Songwriting Tips, News & More

Playing With The Box

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 @06:00 PM

Playing With The Box
by Harriet Schock
PlayingWithTheBox.jpg
It all started with a student I had named Moke. He would bring me songs that he wasn’t happy with but he couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I put him through my songwriting course “steps” and very early in the process, he discovered something that got him enthusiastic again: In a verse, verse, bridge, verse song with the title at the end of the verse, you can twist the title and make it have a different meaning at least three times during the course of the song. Each verse will lead to it differently and it will change meaning just like a chameleon changes colors. I’d forgotten what that realization felt like, but he was having it like fireworks. From then on, every week he’d bring me another song that attempted to change the title’s meaning at the end of each verse. It was at that point that I coined the term “playing with the box.”

There’s a well known story about the child at Christmas who is given an expensive toy only to end up playing with the box the toy came in. This is exactly what it feels like to me when I see a writer find a clever idea and try to twist and turn it, outlining a way the story could develop, without any real meat to the story. He’s playing with the title, as the child would play with the box at Christmas.

When a title comes in at the end of a verse and hits us right in the seat of our emotions, it’s very powerful. “The Song Remembers When” by Hugh Prestwood is a perfect example of this. But that song is not a clever mind game. It is a work full of real-life pictures, supporting a truth that goes beyond language.

Many of my students have written powerful songs with the structure of verse, verse, bridge, verse with the title at the end of each verse. One of the most talented and skilled writers I’ve ever worked with is Tracy Newman. In the decade  she’s been in my class, she’s written some astonishing songs. The one I’d like to quote here is “Someone in the Room.” She twists the title each time but never lets the emotional impact be lessened by our awareness of “cleverness.”

SOMEONE IN THE ROOM (Tracy Newman 2011, Kabeauty Music)

He lets me brighten up his day  
Pours out his heart to me  
He’s interested in what I say
And when we disagree
He fights fair, we work things out
He’s such an open book, I have no doubt
I’m his special SOMEONE IN THE ROOM

Not a word of that is true
He only looks my way
When I interrupt his view
Or take the remote away
Sad eyes, the TV
It’s finally gotten through to me
I’ve become just SOMEONE IN THE ROOM

He used to fly to me with a wild heart
Pretend to cry when we were far apart
Yeah, he’d call me up and say my name
Over and over again
 
He took me to the highest high
I never touched the ground
So I don’t even want to try
To travel this far down
It feels so wrong
Days and nights are too long
To be just a SOMEONE IN THE ROOM
Life is too short
And I want much more
Than to be just SOMEONE IN THE ROOM


Getting back to my student, Moke, I should say that he soon learned there was more to emotional impact than clever plays on words. He’s eventually chose topics to write about that were connected to reality and fertile with pictures. Occasionally he would fall off the wagon and bring in something that looked a bit like a movie set of a house, with no house behind it, but I would just look at him and he would say “I’m playing with the box.” It’s great to have students who do my work for me.

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

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


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

Songwriting Tip: Defaulting to the Nearest Cliché

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Nov 25, 2015 @03:12 PM

Defaulting to the Nearest Cliché

by Harriet Schock

 CLICHE2

Computer language is replete with analogies. For instance, I think metaphors are like icons which can be dragged across the screen containing loads of information under them. And I think when we give in to using cliches, it’s like we’re using a default setting in our creative psyches.

Clichés can be musical or lyrical. They can be patterns created by our predecessors or patterns we have set, ourselves. I had a student recently who had written the phrase “tenderly kiss” and I asked him why he needed the “tenderly.” He said he’d heard it in about 30 songs and thought it should be in his. Eventually he saw that as the reason why it should not be in his. But like the old pair of shoes that’s ruining our feet, cliches are so comfortable. They slide on so easily. But they generally look worn-out.

Leaving the play, Julius Caesar, I overheard an audience member complain that Shakespeare was riddled with cliches. I had to laugh. I suppose it never occurred to this person that the lines became famous after he wrote them. We could all hope for that. But for the most part, the cliches in songwriting are just things we default to when we’re lazy or temporarily forgetful. It takes constant vigilance to avoid them.

What’s so bad about clichés? The world is full of them, right? In my opinion, the danger of cliches is that they allow the listener to escape. As long as you’re communicating with impact, the listener will be there, interested. But have you ever said a word over and over and over and suddenly it has no meaning? As a child, did you ever say “January, January, January, January…” until you started laughing because it sounded so odd? It no longer communicated “January.” I often marvel that 80-year-old Roman Catholic Priests can have said the same service every week for over half a century and still understand what the words mean. Overuse often robs individual words and word groups of their meaning. So what do we do to avoid them?

One way around clichés is to be as specific as possible. The pictures you pull out to tell your story with are the real tools of your lyric writing. And the more specific those pictures are, the more unique to your experience, the less likely they are to be cliches. No one else has had the exact experience you have, so if you describe it in detail, it will be uniquely yours. These details can be visual, aural, tactile and olfactory; I just use the word “picture” to cover all the senses.

So far we’ve been talking about lyrical clichés, and those which were created by our predecessors, but what about musical ones and ones we create, ourselves? Often we create our own musical clichés by defaulting to comfortable chord changes and melodic patterns. It’s good to have a recognizable style, but not to the point that all your songs sound alike. One way to get away from this type of cliché is to write away from the instrument you usually write on. Your ear may not go to those patterns your hands are slaves to. So if you write as long as you can, away from the instrument, you can sometimes break through those musical default cliches. Another way to avoid them is by playing in a key that’s unfamiliar. Sometimes you’ll hit a chord, not knowing what you’re playing and it’ll be great. It’s like the old joke: What does a jazzer do when he plays a wrong note? He plays it again. Carlos Olmeda wrote a song called “Dear Ana” which I love. There’s one particular chord I wait for with great anticipation. One night I asked him how he got that chord and he admitted it was a mistake that he loved when he heard it so he kept it. It’s so unsuspected. It’s thrilling when it happens that way.

Decades ago, in 1988, once Bobby Brown had used that unexpected diminished chord in “My Prerogative,” it seemed like everyone was using it.  It’s delightful to find something original, musically, because the pull to default to the nearest cliché in chord progressions is as strong as gravity. Melody also falls victim to it as people color within the lines by avoiding those non-chordal tones which can create such nice tension and interest.

Stephen King talks about writing to one imaginary reader. The next time you write a song, maybe you could write it for an imaginary listener. And when you do, and you feel like defaulting to the nearest cliché, ask yourself if your imaginary listener would still be listening. If not, then try one of the solutions I’ve mentioned above. Or make up one of your own! And if it works, let me know what it is.

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, lyric writing, cliche

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

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: We Don't Care What Really Happened

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jul 16, 2014 @10:00 AM

 

WE DON’T CARE WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

by Harriet Schock

 Harriet Schock, hit songwriter

I have a chapter in my book Becoming Remarkable called “Reality: the Training Wheels” which points out how helpful it is to a songwriter to write something real because the pictures are there in his memory to access for the story. That does not mean, however, that what actually happened needs to be the story line of your song. I also have a chapter called “Truth vs. Facts.” For my full view on both of those points, I can refer you to those chapters. The point I’d like to make here is that sometimes writers get hung up on what actually occurred and fail to see the “truth” of the situation. If the truth of your song is that you miss someone like mad, and he happens to be a few miles up the street, you don’t have to say that. Putting him in another continent can tell your story just fine. Many people know that “Midnight Train to Georgia,” by Jim Weatherly was originally “Midnight Plane to Houston.”

I rarely tell the story of how “Ain’t No Way to Treat A Lady” started out, and never in print, but here goes. The first verse starts “I guess it was yourself you were involved with…I would have sworn it was me.” The first actual words I wrote down were…”I guess it was myself I was involved with…I would have sworn it was you.” Well I knew that wasn’t going to fly (and yes, I was on a plane at the time). I immediately changed it. With the change, it led easily to the last two lines of the verse “I might have found out sooner if you’d only let me close enough to see.” Maybe in real life I had taken responsibility for the disaster of the relationship, but I sure wasn’t going to write the song that way. They say that everyone in a dream is the actual person dreaming. I happen to think that’s true of songs too. Everyone in our song is actually us. Now THAT’S a scary thought. But isn’t it also liberating? We can be the villain we’re vilifying. And ask any actor: Aren’t villains more fun to play?

So be the villain and write a song to yourself from the hero’s (heroine’s) viewpoint like Sting reportedly did in “Every Step You Take” written from his wife’s viewpoint.  No one will know who is who. And as long as it’s compelling, we won’t care at all if it “really happened that way.”

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 the USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, songwrite, Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady

10 Keys Unlock Creative Songwriting (Part 1)

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 @09:30 AM

TEN KEYS TO UNLOCK CREATIVE SONGWRITING (Part 1)

by Ray Burton

Ray Burton, songwriter 

1: Songwriting is Hard Work:

As a songwriter you cannot always rely on a blinding starburst of cosmic inspiration to suddenly overwhelm you and magically cause you to run off and write a songwriting masterpiece. Songwriting is hard work just like anything else that is rewarding or worthwhile. Even though writing songs may be a pleasurable task and something you love to do, it will still be a concentrated effort in order to get all of the interwoven intricacies of the melody, lyrics and the rhythm feeling just right.

 

In constructing a song, the mood of the lyric must match the mood of the melody and vice versa. This feeling or mood needs to be transferred to the listener so that they “Get It” and get the right message and that message is the overall feeling that you are trying to convey. Be precise and concise! Don’t confuse the listeners with long-winded flowery or syrupy words that would never be used in everyday conversation. Make the lyrics uniquely your own, well thought out and clever, yet uncomplicated; and the same rule should apply to the melody and chord change structures as well if you want to write successful popular songs.

 

Written by Ray Burton, hit songwriter of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman”. He has also worked with many of the giants in the business - Billy Joel, opened for the greats like QUEEN, AMERICA and many, many more. Bands include the world renowned original CROSSFIRE. Founding member of AYERS ROCK. Lead singer in the top pop band of the 70's THE EXECUTIVES.The silent achiever Ray continues to write for fellow music artists and musicians and offers a catalogue of over 200 songs much of which is new material as yet unrecorded. 

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


 


Tags: songwriter, lyric, Billy Joel, Helen Reddy, Ray Burton, mood