Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip : Songs Are Small Things

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jul 07, 2015 @07:05 PM

by Harriet Schock

 Songwriting

I tell my songwriting students this often. I tell myself this often. Songs are small things. Unlike a play or screenplay, songs can’t have a large cast or a bunch of subplots. If the idea of the song is “You are so beautiful to me…” then you simply say that and very little else. In fact, you should check out the lyric to that song. It’s astonishingly concise. Of course, I’m not saying every song has to be that truncated, although if it has a melody that good and that much emotion in the lyric with a vocal by Joe Cocker or Ray Charles, who needs more?

 

One of my favorite songs is “The Song Remembers When” by Hugh Prestwood. He simply writes vignettes of what the “I” in the song is doing—standing at the counter, rolling through the Rockies—when a song comes on and makes him (or when Trisha Yearwood sings it “her”) remember the relationship because the song brings it back. Now he doesn’t go into a dissertation on the time space continuum, he merely states that no matter how long a time has transpired, and no matter that he doesn’t even remember what went wrong in the relationship, when he hears that song, he’s right back with her. And he gives examples of how it happens, as well as making philosophical observations that are eloquent with the ring of truth. Consider this phrase about looking back on the old relationship, “But that’s just a lot of water underneath a bridge I’ve burned.” I use this as an example of brilliant craft that once you’ve broken the code of what he’s doing there, you can do it too. And you’d better be brilliant and eloquent because you don’t have much time to tell your story. It has to be a whole love story, or a whole life, or a whole movie with a plot even if no subplots—and it has to all happen in around 3 ½ minutes. So we don’t have time for non sequiturs and flowery language that doesn’t communicate.

 

Speaking of language that communicates, I have my students read Charles Bukowski’s free verse poetry for 4 things:

1) He says a lot in a few words

2) He uses conversational language

3) He writes very visually and

4) He uses irony in just about every poem.

I find that irony can’t be taught but it can be caught, like a cold. Somehow Bukowski’s irony is simply more contagious than other poets’ irony.

 

Sometimes at an open mic when I’d swear I’m hearing the plot of “War and Peace” crammed into someone’s original song, I want to suggest to them, loudly, that songs are small things. But when they’re written really well, we remember that diamonds are small things too.

 

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), her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, demo, hit song, Harriet Schock, co-writing

Songwriters: How to Demo Your Songs for Maximum Effect

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jun 24, 2015 @09:24 PM

 

Expert Advice: Songwriters: How to Demo Your Songs for Maximum Effect

 

By Holly Knight

 

 Holly Knight, songwriter

 

There are many things that come into play when deciding what kind of demo you want to make. You will need to:

 

 

 

Decide who you want to pitch the song to.
• Determine what kind of sound you’re going for i.e. production.
• Figure out your budget (what you want and what you can afford aren’t always the same, but this is one of the biggest factors).
• Decide who plays on your demo: Is it you, or a combination of you and a hired vocalist? If you don’t play at all, you’ll need to hire musicians. If you’re not a great singer, hire one. Trust me, getting a good singer to sell your song is very important.

 

 

 

These days it is remarkably cheaper and much more convenient to record out of your own place, even your bedroom. If you’re serious about songwriting, you should have, at the very least, a simple, inexpensive program such as Logic, or GarageBand, both now a part of the Apple startup package. There are countless free tutorials on YouTube to learn them and they are pretty user-friendly.

 

 

 

1. If you are not already set up to record at home, then do so! Set yourself up with a digital home recording system. I use Pro Tools, the industry standard, used by almost every music producer. It’s more expensive, but there are different versions with a startup one being more affordable.

 

 

 

2. Learn how to program and engineer on a basic level. Engineering yourself saves money and time. Another advantage is that any time you feel inspired, you can work on your demo. You have the freedom to keep trying lots of different things without looking at the clock and worrying about emptying your bank account. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone in my studio at 2:00 a.m. in just my underwear and Ugg Boots and recorded something really cool, without having to worry about dealing with someone else.

 

 

 

3. Use a male vocalist for a demo if you’re going to pitch it to a female rock singer (or any kind of edgy female singer like P!nk). Usually those kinds of female singers are a bit tomboyish, and they want to sing like a guy, so it’s easier for them to imagine singing it.

 

 

 

4. Do not make the mistake of getting a singer to sing like the artist you’re pitching to. Obviously, stylistically you want them to sell the song, but you don’t want to be off-putting to the artist either. I never gave a demo to Pat Benatar or Tina Turner where the vocalist sounded just like them. Sometimes they even feel like they’re being parodied. Not a good thing.

 

 

 

5. There are two kinds of demos these days. Either highly polished and practically a master unto themselves, or a very simple and real sounding demo, something like a piano and vocal, or an acoustic/vocal version. One of the advantages of submitting a high-end demo is that sometimes, if the producer loves your tracks—especially if it’s programmed synths and drum beats—they’ll want to use them on the master they’re recording with the artist. If this happens, you can negotiate a credit for either coproduction or programming.

 

You should also work out payment, which is usually in the form of points (a percentage). Sometimes, but very rarely, they will use the entire session or even hire you to produce the master with the artist. This almost only happens when you are known as a producer, and probably is not applicable to this article.

 

 

 

The disadvantage to putting too much into a well-produced demo is that often a producer, A&R guy or the artist can’t hear enough of the song on its own merits, and you haven’t left enough room for their imaginations. Sometimes that turns people off.

 

Another disadvantage is it can cost a lot more money once you’ve hired an engineer, and various musicians.

 

 

 

6. In my personal experience, a truly good song often sells itself better when it’s a simpler demo. If it sounds great in a simple form, then an artist can imagine how they would do it and “make it their own.” A great production of a weak song will get you nada, but a great song, even with a simple demo will stand a better chance of getting cut.

 

 

 

7. Make sure the vocals are loud. You’re not making your own record. You want the listener to hear the words.

 

 

 

8. Make sure you can understand the words when the vocalist sings, so that A&R peeps never need to look at a lyric sheet. Don’t overdo the effects, like delay and reverb, to the point that the singer sounds far away and hard to understand.

 

 

 

9. Don’t go crazy with guitar or other instrumental solos if your objective is to get a song cut. No one CARES. Unless your demos are also intended to sell you as an artist, then you can throw in some dazzling musicianship; but even then, I would keep those moments minimal. No one CARES. They want to hear great songs they can market.

 

 

 

10. Back everything up, every few minutes that you’re working— you can set your program to do that automatically—and label your sessions clearly. I can’t tell you how many sessions I used to label as “Friday night, USE THIS ONE.”

 

 

 

11. Usually an MP3 will suffice. It’s easy to send around, and easy for the listener to open up and listen to. I’ve often gone to the trouble of sending a higher res file, such as Wave or AiFF via Dropbox, and no one seems to appreciate the difference. You want the demo to be as easy as possible for the listener to access. If they have to go to yet another site and download a song you’re submitting to them, sometimes they won’t even bother to listen.

 

 

 

Ah now, submitting your songs....that’s a whole ‘nother subject, y’all... I hope this has helped you! Rock on!

 

 (Reprinted by permission, Music Connection magazine) 

 

About the Author:

 

HOLLY KNIGHT is a three-time Grammy winner, the recipient of 13 ASCAP Awards and a 2013 inductee to The Songwriters Hall of Fame. For a complete discography of her work, and to learn about her intensive, limited-enrollment Master Songwriting Classes, go to hollyknight.com, Twitter: @HollyKnightlife

 

 

 

For for information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, demo, hit song, co-writing

Songwriting Tip: The Demo Is Dead

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, May 27, 2014 @08:03 AM

THE DEMO IS DEAD

by John Capek 
Demo Tape for songwriters
Why I don't do demos.

Arif Mardin, Mutt Lange,Trevor Horn, Berry Gordy, Phil Spector, Brian Wilson,
George Martin and Quincy Jones are gentlemen who have shared a common philosophy regarding recording contemporary popular music.

That philosophy is - a respect for spontaneity however, not making it their deity.
More than being record producers, these guys have been consummate ARRANGERS and editors of recorded music.

Much of the iconic recorded music that we recognize as our score to the twentieth and twenty-first century has been recorded, ARRANGED edited and 'produced' by this group of musical royalty.

In researching the content of anthemic hit records that stand the test of time, I have found one common factor. That factor, for me has been an epiphany, a revelation and a secret unfolded.

Consider the bass line of the Beatles song "Lady Madonna". That line is never sung, is not part of the melody, has no specific connection to the lyric and would not appear on a lead sheet. Yet without that bass line, the song is unrecognizable in its familiar context.

British courts recently awarded a partial ownership of the song "Whiter Shade of Pale" to the keyboard player who came up with the intro to that recording.

Similarly, consider Michael Jackson's "Beat It" without the bass figure or just about any Motown hit song such as Marvin Gaye's "Grapevine" without the intro figure or the Beach Boy's "Good Vibrations" without its signature instrumental line.

Who is the decider on how, when and where these musical hooks get incorporated into the records that have become our anthems? Who decided that the flute part in "Men at Work's" "Land Down Under" should become such a recognizable and controversial signature?

What does it take to make these records our mileposts, our familiar touchstones and our connections?

Some of Mutt Lange's albums have taken a year to make and millions of dollars in budget. Is the secret about time and money?

George Martin, Arif Mardin and Quincy Jones had rigorous formal training in composition, harmony and orchestral arranging. Brian Wilson and Phil Spector were focused "out of this world" visionary geniuses who invented sonic and harmonic atmospheres probably never to be replicated by anyone else.

We now land in the second decade of the twenty-first century with the recorded music industry decimated and its economic base essentially collapsed. Positions in social media can be bought and paid for, attendance at live shows is financially beyond the reach of most fans and records have become fleeting sound clips that have no lasting social, cultural or economic value. I love the 'wrecking ball', it's...........spherical.

What does it take to create an anthemic, iconic lasting piece of recorded music that has similar qualities to those great works created by Quincy, Arif, Phil and Brian?

We don't have the time, we don't have the resources and we certainly don't have the budgets. The chances of coming up with a timeless 'anthemic hit'  even in the most ideal circumstance, based on an assembly of the greatest studio musicians with the best engineers in the most aesthetic environment recording our demo in a limited time/budget scenario, is I believe an absolute zero.

There is an answer and I believe that I have access to that answer, can and have fulfilled that answer and am in business to supply that answer.

I don't do demos.

As a songwriter, I write the "record" not just the song. There is a reason that Diana Ross, Chicago, Olivia Newton John and Bonnie Raitt have picked up my recorded song demo/masters and made them a part of their albums. There is a reason that musicians as great as Toto have cloned my demo/masters and recorded my bass lines note for note.

My mode is to prioritize the concept of arrangement without incurring the extraordinary budgets and unlimited time for 'trial and error' experimentation that the greats have had.

I am a consummate pop music arranger who spent years working as a double scale studio musician in Los Angeles, in demand precisely for my ability to compose, design and conceive of those musical signatures and hooks that define a record and give it that lasting iconic quality.

Today, this ARRANGING process occurs in my own studio, in my own time, utilizing my encyclopedic musical vocabulary. This process does not incur the added expense of outside musicians, outside studios, arrangers engineers or added personnel.

Once an ARRANGEMENT is designed, agreed upon and is in place, then a project can be taken to a formal studio where live musicians replicate the parts that I have designed and the rest of a recording is completed, mixed and mastered.

Often parts that have been recorded in my pre-production ARRANGING process do not change and are retained as part of the master resulting in additional time and cost saving.


It takes me about 100 hours per song. Some examples of the results can be heard on the 'Songs' page of www.johncapek.com

As a keyboard player, arranger, producer and songwriter, I am likely to be heard on about one hundred million recordings, one of which is playing on some public media somewhere at any instant in time.

I am occasionally available to turn your concept into a hit record within realistic budgets. Contact me for an evaluation and an estimate.

John Capek has achieved international acclaim as a composer, songwriter, keyboard player, producer, arranger and scorer for feature films and television.
Rod Stewart leads the list of popular music icons who have recorded Capek compositions. Others include Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Toto, Chicago, Olivia Newton John, Little River Band, Heart, Manhattan Transfer, Isaac Hayes and Amanda Marshall. John Capek’s most performed award winning songs include : “Rhythm of My Heart”, ”This”, ”Soul on Soul” and “Carmelia”.  Capek’s most performed productions include Dan Hill’s Billboard hit duet with Vonda Sheppard, “Can’t We Try” as well as work with Ken Tobias, Gene McLellan, Good Brothers and Downchild. As a keyboard player, John has recorded with Diana Ross, Olivia Newton John, Ian Thomas, Marc Jordan, Dan Hill, Kermit, The Chipmunks, The Simpsons and countless other international performers. John’s songs are heard in the feature films, “A Perfect Storm”, “Cocktail”, “Blown Away” and many others. For more information go to www.johncapek.com

For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, demo, songwrite, Recording, song demo, music demo

Songwriting Tip: To Demo Or Not To Demo

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, May 01, 2014 @05:38 PM

Songwriting Tip: To Demo Or Not To Demo

What to consider before pushing record...

recording your demo, songwriting

By James Piekarski

It's disheartening—you spent hundreds upon hundreds of dollars and countless hours on a demo, only to have industry professionals reject it.

There are many reasons for rejection—why not sort them out and eliminate as many of them as you can?

It’s all about the song

Almost anyone on a modest budget can create great-sounding demos. But the songs themselves have to be not just good songs, but rather great songs, to capture and hold a listener’s attention. Your competition is not the band down the block, but rather what’s on the radio and in the CD racks at the retailer. That’s the level you need to be aiming at.

A brief visit to unsigned-talent websites should give you an idea of how vast a pool of competitors you have. The Internet downloading phenomenon indicates that listeners want to cherry-pick their favorite songs. Like it or not, more focus than ever will be on solid songwriting.

Universal A&R veteran Reen Nalli, who has signed such artists as INXS and india.arie, says, “Why do we have to have CDs that have 10 to 15 tracks? I think you’re going to start seeing fewer and stronger tracks.”

Mike Doyle, former Writer Relations Representative at ASCAP and now in Creative at Major Bob Music,Nashville, says, “You can spend a lot of money on songs that sound great. But do your homework and make sure the song itself is where it needs to be before you ever set foot in a demo studio.”

Avoid the friends and family plan

Family members and friends are probably the worst people from which to solicit honest feedback. Your mom will love all your songs no matter how good or bad they are. Where then is one to get a really honest critique of one’s music before going through all the time and expense of creating a full-blown demo?

There are professional organizations of interest to unsigned artists who need to solicit that kind of creative input. For one, Nashville Songwriter’s Association International (NSAI) has chapters throughout theUnited States,Canada, andEurope. Typically, NSAI critique sessions are offered once a month. The sessions are refereed by an NSAI representative and feature an industry A&R or music publishing professional to offer advice. 

Dave Rivers, National Workshops Director of NSAI, comments, “The NSAI critique sessions give people an opportunity to get feedback from a pro writer who is out there writing for the market every day. We have a mail-in evaluation service as part of membership as well. And it’s heartbreaking to hear a $600 demo of a song that is pretty good, but the chorus is twice as long as it needs to be. NSAI is an organization for all genres, not just country. Having a song that is competitive is important in all genres of music.”

Songwriters Guild of America (SGA) offers similar feedback sessions on a bi-monthly basis along with other writers’ workshop opportunities. SGA also offers mail-in critique services. Performance rights organizations such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, also offer a variety of workshops where participants can have their songs critiqued, bolster their songwriting skills, and learn about the inner workings of the music business. Check their websites for their calendar of events. Many of the new web-based music services such as Broadjam, and of course the well-established on- and offline TAXI network, offer critiques as part of their membership services.

Critique Groups

How about starting your own critique group? Groups of about six to eight members work quite well. And try to work up. That is, work with others who are at least equal to if not a bit better than you. Have all the participants bring a rough work tape, or be prepared for a live performance (acoustic guitar and vocal, for example) and enough lyric sheets to go around to all the other participants. Set ground rules on how many minutes can be spent on each song.

You’ll find that critique groups are a great way to get to know other musicians’ music. And you’re sure to learn from what they are doing right and wrong. Besides, you may be able to develop some new co-writing opportunities. About co-writing, hit songwriter Gary Burr says “You’ve got a 100 percent better chance that someone in the room is going to have a good idea. It picks up the slack a little bit if you’re having an off day.”

Full production demo or guitar/vocal?

One of the most often asked questions at music industry workshops is “How full does my demo have to be?” The answers to this are all over the map and depend on the style of music and whether the track is an artist demo or a song demo. 

If the song is a pop or rock demo that showcases the sound of the band, then it really does have to sound like it’s ready for radio. Unlike country or folk, or other more song lyric-oriented styles, the overall sound, attitude, choice of drum loops, cool and crunchy guitars, and wicked groove are of equal  importance to the raw, underlying song itself. 

This is not to say that a great lyric won’t help, but lyrics in pop and rock often tend to be more metaphorical, personal for the artist, artsy/poetic, or just plain open for interpretation as opposed to folk, country and rap. For solo artists with a unique vocal styling, maybe a less elaborate demo might be OK. If you marry a great song to a great, fresh sounding track, you’ve got a “can’t miss” combination. 

For non-artist songwriters, very high-quality guitar (or piano) and vocal demos are entirely suitable for presentation to a publisher. It’s not uncommon to hear, “Great sounding track, but too bad the song just isn’t there yet.” Focusing your efforts on a professional sounding, well performed guitar-vocal demo will be time well spent. If you plan ahead correctly, you can always go back and add more tracks at a later date. If you can swing the time and expense of a full demo, great. Presenting your song as it might sound on radio will not work against you. But again, if the song (lyric, melody, basic harmony, form) is not there… 

Assuming the instrumental performance is 100 percent there, vocals sell songs. Great vocals sell more songs! Great vocals with a unique vibe and special sound sell yet more songs. It’s money well spent to have the best singer possible on your tracks. If you can do this yourself, great. If you can’t, consider trying a pro vocalist on a track and see what a difference it makes. If you’re recording your own vocal tracks, Joe Albano has a lot more to offer on this subject in his article on page 40.

The Nashville game

Nashvillehas in recent years become more than just a source of country and bluegrass music.Nashville, which has always had a strong Gospel music industry, has also become a center for rock and rap-oriented Contemporary Christian music. 

Song demos targeted at the Nashville market are lyric-driven styles, period. If the story or main idea of the song is not clear, game over. Songwriting pros inNashvilleare primarily focused on lyric and melody rather than relying on a signature synth part, drum loop, or certain guitar sound to get the song across. 

If you want to play the game inNashvillefor any style of music, your lyric craft will play a major role in your success. The song needs to stay on message. You can’t be secretly wishing the listener will pick up on the meaning of the song. You really can’t be in denial in this area. There will seldom be alternative interpretations of meaning of a country, folk, or gospel song. It is not uncommon to hear pros from the East and West Coasts comment how a visit toNashvillereally “tightens up” one’s writing skills. 

Demo Derby

The majority of Recording’s readers have at least a modest recording studio of some kind. And if you’re in a band, you already have your talent pool ready to go. However, you may have a need for professional session players, either because not all of your band members are up to the task, or because you don’t play with a band and need additional instruments on your tracks. 

Organizing a demo derby is one way to save money on session players: A bunch of songwriters pool their resources and hire musicians for a preset period of time (usually 4-hour blocks).

Let’s say that you and several songwriters want to add some saxophone or flute to a number of tracks. Most professional session saxophonists own tenor, alto, soprano saxes, and double on flute (and sometimes clarinet and even oboe). Given that, set up the mics, levels, and compression once, have the charts ready and run as many tracks as possible in the session. Since some instrumentalists are accustomed to charging by the song, be sure to work out the payment details in advance. Surprises on the session, especially regarding money, are never a good thing.

Many demo studios offer per-song pricing which includes all instrumentalists. Some studios may be able to set up demo-derby package pricing in 4- or 8-hour blocks so many writers can share the same instrumentalists on a number of songs.

Repeat chorus and fade

Art and commerce do mix. Trying to be competitive in the marketplace is not selling out. If you were to go into business for yourself, wouldn’t you explore the competition and see how you could offer something better? Why then would you not want to treat your musical career and all that plays into it in the same dogged, determined, and calculated way? 

Chances are that you’ll come away from the critique process with a better understanding of the craft and mechanics of songwriting, and perhaps with some insight into how others are hearing your music. Go write a hit!

(Article Reprinted with Permission from Recording Magazine)

James Piekarski is a composer, songwriter, producer, and recording engineer. He’s also a faculty member in The Department of Recording Industry at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN.

For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, demo, A&R, critique

Songwriter’s Intervention

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Oct 31, 2013 @01:00 PM

Songwriter’s Intervention

Shedding The Bad Habits That Hold Back Your Songs

By Frank Gryner (via your friends and family)

 Songwriting Help

We’ve assembled here because we care about you. It has become clear to the friends and family in this room that your avoidance of technology, in the name of artistry, has negatively impacted your songwriting. Despite your obvious passion for music, you’re continuously blocking your own path of creativity by acquiring several bad habits that we intend to address here today.

Fueled by your natural ability, you may have started out writing songs pretty effortlessly, but in order to advance further, you’ll need to streamline your creative process and take advantage of some of the latest tools available.

 

De-mystifying your music

We’ve heard the phrases “I’m not inspired”, “I have writer’s block”, or “I don’t feel like writing” too often to remain silent anymore. What other profession is reliant on inexplicable cosmic fate in order to produce results? We know it may be hard to hear, but if you don’t know how to write songs on demand, then you’re hardly a professional, but just someone who stumbles upon a decent song by accident.

Even if you don’t have real aspirations to become a professional songwriter, we don’t think there’s anything wrong with becoming really proficient at it. We’re not suggesting that you become an emotionless songwriting machine per se, but there are a lot of ways to improve your craft, starting with educating yourself on precisely what a song is.

A song in its most simple form is melody and lyrics. It can be difficult to separate the arrangement and production from the song itself, especially when you’re overly concerned about its presentation before those fundamental building blocks are in place. Some writers need some level of production early on in order to be “inspired” to write, but reducing this dependency is important if you aim to be versatile and more original in your writing. It all starts with a better way to capture your raw song ideas.

 

Don’t let them get away

The greatest songwriters are both blessed and cursed with a compulsion to create songs absolutely anywhere, any time of day or night. There’s absolutely no excuse not to be well equipped with a portable audio recorder at all times. Using the voice recorder in your smartphone is an obvious choice, but be cautious with any device that isn’t 100% dedicated to one task. Ideas can come while driving or even when you’re talking on your phone; all it takes is a split second to lose one of them while you’re fumbling through app icons looking for your recorder app.

Portable digital audio recorders come in many different varieties, but considering you’re employing this to be a more reliable extension of your brain, we’d suggest the following features:

~ Intuitive navigation and fast bootup time

~ Reasonably rugged but small and lightweight

~ Clear, high-quality sound

~ USB connectivity and/or SD card storage so it’s easy to back up often

 

Remember that the primary purpose of your portable recorder is to capture raw melody and lyrical ideas effortlessly. Other bells and whistles on the device can make this process more confusing, and tempt you with premature production features that ultimately distract you from what’s most important in this phase: the unfiltered, bulk download of ideas from your brain.

 

Don’t beat yourself up

Writer’s block often comes from being too self-critical too early in the song creation process. What hits your voice recorder should be viewed as casting a net into your subconscious, as opposed to anything that really resembles a song quite yet. As you sift through the contents of your recorder, you can start to become a little more judgmental, unearthing song-worthy contenders.

We always recommend resisting the urge to dive head-first into arranging or producing until you have the bare-bones song written. The more you can define the lyrics and melody before introducing additional harmonic and rhythmic support instruments into the mix, the better you can assess what accompanying elements are truly necessary. It’s too easy to use them as a crutch for weak melodies or as a mask for subpar lyrics. It’s a good sign when a vocal line hangs together well with a single instrument such as an acoustic guitar or piano.

 

Building a better demo

So you’ve managed to nurture an idea into something that holds together with a voice and a single instrument? Great. At this point it’s now appropriate to start thinking about building up the production on the song.

Because the rest of the world seems incapable of suspending any disbelief when it comes to works in progress, it’s best to leave little to the imagination when you present your songs. Most of the people in this room aren’t going to appreciate a song that’s not fully produced. Yes, even when sufficiently garnished with disclaimers, seasoned industry professionals have been known to overlook underdeveloped genius. The good news is that there are a lot of easy-to-use tools these days to make your demo sound remarkably good but, more importantly, they can do so without getting anyone else involved.

First off, you need to embrace technology, not begrudgingly, but rather find it within yourself to become a tech-head of sorts. Hear us out on this one. Keeping up with the latest plug-ins, apps and gear that can potentially make your songs sound better should be a priority. While being somewhat obsessed with improving your recording workflow may seem unhealthy to you, for someone who is serious about making their songs sound better, it’s unhealthy to not be fixated on it to some extent. If you’re truly into your craft, it will be worth it for you to tirelessly research the latest options to make your life easier in your studio.

 

Technically independent

The more you can be self-reliant, the more you will actually learn about recording and truly understand your studio setup. The danger in relinquishing control over your recording studio to someone else is that it usually comes at the expense of unsolicited creative input. Before calling in reinforcements when you’re up against a problem, Google it first. Chances are you’re not the first person to be running into whatever technical roadblock that’s holding you up.

This technical independence applies to making do without other musicians as well. When you demo a song, it’s your opportunity to explore the best way to present your vision. Experimenting with different grooves, tempos and keys is a lot easier to do when sequencing the parts withMIDI. This allows you to audition each approach before committing anything to audio or involving other musicians. Many of the currently available virtual instruments sound incredibly convincing, especially if you take the time to detail the velocity and timing of your MIDI performance. You’ll find in certain situations that your programmed tracks can more accurately represent your vision for your song than what a real musician can offer.

The byproduct of being more technically proficient is that you will eventually start to get more creative with the recording process itself. Look at your DAW as an instrument, where the choices you make can take your freshly written song to a whole new level.

 

Tough love

We know that being blindsided by all of us here today may not be your idea of a good time, but believe us when we say that we have your best interest at heart. Maybe we’re biased because we’re always pulling for you to do well... or selfishly don’t want to be subjected to mediocre music; but either way, the end result is to become a better and more effective songwriter, which is a win-win for us all.

 

[Permission Reprint From Recording Magazine]

Frank Gryner is a recording engineer, songwriter, and producer whose credits include Rob Zombie, Powerman 5000, Methods Of Mayhem, and many others. His current passion is the jamming/recording program Jammit.

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

 

 

Tags: songwriter, demo, intervention, shedding bad Habits, improve, creativity, studio set-up

Songwriters: Make Your Demos Really Pop!

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, May 03, 2012 @11:45 AM

Songwriters: Make Your Demos Really Pop!

 Singers Guide to Powerful Performances

Okay. You’ve written good songs and now it is time to record demos of them. You know that a demo doesn’t need to be perfect, but it has to be good enough to sell your songs to a publisher or be placed in film or TV by a music supervisor. The success of a song reaching the ears of the many will ride on a number of factors, including having a demo that really sells your song, a demo whose vocal is wisely calculated. Here’s how to get it there...

 

The Song That Doesn’t Sell

 

If your demo’s vocal isn’t stylistically believable, the song won’t sell itself. Good songwriting will be obscured, and possibly passed over, when a music supervisor or publisher listens to a song that has off-pitch, weak vocals or vocals that are stylistically incompatible with the music. For example, say you’ve written an R&B song and hope it will be sung by Christina Aguilera. But when you record the demo, your vocal sounds like an old-style cabaret singer with overly precise word articulation and a loose, wide vibrato. Result: The style of your song will be eclipsed and most likely passed over.

 

Who Will Sing Your Song?

 

When a publisher listens to a demo, if s/he can’t envision a certain artist singing it, chances are slim that s/he’ll pick it up and submit it to an artist for consideration. With that in mind, as you write a song or revise it after it has been written, evaluate the style of your song and match it to one or several possible artists you believe could sing it. This brings us to some important steps that many skip entirely or skimp on in their haste to demo and submit their songs.

 

Do Your Research

 

Before you write a song that you hope to have sung and recorded by specific artists, spend time listening to a cross-section of their currently released material to find out: Are there any particular keys or types of melodies they favor? How much or how little vocal range do they tend to use? Do they use mostly single syllable or multi-syllabic words? Are there any characteristic ways they use their voice, such as certain vowel sounds for their peak or climatic notes? Is their vocal bluesy, belting or whispery? Do they use much sustain? Do you hear a certain recurring manner of rhythmic phrasing or a use of embellishments?

Identify all this before you write your song or revise it, so you’ll compose music and lyrics that are stylistically consistent. You will also discover if you have the vocal skill to sing on your demo or if you should have a talented singer record it.

 

Prep Your Vocals

 

If you plan to sing on your demo, doing this simple exercise before you record will help you to improve your sound. Sing the melody of your song without lyrics, phrase by phrase, using a simple vowel sound such as “Ah,”  “Ee” or “Eh.” Don’t connect the notes with an “h.” Instead, keep your vowel pronunciation consistent as you slowly and smoothly sing each phrase.

Doing this has several benefits. 1) By removing the lyrics, you’ll focus on the musical flow of the melody and this will bring to attention any possible musical edits you deem stylistically necessary. 2) Your voice is the vowel sounds (not the consonants of words). This exercise can help to improve your tone and pitch accuracy, because it requires you to work the sound of your voice only. 3) Singing the melody with a single vowel exercises your vocal muscles so you can sing more easily. Once you’ve done this (over and over) to your satisfaction, sing the song with lyrics and notice any improvements. At this point you can begin to stylize your voice to suit the intended artist or song placement.

 

Learn from Singers

 

If you’ve decided to sing on your demo, but your vocal style doesn’t complement the genre of the song, practice with recordings of singers who sing in that genre. Record yourself so you can compare your rendition to those other singers and make adjustments as needed.

 

Studio Recording Tips

 

There are two important studio factors that either enhance or diminish your recorded vocals. Take the time to get the right headphone mix. You should hear yourself well and not feel “crowded” by the volume of other instruments. If needed, try the “one ear off” technique; Leave the headphone off one ear to hear your voice acoustically in the room.

The type of mic chosen and the mic’s placement should match rather than alter your voice and it should capture your best sound. When using your home studio to record, the standard microphone input on your computer is usually inadequate to make good quality vocal recordings. Use a separate audio interface with a preamp or, for the more budget-conscious, use a USB studio condenser microphone.

 

Remain Objective

 

While it may be difficult to remain objective, the whole project will fail if you do not evaluate your recording with a professional detachment that can discern stylistic consistency, perform-ance believability and accuracy of pitch and rhythmic phrasing. If the first two in-gredients are there, the pitch and rhythm can be fixed by punches or corrected in the recording software.

 songwriting

Vocals Still Sound Bad?

 

If you have followed all these suggestions and the vocals still don’t sound as good as they need to, it is time to acknowledge that you may not be the right singer for this recording. Your skill is songwriting and you want the quality of your art to be evident to others, so find an appropriate singer to record your demo.

There are some talented singers out there who will jump at the chance to get studio experience, an endorsement or even possibly a demo recording of their own. You can find singers through contacting voice coaches in your area, online musician referral services or bulletin boards, by referral from recording studios, other musicians you may know and through Music Connection’s musician’s online social network: AMP (http://musicconnection.com/amp).

You can offer to pay a singer or possibly draw up an agreement allowing them to use the recording as a demo to showcase their voice as long as they don’t sell or record the song as their own. Your song should already be copyright protected prior to going into the studio.

[Reprinted with permission by Music Connection magazine]

Jeannie Deva is recognized as one of the nation’s top celebrity voice and performance coaches. As a recording studio vocal specialist, she has been endorsed by producers and engineers of Aerosmith, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones. Her newest book publication is Singer’s Guide to Powerful Performances. See http://JeannieDeva.com. 

For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, demo, Elton John, Studio Recording Tips, Jeannie Deva, Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones

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

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

From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

by Melissa Axel

Songwriting & Editing by Melissa Axel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songwriting Tip: Demo vs Master Recordings

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jan 16, 2012 @01:51 PM

Demo vs. Master Recordings by Melissa Axel

Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jeane Baker

Demo vs. master recording—what's the difference? You might as well ask the difference between Norma Jeane Baker and Marilyn Monroe. In the same way we evolve from blossoming youth, searching for the best ways to express ourselves, to realizing our potential as a self-possessed adult, a song often undergoes a drastic transformation from rough demo to fully produced track.

The purpose of making demo recordings is manyfold:

* to get feedback from industry professionals to address melody or lyric issues of a song before beginning the production stage

* to create a sketch of the song for making pre-production decisions, such as tempo, feel, instrumentation, and arrangement ideas

* to share the song with musicians and other members of the production team to decide on parts and prepare for recording

* to compare basic recordings of a number of different songs being considered for recording full production and choose the best or most urgent ones to focus on

Making demos can be as simple as performing the song into your phone's voice memo app or using a computer program like GarageBand to flesh out a basic accompaniment to the melody. Or, many cities have demo studios you can hire, complete with session musicians and a vocalist who will perform in the desired style for pitching the song to a recording artist (be aware that in most cases, you will not retain the master recording rights to be able to license these tracks for use in film and television or to put on your own release and sell). By nature, demos should not be fully produced but remain stripped down so music professionals can easily envision possible arrangement and stylistic ideas for the song.

Master recordings, on the other hand, are fully produced "broadcast quality" tracks. Whether recorded at home or with a producer at a recording studio, they should be professionally mixed and mastered to be ready for radio and online broadcasting, available for sale, and placeable in film and television. Unless you are deliberately recording a live performance, masters require several weeks to months to a year or more of preparation. You will need to spend significant time in pre-production and rehearsals with your team (producer, arrangers, musicians, co-writers, etc.) fine-tuning the song form, instrumentation, arrangements, tempo, feel, and overall sound or vibe just right for the finished recording.

Like Norma Jeane and the iconic screen personality she became, both are beautiful—and at their core, they are one and the same. As we saw many times with Marilyn's image though, diamonds in the rough run the risk of being over-produced or sexualized, feeling too "manufactured" and in danger of straying too far from the authenticity that made them so special in the first place. If we follow our instincts and mold raw inspiration into a polished presentation that best serves the song and reflects its original joie de vivre, that fundamental essence will ring true in the final creation.

 

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

Tags: Berklee, demo, producer, 4-track, music production, Master Recordings, Norma Jeane Baker, Marilyn Monroe