Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Feb 10, 2015 @02:44 PM

REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION

by Harriet Schock

songwriting
Edna St. Vincent Millay once said “Life is not one damned thing after another; it’s the same damned thing over and over.” In songwriting, it may seem as if the same damned thing over and over is not only permissible but called for these days. However when it gets to the point of torture, it might be best to change the melodic phrase. And maybe even the lyric—hey live dangerously.

Yes, there is a lot of persistent repetition in pop radio presently, but I think that it often sounds “trendy” rather than just current. It’s like fashions. Yes, you see them everywhere for a while—but they don’t stay in fashion. It may start at Neiman Marcus but by the time you see it at K Mart, it’s over. So if you’re writing songs you hope might be around for a while, I would suggest you avoid the same melodic and/or lyrical phrase repeated and repeated until 1) You FINALLY get the listeners’ ATTENTION or 2) You drive them so crazy, they change the station.

Some repetition is necessary, of course, such as a repeating chorus, or a melodic motif that you repeat the rhythm of and change the notes….even an interval that repeats. For instance, think of the bridge to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The first and third lines “Someday I’ll wish upon a star” and “Where trouble melts like lemon drops” are melodically identical. But the second and fourth lines, (“And wake up where the clouds are far” and “High above the chimney tops”) even though they have the same rhythm are on different notes from lines 1 and 3 as well as from each other. Need I say this is not a trendy song. It’s been a standard for decades. It will sound just as good decades from now.

Songs that are simply well written about things people care about will stay around for a while. If you like repetition, use it until YOU get tired of the phrase. Don’t keep repeating it because you think that’s a current way to write. Tomorrow it might not be.


Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "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, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Harriet Schock

Songwriting Tip: Why Play Other Songwriters’ Songs?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jan 12, 2015 @09:09 AM


WHY PLAY OTHER WRITERS’ SONGS?

Songwriting

by Harriet Schock

Many songwriters start out in cover bands and play other people’s songs for years before they start writing. This offers a large palette of chords and melodies to choose from. The brain is a very good computer but like a computer, what comes out is dependent upon what goes in. If you learn a few chords and start writing songs, never having played others’ songs—by ear or even reading charts—your songs may show it.

My mentor, Nik Venet, used to say that Picasso could paint a picture to look exactly like the object or person—representationally. The point of this is that he had the craft of painting DOWN before he developed his own style. I think it’s a good idea to play the songs of those writers and singers you admire. Then when you write your own songs, some of that will have rubbed off on you. And if you can duplicate someone else’s song, your craft will simply be stronger. Not recognizing a chord when you hear it will mean that chord is simply not in your musical vocabulary any more than not recognizing a word in a sentence when you hear it.

Even lyrically, it’s a good idea to listen, listen, listen. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, listen to what that lyricist is doing and ask yourself how he/she did it so you can add that to your toolbox. But right now I’m discussing the merits of listening to music written by others.

I know excellent writers who say they don’t want to be influenced by the music of others, so they don’t listen to it. Maybe that’s true currently, but you can bet they have been influenced in the past. Before they were writing, they listened to all kinds of music from all sorts of sources. You can’t go into a restaurant, a grocery store or an elevator without hearing music. You can’t be on hold on the telephone without hearing music. Granted some of these musical influences are pretty deadly, but you hear them. So you might as well prime your mental computer with something you love. That affinity you have for the song, mixed with the mere hearing of it, will allow it to enter into your computer and you will find that your own music has benefited greatly.

Think of a song you’ve always loved. Pick it out by ear, or if necessary, look at the chord chart or sheet music. Play it over and over. Dive into that song. Go back to the original and make sure you got it right. Play your copy of it, then play the original, then play your copy of it again. See if the next song you write has a little of the wondrousness of that song you’ve been swimming in.


Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, “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 as well as starring in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s current film, “The M Word” features Harriet’s song, “Bein’ a Girl,” sung on camera. 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. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online courses by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. 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 more information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Lyrics, Harriet Schock, Helen Ready

Songwriting Tip : What to Listen For

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Nov 14, 2014 @02:41 PM

WHAT TO LISTEN FOR

By Harriet Schock

 songwriting

Yes, I teach songwriting. But 28 years ago when USC called and asked me to teach it, I said it couldn’t be taught. The next year, I gave in and started teaching and I’m very glad I did. But there is a way that most successful songwriters learn to write and that’s by studying other songwriters whom they admire.

I still do that. I will hear a lyric or a chord change and I’ll think “OMG! I never thought of doing that! I can do that!” And then my writing just gets better. You might think of doing that.

If it’s a chord change, you just figure out what the composer did and put that chord or that movement of harmony into your musical toolbox. If it’s a melodic approach, you add that as well. Maybe that writer uses a certain rhythmic approach to melody you never thought of or maybe there is an interval you’ve never used. I remember when Bobby Brown used a particular diminished chord in “My Prerogative.” Nearly every other song that year decided to use that diminished chord one way or another.  It’s not that the chord had never been used before, but somehow its use that way woke people up to the chord.

Lyrically, I remember when I first heard the Dobie Gray hit, “From Where I Stand,” written by Jennifer Kimball and Tom Schuyler:

“From where I stand you are the break of day
You are a silver thread, a star light in the evening

I could hardly feel my heart before you held it in your hands
And I hope you will you will never fall from where I stand.”

I was enamored of the way they used a known expression and then twisted its meaning to be literal later in the lyric. I then did it quite a few times in songs of mine “For What It’s Worth” and “You Are” and probably others. I did this thinking I had learned it from “From Where I Stand.” In fact, much earlier I had written the title song of my second album “You Don’t Know What You’re In For,” using the very same device, unknowingly.

“You don’t know what you’re in for
Love can be the prison as well as the crime
And you don’t know what you’re in for
But you still have to do your time.”

Because I never realized the device existed, it wasn’t really mine to use. So now I have my students word such devices in order to have them for the future. For example, what is Hugh Prestwood doing in “The Song Remembers When”?

“That’s just a lot of water underneath a bridge I burned,”

Can you put it into words? Think about it for a minute before reading on.

He’s taking two expressions that share a common word and hooking them together into one sentence. Once you’re aware of it, you’re off and running.

I subscribe to TunaDay, which is a wonderful daily song sent out by Rob Meurer, who is not only one of the best lyricists/songwriters out there but who also has a virtual Wikipedia of songs in his head. Recently he reminded me via TunaDay (you can sign up for it for free from his website at www.robmeurer.com) of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.” Study that lyric for lots of devices and tips on great songwriting. And while we’re on the subject, check out Christopher Cross’s new CD, “Secret Ladder.” Rob Meurer wrote most of the lyrics. It’s a virtual treasure trove of great lyrics—and of course, Christopher Cross’s melodies, chords and vocals are fabulous also. http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Ladder-Christopher-Cross/dp/B00MD0PVOU/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1415825728&sr=1-1&keywords=secret+ladder

You can learn by listening and then you can deduct all your CDs and equipment as research! When you go to H&R Block, you can quote me.

 

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady." Her songs have been recorded by many other artists and used in 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 current film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Harriet wrote the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. 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. Harriet is currently writing lyrics (Misha Segal, music) for “Platypus, the Musical.” In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and an 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 more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, songwrite, Harriet Schock

Songwriting Tip: Lyrics and Poetry

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Oct 09, 2014 @08:01 AM

LYRICS AND POETRY

by Harriet Schock

Is Songwriting Lyrics and Poetry?

I’ve noticed a lot of people confuse poetry and lyrics. I think reading poetry can make you a better lyricist because good poets do the following things that lyricists should also do:

1) Say a lot in a few words. I call it emotional shorthand

2) Write visually or show don’t tell

3) Use irony

4) Use conversational language, especially found in modern poetry.

I have all my students read the poetry of Charles Bukowski and Billy Collins. There’s something about Bukowski that gets writers to “catch” irony. I don’t think you really learn to be ironic, but you can “catch” it like you would a cold. I’ve had students who had never had a drop of irony in anything they’d written come in after a week of reading Bukowski and suddenly they had developed the skill of being ironic. Even though Billy Collins also writes with irony, it’s Bukowski I’ve noticed they catch it from more than Collins.

Poetry can inspire lyrics, just as other lyricists can inspire songwriters. But poetry is not lyric writing. I used to be a member of a group of poets and I’d bring in a lyric for a new song. If my song had a chorus, they’d all complain, “But you’ve said that!” Yes, a repeating chorus is definitely a convention of songwriting, not poetry—or Broadway for the most part, but that’s a different subject.

Some lyricists also use the word “poetic” to absolve themselves from writing something no one understands. Of course, that’s not being “poetic.” It’s merely being obscure and that’s a choice, in some cases. In other cases, the writer simply cannot be clear, thinks and writes in a jumbled manner which does not communicate anything to the listener and, in a last ditch effort to defend it, says he’s being “poetic.”

The structure of a song is different from poetry, as well. Verses, choruses, pre-choruses and bridges are of no concern to poets but they are important to lyricists. How the lyric fits the melody is vitally important as well. Furthermore, modern poetry rarely rhymes and lyrics usually do. So if you’re a poet, you may be on your way to becoming a lyricist, but there’s a lot to lyric writing that poets may be aware of. Conversely, songwriters and lyricists becoming aware of modern poets is something I highly recommend.


If you’ve never seen “Born Into This,” the film about Charles Bukowski, you might want to check it out. There’s at least one songwriter in there it how important an influence Bukowski was on their writing.

 

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "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 starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s current film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film.  Harriet is in the process of writing the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. 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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Lyrics, songwrite, Harriet Schock, poetry

The Walter Mitty- Ness of Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 @08:22 PM

by Harriet Schock

 songwriting

The great thing about being a writer or an actor is that we get to live so many lives. I mean the ones you create. The ones you elaborate upon. The ones you fantasize. I'm in an amazing acting workshop for singers called the Musical Artists Workshop taught by Gary Imhoff. Sometimes in an improv, we’re given a situation and you simply have to think “what if…”  In fact, much acting is done from “what if.” What if I were in a whole different situation, a whole different life. What if I were different? A different kind of person entirely, or just a little different.

 

I remember as a child going around to my parents’ friends and asking them this philosophical question: If I had a different great-great-grandparent, would I be me only different? Or would I be a different person who’s a lot like me? Well, many years later I came to my own conclusion about that, but for songwriting, it works either way. If you’re a girl, you can pretend you’re a guy who does all those things guys do that drive you crazy.  Or you could pretend you’re unbelievably wealthy. Or maybe you’re having an affair with someone incredibly wealthy who is, of course, unhappy. (“Lyin’ Eyes” by Henley and Frey)

 

People who know my writing and/or my teaching know that I think the two most important elements in songwriting are truth and craft. They also know by “truth” I don’t mean facts.There is truth in many situations which you can find, even if you haven’t lived that particular factual situation. Some years ago I was asked to write a lyric (Misha Segal wrote the music) for a Motown film (“The Last Dragon”) in which the main character was a young African American man who was a virgin, practiced Kung Fu and fell in love for the first time. I went for the truth of it rather than the facts, none of which were helping me. We wrote a song that’s been covered by 30 people either live or on record. It wasn’t really a big “what if,” considering I’d fallen in love and I knew how that felt. That’s what I concentrated on. The songs is called “First Time on a Ferris Wheel.” Smokey Robinson sang it in the movie. Carl Anderson, my favorite singer of all time, recorded it and sang it live. It’s on my home page if you want to hear Carl sing it.

 

One of my newest songs is called “When I Write About It” and it discusses how we can change the way it really happened, whose fault it was, who left whom and basically every detail of life like we want it. And isn’t that being the creator of your own artistic universe?

 

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, “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 as well as starring in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s current film, “The M Word” features Harriet’s song, “Bein’ a Girl,” sung on camera. Harriet is in the process of writing the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. 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. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online courses by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. 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 more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Harriet Schock, Grammy, Walter Mitty

Songwriting Tip: Rhyming

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 @05:19 PM

Songwriting Tip: Rhyming

by Harriet Schock

 Harriet Schock, hit songwriter

When it comes to rhyming, the opinions are varied. I grew up on the music my parents introduced me to. Rogers and Hart, Cole Porter…I bet we had every album Ella Fitzgerald ever did featuring the great songwriters of the American songbook. In these songs, craft was obvious but never got in the way. The lines were sung the way one would speak, the rhymes were perfect. “Perfect rhymes” is not a value judgment—it’s a technical term. “Look and book,” “letter and better.” Not “look and pull,” “letter and her.”

 

Yes, years have passed, but still in musical theatre writing, the standard of the perfect rhyme is still upheld for the most part. I do remember hearing some wildly imperfect rhymes in some modern Broadway shows, which probably means that the rules are getting more lax. But I would not advise using near rhymes in a show any more than I would advise a person to be obscure in a lyric just because he can point to a hit song that wasn’t clear. There are many reasons why something becomes a hit or goes to Broadway, for that matter. I don’t think it’s a good idea to emulate the weaknesses of the genre you’re studying.

 

I recently met an interesting songwriter who was in a rock and roll band by day and came home and listened to Sondheim at night. He was in a band called “Christopher Cross.” Warner Brothers decided to give the lead singer/composer the name of the band but the writer I’m talking about – Rob Meurer - helped create the band with Christopher and currently writes lyrics to Christopher’s melodies. Rob also writes musical shows which are getting a lot of attention. You should simply Google him and read his lyrics. He’s got all the edge of today as well as the craft that is in danger of disappearing.

 

Why shouldn’t rhyming craft disappear, you might ask? Well, craft helps deliver emotional impact. In a song where you’re attempting to have an effect on people, if you decide that “run” and “up” rhyme because they both have the same vowel sound, you may never understand why you just didn’t connect with the listener quite enough. I know it’s becoming fashionable in pop not to rhyme at all for fear of its sounding too “legit,” “old school,” “commercial,” whatever. The problem is the music may be setting up a rhyme with a repeated rhythmic sequence in the melody. If the lyric doesn’t rhyme, it just leaves us feeling...less. And you don’t want your listeners to feel less, do you? They’re depending on songwriters to help them feel more.

 

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "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 starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s current film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film.  Harriet is in the process of writing the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. 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 she teaches 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 more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Lyrics, songwrite, Harriet Schock, composing, love songs, compose music

Songwriting Tip: The Rhythm of the Melody

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 07, 2014 @11:46 AM

The Rhythm of the Melody—more important than ever for “top line” writers

By Harriet Schock 

 Harriet Schock, Hit Songwriter

In my book, Becoming Remarkable for Songwriters and Those who Love Songs, I have a chapter devoted to the rhythm of the melody. It’s often overlooked by the beginning songwriter who pays lots of attention to the shape of the melody, the chords under the melody and whether the melody proceeds in steps or leaps. But the rhythm of the melody is equally important, and these days with “top line” writers, it’s vital.

“Top line” writers, as they’re often called, are writers who write melody or lyrics-- or melody andlyrics—over a track provided by the track writer, who’s often the producer, the DJ, whoever is providing it. I won’t get into the disputes that often come up over ownership and who wrote what. The subject I’m tackling is how hard it is to write a melody over a chord progression that never changes. Of course, some tracks have different chords in different sections of the song but many of them have the same chord progression in the verses as in the choruses, etc. So if you’re not paying attention to the rhythm of the melody, you can have trouble getting the melody over the verses to sound different from the chorus melody. Often, the melody that the top line writer comes up with has such rhythmic variation and melody shape, you don’t even notice the chords are the same. And, of course, the track builds. But in traditional songwriting, one of the goals is to have as much difference as possible between the verse and the chorus. And with the same chords, it can really be a challenge.

As I said in the chapter of my book mentioned earlier:

It’s an interesting exercise to spend a week listening only to rhythm of melody. Whenever the radio is on, or a CD, home in on that one facet. See where the melody starts in relation to the count of “one.” See if it’s relatively on the beat or on an “and” or an “oh” as in “3-oh-and-uh”—in other words, syncopated. See if the verse differs from the chorus in this regard. Never mind the shape of the melody or its interaction with the chords right now, we’re just listening for the rhythm of the notes that are sung.

I used to have a friend who would tap out rhythms on my arm and see if I could guess the melody. Sometimes, it would be so distinctive, I could. Try tapping out the melody to “As Time Goes By,” on someone’s arm and see if he/she can guess it. Or “America” from West Side Story. If your friends give up, hum it for them without words and they’ll hit their heads like someone in a V-8 commercial. The truth is, in both of these old songs, the rhythm is very distinctive. But it’s also true of most songs that the rhythm of the melody is as important to its personality as facial features are to a person’s appearance. It just seems to be the part of melody that gets discussed the least.”

 

The rhythm of the melody has always been important but today for the top line writer, an analogy comes to mind. If an artist is told he can only paint vertically on the canvas—no horizontal lines---he’d better have a complete palette of colors at his disposal. With the same chords over and over, for it not to sound like Chinese water torture, he’d better be well versed in the rhythmic variations to the melody.

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "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 two other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s current release is “The M Word” for which Harriet wrote the featured song.  Harriet has written the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. 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. Her catalogue musical, “Split” for which she wrote book and songs is currently in production. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and through a popular online course by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on he rbook (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.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, Lyrics, songwrite, Harriet Schock, composing, love songs, compose music

Songwriting Tip: Grammar Matters

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 03, 2014 @10:15 AM

Songwriting Tip: Grammar Matters

 by Harriet Schock

Harriet Schock, hit songwriter

Yes, I meant that both ways. I’m writing on matters of grammar and I’m also writing in case grammar matters. So for a songwriter, when does it matter? Well, I suppose that depends upon your target audience. If you’re a novelist, it always matters. That’s why book writers have editors. Today, even a great storyteller may make the usual grammatical errors, especially if he went to school in the last decade or so. But even if a person has been taught in the best English class there is, he may make the usual mistakes. His brain is simply Teflon where the rules of grammar are concerned.

 

So who is the target audience for your songs? Does it matter to your listeners if you make sense? If communication is desirable, then grammar is very helpful because it actually helps a person be clear. And if you’re performing in a club, you’d better not lose the listener because your communication wandered off into the woods. Grammar can help keep you in sync with your listener.

Now I’m not talking about “proper speech” that would prohibit you from being colloquial. Technically it’s “whom are you kidding?” But no one in his right mind would say that in a song. It’s not the way people talk. One of my biggest hits had the word “ain’t” in the title and used a double negative. I did it on purpose. So I’m not being a purist. I’m just trying to make the point, for instance, that if you said “I lay here and drink my coffee” some people would be confused, because “lay” is the past tense of “lie.” So how could you be lying here yesterday and drinking your coffee today? So technically, it’s “I lie here and drink my coffee” or “I lay here and drank my coffee.” The whole lie/lay thing is confusing to people but it’s simply a matter of whether it’s something you do (lie) or something you do to an object or person (lay). You lay the book on the table. You lie on the bed.  Eventually the dictionary will simply put “lay” as a synonym with “lie” because usage dictates meaning. (That’s how we’re losing the difference between “imply” and “infer.”) But at the moment they don’t mean the same thing so if your target audience knows the difference between “lay” and “lie,” you’ve just lost some points by using it wrong. I know, I know “Lay lady lay” was wrong, but Dylan couldn’t very well say “Lie, lady lie.” To add to the confusion, “lie” has two meanings.

There are many examples of these grammatical pitfalls. For instance, if you’re making a lyric sheet for someone to look at, remember that “The book is on its side”—not “it’s side.” There are whole websites and discussion groups devoted to the fact that there is no apostrophe in the “possessive its.” Auto correct can get you in trouble when you’re texting because that thing wants to put apostrophes in everything. And while we’re talking about apostrophes, don’t use them to create a plural. It’s not “Come hear these singer’s.” The plural of “singer” is “singers” for heaven’s sakes. And don’t say “I have sang”—it’s “I have sung,” just like “I have drunk,” not “I have drank.” Bad grammar may not affect how well you sing, but it’s enough to drive a literate person to drink. And who knows? You might just have some literate folks in your target audience. 

 

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "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 two other Jaglom films and is starring in the current movie “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Harriet is in the process of writing the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. 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. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on he rbook (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to:www.harrietschock.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, songwrite, Harriet Schock, Grammar

Songwriting Tip: Obscurity vs Clarity

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 @11:03 AM

Obscurity vs Clarity

By Harriet Schock

Harriet Schock, Hit songwriter

I believe that there’s an invisible line that goes from the mouth of the singer to the ears and heart of the listener and if that line is broken by a lyric that makes no sense, the listener’s attention leaves.

Of course, there are many examples of songs that make no sense and have been hits, but when you cite these as examples, I would ask: 1) Was the melody and harmony so killer that people loved it in spite of the lack of clarity? 2) Was it sung by someone so famous that anything they put out will become a hit? 3) Was the audience chemically altered so that each song and bite was better than the one before, no matter what they were hearing or eating?

I have taught songwriting since 1986 and occasionally I’ll have a student who announces he wants to write an obscure song. And granted sometimes songs in films can be a bit generic so that the story takes place on the screen, not in the lyric. But even there the lyrics need to make sense.  I find that thetwo most common reasons for someone’s wanting to write an obscure, ambiguous lyric are: 1) His craft is limited and he thinks he’s being clear when he’s not or 2) He’s not willing for the real story to come out for personal reasons.

There’s a vast difference between writing on two levels and being ambiguous. I believe songs should make sense when you first hear them. Then upon second and third listening, deeper meaning can be discovered. Ambiguity generally leaves the listener wondering what you actually meant.

All of this has been about the lyric. But needless to say, the melody and harmony (chords) are vitally important. They are the wavelengths that carry the lyric along that invisible line I mentioned earlier. Obscurity breaks the line, but a weak melody completely dissolves it.

As performers we can tell when we have a strong melody, compelling harmony and a lyric that moves the listener. That’s when the audience is very quiet and attentive. Sometimes they cry, and we like that too.

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "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 two other Jaglom films and is starring in the current movie “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Harriet is in the process of writing the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. 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. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on herbook (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.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, hit songwriter, songwrite, Harriet Schock, Songwriters Tip, singer songwriter, top 40

Songwriting Tip: Writing Music to Words (Part 2)

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jan 21, 2013 @09:56 AM

Writing Music to Words  (Part 2)

 

 Harriet Schock, songwriter

Last year, I wrote an article for the USA Songwriting Competition called “Writing Words to Music.” This year I’d like to explore the other side of that coin. Since I write both words and music, and mostly write alone,  when I collaborate, I prefer to have the finished lyric or finished melody to work with. If someone gives me a finished lyric, I read it first…in rhythm. The rhythm of the words will dictate much of what I do as a composer. I’ve seen some composers try to make a lyric fit a melody idea they have. This is often like putting a square peg in a round hole. You have to be completely free to start from scratch.

I love writing to Arthur Hamilton’s lyrics (he wrote words and music to “Cry Me A River” among other hits). That’s because he writes short lines that are much easier to write a good melody to than longer lines with more beats. I had a student the other day who was having trouble coming up with a good melody for her song but when we analyzed the lyric, both the verse and chorus were in iambic pentameter. It could have been Shakespeare! This would make the verse sound a bit like the chorus and give the overall song a sameness. So, if you’re choosing a lyric to set to music, look out for that. It’s a road to heartache.

So you have a lyric and you put it in front of you and your instrument. You’ve read it out loud and gotten a bit of the rhythm. Now what? I don’t sit down without my recorder. I just use a small digital recorder and I don’t go to the piano without it. I start singing the words and playing chords. And I record everything. Sometimes I have a drum track going before I start, usually not. But I try to get a rhythmic feel before I start. I record whatever comes into my mind, with special attention to the chord changes as well as the melody. Then I turn it off and walk away. In a few hours or a few minutes, I’ll go back and sing another melody into the recorder. Sometimes I don’t try another one until the next day. But I NEVER listen back until I have about ten different melodic approaches. Once you listen back, the melodies start to sound really good and then you can’t think of other things. It’s like a movie director who falls in love with his temp track because he’s heard it so many times. Don’t listen back, as tempting as it may seem.

After you’ve gone through this, then you can listen.  Try to get your first impressions of each melody the first time you listen through the melodies. After two listens, they’ll start to sound good because they’ve broken the unfamiliarity barrier. You need your first impression. Does the melody sound inevitable yet not predictable? Does it make the hair on your neck stand up? Is it memorable without being derivative? Of course, it has to fit the mood and intention of the lyric, but I’m assuming all of them do that.

Now you get to play it for the lyricist. Usually he or she is just thrilled to have a great melody to the words. Sometimes, though, there’s a dummy melody in his head he wrote it to and when your melody veers from that rhythmic approach or emphasis on certain words, etc., he can be surprised and will have to hear it a few time before he warms up to it. I have heard that Bernie Taupin, also a composer himself,  was often a bit shocked when he heard Elton’s melodies to his lyric because it was frequently so different and unexpected. I’m sure he found a way to make peace with that over the lucrative and record-breaking years.

Remember, the greatest lyric in the world will simply never be heard without a good melody. It’s the wave length on which the words travel and without it, they’re not going anywhere.

 

© 2013 Harriet Schock

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "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 two other Jaglom films and is starring in the current movie “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Harriet is in the process of writing the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. 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. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on herbook (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com.

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, Helen Reddy, Harriet Schock, Writing Music, Writing Words, iambic pentameter, Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady