Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Stockpile Ideas for Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jun 20, 2013 @09:12 AM

Songwriting Tip: Stockpile Ideas for Songs

Problem: You don’t have big chunks of time to spend on your songwriting. (Not many of us do.)  So when you finally do get an afternoon to work on your songs – or at least a couple of uninterrupted hours – you need to get the most  from it. You don’t need to be spending the first hour or two just trying to find an idea you want to work on.

Here’s a songwriting tip  that can help you avoid wasting hours:

1. BE A SONGWRITER ALL THE TIME

Most of us don’t think of ourselves as songwriters first and everything else second. Try it for a day. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing – at work, hanging out with family or friends, or watching TV – keep your songwriting ears open. Listen for ideas, themes, and lyric lines you can use. Sometimes a simple statement by a friend can becomes an idea for a song. Dialogue lines in an emotional TV drama can become a verse lyric. A headline on a news show can become a song title.

Watch a video tutorial on song titles that work.

2. KEEP A “MEMO TO SELF”

Don’t trust your memory to hang on to the phrases, titles, and ideas you run across. If you’re able to keep your songwriter “ears” open for an hour or two every day, you’ll quickly build up A LOT of material. Some of it will be useful at your next songwriting session and some you might keep for later. And of course you’ll end up throwing out some lines – just think of it this way: If you’re not throwing stuff out, you’re not being creative enough! :-D

Keep a notepad handy to write down lyric phrases. You can record your melody ideas on a cell phone with Voice Memo. Then when you have a chunk of time to work on songwriting, go through your notes and select the best ones to get you started.

And remember this… once you’ve started a song, part of your mind keeps working on it, even when you’re busy doing other things. Don’t be surprised if you start noticing ideas, images, and lines that would work in your song while you’re working or playing. Be SURE to record these or write them down! You don’t want to lose them. Next time you have a couple of uninterrupted hours to work on songwriting, these lines will be there to add to your song and spark new material.

3. SPEND YOUR TIME WISELY

Time is a resource just as much as other songwriting resources: money for demos,songwriting books and courses, demo musicians, collaborators, recording gear, And if you’ve got a job or you’re going to school, then time is in limited supply. So get the most from what you have.

Put together the raw material for your lyrics or ideas for melodies while you’re on a break between classes or commuting to and from work. Keep your songwriter ears open while relaxing with a TV show or with friends. In other words, use those small chunks of time that would otherwise be lost. Just because you’re not sitting with your guitar or keyboard, doesn’t mean you’re not songwriting. Turn this time into a valuable resource that helps you get your songs written!

Based on Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting by Robin Frederick. Available at Amazon.com.

Copyright 2013 Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick, songwriter & former A&R for Rhino Records
  

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

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

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, Bluebird Cafe, songwrite, Danny Arena, Tony Award, Simplicity, Volunteer State Community College, Vanderbilt University

Songwriting Tip: Striking the Right Chord

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 02, 2013 @09:00 AM

STRIKING THE RIGHT CHORD

 Danny Arena, songwriter

By Danny Arena

One kind of "creative rut" that songwriters can easily fall into is when the chorus section of all their songs starts to sound the same. Some songwriters get into the habit of using the same chord to begin the chorus of every song they write. In one of my SongU.com courses, we look at some of the many chords you can use to start your chorus as well as some of the successful songs that have used them in the past.

 

The I (ONE) CHORD

Contrary to popular belief, there's nothing wrong with starting the chorus to your song (or bridge in an AABA song) on the "I" chord. Be careful though, to make sure your chorus contrasts from the verse - either rhythmically or melodically. For example, both the chorus and verse to hit song "She Believes In Me" (songwriter - Gibb) begin on the I chord, but the melody soars high in the chorus in contrast to the melody in the verse. Similarly both the verse and bridge to song "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (songwriter - Howard/Arlen) start on the I chord, but the 8th note rhythm of the bridge makes it stand out in contrast to the half note feel of the verse. The Bruno Mars hit, “Just The Way You Are” takes the opposite approach and the rhythm in the chorus contains longer notes than the verse even though both sections start on the I chord.

 

THE iim (TWO MINOR) CHORD

The iim chord is similar in structure to the IV chord, but, like the iiim and vim chord, it is a minor chord with a different sound quality than the IV chord. It is not used very frequently to begin a chorus, but is used more often as a starting chord of a bridge section in an AABA song as in the old standard "I'm In The Mood For Love" (songwriter - Fields/McHugh).

 

THE iiim (THREE MINOR) CHORD

Another chord which is similar in structure to the I chord is the iiim chord. It is not used as frequently to start a chorus as the vim chord but has a similar sound quality. The Beth Neilson Chapman adult contemporary hit, "All I Have" (songwriter - Chapman/Kaz) has a chorus which starts on the iiim chord, and the bridge of the Elvis Presley AABA classic, "Can't Help Falling In Love" (songwriter - Weiss/Peretti/Creatore) starts on a iiim.

 

THE IV (FOUR MAJOR) CHORD

Another common chord choice for starting the bridge or chorus of a song is the IV chord. Probably the reason it is such a popular choice among songwriters is because of it can be set-up easily. By ending a verse on the I chord, you automatically have set up the chorus to begin on the IV chord. This is because of the natural "pull" the I chord has toward the IV chord (technically speaking, the I chord acts as the dominant of the IV chord). Some of the many songs which use the IV chord to start the chorus (or bridge), include the Kenny Rogers classic: "Lucille" (songwriter - Bowling), the Christina Aguilera ballad, “Beautiful” and the Train hit, “Hey Soul Sister”.

 

THE V (FIVE MAJOR) CHORD

A common chord used to begin a chorus in a song is the V chord. The V chord is a naturally unstable chord and the I chord is a naturally stable chord. So when you end the verse on the I chord and start the chorus on the V chord, you create a contrast. The chorus in the Reba McEntire classic, "Rumor Has It" (songwriter - Burch/Dant/Shell) starts on the V chord.


THE viim (SIX MINOR) CHORD

The vim chord is a chord which is fairly close in structure to the I chord. In fact, two of the three notes that make up these two chords are the same. The one note difference between these two chords results in the vim chord having a more "somber" quality as opposed to the "brightness" of the I chord. Starting the bridge on the vim chord can result in a change of mood in a song as in, "Through The Eyes Of Love" (songwriter - Hamlisch/Sager) or "What I Did For Love" (songwriter - Hamlisch). The Grammy winning song, "Wind Beneath My Wings" (songwriter - Henley/Silbar) begins its soaring chorus on a vim chord as does the chorus in the Taylor Swift hit, “I Knew You Were Trouble.”

So that gives you six different approaches you can try the next time you're looking for a different sound for that chorus you're writing. Maybe one of them will spark something in you that will help you create a standout chorus.

Hope to see you on the charts.

 

About Danny Arena
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer and professional songwriter. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition, and serves as an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville, and an adjunct member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University. In addition, he has been invited to teach songwriting workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad, and performs his original songs regularly in Nashville at venues like the Bluebird Café. As a staff songwriter for Curb Magnatone Music Publishing, he composed several songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founder, CEO, and one of the main site developers of www.SongU.com, which provides over 100 multi-level courses developed by award-winning songwriters in addition to online coaching, co-writing, industry connections, and pitching opportunities.

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, Bluebird Cafe, tip, Danny Arena, Tony Award, Chord

Songwriting Tip: The Power of Simplicity

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 06, 2013 @09:00 AM

THE POWER OF SIMPLICITY

by Danny Arena

Danny Arena, songwriter

 

As the boundaries of country music continue to expand, it’s easy to get so caught up in modulations and syncopated rhythms that we can forget the power that a strong, simple melody can have. In my songwriting classes I teach at SongU.com, I try to make a point of giving one assignment to write something simple musically.

 

SIMPLE ISN’T EASY

While a melody may be described as "simple" by someone, the writing of it is usually far from easy. It involves achieving a perfectly natural balance between repetition and change so that the song is easily singable, but not boring. In this column, we’ll look at two of the components that make up a strong, simple melody. We have a tendency to think our own melodies may become dull when a musical phrase is repeated two or three times. As a songwriter full of musical ideas, it’s easy to end up with a song that has too many melodic ideas. In truth, some of the most well-known melodies like, "Yesterday" (Lennon/McCartney) and "Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" (Leigh) rely heavily on repetition. If one of our main goals as a songwriter is to write something that's easily memorable, then by far the best technique available is the power of repetition.

 

USING VARIATION

The downside of repetition is that too much of it can bore the listener. I like to think of it this way. Suppose you were eating spaghetti with red sauce for dinner four nights in a row. Probably by the time the third or fourth night rolled around, you’d be tired of eating the same exact meal. Now, imagine that you change the meal slightly each night: the first night - spaghetti with red sauce; the second night - Chinese sesame noodles; the third night - lasagna; the fourth night - penne pasta with garlic and olive oil. By making a few changes, the same meal can still be satisfying. It’s like that with your music - a little variation goes a long way.

 

As an example of the power of repetition with change, let’s take a look a hit song my wife, Sara Light co-wrote with Arlos Smith called “Home To You”. The verse consists of a total of eight measures, but only two musical ideas, one of which is the following two-measure pattern that starts the song:

 Sara Light & Arlos Smith “Home To You”

What makes the melody particularly memorable is the fact that this musical idea or motif is immediately repeated two more times (see example below). By the time the second verse rolls around, the melody is very familiar.

 "Home To You" by Sara Light & Arlos Smith

From the song, "Home To You" written by Sara Light & Arlos Smith. © Mamalama Music (ASCAP)/Good Ol Delta Boy Music (SESAC). All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Although the initial musical idea (in example 1a) is repeated three times in a row, there are several subtle variations employed that help keep us tuned in to the music, allowing the repetition to work its magic without us becoming bored.

VARIATIONS KEEP THE LISTENER TUNED INTO THE SONG

Notice the first time the musical idea appears, the chord pattern is a G chord followed by D (with an F# bass). But when the musical idea is repeated, the chord pattern changes and an Em7 chord is substituted for the G, which is then followed by C chord. This small harmonic variation in chord structure the second time allows us to return to the initial chord pattern again (G, D/F#) for the third time with fresh ears. Also, notice that each time the two measure musical pattern repeats, the melody begins the same, but ends a little differently. This is a type of variation commonly known as melodic variation and it is often due to the changing of the chords in the musical motif as in the case here. Finally, notice that rhythm of the melody changes slightly each time the musical phrase is repeated but is close enough to the original musical idea that it still reinforces it.

 

So the next time you hear one of your favorite songs on the radio, try to listen for some of those subtle variations in the music. They may be small, but they can make a big difference.

 

Hope to see you on the charts.

-Danny

 

About Danny Arena
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer and professional songwriter. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition, and serves as an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville, and an adjunct member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University. In addition, he has been invited to teach songwriting workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad, and performs his original songs regularly in Nashville at venues like the Bluebird Café. As a staff songwriter for Curb Magnatone Music Publishing, he composed several songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founder, CEO, and one of the main site developers of www.SongU.com, which provides over 100 multi-level courses developed by award-winning songwriters in addition to online coaching, co-writing, industry connections, and pitching opportunities.

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, Bluebird Cafe, songwrite, Danny Arena, Tony Award, Simplicity, Volunteer State Community College, Vanderbilt University

Songwriting Tip: Creating Songs That Stand Out

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jun 04, 2012 @11:40 AM

CREATING SONGS THAT STAND OUT by Danny Arena & Sara Light

Danny Arena, songwriter
One of the most obvious but easily overlooked songwriting devices is the use of contrast. Most successful songs incorporate this technique and once you are familiar with the various ways in which you can achieve contrast, you can begin to incorporate it into your own writing. Contrast is making each section of your song stand out and sound different from the other sections in your song. There are several ways you can do this both musically and lyrically. 

I. CREATING MUSIC THAT STANDS OUT.

Musically, contrast can be achieved several ways: 

a. MELODICALLY. Try to make the melody higher in the chorus than the verse. It’s a good practice to try to write your chorus in your highest comfortable range, giving you room to make the verse lower. 

b. RHYTHMICALLY. If the predominant rhythm for the verse melody is quarter notes, try making the chorus rhythm eighth notes. Even if you’re solely a lyricist, you can build rhythmic contrast into your lyrics. A good example of a song that incorporates rhythmic contrast between two sections is the old standard, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” 

c. HARMONICALLY. Try and change the chord progression between sections. An easy way to achieve this is simply by consciously choosing a different chord to start each section. For example, if your verse begins on a G chord, try starting your chorus on a C chord. 

II. CREATING LYRICS THAT STAND OUT

Lyrically, contrast can be achieved several ways:

a. RHYME PATTERN. Change the pattern or placement of the rhymes between verse and chorus. Let’s say, for example, your verse has an A-B-A-B rhyme pattern:

The sky above is blue A
The ground below is green B
When I look at you A
It’s the prettiest sight I’ve ever seen B 

You might try using an A-A-B-B pattern in the chorus. Remember, however, that whatever pattern you set up in the verse should remain consistent for all the verses. The same goes for your chorus. 

b. RHYME SOUNDS. Vary the primary vowel sounds of the rhymes throughout your song. For example, if you use a long “e” rhyme sound in your first two lines (be/see), use a different rhyme sound in your next two lines (light/night). 

c. RHYTHM. Change the rhythm of the words between sections. If your verses have long lines with lots of syllables, you might try using short lines without a lot of syllables in your chorus. This will automatically create contrast when the lyrics are set to music.

d. PRONOUN EMPHASIS. If you are primarily talking about “I” and “me” in the verses, try emphasizing “you” in the chorus. 

You don’t have to make use of every type of contrast in each song, but try to incorporate at least one type of musical contrast and one type of lyrical contrast. The trick is to keep the song interesting and contrast is a time proven technique for achieving this.

Hope to see you on the charts!

-Danny & Sara

Danny Arena & Sara Light are hit songwriters, Tony Nominated Composers and professional songwriters living in Nashville, TN. They are also the co-founders of www.SongU.com which provides multi-level songwriting courses developed and taught by award-winning songwriters, song feedback and mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Songwriting, songwrite, Danny Arena, Sara Light

Songwriting Tip: How Does Your Song Stack Up?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 02, 2012 @11:40 AM

HOW DOES YOUR SONG STACK UP?

Danny Arena, Songwriter

Every now and then, I like to tape the entire country top 40 and analyze the songs in terms of song structure and various timing considerations. In this column, I wanted to share with you the results of my most recent survey.

1. Song Form. Everyone says write your song in a song form. Maybe you've wondered just how important that is to making the top 40? Well as usual, out of forty songs on this particular week when I analyzed them, every one was written in one of the well established song forms. 

Form Number of Songs in the Top 40
AAA none
AABA 9
Verse/Chorus 15
Verse/Chorus/Bridge 7
Verse/Lift/Chorus 7
Verse/Lift/Chorus/Bridge 2

As has been the case the past three years, the majority of songs in the top 40 used the simple verse/chorus structure (though some included instrumental sections). Second place was very close, with the AABA's getting the nod by a slim margin, followed closely by the V/C/B structure and the V/L/C structure. As you might expect, there were no AAA songs, although one or two a year usually make their way into the top 40.

II. Length Of Introduction. How long should an introduction to a song be? The introduction should be long enough to establish the feel and tempo of the song, and possibly introduce a motif. Anything longer, and your introduction is simply taking up valuable space in the song and probably hurting the song. 

Length of Introduction # of Songs in the Top 40
< 10 seconds 8
11 - 15 seconds 25
16 - 17 seconds 7
> 17 seconds none

Average length = 12 seconds

The fascinating statistic here is that twenty-five of the forty songs fell into the second category and no songs had introductions longer than seventeen seconds. 

III. Time To Get To The Chorus (including the introduction). Okay, so we've all heard the expression, "don't bore us, get to the chorus". Let's see how the songs in the top 40 compared on this very important timing issue.

Time To Get To The Chorus # of Songs in the Top 40
< 30 seconds 4
30 - 40 seconds 10
41 - 50 seconds 11 
51 - 60 seconds 10
61 - 75 seconds 5
> 75 seconds none

Average time = 45 seconds

There were only five songs in the top 40 that took longer than a minute to get to the chorus. Out of those five songs, three were written or co-written by the artist. Take a tip from the top 40 and get to the chorus in under a minute.

IV. Length Of Song (including the introduction). Finally, let's take a look at song length. 

Length of Song # of Songs in the Top 40
< 2:30 none
2:30 - 3:00 11
3:00 - 3:30 25 
3:30 - 4:00 4
> 4:00 none

Average time = 3:17 seconds

This category changed the most from last year. Last year, the average time for a song was right around the three minute mark. This year, the majority of songs were in the 3:00-3:30 category. It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues.

V. What It All Means. So what do all these statistics mean? While I don't recommend putting your song under a microscope during the writing of it, it is interesting after your song is written to see whether or not it falls into the "pocket". If you notice that your song takes over a minute to get to the chorus, you may want to consider getting there quicker. If your song is in an obscure song form (like one you made up yourself), be aware that not many of those make it to the top 40. In the end, there are always exceptions to the rule and knowing the above information should not be a guiding factor in compromising the writing of a song. But it can help give you a healthy perspective after the writing of the song. Most of all, just keep writing the best songs you possibly can.

Hope to see you on the charts.

-Danny

About Danny Arena:
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer and professional songwriter. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition, and serves as an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville, and an adjunct member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University. In addition, he has been invited to teach songwriting workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad, and performs his original songs regularly in Nashville at venues like the Bluebird Café. As a staff songwriter for Curb Magnatone Music Publishing, he composed several songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founder, CEO, and one of the main site developers of www.SongU.com, which provides over 70 multi-level courses developed by award-winning songwriters in addition to online coaching, co-writing, industry connections, and pitching opportunities. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting Tip, Danny Arena, Song Form, Song Intro, Song Length

YES, YOU CAN BE A SUCCESSFUL SONGWRITER

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 12, 2012 @12:00 PM

YES, YOU CAN BE A SUCCESSFUL SONGWRITER by Danny Arena

Danny Arena, Songwriter

Yes, we all know it’s tough to break into the music business these days. But the news is not all gloom and doom. The truth is there are more opportunities for writers and artists today to make a living than ever before. You can be well on the road to becoming a successful songwriter or songwriter/artist if you follow some simple proven strategies:

  • MAKE SURE YOUR SONGS ARE THE BEST THEY CAN BE 
    The number one reason songs don’t make an impact on an audience or get recorded by outside artists is because they simply aren’t strong enough. Sadly, many writers waste thousands of dollars recording or demoing songs that aren’t ready to be recorded or pitched. And some waste more money hiring independent song pluggers and buying tip sheets to pitch those same songs. The music business is hard enough to break into with a killer song, much less a song that isn’t competitive. Instead of spending all that money on demos, recording studios and tip sheets -- buy a book on songwriting. Take a class. Attend a songwriter workshop or seminar. Aside from the networking opportunities you’ll encounter, you’ll probably learn a trick or two. Even if you already know the basic craft, you can still enhance your unique voice as a writer and strengthen your writing skills by incorporating new techniques into your lyrics and music. As Henry Ford said, "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty."
  • GGET FEEDBACK.
    Play your songs for an audience and see if that humorous line in the second verse really makes them laugh or if the bridge has the emotional impact you think it should. And by all means, have some professionals in the industry evaluate your song before you spend money on that demo or recording. A few professional insights on the song might save you a lot of money and heartache.
  • CCO-WRITE WITH OTHERS 
    Some feel that co-writing might compromise their integrity as a writer. But like a good marriage, there are also a lot of advantages to a good collaboration. A collaborator can bring a new perspective into a song that you never would have thought of on your own, or bring strengths to an area where you might not be as strong (e.g., music, playing, singing, etc.). As well as the obvious creative collaboration on the song, a co-writer also brings his or her entire network of friends and business contacts to the table. For that reason, we regularly hook-up cowriters at SongU.com in various songwriting challenges (the current challenge is the “blind date” challenge in which we’ve paired up over 100 writers who have never met to write long distance together). Last year, one of our members from Canada who was paired up with a writer from Hawaii collaborated on a Blues song. The Canadian writer then pitched the song to the director of a Blues Festival that happened to be in town that week. The pair ended up with their first co-write together getting recorded on a blues compilation CD alongside several well known Blues artists like John Lee Hooker. Together they accomplished what neither could have alone.
  • CHOOSE THE RIGHT DEMO
    When you do get around to demoing that great song, choose the right demo. Not every song needs a full blow-out demo. Every song has its own life and the best vehicle to showcase the songs really depends on the song. One of our SongU.com instructors, Cole Wright, a top Nashville songplugger, does a monthly feature in our e-Auditorium called “What’s Cole Pitching?” in which he plays and discusses several of the demos he’s pitched during the month. You’d be surprised how many guitar/vocal or piano/vocals he pitches and gets cut. So before you demo the song, give some thought to how to best let the song convey its message. Regardless of whether you do a full band demo or a simple piano or guitar/vocal demo, it needs to be a professional quality (i.e., the vocalist sounds like they should have a record deal and the guitar player is flawless).
  • JOIN THE DIGITAL AGE
    If you’re still recording your songs on that cassette or 8-track player and don’t know how to put them into MP3 format, you’re behind the times and are going to miss out on a lot of pitch opportunities. For example, when my wife, Sara Light, and I were writing for the Broadway show Urban Cowboy we got a call on a Friday afternoon from the director of the show that they needed us to write a new song for the close of the first act by Monday morning’s rehearsal – they needed lead sheet and worktape in hand at rehearsal. However, they were in New York City and we were in Nashville. With two days to write the song and get them a lead sheet and recording, there simply wasn’t a lot of time. If I didn’t have the skills to do the lead sheet on the computer and create/record the MP3 to email them at rehearsal, we would’ve missed a golden opportunity.
  • LOOK BEYOND THE OBVIOUS WHEN YOU PITCH 
    As the wise monkey, Rafiki, from the movie The Lion King says, “You must look beyond what you see”. Too many writers make the mistake of trying to only pitch their song to the top selling artists. You might as well buy a ticket to the lottery too because you’ve got just as much a chance of coming out ahead there. Your song is competing against the songs and networking power of every other hit writer and every other professional songwriter and publishing company around. Heck, that artist is probably writing songs for the album too and their producer probably runs a publishing company and has a vested interest in getting songs from his or her publishing company on the project. Even if your song is as good as all those other songs, it would be tough to compete against the established relationships and networking power of those other individuals. Instead of playing the lottery, play the odds. Today’s market is vastly different from what it was ten years ago. There are many more non-traditional opportunities available that weren’t available to writers before if you just look for them. For example, we have a regular pitching opportunity at SongU.com for a company in California that licenses songs for wedding slideshows, graduation slideshows and more. Some of our members make several hundred dollars a year from their songs being licensed in this way. The fact that online organizations like CDBaby.com give indie artists an opportunity to market and sell their projects means they can generate an income (and pay out royalties) without a big record label behind them. There are thousands of independent artists on MySpace - many of whom look to outside material when it comes time to record their album (and have devoted fan bases that buy those albums). With the help of the Internet, you may find surprising sources.
  • EXPOSE YOURSELF (well, at least your songs)
    Something definitely happens when you don't put your songs out there in the world for others -- they don't get cut! So take advantage of every outlet, every possibility, ever opportunity. You never know which will be the one that pays off. One of our members received a contract offer from MTV for use of some of her songs in one of their TV shows because they stumbled onto her songs on her website. If people can’t hear your song or find it, they can’t fall in love with it and want to license it or record it.
  • CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE
    Finally, remember that success is an ongoing journey, not a destination. As soon as you get your first single song contract, you want a staff deal. You land your first cut and then you hope for a single. You get a single and then you set your sights on having that #1 hit. You score a #1 hit and then they tell you that no one takes you seriously in the business until you have at least three #1 hits. In other words, this road has no end in sight. So enjoy and celebrate your achievements along the way.

Whether you are just learning to upload an MP3, a new open tuning on your guitar, or place in a songwriting contest – you are successful. Most of us did not choose this as a career. It chose us. We write songs simply because we can’t imagine life if we didn’t. So as long as you’re on this journey, you might as well buckle up and enjoy the scenery.

-Danny

About Danny Arena:
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer who has worked as a staff songwriter for Warner/Chappell Music and Curb Magnatone Music Publishing. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition. He is currently an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville and has been a member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University as well as a guest lecturer at the Berklee College of Music and Belmont University. Together Danny and Sara collaborated on composing songs for the Broadway show "Urban Cowboy: The Musical" which was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founders of the online educational website www.SongU.com which provides multi-level songwriting courses developed and taught by award-winning songwriters, song feedback and mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Danny Arena, Tony Award, Successful, Warner/Chappell Music, Curb Magnatone Music Publishing

On Being A Professional Songwriter

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Feb 09, 2012 @12:00 PM

On Being A Professional Songwriter by Danny Arena 

Almost Famous? Money For Nothing And Your Chicks For Free? I received an email this week from a songwriter who thought writing a hit song would lead them to financial independence. This is not the first time I have received such an email. In fact they come regularly, this was the second email on the topic I received this week (I'm staring at another one right now). I still had to shake my head and wonder. Is there really that much misinformation out there about the business of being a songwriter? If so, I really need to find out who's doing the PR for the entire songwriting profession and congratulate them on a job well done. 


Well, let's shed some light on this and talk about some of these reasons why you might consider becoming a songwriter:

  • Fame? Ummm, actually no. The songwriter usually remains unknown unless they are also the artist singing the song. How many non-songwriters out there know who Joe Leathers is? Did you know that Tim McGraw sang a song Joe co-wrote called, "Still" recently on the ACM Awards on national TV? How about Georgia Middleman? Keith Urban sang a song she co-wrote, "I'm In" , on the ACM Awards. Both songs are likely to be big hits, yet not many people will know the writers behind the songs. Dave Berg was ASCAP Songwriter of The Year a couple years ago. This is considered one of the highest awards a songwriter can receive...does his name ring any bells? Probably not unless you're in the music business. And those rare times when the songwriter is mentioned or acknowledged, it's not uncommon to find incomplete or missing relevant information. I read in the newspaper the day after the ACM's the following blurb: "For his latest single, Keith Urban looked toward one of his favorite writers, Radney Foster, for a rockin number called, "I'm In". The author of the article managed to leave out the name of Radney's co-writer on the song, Georgia Middleman (Radney is a former major label artist, hence the extra recognition he has). No, fame and glory are definitely not included in the benefits package for the professional songwriter. Sure, you might get a "that's cool" at your high-school reunion when they find out what you do for a living. But the truth is that even the most successful songwriters are only well-known in a relatively small circle.
  • Make Lots of Money? Yes, surely, you should consider becoming a songwriter if money's tight and you need to make a few bucks quickly. Uh, no. Do you know the difference between a large pizza and a songwriter? One of them can feed a family of four (the other delivers the pizza for a living). Know how to make a million dollars as a songwriter? Start with 1.2 million. There's a reason why jokes like this exist. It's because there's a grain of truth in them. Very, very few songwriters actually make a living from writing songs full time. Those that do usually have been working steadily at it for a very long time. It might take a good 7-15 years working at it full time before you actually start seeing any money from your hard work. And yes, if you are one of the few songwriters who catches lightning in a bottle and lands a big hit song, you might make $300,000 in one year (before taxes). But as any financial advisor would tell you, when you average that big windfall over the 10 years prior when you've made next to nothing, it turns out you would have done better financially working at the local Lowe's Hardware. Plus you'd get health benefits (something that's not part of the deal when you're a professional songwriter). So, if you're looking for a sound financial plan, landing a gig as a professional or hit songwriter probably isn't the best career path for you.
  • Job Stability? Sorry, no. The couple hundred songwriters who are lucky enough to land a steady gig writing songs usually sign a 1-5 year contract with a publishing company that has an option at the end of each year. That option is for the publishing company to decide whether or not they want to keep you around for another year. In other words, every year you're "on the bubble". So if you go a couple of years without some significant action on your songs, you're likely to be out on the streets looking for another writing deal. I might also add that the job itself is inherently fraught with highs and lows. Having lived this life now for a number of years, I most definitely would not call it a "smooth ride". One day you might get a call from the head of the record label on his airplane saying that they're going to cut one of your songs on a well-known group. But a month later, the group breaks up or declares bankruptcy. You might find out you have the next single on an established artist on a major label. But then out of nowhere, the record label shuts its doors and your single is dead in the water. You could attend opening night on Broadway and see your songs performed on stage but come back to the hotel to an email that informs you that your publishing company is closing so they can't pick up your option. Signing on for a career in songwriting is definitely signing up for a roller coaster ride [author's note: yes, as you've probably guessed, those are all real examples from the life of real songwriters, myself included]. 
    Ok, so why become a songwriter then if it's such an incredibly difficult, unstable and financially unwise lifestyle? Well, Well, every once in a while all the stars line up in the universe and it's magic. You hear your song on the radio or you watch Tim McGraw singing your song on TV or Raul Esparza belting your song on Broadway. And it's that one brief moment that you always dream about as a songwriter...it's the thing that keeps you going through the days when you're out of a job, or people criticize your work and tell you that it's impossible to make it as a songwriter. You work your butt off for 10-12 years to get that one brief second where you feel like it's all worth it. And when it happens, it's truly a magical moment. My wife, Sara Light and I, have been lucky enough during our years as songwriters to catch lightning in a bottle a few times. I was actually nominated for a Tony Award the same year as three of my childhood idols who I always wanted to be like -- Elton John, Billy Joel and Michel Legrand (you may not recognize this last name...see point #1 above about fame). It was an unbelievable dream come true for me.

So while watching the ACM Awards on TV the other night, the first thing I did when I saw Tim McGraw singing Joe Leathers song was to email Joe a note to congratulate him. Right after that, I phoned Georgia Middleman and did the same...because when you get down to it, here's the thing. Songwriting is a calling - not a career choice. Those who succeed as songwriters didn't pick it as a lifestyle. Songwriting picked them. If I could give this up and choose another career and be happy doing it, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But I can't. This is what I do. It's what I've always wanted to do. It's what fills my soul. And given the choice, I'd do it all over again. Every professional songwriter I know is the same way. We can't not write songs. That business stuff -- just comes along for the ride, good and bad...and if you're still reading this and I haven't managed to convince you to not become a songwriter by this point, then welcome to the hood. You're a songwriter.


Songwriter Danny Arena Danny Arena 
is a Tony-Award nominated songwriter and co-founder of www.SongU.com. SongU.com provides multi-level song writing courses developed by award-winning songwriters, song feedback, mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, Songwriting Tips, Danny Arena, Tony Award, professional

Songwriting Tip: Creating A Standout Chorus

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jan 31, 2011 @06:18 PM

Creating A Standout Chorus
by Danny Arena 

One of the most common musical traps songwriters fall into is having a chorus that sounds too much like the verse. Remember that the whole point of having different sections in your song is to have variety. As a general rule of thumb, different musical sections such as verses, lifts, choruses and bridges should contrast each other. This makes each section unique, which keeps the song musically interesting. This is especially important in the chorus section, which really needs to stand out from the rest of the song. 

So how we can apply this idea of creating contrast to the music? Since music has three fundamental components (melody, harmony, and rhythm), we have three ways of creating a contrast between different musical sections. Let’s explore each of these methods of contrast a little more carefully.

  • Melodic Contrast - To create an effective melodic contrast, make sure that the chorus is higher than the verse. The easiest test of this is to try and draw a line representing the melody in your song. If you have a hill or peak in the chorus compared to the verse, then you’ve probably done your job. On the other hand, if you end up with a fairly straight line, you have what I call a "flatline" melody (it means exactly what the term implies - the song has been pronounced melodically dead). Often this happens if a writer begins the verse in their highest singing register. When they get to the chorus, there’s nowhere higher they can sing, so it stays in the same range. The end result is a melody that doesn’t move enough. The simplest way to avoid this trap is to write the verse in a comfortable, but low melodic range. This gives you plenty of room to move upward in the chorus. If you write the chorus first, try to keep it in your upper singing register. This will give you room to make the verse melody lower while still creating an effective contrast. Naturally, you have to keep an eye on the overall range to make sure it’s not beyond a typical singer’s range (usually an octave plus three or four notes). 
  • Harmonic Contrast - A second way to make different musical sections contrast is harmonically. The chords used in a song supply the musical foundation for the melody as well as establishing the emotional feel of the song. If both the verse and chorus use the same chord progression, there’s a good chance those sections will sound too similar. The same goes for the bridge or lift section. Try to consciously choose a different chord progression for each different musical section. The easiest way to achieve this is to start each section on a different chord. If the verse starts on a G chord then begin the chorus on a different chord like C, and your bridge on an Am chord. For example, the verse to the Grammy award winning song, "Wind Beneath My Wings" (Henley/Silbar) starts on a G chord while the chorus begins on an Em chord. This doesn’t mean you can’t start both your verse and chorus on the same chord, but if you do, be sure to include some other method of contrast.
  • Rhythmic Contrast - A third way to create an effective contrast between sections is by changing the rhythm of the melody between the verse and chorus. The best example I can think of is the perennial Howard/Arlen song, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (which contains a bridge or "B" section rather than a chorus). Try to imagine the rhythm of the verse melody in your head. Hear those big long half notes on words like "way" and "up"? For the most part, the verse rhythm is composed of half notes. Now try to hear the bridge section of the song ("someday I’ll wish"). Can you tell the difference? The bridge section is comprised mainly of the quicker rhythm of eighth notes, which creates an effective contrast to the half notes in the verse. It’s also interesting to note that both the verse and the bridge begin on the same chord and are in the same melodic range. The rhythmic change supplies the only musical contrast between the verse and bridge sections and it’s enough to keep us tuned in to the song. If you’re solely a lyricist, rhythmic contrast is a great thing that you can build into your lyrics by simply paying particular attention to the rhythm of the words in each section

Just remember when you’re looking for a way to create a distinctive chorus, remember you have several options. Hope to see you on the charts. 


Songwriter Danny Arena Danny Arena 
is a Tony-Award nominated songwriter and co-founder of www.SongU.com. SongU.com provides multi-level song writing courses developed by award-winning songwriters, song feedback, mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, please go tp: http://www.songwriting.net 

Tags: Chorus, Songwriting, Billboard Charts, Danny Arena, SongU.com, Tony-Award nominated songwriter