Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Don't Explain Too Much

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Don't Explain Too Much
 

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This book excerpt explores the challenge of properly communicating feelings and emotions with listeners through one's lyrics, and looks at how a songwriter can structure their work in such a way as to clearly get their intended message across without excessive exposition.

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Guest Post excerpted from the newly released e-book Songwriting: Get Your Black Belt In Music & Lyrics

Don’t Explain Too Much

tricky situation:

In order to communicate a feeling, you could take the quickest path and just tell listeners what you’re feeling, but that usually doesn’t create the best results. 

Key Word: PORTRAY

One result of merely telling the listeners what you’re feeling is that your story won’t leave anything open to their imagination. You’re placing the listeners off to the side of your lyric, since you’re not inviting them in to think for themselves, draw their own conclusions and read between the lines. Try not to tell so much — open the lyric up to people’s interpretations by portraying emotions instead.

Consider this:

There are two important ways to portray: 1) Portray by using imagery: Instead of saying I’m so in love with you Shawn Colvin says ”I never saw blue like that before, across the sky, around the world” in her song Never Saw Blue Like That. 2) Portray by letting something happen as a consequence of the emotion. Let’s say that you want to convey how much someone is missing someone else. Missing someone who has just died. Someone who has committed suicide by jumping of a bridge, to be more precise. Like in Bobby Gentry’s song Ode To Billie Joe (1967). In the end of the song you could let the main character (a girl) explain how much she misses, and longs for, the person that no longer exist. Another, and much more efficient, way of letting us understand, and drawing us into the story, is to portray her feelings by letting her do something:

“And me, I spend a lot of time pickin' flowers up on Choctaw Ridge,

and drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

–  excerpt from “Ode To Bille Joe” by Bobby Gentry

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

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs

Songwriting Tip: Walking that Line

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 12, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Walking that Line
by Harriet Schock


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There’s a line between art and commerce and for some people, it’s wide enough to walk. Finding a way to do it is an art in itself.

I know some of the best songwriters walking the earth but you might not know their names. That doesn’t mean they’re not great. And I know some really successful ones who are also exceptionally good. Today, even in a city as known for songs as Nashville, there’s a feeling that “formula” is taking over. And the pervading attitude is that merit doesn’t necessarily accompany success, and certainly vice versa.

When I was in Nashville one of my meetings was with a former promoter from the record label I recorded three albums for in the seventies, in L.A. He’s been very successful in Music City since then and when I recorded my last two CDs, I sent them to him. When he heard the newer songs, he announced that he was still a fan. This was my opening to ask him a question I didn’t dare ask the strangers I’d been meeting with all week. “Could co-writing here actually hurt my writing?” He gave me a candid “yes.” I thought about it long and hard. I took “could” to mean if I wrote with the wrong attitude, it “could” harm me but I would make sure that didn’t happen. Some of the greatest songwriting I’ve ever heard is coming out of Nashville, in my opinion. So I decided to adopt the attitude that I could learn from anyone or anything I admire. But I wouldn’t let it dilute the style I’d become known for in my own writing. I had found another thin line to walk.

My first writing session was with someone who also teaches songwriting and that was really fascinating. It was like speaking “shorthand.” I just sat in the library where we’d found an available grand piano and played endlessly to a drum track until we found a melody for the chorus. We discussed the lyric direction and he wrote the lyric to the verse with my minimal participation. I took the tape home and wrote the verse melody which I sent him.

This particular collaborator also helped me learn some of the unwritten rules of Nashville collaboration: The B writer (the one with fewer hits) brings the concept to the A writer (the one with more hits).

Therefore, in my next songwriting session, I brought the concept. I had no sooner said the last syllable of the title than my new co-writer had the guitar up, playing and singing a melody that made me feel totally at home and enraptured. I began to realize the reason this multi-hit-writer was so successful was that he’s really good. Melody and harmony fell out of this playful creature like a fountain overflowing.

This brings to mind another kind of thin line, one mentioned by Irving Berlin, who spoke of the thin line between familiarity and plagiarism. Berlin walked this line deftly and attributed his success to it, and my collaborator was walking it like a trained gymnast. When I heard the melody and chord changes, it was nothing I’d heard before and yet it felt completely familiar. Every note went where I wanted it to, like when someone finds that place on your back that itches.

Another interesting line I encountered that trip was between hanging out and becoming a drinker. I noticed a lot of networking going on at songwriters’ hangouts, which happen to be bars in many cases. I don’t know how they spend day after day there without liver damage, but the “whiskey flows and the beer chases their blues away.” And since I was drinking water and trying to say in “The Zone,” it didn’t have much effect on me except as an observer. I understand legal sobriety is now determined by Breathalyzer tests, for which I understand Listerine can cause a false positive. So it’s not easy to find where demarcation is sometimes. But I still try to walk the line. All of them.

 


Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), and her new up coming book, her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com
  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Harriet Schock, song demo, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs

Songwriting Tip: Legal Issues With Songwriter Collaborations

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 05, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Legal Issues With Songwriter Collaborations
by Wallace Collins, Esq

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Under the US copyright law, an author or creator owns a copyright in his or her work the moment it is “fixed in a tangible medium” (i.e., the moment the expression of an idea is written down or recorded in some manner). When it comes to the recorded music business there are two primary copyrights of interest: one in the musical composition or song; another in the sound recording of that song. A copyright extends for the life of an author plus 70 years, and in the case of collaborators on a copyright it extends for the life of the last surviving collaborator plus 70 years.

This article will focus on the collaboration between and among the co-writers of the musical composition or song which is generally comprised of the music (e.g., melody, harmony, chords, rhythm, etc.) and the lyrics (i.e., the words). The essence of collaboration is working together to create a single work regardless of how or what each party contributes. Collaborators may work together in the same room at the same time, or not. The creative contribution of each co-author may be equal in quality or quantity, or not. Both authors may work together on the music and lyrics or one might write just music and the other lyrics. The long history of collaboration has shown that there are endless combinations. Co-authors do not need to have a written agreement concerning their joint work, but it is probably a good idea to do so given the myriad issues that can arise and become a problem under such circumstances.

             Co-writers can divide copyright ownership in whatever proportion they determine, and that ownership concerns both rights (ownership and control) and revenues (income generated). In the absence of a written agreement, under current case law concerning both copyright and partnership law two or more collaborators are generally deemed to share equally on a pro rata basis. This might be so even if it is clear that the contributions of the authors were not equal since the Courts generally prefer not to make decisions about the value of each author’s contribution to a copyright and simply divide it by the number of authors (and we probably prefer that Courts not be making decisions about whether the hook or chorus lyric has more or less value than the chorus melody, etc.). Therefore, without a written agreement two songwriters would be deemed to own the song fifty-fifty, three songwriters one-third each, etc. A typical music business guideline for dividing ownership has been to designate the music as 50% and the lyric 50% of the song copyright. Under this scenario, if one person creates the music and two others write the lyrics, they may agree to divide the ownership 50% to the music creator and 25% to each of the lyricists. However, this concept does not have any legal significance so if there is no written collaboration agreement then under this scenario each author would own 1/3rd of the song copyright.

             Beyond the issue of just dividing the income there arises the issue of copyright ownership and control (sometimes referred to as the administration right). Many songwriters prefer that there be separate administration among the various writers and their respective publishing companies, if any. In other words, each author retains control over its respective share of the copyright. In this way each writer retains some control over what happens with the song, the scope of the licenses and how much is charged. Under US copyright law, each joint copyright owner can exploit the song and also grant non-exclusive licenses to third parties subject to the duty to account to the co-writers for any money that is generated. Each writer could also transfer some or all of their respective share of the copyright (e.g., to a publishing company) without affecting the ownership interests of the any other co-writer’s share in the copyright (although no one writer can grant an exclusive license nor transfer copyright ownership in the entire song without the written permission of each co-writer).

             All of these issues can be addressed in a written collaboration agreement. There are endless variations depending on the circumstances. Each author may retain his or her share of revenues and ownership but grant the administration rights to one party (e.g., the artist/co-writer and/or its label) so that the artist would have the right to record and exploit the song and grant third party licenses. Particularly in the world of synchronization licenses (i.e., using the audio with visual images such as in film, television or video games), it is usually more convenient for one party to have the right to grant licenses and to collect and divide all the income. Licensing can become complicated when a licensee has to seek the approval of, and document permission from, multiple writers and their respective publishers. However, each different scenario and the co-writers involved will need to determine and negotiate what arrangement works best for themselves in that particular situation.

             A collaboration agreement can be as simple as a pie chart drawing made on a napkin at the dinner after the writing session or as complicated as a writer’s publishing company dictates that it be. Over the years there have been many stories of writers agreeing, however reluctantly, to acknowledge a “co-writer” who did not even make a contribution to a song (e.g., featured artists, producers, record executives, band members, etc.). The exact contribution to a song is always a somewhat subjective measurement and if the price of getting a song on the record of a multi-platinum artist is to share writing credit then this pressure can be difficult, if not impossible, to resist. However, keep in mind that once a “co-writer” is acknowledged in writing it can be very difficult to undo. Most successful songwriters rarely, if ever, share credit in this context and every writer should try to follow this practice.

            At the end of the day, if you believe in yourself and your talents, give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and invest in good legal representation - all the successful songwriters do. Your lawyer can create a fair collaboration agreement for you to use or “translate” the documentation presented to you and explain its terms and then help negotiate more favorable terms for you as appropriate. My advice: never sign anything - other than an autograph - without having your entertainment lawyer review it first.

[Article used by permission from Wallace Collins]

Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney with more     than 30 years of experience. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School. T: (212) 661-3656; www.wallacecollins.com


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

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, collaborations, copyright a song, Registering a copyright, U.S. Copyright Office, Co-Writing Songs

The Differences Between Songwriting in NYC & Nashville

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, May 09, 2011 @04:02 PM

The Differences Between Songwriting in NYC & Nashville

~written by Cliff Goldmacher

 

Cliff Goldmacher

As a transplanted songwriter from Nashville to New York City, I’ve had the chance to observe, up close, the approaches to songwriting and the songwriting communities in both cities.  While there are of course many similarities, there are also quite a few differences. By the way, I feel I should mention that the following observations are really more my impressions than hard facts.

 

Differences Within the Similarities

In this article, I’ll start with a similarity between New York and Nashville as it’s readily apparent and then explain how, within that similarity, one city differs from the other.  One of the first similarities is that both cities have huge songwriting populations.  The depth and breadth of talent in both places encompass many more genres that the obvious country music for Nashville and pop and rock music for New York.  There are great pop writers in the suburbs of Nashville and extremely accomplished country songwriters living in Greenwich Village. 

 

Finding the Songwriters

One difference between the two songwriting communities is how easy they are to locate.  Because Nashville’s artistic community is predominantly made up of singers, songwriters and musicians, it’s much easier to find the music/songwriting community there.  New York, on the other hand, has a wonderful songwriter population, but it’s mixed in with the countless other artists and creative types that live there and is thus less obvious.  In other words, it takes a little more effort to find the songwriters in New York, but believe me, they’re there.

 

Before moving from Nashville to New York, I’d taken several writing trips a year up to New York and, by a process or trial and error, I found a core group of NYC songwriters that became my go to people on every trip.  This way, when I eventually moved to New York, I felt like I was instantly part of the community even though I had to discover it little by little.   I highly recommend this approach for anyone considering a move to New York as it eases the transition and makes the entire process much less overwhelming.

 

Co-writing

Although both New York and Nashville have large numbers of songwriters, co-writing is much more a part of the day to day routine in Nashville.  It’s not unusual for a Nashville writer to have five co-writing appointments in a week where they meet with a different cowriter every day in a publishing company office on Music Row.  This happens for several reasons.  First of all, as a hired staff songwriter for a Nashville publishing company, you are given a yearly quota of songs that you need to fulfill. The more songs you write,  the more quickly you’ll fulfill your quota.  Publishers make a real effort to connect songwriters they think will work well together and go as far as to set up co-writing appointments for their writers.  As a result, it’s fairly common in Nashville to be set up on a “blind date” cowrite. Secondly, even though you’re only credited with half a song for a cowrite, it’s easier to motivate yourself to write if you’ve got someone to collaborate with.  The act of scheduling appointments and being expected to show up significantly eases the stress of having to create on a schedule.  This approach seems odd to a lot of New York writers who are either artists themselves and used to writing with their own bands or are songwriters used to working with artists whose schedules are much less predictable.

 

Lyrics

Staying with the generality that you’re writing country in Nashville and pop or rock in New York,  I’ve noticed  that the rules of lyric-writing between these genres and cities differ significantly.  In Nashville, the story is king.  This means that the lyric has to make perfect sense, the images are concrete and the story has a logical flow from beginning to end.  There’s not a lot of room for poetic, impressionistic lyrics that don’t have the arc of a story.  New York, on the other hand, while it certainly has its share of great songwriter/storytellers,  has a broader tolerance in its pop and rock genres for words that “feel” and “sound” good together.  Please don’t misunderstand.  It takes just as much skill to write a great pop lyric where the words convey the emotion of the song and carry the nuances of the melody as it does to write a great story in a country song, but it’s a different skill set.  I’ve found that switching from one approach to the other can be creatively liberating and quite a bit of fun.  Also, it’s interesting to see how one city’s lyrical approach can bleed into the other’s.  In this way, you can end up with country lyrics where the words in the story sound good next to each other or pop lyrics with the arc of a story to them.

 

Labels

Speaking of artists, another similarity in the two cities is that they are both home to major record labels and their signed artists.  This alone attracts a huge number of songwriters to both cities.  The difference here is that country music artists are still largely dependent upon outside songs for their projects.  In New York, bands tend to write their own material and it is less common for these artists to go looking for outside songs.  Occasionally songwriters will be paired with these bands/artists in New York allowing the writers to end up with cuts on these acts.  Of course, all of these distinctions are lessening as more country artists write and cowrite their albums as well.

 

You Can’t Lose

At the end of the day, both communities are great places to work and create.  Ironically, after living in Nashville, working as a staff songwriter and writing for the country market for twelve years, my first cut was with a New York writer and was recorded by an Irish tenor on Universal Records named Ronan Tynan.  In my opinion, it was the blend of our New York and Nashville songwriting sensibilities that came together to create that song.  What I mean by this is that somewhere between the soaring melody more suited to pop and the lyric that had more of a country attention to detail, we came up with a classical crossover song.  So, if you’re a Nashville writer thinking about working in New York (or vice versa) I’d highly recommend it.  Sometimes it’s the differences that create the best art.

 

Good luck!

 

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 and his company http://www.NashvilleStudioLive.com, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos. 

Tags: song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, Music Row, co-writing, Differences, New York City, NYC, SongCircle, songwriting community, music publishing, collaborations, Universal Records, Ronan Tynan