Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Melody Is Like A Fingerprint or Signature

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jun 21, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Melody Is Like A Fingerprint or Signature

by Harriet Schock

 Fingerprint-clef-bass.jpg

In my songwriting course, I cover melody and chords as well as lyrics. I’ve learned so much about songwriters this way. Melodies don’t always reflect the actual personality of the composer the way handwriting might, but it certainly stays within a certain box with his or her name on it. Some songwriters in their melodies stay very step-wise, using notes that are close to each other most of the time and with a lot of rhythmic repetition. Some love leaps of a particular nature leading to an unexpected chord. Some composers write the melody over the chords but think of the chords before the melody. Some add chords after the melody is written. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out one’s on chronology since the chords and melody affect each other so intimately. One thing I’ve noticed for sure: If a writer can’t hear chords and pick out other people’s chords by ear, his/her chords will sound arbitrary and will have to be “thought out” rather than “heard” when he or she is composing a melody.

There are signature sounds to certain songwriters. I’ve discussed before the way Richard Rogers used non-chordal tones, often outside the scale, referred to as “the Rogers wrong note.” It’s what we wait for. Non-chordal tones in melodies are frequently the best part, but it still has to have an inevitability to it in its entirety, not sound like the chord was pulled out of a bag or placed there because it had a note in common with the melody.

Now let’s take the example of collaborations. I used to think that when part of a lyric was written first and the composer was brought in to write the melody afterward, that the lyricist had dictated the rhythm of that melody. But I’ve noticed that so many different rhythms of melody can result from the very same lyric, I no longer think that. I do believe, though, that the second verse should be written to the melody the composer writes. Counting syllables never works well because it’s really beats that must be counted and accents followed for the prosody to be right. It’s just much easier to write the second (and third) verses to the melody. That’s what we do when we start a song writing melody and lyrics together. It always amuses me when a songwriter will say “I just write melody and lyrics at the same time, so I can’t write lyrics to an existing melody.” I always remind them that yes, they write the 2nd verse lyric to an existing melody. They have to admit that it’s true.

Try discovering the melodic fingerprint of certain composers. Some are quite versatile and it might be hard to know, especially in the beginning when they’re still searching for their styles. But after a few decades of writing, it’s interesting to listen to a lot of one great composer’s melodies and discovering his or her fingerprint or signature. And if you’re still looking for your style, it might be advisable to play their songs by ear. It could beneficially affect your own compositions in the future and one of those swirls you become known for might have come from some great composer’s thumb.

 

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 recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), and her new up coming book, her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go towww.harrietschock.com

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

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

Songwriting Tip: Walking that Line

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

Songwriting Tip: Walking that Line
by Harriet Schock


Walk-the-Line.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

 
TellUsWhatYouThink
  

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

Songwriting Tip: Dealing With Song Critiques

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Feb 23, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Dealing With Song Critiques

by Harriet Schock

In my opinion, bad song critiquing has gotten more writers in trouble than bad songwriting. A bad song is simply a bad song. But bad song critiquing can hurt a good song. It's frequently done by publishers, A&R people, music supervisors, song pluggers...in short, business people. It's even done routinely by songwriters who don't write as well as you can, who've never had a cut. I don't understand that practice, but it's out there. Even professional songwriters will critique in a dangerous way, crippling the requesting writer in an attempt to help him, by pointing out weaknesses at the exclusion of the strengths of the song. I will frequently inherit the victim of some sort of brutal or idiotic critique. I will invariably hear from a new student, "So-and-so said such-and-such about this song and I don't know what to do about it."

I frequently get asked to critique songs and it is a frustrating process. It was so frustrating, in fact, that when I started teaching years ago, I came up a step-by-step method of starting from scratch that streamlines the process and helps create better songwriters.

Someone recently sent me a song to critique. He lives in Nashville and he has excellent taste in songs. He knew the difference between good and great and he wanted to be great. In my head I kept hearing the lyric from "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," which says "You can't fix an egg when it ain't quite good and you can't fix a man when he's wrong..."

Well, I wouldn't say you can't fix a song when it's wrong, but I will say you can fix a song only up to a point. I'm constantly being asked, however, to "fix" songs that should have simply been started differently, developed differently and crafted better. Here's the analogy that springs to mind and I shared it with the songwriter from Nashville: You are at sea level. You’re building a house. Your house will be built at sea level. But when it's done, you go to the builder and say "I'd like that house to be at 1000-ft. elevation." His answer is, "No, but I can take you to another town which is 1000 feet above sea level and build that house there."

All the years that I was asked to critique songs brought me two things: heartbreak and a realization. Heartbreak came when I had to tell the person there was a serious problem with a song he had demoed for a thousand dollars. The realization was that if you give the person a way to write songs in the first place, he will not have to "fix" every song he writes. The sad truth is that he will not be able to "fix" many of them. He took too many wrong turns and ended up with a song that is simply not his best effort.

Imagine you're in a shopping mall. You're trying to get to Bloomingdale's but you don't have a map that says "you are here." So you take one corridor and then another and you may end up in the food court, or at Macy's but you will not end up at Bloomingdale's every time. Maybe every once in a while you'll happen upon it. But your song took a wrong turn at the title, then you took a wrong turn at the first picture or plot point you used to tell the story, then you decided on an ending for THAT story, which wasn't the story you should have told in the first place. Melodically, you settled for a melody that came easily but that doesn't move anyone and "fixing" a melody is even harder than "fixing" a lyric. You can make it stronger by changing some steps to some leaps or going to some less predictable chords. You can even change the rhythmic groove it sits on. But why do all that? Why not just get the best song in the first place?

Now don't get me wrong. Some songs are a perfect face with a big wart on the end of the nose. Everyone can see the wart except the writer and it's easy to say "remove the wart" and the song is great. At other times, there's an unexpressed great idea jumping from the page to any experienced songwriter and simply giving the author that suggestion is all that's needed to take the song to the next level. Tweaking is a way of life for songwriters and I'm certainly not saying it's ill-advised or impossible. What I'm referring to is trying to make a song that's a 5 into a song that's is a 10.

I used to have a mentor who said he could tell the minute someone walked into the room if he had talent. I used to be suspicious of that comment. But now I know what he meant. Even though this is a bit different from what he said, I can tell immediately, at an open mike, if the writer has the goods. I don't need to wait until the third song, or the third measure, for that matter, although I usually do. Sure, there may be a hole in the second verse you could drive an SUV through, but that song is still sitting on solid ground and can be rebuilt.

Sometimes a writer will confess to me that his songs are not made of the same stuff as the great songs--the ones you listen to and say "I wish I'd written that." There's a kind of depth to a great song that a good song just doesn't have. If you aspire to write great songs that will live on after you have no more teeth to gnash over your bridge (no pun intended), then stop asking people to "fix" your songs. Simply become a better songwriter by either studying the work of great songwriters or finding a mentor or book. Then you won't have to put up with all the inane critiquing on the part of "industry guests" who are not songwriters and should restrict their comments to "I can use it" or "I can't use it." Even car dealerships don't let the salesmen work under the hood.  



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

 

For more information on the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

TellUsWhatYouThink

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, lyric writing, Songwriting Tips, Harriet Schock, songwriting critique, lyrical concept, lyrical hook, song critique

Pictures and the Physical Plane

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jan 13, 2016 @07:00 AM

PICTURES AND THE PHYSICAL PLANE

Antarctica-edit.jpg

by Harriet Schock

Whether it’s a song, a speech, a story or a novel, you have to use pictures. This is what we’re taught, this is what we observe, this is what we know to be true. When you hear a speech, you remember the examples the speaker gives to make his point. You remember the pictures. Everything’s a movie. Songs are just short movies.

But have you ever asked yourself why it’s so important to use pictures? Why can’t people communicate in abstract ideas? Why is the impression not as lasting and the message not as clear?

I think it’s because, as human beings, we are part matter and part non-matter. The material parts of us, the body and body-oriented mind, crave visual impressions, tactile sensation and other sensory input. We like to eat and look and smell and taste because we have bodies. But we also seek meaning because we are more than bodies. This cohabitation of physical and ethereal is who we are. So in art, we seek both the concrete and the abstract. Maybe the message is abstract, but we crave for it to be delivered in a concrete way, with the senses involved.

When I was studying John Donne’s poetry in college, one of the most fascinating concepts to me was the actual definition of Platonic love. It was misconstrued to mean love without sex. But I was taught its actual meaning was one of sex where the bodies were engaged but the souls were also. I think the best songs are those that pay due homage to the senses, but also deliver a message with meaning beyond the physical. In “The Song Remembers When,” by Hugh Prestwood, for instance, every verse describes a scene we can see, from the check-out counter when the song comes on, to driving through the Rockies, etc. But beyond and within the pictures, there are messages that contain irrefutable human truths. Among them are the following: 1) when we love with innocence and optimism, we never really forget that love, we can only suppress the memories, and 2) music will bring back a memory against all will to the contrary. Prestwood couches irony and regret in these symbolic terms: “But that’s just a lot of water underneath a bridge I burned...” It calls up the pictures, but they take on a deeper dimension through the twisted cliches being linked together in an original manner.

We’ve been talking about lyrics, but music is one of the elements in art which speaks directly to our true nature, which is not physical. Melody and harmony can communicate straight to the spirit. Maybe that’s why for certain audiences, who seek to deny the non-physical, volume and drums are extremely important. It’s hard to get music to appeal on a physical level without them. Yes, music goes in through the ears, but it affects us on a level which is simply not “of this world.”

This physical and spiritual dichotomy/co-existence shows up in many areas of the music field, not only in writing. In fact, it occurred to me the other day why we’re having so much trouble explaining to people what an intellectual property is and that stealing a song by downloading it is just as criminal as stealing a book from Barnes and Noble. They think if it’s a song and it’s on the radio or the Internet, it’s just air. It doesn’t have “physical properties” so it doesn’t really exist for these people. It’s a level of awareness that suggests “asleepness,” but many people are, for the most part, asleep. In their unawareness, they believe what they can touch and feel and see is all that exists. And yet they are moved by the more ethereal component of life. They will fall in love with a personality and swear it’s a body they love. They will take hours arguing against the existence of any spirituality insisting that all prescience is coincidence. They’re not necessarily from Missouri, but “show me” is their motto. And the proof had better be physical.

Is this person your target audience? If so, then you’d be well advised to involve the senses in your lyrics. When you have the choice to be sensual or not, be sensual. If you have any other message, “lay it between the lines,” as Peter Paul & Mary said in “I Dig Rock & Roll Music,” because these listeners don’t want to be bothered and will miss the deeper layers anyway. Even if your target audience is awake and aware, use pictures with them also. Lead your audience to the story you want to tell by using sensory images. They’re simply more lasting. They’re also very forgiving. There are artists who are pretty unfathomable, but they use enough pictures that they get away with murder in the area of communication.

In Texas during my mother’s era, there used to be an expression, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” This was not advice to surgeons. It was advice to women. Feed the man first. The same goes for songwriters. Feed your audience pictures. Listeners eat them up. But then give them something to digest, something for the heart that involves them, lifts them, inspires them, moves them as people, not just people with bodies.

After all, we have a very powerful weapon in our hands: a song. We might as well use it with some degree of responsibility.

 

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

  

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

   

  

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Harriet Schock, pictures

Songwriting Tips: Oysters and Muses

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Aug 14, 2015 @03:33 PM

Songwriting Tips: Oysters and Muses

By Harriet Schock

Oysters And Muses

An oyster makes a pearl when some foreign piece of matter, like a grain of sand, has entered the oyster and he covers it with layers of nacre (mother of pearl). Basically, he’s sort of spitting at it because it’s an annoyance. I think songwriters are like that. If something is stuck in our craw, so to speak, we spit at it until we get a song. Or if we are longing for someone, unbearably, we write a song to give an outlet for all the feeling we can’t express to the missing or oblivious person. There’s usually an element of “reaching for” or “unfulfilled” or “discontent” before a pearl of a song comes out.

 

This doesn’t mean all songs are going to express anger or longing. Sometimes, there’s a longing to express gratitude or abiding devotion. But there’s a longing there, nevertheless. It’s hard to express these things in day-to-day existence. I just got an assignment from one of my correspondence course students which is going to lead to a very positive song for his wife. I dare say it will have some lovely pearls she has never heard, even over the most romantic dinner. Art has a way of condensing and purging deeper emotions that mere conversation isn’t capable of expressing.

 

So where do we get the piece of sand? I’m sure there are a few things bugging you at the moment, but they would not all be great songs. In looking for a dry and boring subject to illustrate this point, my first thought was that the IRS would not necessarily inspire a good song, but then I remembered Alfred Johnson’s song “W2” and realized that in the hands of a skillful songwriter there are no bad subjects. But is there a rule of thumb? What might work better than what?

 

I’ve been interested for a long time in what brings inspiration. It seems that having a certain distance from that which is inspiring us is essential, even if you have to find a way to get that distance on purpose. It’s no accident that there’s an expression, “Never marry the muse.” A muse is worth its weight in plutonium. I’ve known people who have stayed in totally bogus relationships only because of the songs that person inspired, when in fact, there was no real relationship in the first place. But it was the equivalent of the eggs that Woody Allen mentioned at the end of “Annie Hall.” He did it for the eggs. We do it for the songs. And for some reason, doing anything that will close that distance changes the person from being a muse to being someone too close to serve that purpose.

 

I recently read a poem by Wislawa Szymborska, a Nobel prize winner and one of my favorite poets. It’s called “I am too close,” and one of lines, and the recurring theme, is: “I am too close for him to dream of me.” She writes about having her arm under her lover’s head as he is dreaming of an usherette he saw once. She nails this concept better than I’ve ever heard it discussed. We frequently write (and dream) about fantasies and longings, much more than we dream of those closest to us.

 

On the other hand, those of us who want to have it all try to find a way to long for what we have. Goldie Hawn once said in an interview that she fantasizes about Kurt Russell, her long-term partner. This keeps the dream alive and is something I consider very good advice. There is a rampant viewpoint that the thrill of the chase is the only thrill there is. After the “prize” is “won,” the game is over. This is patently an unevolved viewpoint, but it’s so ingrained and reinforced by films and novels and songs, that we sometimes forget we have a choice. The reason I mention this in a songwriting article is that it affects the way we write. It’s not just ruining our love lives; it’s ruining our songs. It’s also helpful to know the difference between something you’re writing about and something you want to curl up with for a lifetime.

 

Some people try to harness the muse and get it to go in an “appropriate” direction. The catch-22 of this is that only when you know yourself very well can you get this to work. And most people who know themselves very well have given up trying to steer the muse. They just let it be where it is.

 

I have lots of students who are happily married who write about some old relationship they never quite felt complete about. That’s where the juices are. They don’t want to be back there in that relationship. But that’s where the muse is perched. So that’s where they go for the characters and the songs. I think this is fine. I once asked my producer, Nik Venet, why a particular couple (both very creative, great songwriters) couldn’t make it together in life when they were obviously so much in love and they wrote such powerful songs about each other. He answered with a succinct wisdom he was known for: “Fire needs more than fire. It needs wood.”

 

So back to our oyster analogy. It used to require a search of over 1000 oysters to find one pearl. Now, cultured pearls are made by putting a bead in an oyster and putting him back into the water. Then the pearls are collected. The cultured pearls are made the same way as naturally occurring pearls, except that some enterprising person decided to help nature irritate more oysters into making pearls. I realized while thinking this through that I do that on a daily basis with songwriters. I don’t have to insert the grain of sand like the person making a cultured pearl does. The songwriter already has one. They just don’t know where to look until I direct them. Once they get the knack of it, they’re off and writing.

 

Take a look at your own life. See where your beads are, and I don’t mean the perspiration on your forehead when you’re trying to pull a song out of nothing. There are plenty of sources of inspiration. Get out your radar and find that muse. She may be perched on the question mark of an old relationship. She may be looking out from the eyes of your present beloved. Or she could be leaping from the pages of an editorial that gets you crazy. Muses love to hide. But you’re a songwriter. It’s your job to find them.

 

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

 

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

 

TellUsWhatYouThink

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, lyric writing, Songwriting Tips, Harriet Schock, lyrical concept, lyrical hook

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

Songwriting Tip: Gotta Love That Wrong Note

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jun 10, 2015 @10:59 AM

GOTTA LOVE THAT WRONG NOTE  
by Harriet Schock

 Gotta love that wrong note - songwriting
There’s a lot to say about “wrong notes” but I’m going to concentrate here on the good ones—the ones that you wait for in a song. They’re not really wrong, but they’re unexpected and give a color to the music that is rather magical. Some occur from simply non-chordal tones called appoggiatura, and we’ve all made lots of use of these. Otherwise, the melody is too diatonic, like coloring inside the lines.
 
But let’s talk about wrong notes as in “that note is not in the scale” sort of wrong notes. Those are the really fun ones. My current songwriting student, a wonderful composer/songwriter, Robert Intriligator turned me on to the phrase “The Rodgers patented wrong note,” which was coined by Deems Taylor, a biographer of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Richard Rodgers was arguably one of the greatest popular composers of all time. His body of work is vast and in a huge variety of styles. But there is a characteristic he became so known for, they coined a phrase for it. I asked Robert Intriligator to find a bunch of examples for me, and I went to the piano and noticed that these are some of my favorite places in his music. For example in “Something Good” from “The Sound of Music” that raised fourth on the word “childhood” is what we wait for. In “No Other Love” (from “Me and Juliet”) he uses a raised 2nd on the word “you” in the phrase “only my love for you.” In “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' ” the “morn” of “mornin'” is on a flat seventh of the scale or raised sixth, depending upon your viewpoint. In looking over most of his “wrong note” examples, though, Robert concluded that most of them are a raised second or fourth.
 
Of course, in “Maria,” commonly known as “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria,” he uses a raised fourth as well as a raised second in the first line; but because they’re not held or accented, they simply seem like passing tones and aren’t as remarkable.
 
In order to create a bit of dissonance, the note has to stay there for a while. All consonance in a song is like a plot in a play or movie with no conflict. It’s just not interesting enough to hold our attention. I remember when I first heard “When We Dance” by Sting I waited for that note on the word “love” in the line “like I love you.” Yeah! Of course, these dissonances, wrong notes or whatever you want to call them are everywhere. They’re not just in Richard Rodgers and Sting. It might be fun for you to look for them in the music you listen to and pick out by ear what the composer is doing. Where is the “wrong note” and which scale degree did he/she augment or flat? Anyway, studying Richard Rodgers can only help a songwriter/composer since there’s so much to learn from his music.
 
There’s an old expression in jazz that goes something like “If you hit a wrong note, go back and hit it again in the same phrase. That way it will seem to have been done on purpose.” The trick is to find out when and where to do it on purpose the first time.
 

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 the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go: http://www.songwriting.net

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Lyrics, Harriet Schock, Grammy Award, love song

Songwriting Tip : Where's The Chorus

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, May 11, 2015 @05:41 PM

WHERE’S THE CHORUS?

by Harriet Schock

 songwriting

As a panelist at a songwriting conference recently, I wandered into a nearby panel after mine was over. I heard an absolutely gorgeous song with the hook at the end of each verse. The panelist interrogated the writer harshly, “Where’s the chorus?!” I desperately wanted to scream at her that not all songs have choruses and despite our culture’s wide-spread short term memory loss, some stories are better told without them. Even though we’re dealing with a society whose art is often dictated by Nielsen ratings and whose attention span is a nanosecond, sometimes a repeated chorus is not only undesirable—it’s unnecessary.

Let’s review a little history, even though there are conflicting stories about how choruses emerged. Back in the day of the “standards,” “The American Songbook,” these songs were ALL pretty much AABA. Verse, verse, bridge, verse with the title in the first line of each verse or the last line. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” for instance, would not have been improved by a repeating chorus starting with the title. Think about it for a minute. And even into the time of the Beatles, would “Yesterday” have been a better song if McCartney and Lennon and created a big sing-along chorus with the same words each time that started with “Yesterday”?

So historically the title was frequently in the last line of the verse. I believe it sort of grew into a two-line refrain and split off like a pseudopod into a chorus around the late fifties or early sixties. This is actually conjecture but it makes sense to me that it could have happened this way. I mean the central idea of the song was contained in the one line, then in the refrain, then it grew into too many lines to be a refrain at the end of a section so it split off and became a chorus. And for most chorus songs, this works well. But some songs are much better with the title coming in by itself at the end of each verse. Country radio is full of these songs even today. And Billy Joel’s “I Love You Just the Way You Are” would not have been better, in fact it would have been made weaker by a repeating chorus. In many story songs—songs that follow one story all the way through—a repeating chorus is simply “wasted real estate” as I call it…wasting space in the song, that could have given us more story, for the sake of lyric repetition. Of course, it’s becoming more conventional than it used to be to change some of the lyrics in the chorus to advance the story a bit or give the listener some variation, while keeping part of the chorus lyrics the same, usually the first and last line at least. But when we’re following a story as we are in Bill Berry’s “Piano Tuner with the Lazy Eye” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ixrOEXezXw), the last thing we want is to be interrupted by a repeating chorus.

I realize that the “hit formula” is to have a chorus that drives the title home and the beats the melodic hook into the listener’s brain so that by the second time he hears it, it “sounds” like a hit because it’s so incredibly familiar to him. And far be it from me to kick an ear worm out of bed. I’ve made a living off of them for over 30 years. But there have been plenty of hits without choruses. Once we realize that we can write a big melodic hook chorus song whenever we want, then we move on to what is best for the song we’re writing. And sometimes the song just cries out to be AABA. Yes, even in 2015.

 

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 the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Harriet Schock, Grammy

Songwriting Tip: Julianne Moore is Right

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 @09:11 PM

by Harriet Schock

Songwriting

A long-time student of mine, Michelle Krell, brought me a quote from Julianne Moore, winner of the Oscar this year for best actress:

“I’m looking for the truth. The audience doesn’t come to see you, they come to see themselves.”

This is certainly true of acting, but it’s also true of writing. The truth will hold up a mirror to the listener. This idea may be hard to sell in a business and a world that is rampantly narcissistic, but maybe it will appeal to people’s ambition. It simply works.

When you’re writing a song about yourself which is no doubt infinitely interesting to you, look for the pictures in the lyric that will draw the listeners into the story and help them see their own lives. And look for the universality of the truth. And I don’t mean vagueness. Some writers try to be general and not specific because they think more people will relate to it. That never works, unless it’s a special piece for a film where it can’t be specific. But if you start singing vague generalities in a show or an open mic, watch the audience start talking among themselves. Make sure the melody also communicates the message in a compelling way. See if it makes your own hair stand on end and play it for friends and strangers before you demo it to see if it does the same to others.
I have a chapter in my book called “Truth vs. Fact in Songwriting.” We should feel free to change the facts to tell the truth. That’s one of the best things about being a songwriter. We can change ALL the facts. And we’ve probably tried to change the truth a few times too. But that simply doesn’t work as well… not if it’s a real truth we’ve got in our sights.

I’ve come to the conclusion that excellent creative work on a subject people are not interested in can go pretty much unnoticed whereas bad work on a subject people ARE interested in can become quite well known. Just go to the movies sometime. But back to songwriting, that’s why there are so many songs (spanning the whole spectrum between excellent and mediocre) about people falling in love or people nursing a heartache. But if you want to write a song about an interesting character like “Mr. Bojangles” or “Fancy,” you had better put the listener at the movies, filling the lyric with visuals. “Try,” written by Colbie Caillat, Babyface and Jason Reeves, pulls off the difficult task of attempting to change behavior. But it does so with a lot of visuals, a universal theme, a melody with more hooks than a tackle box and a light touch on the preaching. (The video didn’t hurt either.) So if you want to write something about a subject that isn’t going to attract only teenagers in love or broken-hearted drunk people, then you’re going to have to try harder. You’re going to need to put some extra craft into it, some visuals that draw the listener into their own lives. Give them some indisputable truth that will give the listener an “aha!” moment, because even though you may be the one up there singing and their eyes are on you, it’s themselves they’re thinking of. It’s their lives they’re trying to understand better. And aren’t we lucky that we get to help them do that?

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 the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition: http://www.songwriting.net  

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Lyrics, Harriet Schock, Grammy Award, love song

Songwriting Tip: The Lover and the Beloved in Your Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 09, 2015 @07:38 PM

The Lover and the Beloved in Your Song

 by Harriet Schock

Songwriting

Songwriters can’t escape writing a love song at one time or another. But there’s one problem I see over and over in this type of song.

In life, as in songwriting, it’s better to be interested than interesting. If you’re interested in someone, that person will find you infinitely fascinating. If you’re trying to be fascinating, he/she will rarely even be interested.

Similarly, in songwriting, if you try to dazzle the person you’re talking to in the song, or the listener, with your own wonderfulness, you may have the audience talking among themselves. Consider the song “I Love the Way You Love Me” by John Michael Montgomery. Yes, he talks how her eyes roll when he sings off key but most of it is simply about her.

He likes the way her eyes dance when she laughs and the innocent way she cries at sappy old movies she’s seen hundreds of times….how she enjoys a 2-hour bath. We get a picture of the girl he’s singing to, which gives us a better idea of how he feels than if he was just trying to dazzle us with how much better off HE is with her.

Sometimes a songwriter will show me a love song written to someone and there isn’t one single thing in it about the beloved except, perhaps, how the beloved makes the singer feel. We can’t see the person he/she is singing about and we know nothing about that person.

Maybe this phenomenon is explained by what Carson McCullers says in “Ballad of the Sad Café,”

Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which had lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto.

This is so true that maybe it can be used in defense of the songwriter who fails to describe the beloved. It’s possible he doesn’t really see her at all. She is merely a catalyst. But unlike what we learned in chemistry class, the catalyst rarely emerges unchanged. So we might as well write about her in a way that will seem like it’s actually the beloved whom he loves and not just a place for the stored-up love to land.

 

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 and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Lyrics, Harriet Schock, Grammy Award, love song