church, hire someone who does to sing your song. Is it jazz? It should have something beyond one ninth chord and a host of major chords. Use chord substitutions to give it that smooth jazz sound. Is it folk? Add an acoustic guitar. Bluegrass? Better put in a banjo. Lyrics are important, too. If you’re singing about trucks and bars, it’s not jazz, unless you’ve been at said bar and consumed a couple of six packs. Listen to songs popular in that style and note the lyrics and arrangement. Don’t be that songwriter who wastes a good song by submitting it in the wrong category.

3. Arrangement & Collaboration. It’s not an arrangement contest. We don’t care if Clapton is your guitar player. Give us a compelling story or lyrics rich in metaphor. If you want to show off that hotshot guitar player, try a best band contest.  Instrumentals are in another category, of course, and for those, make sure there’s an engaging melody that repeats several times.

If you feel that you are great in writing great melodies but not that great in writing lyrics, go find a lyric writer. In the past 5 years of the USA Songwriting Competition, all top winning songs were written by more than one songwriter. Same goes for the Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts, most of the hits todays are multi-way collaborations.
 
4. Have a short intro. The judges have already listened to a hundred songs and consumed a pot of coffee. They don’t need a 24-bar intro. I know “Stairway to Heaven” has a really long cool intro, but then again, you are not Led Zeppelin. Be kind. If you’ve got lyrics, get to them in 8 bars or less. If it’s an instrumental, get to the central melody right away.

5. Have a lyric sheet that actually reflects what’s being sung. If there’s a word or two that’s different, no problem, but make sure you’ve included all the verses and everything that’s key to the song. If you forget the last verse, we’ll never know if mama gets out of prison. A missing bridge, especially one with the theme of the song, could cost you that coveted winning prize.
 
6. Avoid common rhymes like heart/start, fire/desire, shelf/self, do/blue, together/weather, right/light, and light/night. These are typical clichés. "You are my fire, the one desire...". They’ve been used in thousands of songs and have completely lost their emotional impact. A good rhyming dictionary can help you. Don’t forget about imperfect rhymes – these are the ones where the vowel sound matches but maybe not much else, such as right/fly or cape/lane.
 
7. Don’t use rain as a metaphor for sadness. Fred Rose already wrote “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and Willie Nelson already sung it. You can’t top that. Likewise, don’t use a storm as a metaphor for anger or a sunny day for being happy. Pretty much, stay away from weather metaphors. Besides, songs like these have been done before. So, try to write in a refreshing manner.

8. Tune your guitar. Many judges are musicians and unlike some audience members, they not only notice stuff like that, they’re distracted by it. Likewise, if your drummer is always a half beat off or if the harmonies are sour. Sure, it’s not a best band contest, but why complicate matters? Many of the song demos are sign way off key. It would be rather difficult for the judges to hear the melody if it is sung off key.
 
9. Don’t tell us your emotions, show us. “I’m sad you left me,” is boring. Tell us about the rose pressed in the family bible or how you found his keys on the kitchen counter. Think like a good cinematographer. A talking head is coma-inducing (“I feel sad” or “You’re so mean”) but add a vivid landscape and a great mystery and you’ve got Citizen Kane. In other words - show, don't tell.

10. Look for a unique angle and use detail, avoid being derivative. “She broke my heart and left me” has been sung a million times. We don’t care anymore. “She slammed the door and on the way out, ran over my foot with her new cherry red Ford truck” – now that’s interesting. Use all your senses. Did he give you a rose? How did it smell? Don’t just tell us it’s red – go to a thesaurus and tell us it’s fuchsia, deep pink or maroon. Don’t tell us you like his kiss. Tell us how it tastes. Don’t tell us her dress is pretty, tell us it feels like warm silk.

Many songs that we hear are rather derivative in it's melodic lines as well as parts of the lyrics feels as if it has been plagiarized.
 
We have heard submissions in the USA Songwriting Competition where songwriters try to write the derivative songs that were number one on the charts at one time and end up being awkward. One case was a songwriter who took the entire track of Jennifer Lopez song "If You Had My Love" and wrote a similar melody to the background music, even the melodic line's rhythm was so similar. The chorus even copied the melody of the original song. Our judges thought the song has been plagiarized big time, let alone not being creative as the judges left the room singing to Jennifer Lopez song instead of this song that was entered. Needless to say, that song didn't win.
 
Now go tune your guitar, fire the drummer and write some great songs.
  
 
Jamie Anderson is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist who’s taught songwriting and other courses at Duke University, arts centers, in her studio, and via Skype. Her experience in music is varied, from songwriting competition director to playing hundreds of gigs in the US and Canada. She’s also judged other song contests and released ten albums of original music. Coffee is her super power. www.jamieanderson.com and www.jamiebobamie.wordpress.com

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, Co-Writing Songs, music publisher, record label, Plagiarism, Rewrite

Eight Reasons Why You Should Have a Co-writer

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Dec 08, 2017 @02:46 PM

[Songwriting Tip] Eight Reasons Why You Should Have a Co-writer

By Jake Gakovik

 Supremetracks 1 TIFF selected-8.jpg

Opinions about co-writing songs are very much divided—some love it, some hate it. Although a lot of songwriters frown upon the idea of working with other songwriters, co-writing is actually more common than you might imagine.

Take a look at the songs on any of the charts, at any given time, and chances are you’ll find that a lot of them are the result of a cooperation between co-writers. You will even see a lot of songs created by teams of 4+ songwriters!

Some of the most successful music of all time has been the creation of co-writing teams like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and many more.

If you’re still not if sure co-writing is your thing, here are eight reasons why you should give it a try. Who knows, the results could be chart-topping.

  1. Improve your style with new techniques and writing skills

Every songwriter has different writing skills and a different songwriting process. Sometimes this process works and your skills are all you need to create a hit song. More often than not, though, this is not the case.

In a lot of situations, working as hard as you can is simply not enough for you to write that one song that will help you make it in the music world.

Combining your skill set with another songwriter, who can also have a different writing process, can be good for you. Co-writing is a great chance for you to improve your own process by seeing how someone else approaches the same song and to adopt some new writing techniques.

Most importantly, if you find a partner with whom you can create a mutually-beneficial relationship, where you add value to each other’s work, you’ll be on the right way to success.

  1. Learn about your strengths and weaknesses

No one is perfect. We all have our flaws and skills, or talents we lack. Knowing that about yourself is a big step towards finding your voice and your style. Another way you could deal with your weaknesses is to find someone who excels in the areas you don’t and vice versa.

Working with someone else on achieving the same goal can also help you identify a character trait that you didn’t know you had. Your partner could play a big role in helping you work on that specific weak point.

Once you get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, you will see if you’re a good fit for each other and if working together will produce great results.

  1. Let your creativity soar and have fun

Writing your song is the fun part, especially if you’re working with someone else. Share the energy and excitement with your writing partner and it will definitely show in the song you create.

With high spirits, a positive atmosphere and good energy, creativity is bound to flow! If, at some point, you get stuck, just talking to your co-writer about it can help you overcome the block and get back into creative waters.

  1. Use a new set of eyes (and ears) to improve your songs

Say you started writing a song, but never finished it. There’s a number of reasons why this might happen, as we all know. Perhaps you just ran out of inspiration or you didn’t like it and decided to leave it be. Maybe you just got stuck and couldn’t finish it.

Try showing your unfinished work to your songwriting partner. They may have some ideas on how to finish the song and make it even better than you ever thought possible when you gave up on it.

This doesn’t have to apply only to abandoned and unfinished work. If you have a song you have finished but you’re not sure it’s good enough, ask your partner for feedback and maybe you’ll end up with a hit song.

  1.  Be accountable to someone else

No matter how responsible you are as a person, tight deadlines and time pressure can affect us all. Even if you mark you calendar and firmly determine the time when you’re going to sit down and write, something can always come up in the last possible minute.

By scheduling in time for work, you actually make a commitment and become accountable to someone else but yourself. This is a great way to keep yourself honest and dedicated to the writing routine. It’s much harder to avoid responsibility when you’re responsible for more than just your own work.

  1. Work half as hard and have twice the results

This is one of the practical reasons you should have a co-writer for your songs. However obvious this may sound, people often forget about the fact that two people working together generally need half the time and effort needed to write a song than it would take them if they were working individually.

Of course, that’s not always the case, but usually two heads are better than one.

You could also look at it this way: in the time you would need to write one song yourself, you and your writing partner could create two or more songs that are influenced by both your techniques and styles.

  1. Split the costs of your demo in two

This is another practical reason that people forget about more often than not.

When you and your writing partner are done with the song and you both think it’s ready to be heard by people, it’s time to create a demo. You have couple of choices here:

  • You can turn to professionals to record your demo right away, or
  • You can record the demo yourself and then hire professionals to turn it into a master track through professional studio tracking and post production.

Either way, you have someone to split the costs with which gets you one step closer to getting your songs in front of relevant people and companies.

  1. More people will be pitching your song

Once your song is written and demo recorded, it’s time to start pitching. This is usually the boring part for most songwriters, but when you have a partner by your side, the work immediately becomes easier as there is now two of you doing the pitching.

It’s not just the number of people that matters here. Since you worked hard on the song together, it’s important to both of you that the song succeeds, which is why you’ll do your best. A great little bonus is that with a partner you have more contacts in the music industry and the ability to grow your network, which can certainly come in handy for any future work.

 

The truth is that co-writing is not for everyone, but unless you give it a shot, you will never know if it’s your thing. Even if you decide to do it, it could take some time before you find the winning combination of skills and knowledge in your co-writing partner. But when you do find a partner you connect with and that you can really work with, you’ll get to experience the happiness and satisfaction that only comes from putting a great song into the world. Just imagine what the world would have missed if, for example, Paul McCartney decided to exclude John Lennon from the songwriting process.

 

Jake Gakovik is a session guitarist, music entrepreneur, and co-founder of www.supremetracks.com, a professional online recording studio where you can get your songs arranged, recorded and mastered by award-winning music professionals.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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The Songwriter’s Survival Guide

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Nov 03, 2017 @12:50 PM

The Songwriter’s Survival Guide
by Joe Hoten

bands-for-hire-songwriting.jpg
Song writing is one hair-tearingly frustrating, jump-out-of-your-seatingly exciting and air-punchingly rewarding pastime. That's quite a lot to experience from one activity, so if you're ready for that kind of roller coaster ride – one with plenty of loop-the-loops and vertical drops – then here are a few things to watch out for when you're penning your next number 1.

Humble Beginnings

Staring at a blank page can be like being lost on an Antarctic plain – nowhere to go, and no hope in sight. But, while being able to do absolutely anything can seem daunting, you've got to try and see the opportunity in it. Don't get carried away being overwhelmed by all the greatest songs ever written glaring down at you. Everybody goes through a little self-doubt now and then, but all it does is arrest your development. You can end up thinking your way into inaction. Just pick up your guitar and play. Or pick up your pen and write. Do, or do not. Once you've started messing around with a riff, a melody, even a single chord, the wheels will begin to turn, and you'll find yourself inching towards your goal.

Try not to discount anything before you've even done it. This is an easy trap to fall into, but it always comes down to this: you can't improve upon nothing. If you accept that a masterpiece isn't just going to drop out of your head onto your piece of paper, you'll find it a lot easier to rack up a respectable amount of 'OK' ideas that you can then hone and polish. A great idea can stem from anything – lyrics can inspire certain movements within your melody, or a particular chord could make you feel something that surprises you. Whatever it is that sparks that initial interest, run with it as far as you can.

Finding the Right Words

The music is a huge part of the emotionality of your song, but it’s up to your lyrics to convey your message literally. Keep them artful, rhythmical and true to your own character. People can spot a faker a mile off – say what you mean, and mean what you say, and everything else will follow.

Also, as tempting as it may be to flip things on their heads, beware of such tropes as writing depressing lyrics to happy music. It's completely possible to pull off, but equally possible to fluff up. That sort of thing is rarely so black and white as to simply swap out your majors for minors – you'd be going for more of an ironic melancholy that may best be saved for later. For the first few songs, pick the themes and vocabulary that do suit your music, just so you become accustomed to the effects such pairings can have. Learn how to roll before you reinvent the wheel.

The Great Plagiarism

All too often songwriters clap their hands together with glee as the final pieces of their puzzle fall into place… only to realise that the picture they’ve put together is strangely familiar. And that’s because they’ve unwittingly re-written somebody else’s song. This can be pretty soul-crushing to double check, but it's definitely worth it in the long run. No self-respecting creative mind would be at ease knowing it'd just regurgitated someone else's work, so you're probably going to have to carry on listening to as broad a range of music as you can manage. Sure, you'll notice trends reappearing across genres, and by all means use them for your own ends – but take heed of how they make you feel. If you notice a bunch of songs that sound the same and you find it a little tedious, it's time for you to buck that particular trend.

The Finished Product?

Is it really possible to know when your song's truly complete? Perhaps not when there always seems to be something else to think about. Is your melody hummable? Is the structure interesting? Does your verse flow nicely enough into your chorus? Is your word choice clear enough for your meaning? These are the questions that can keep you up at night. It's difficult not to become obsessive about every tiny little detail, second and third guessing every decision you've made, but at some point you're just going to have to throw your hands up and say 'that's enough!' When practically every note and every syllable could be different, sometimes you just have to go with your heart. After all, that's whereabouts your song's going to be felt when your fans hear it.

Phase 2

Now the writing phase is complete, congratulations are in order! Well done. And now for the bad news. You should probably prepare to want to change everything all over again, because now other people are going to hear your song.

Live It and Love It

The first thing to do is make sure you've learned your song inside out. This brings with it its own obstacles. Some say practice makes perfect, some say familiarity breeds contempt. In the context of learning songs, you need to find the happy middle ground. Learn it well enough so that it becomes second nature, as you'll be a lot more comfortable in front of an audience, and will hopefully develop a few muscle memories. But don't bore yourself to the edge of sanity either – we don't want a passionless recital from a robot who's fried their own circuits.

It’s great to try to test yourself – the comfort zone is where your creativity curls up and dies. By all means throw in a new technique you’ve been studying, go crazy with syncopation, make your rhymes and references as unusual as you like – just make sure you can pull it off. That’s what you wanted, after all. It certainly would suck if you vaingloriously flew straight at the sun only to have your wings melted off as you plummet into the sea of failure. Reading off your tablet doesn’t show the same degree of dedication as rattling off lines committed to memory, and fluffing up your carefully written solo probably won't win anybody over either. Prove to everyone you're serious about this – you're already been through the writing rigmarole, so you owe it to your creation. Let it live! Play it live! Well!

Rewrite the Wrongs


Once you've played your song a few times – and especially once you've written a few more – it's natural to start rethinking it. This is not necessarily a drawback. In a few rare cases, a song is just born immaculate – in which case, don't slap God in the face and change it! But as you learn more and more about music, you probably will start to think of choices you didn't make with your song back then as missed opportunities.

Revising your own work is a right and a necessity. Don’t get ahead of yourself and try to skip this stage – only once you have something to improve upon will you be able to see what needs to be improved. There’s nothing worse than rushing a song and allowing your fans and bandmates to get know a version of it you’re not satisfied with, then visibly tiring of it then making changes they may not take kindly to. This should by no means stop you road testing your song, because, especially if this takes place before trusted friends and peers, you may get the essential feedback you need to make the leap from good to brilliant. But you've got to play this hand carefully, and swiftly too – there must be a cut-off point between showcasing the idea and the big reveal where you actually decide definitively that it's as good as it's going to get. You can always move onto a new song, after all.

So there's a few little potholes you might encounter on your road to success. While a couple of them might slow you down, they're unlikely to stop you in your tracks. Don't be afraid of falling into traps such as these – if anything, trigger them for yourself. Do accidentally-on-purpose rip someone off, do write unfittingly upbeat music for your hard-hitting couplets, do stretch yourself musically and risk tripping over yourself in public. Like anything, it's a learning curve, and you'll probably learn best by doing it. Make mistakes, break some eggs, and realise none of these things are really going to hurt you, or mean that you're any less of a songwriter. In all likelihood, you'll be all the stronger for it.

 

Written by Joe Hoten, from Bands For Hire https://www.bandsforhire.net

 

Information on the USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, Co-Writing Songs, music publisher, record label, Plagiarism, Rewrite

Top 10 Tips for Getting Sync Deals

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Sep 26, 2017 @05:26 PM

Sync Deals: Everything You Need to Know

by Steve Gordon

 MusicInFilm.png

“Don’t sign anything until you have a lawyer check it out!”
It’s a show business warning that is as valid today as it ever was. By reading the following article, excerpted from his new book The 11 Contracts That Every Artist, Songwriter and Producer Should Know, entertainment attorney Steve Gordon will school you on how to proceed, what to look out for and what questions to ask the next time a sync deal comes your way.

Signing the Best Sync Deal Possible
This article focuses on the use of music in audiovisual works such as movies, television, TV commercials and video games. I will provide examples of the amount of money you can expect to make, explain the role of Performing Rights Organizations in collecting additional income on behalf of songwriters, discuss the key provisions in standard licenses, and describe the role of publishers, sync reps and other licensing agents.
This article also provides comprehensive comments on the following three licenses: (1) MTV’s “Music Submission Form,” (2) a license for use of music in a TV commercial, and (3) a license for music in a television movie. If you get a similar deal, you will know what to look out for, how to make the deal fairer, and how to decide if it’s still worth it if the company that wants to use your music won’t negotiate.

Two Types of Copyrights: Sound Recordings and Musical Works
“Sync” licenses are agreements for the use of music in audiovisual projects. In its strictest sense, a sync license refers to the use of a musical composition in an audiovisual work. The term “master use” license is sometimes used to refer to the use of a sound recording (sometimes referred to as a “master”) in an audiovisual work. While sync licenses can only make money for songwriters, master use licenses can make money for both songwriters and recording artists. It is possible for a license to include both a grant of rights in a song and a master if the same person wrote the song and produced the master.

Copyright law protects “musical works,” such as songs and accompanying words as well as orchestral works, librettos and other musical compositions. Copyright also protects “sound recordings”; that is, recordings of musical compositions. Indie artists/songwriters who record their own songs generally own the copyrights of both their songs and masters. But once that artist/songwriter enters into a music publishing agreement, she generally transfers the copyright in her songs to the publisher, and the publisher pays her a royalty from the commercial exploitation of the songs, including “syncs.” If the same artist/songwriter enters into a standard recording contract, any record in which she performs during the term of the agreement is usually a “work for hire” for the record company. In that case (as explained in further detail below) the record company owns the copyright for the recordings, and pays royalties to the artist for both record sales and master use licenses.

However, in this article, we are going to look at sync and master use licenses from the point of view of songwriters and artists who have not entered into any exclusive publishing or recording agreements. Since an indie artist/songwriter does not have a publisher or label to negotiate sync and master licenses for her, she should have her own lawyer, or at least possess enough knowledge to avoid unfavorable contracts. Whether you are an indie artist, songwriter or producer, in this article, you will learn what questions to ask, what you can do to make the contract that you receive fairer and when you should just walk away.

Indie Producers and Copyrights in the Musical Compositions Contained in their Masters
Before the genesis of hip-hop in the early 1970s and the emergence of producers like Kool Herc, the role of producers was not to create music, but to help artists record their music and make it as professional as possible. However, that has all changed. In pop, R&B, and especially hip-hop, producers do create new music by providing beats or even complete music floors over which an artist sings. In that case, the producer is creating two copyrights: 100% of the sound recording and a part of the musical composition. Therefore, producers often sign publishing deals. The producer will generally have to transfer the copyright in any part of the musical composition that they contributed, such as the beat.

Sync and Master Use Fees
Companies that wish to use an indie musician’s music for a movie, commercial, TV show or video game often will offer an up-front, one-time payment generally called a “sync” fee (even if the songwriter is transferring rights in both the song and the master). The amount of the fee, if any, will depend on a variety of factors including:
• The professional standing of the musician: If an ad agency regularly turns to certain producers to create music for a client’s ads, it probably will have worked out a standard fee with that producer.
• The nature of audiovisual work for which the music is sought and whether the song was a hit: A major motion picture will usually pay from $10,000 to $25,000 for a song or master by an indie writer, artist or producer. However, the exact amount depends on how many times the song is played and if it will be used in the beginning or end credits (there is also often an additional fee if the song is used in the trailer). But, an indie filmmaker may only be able to afford $5,000 or less for any song or master. Don’t be surprised if they offer you no more than a credit. At the beginning of your career, a credit on the movie and on IMDB (an online database of information related to films, television programs, and video games, including cast, production crew such as music composers and musicians, biographies, plot summaries, trivia and reviews) could be valuable. In contrast, a pop hit in major studio movie can easily fetch $100,000 or more.
• The type of TV commercial: In the case of a TV spot, the biggest factor is whether the commercial is national (which may pay from several thousand to over $10,000 for an indie song or master) or will only play in one or several markets (which often pays less). But, for a hit song, the fee could well be in the six figure range and even more for a hit by a superstar artist.
• The type of TV program: Here, the most important factor is whether the program is network or basic cable. Usually, but not always, network shows will pay better than shows on basic cable. The money for an indie songwriter or producer could range from no more than the royalty payable to the songwriter by his Performance Rights Organization (see below) to $2,500 to more than $10,000 depending on how much the production company or network wants the music.
• Who owns what: If the master and the song are owned by different parties—for instance, if you wrote the song but your producer owns the track—a license will be needed with each of you.

Additional Income for Public Performance
A songwriter may earn “public performance” income from the songwriter’s Performance Rights Organization or “PRO” (i.e., ASCAP, BMI, SESAC or the recently organized Global Music Rights or GMR) when her music is “publicly performed.” For instance, a songwriter can receive money when her music is broadcast as part of a television show or played on a computer game. This income may be the only income that an indie songwriter receives, or could be in addition to the up-front sync fee.

Each PRO has rules that determine the amount of money that should be paid for a performance in an audiovisual work. The public performance income from a song in an audiovisual work can be substantial in some situations. For instance, if music is used in a national TV commercial that airs on network TV, the PRO royalty can exceed the sync fee. In contrast, when a small amount of a song is used in the background of a single scene in a basic cable program, the public performance income can be very small.

When the public performance income will be substantial, you may decide to accept a lower sync fee rather than potentially losing the deal altogether. Note that we are only discussing the public performance income payable for the musical composition. The same considerations do not apply to the owner of the master recording—i.e., an artist or a producer. Under U.S. copyright law, the owners of master recordings, unlike the owners of the underlying songs, are not entitled to public performance income for the broadcast of their recordings except via digital transmission such as Spotify, YouTube and Pandora, etc. If a commercial is intended to play on network TV, the commissioning company will generally try to get Internet rights for little or no additional compensation (see Media below).

SoundExchange, similar to the PRO’s for compositions, collects income for the public performance of music recordings, but only for audio-only Internet Radio services such as Pandora. The situation is different in most foreign countries, where artists can earn performing rights royalties for the “public performances” of their master recordings on television as well as standard broadcast radio.

In short, the owner of the master recording’s only source of U.S. income from the master use license will be the up-front master use fee, which she receives from the company for a TV commercial, movie or TV show. If the owner of the master is not the songwriter, he will not be receiving any public performance income from the PRO’s (or SoundExchange), so he may feel more of a need than the songwriter to negotiate the highest possible up-front fee.

Proper Registration of the Song with the PRO is Crucial
Each PRO has requirements that make writers responsible for properly registering their songs and for notifying the PRO’s of any audiovisual projects that may generate performance income. I spent a year trying to get one PRO to pay for the theme song of a cable talk show because the writer did not provide a “cue sheet” before the broadcast of the series. A cue sheet is a schedule of the music contained in a film or television program or any other audiovisual work and is essential for the PRO to distribute royalties for musical performances in audiovisual media. It is typically prepared by the production company, but the writer will not get paid unless the production company actually files it in a proper and timely manner. See below for an example of a cue sheet.

Some licenses require a songwriter to yield all rights in a song to the company. In that case, the writer has no right to receive any PRO royalties. However, there are cases in which the company requires the transfer of the copyright in the song, but allows the writer to receive the “writer’s share” of performance rights income (that is, 50% of the total amount payable by the PRO). In that case, the writer has to make sure the company is properly registering the song, providing cue sheets to the PRO and complying with any other forms that have to be completed.

Work for Hire vs. Non-Exclusive License
An issue sometimes even more important than money is whether a license is “work for hire.” In a work for hire agreement, the songwriter, artist or producer loses all rights in her music, including the copyright and the right to use the music again for any purpose. If, on the other hand, the grant of rights to the company is a non-exclusive license, the creator keeps the copyright in her music, and retains the right to distribute it as a record and make other deals. Here is a typical work for hire clause:

It’s always better that the artist, songwriter and producer retain their copyrights. However, sometimes the work for hire clause will be non-negotiable, and then the creator must ask herself: whether the up-front money (and in the case of a songwriter who retains the writer’s share, the potential PRO royalties) adequately compensates for the loss of the right to use the music.

WORK FOR HIRE: Artist [Songwriter and/or Producer] agrees that all of the results and proceeds of his services shall be deemed a “work made for hire” for the Company under the U.S. Copyright. Accordingly, the Artist further acknowledges and agrees that Company is and shall be deemed to be the author and/or exclusive owner of all of the Recordings and Musical Compositions contained therein for all purposes and the exclusive owner throughout the world of all the rights of any kind comprised in the copyright(s) thereof and any renewal or extension rights in connection therewith, and of any and all other rights thereto, and that Company shall have the right to exploit any or all of the Recordings in any and all media, now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe, in perpetuity, in all configurations as Record Company determines, including without limitation [name of movie, TV show, TV commercial, etc.] In connection therewith Artist hereby grants to Company the right as attorney-in-fact to execute, acknowledge, deliver and record in the U.S. Copyright Office or elsewhere any and all such documents pertaining to the Recordings if he shall fail to execute same within five (5) days after so requested by Company.

Other Basic Contract Terms
Here are a few other important terms in sync and master use licenses that are not work for hire:

DURATION (or “TERM”): The company will usually want the right to exploit the following durations of use:
• Theatrical Films: Generally for the “life of the copyright.” In other words, the company’s right to use your music will last as long as the song is protected by copyright law, which is as long as you’re alive plus 70 years.
• Television: Generally, the same as above.
• Commercials: Typically an initial term of one year, often with the option for the company to renew for another equal term upon payment of an additional licensing fee (which is usually the same as the original term, although you can try to negotiate for a higher fee, for instance 125% of the original fee.)
• Computer Games: Could be “life of the copyright,” or a briefer term such as three to five years. There are few games which will have a life span of more than a year or two, so in most instances, the company won’t consider it all that important to obtain a long-term license.

MEDIA: The company will want the right to exploit the audiovisual work as follows:
• Theatrical Films: Generally, a movie producer, production company, or studio will want the right to use a song or master in festivals for one year, with an option to exploit the movie, including your music, in all media (“broad rights”).
• Television: Generally, the network or cable service will want all media rights because a TV show can be recycled in any number of platforms such as streaming, downloading, home video, etc. Talent should, however, try to negotiate a separate fee for home video including downloading.
• Commercials: Typically limited to TV and Internet, but the songwriter/ artist/ producer can try to secure an additional fee for use of the commercial on radio.
• Computer Games: Generally all media now or hereinafter developed.

TERRITORY: The company will want the right to exploit the audiovisual work as follows:
• Theatrical Films: Typically “worldwide.”
• Television: The creator may be able to negotiate an additional fee for foreign use.
• Commercials: Local, multiple U.S. markets, national or worldwide.
• Computer Games: Worldwide.

The Role of Music Publishers and Labels
Once you enter into an exclusive recording and/or publisher deal, your label and publisher will negotiate sync and master use licenses on your behalf. The split is generally 50% payable to the label and 25% to 50% payable to the publisher after recoupment of any advances (including, in the case of a label, recording costs) that they paid you.

Reps and Licensing Agents
If you are familiar with the “sync business” you know that there are many companies, such as Pump Audio, that may be willing to represent your music for sync placements. Some are more selective than others, and some are more proactive in shopping your music than others. For instance, music libraries such as APM Music (Associated Production Music Inc.) have steady clients such as cable networks and ad agencies that continually scan the library’s collection for interstitial or background music. The reps’ fees vary from 65% in the case of Pump Audio all the way down to 20% or less, if a rep really loves your music.

The biggest controversy in the sync licensing business is the exclusive vs. non-exclusive issue. The best argument to let a rep have exclusive rights is that they may be more motivated to shop your music. The best argument in support of non-exclusive is an exclusive rep may lose interest in your music and let it sit on a shelf for the duration of the agreement. The primary differences between a rep and a publisher are: reps rarely pay you an advance, but rep deals are usually limited to the song or tracks you wish them to present. Standard publishing agreements cover any songs you create during the term of the agreement.

 

[Reprint permission by Music Connection magazine]

STEVE GORDON is an entertainment attorney with over 25 years of experience, including 10 years as Director of Business Affairs/Video for Sony Music. He is also the author of The Future of Music, fourth edition (Hal Leonard Books). See stevegordonlaw.com.

 

 

Information on the USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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