Songwriting Tips, News & More

How To Write A Hit Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jan 08, 2016 @09:48 AM

How To Write A Hit Song

by Mark Cawley

 songwriting

If chart success is your songwriting goal, then you need to pay attention to how today’s hits are actually written. MARK CAWLEY of iDoCoach.com shares some thoughts on breaking into a very competitive field..

Even as I sit down to write this, I can hear the groans. “Who is this guy? How can he claim to know how to write a hit? And if he knows, how come he hasn’t written a ton of them?”

So let me back up. No one can guarantee a hit. No label, no producer, no artist, and no songwriter. Max Martin misses, Diane Warren misses, Ryan Tedder misses. They all miss more often than they hit! There is no formula. But there are things you can do to up the odds of your song getting heard, cut, and (if all the stars align) becoming a hit.

 

Look Around You

Start by doing your homework. Listen to the hits and look for patterns. Are you hearing lots of songs about affirmation? Songs that say ‘I wanna see you be brave, stronger, beautiful, happy’? Songwriters have long understood that one of the quickest ways to a listener’s heart is to lift them up with your song. There’s a fancy term for this called ‘second person positive,’ which basically means writing lyrics that make someone else feel great about themselves. A classic example of this it would be the Joe Cocker standard, “You Are So Beautiful.”

I’m in Nashville and every publisher, artist and producer right now is asking for ‘uptempo positive’. The reason for this is the sheer volume of ballads and midtempo songs they get: for some reason, when a writer gets in the room with an acoustic guitar or a piano they turn into Ed Sheeran or James Taylor. It can be hard to create the energy required unless you plan for it, but again, your chances of getting that hit improve by giving the powers that be what they’re asking for.

One of the very best ways I know is to get in the habit of deconstructing recent hits. Go beyond just learning to play them: write down the structure, print out the lyric, make notes about the production. I’m always amazed at the songwriting clients I get who will say they want to write a huge song, but who pay absolutely no attention to the current hits. If you’re writing pop or even new country and still creating long intros, lots of verses, using only one hook, and aren’t familiar with terms like ‘post-chorus’, you might have a harder road.

Try going one step beyond deconstructing and create a playlist with a couple of hits along with a song of your own. Try to pick ones that might have a bit in common with yours, but the idea is to be objective. Does your song hold up to the two hits? If not, why? Go back to your notes. What’s different? The point is not to clone, just get this info into your subconscious so the next song you write is at least informed by structural ideas that are more current.

 

Do It Yourself

A bit of a disclaimer here. Even though you’re listening to the radio and learning the structural and lyrical as well as musical content, the songs you’re hearing were probably written and recorded as much as a year ago. If you set out to write something exactly like what you’re hearing, you’re likely already too late! So what can you do now?

Try and take it all in and then add yourself to the mix. What makes you different as a songwriter? Can you bring something fresh to your songwriting? You could argue there’s nothing new under the Sun, but I would disagree. Music goes in cycles, styles change, old becomes new every once in a while. Our job is to tap into a listener’s head and create something that a whole lot of people are gonna love at the same time.

It’s not easy, but the chances get better by not only honing your craft, but learning what came before (even if it’s only a month back). It all goes into your toolbox as a songwriter and gives you the best chance of writing a hit.

 

Team Up

Finally, I want to talk about the biggest obstacle to writing that hit on your own. This is something that comes up in my sessions all the time: people say to me, “I look at the writing credits on a Beyoncé song and see six writers! How can I hope to be heard, if I’m not part of one of these writing crews?” It’s a tough one. But keep in mind, not every song is a hit by committee!

 

There are two ways to go to access this route. One is to create your own team. If you’re a writer but have no aspirations to produce, find someone who’s interested in production and work with them. If you’re a writer but not the artist, look for local talent; find someone with star potential and hitch your wagon to them. Hit songwriter Liz Rose co-write with Taylor Swift when no one else really wanted to know, and that worked out rather well for her…

 

The other route is to join an existing team. I just read an interview with Dr Luke in which he talked about signing writers to his publishing company, usually for their unique talent. Anything from track-builders to vibe masters that know how to get the most out of co-writing with an artist. The point was they gained entry to the writing process, and some have moved from being the fourth writer on a song to producing artists and co-writing with them. I did this for a few years, working with Eliot Kennedy and his hit machine Steelworks in the UK. By getting access to the artists he was working with, I got cuts on many of them, including the No 1 single Day & Night by Billie Piper.

 

Again, there’s no magic bullet for writing a hit... but you can definitely educate yourself to get your best shot. Good luck!

 

[Reprinted by permission from Songwriter Magazine]

 

ABOUT MARK CAWLEY

Born in Syracuse, NEW YORK, Mark has LIVED in Nashville FOR the last 20 years. His songs have been recorded by Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, The Spice Girls and many more. These days, he mentors WRITERS AND ARTISTS around the globe via iDoCoach.

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, hit song, Lyrics, Writing Music, writing lyrics, Song writers, writing hit melodies

Songwriting Tip : Songs Are Small Things

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

by Harriet Schock

 Songwriting

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

 

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

 

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

1) He says a lot in a few words

2) He uses conversational language

3) He writes very visually and

4) He uses irony in just about every poem.

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Songwriters: How to Demo Your Songs for Maximum Effect

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

 

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

 

By Holly Knight

 

 Holly Knight, songwriter

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 (Reprinted by permission, Music Connection magazine) 

 

About the Author:

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

Songwriting Tip: The Dos and Don’ts of Co-Writing

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jan 13, 2014 @06:09 PM

The Dos and Don’ts of Co-Writing

by Cliff Goldmacher

 

The top winning song of the 2013 USA Songwriting Competition was written by six different songwriters. Collaboration on writing songs have been around for years. Cliff talks about the dos and don’ts of co-writing. 

Songwriting

Looking back over twenty years to my first songwriting efforts, I remember my creative process as so personal and fragile that I was dead certain I would never open it up to another songwriter. This would have seemed like co-painting or more like co-dating...just not going to happen. However, two things DID happen. One, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, the co-writing capital of the world, and, two, I wrote a lot more songs which stopped me from thinking of each of my song children as untouchable and precious. Ultimately, I simply wanted to create more and better songs and co-writing became a big part of the process. Over the years, I’ve experienced (sometimes the hard way) a few of the big “dos” and “don’ts” of co-writing and thought I’d cover a few.

 

Dos

  1. Decide in advance if you’re going to bring ideas or start “cold”

There are advantages to both approaches. If you’re new to the co-writing process or possibly a little nervous about how your upcoming session will go, preparing in advance with anything from a list of song titles to lyrical and/or musical hooks can go a long way towards a smooth-running session. However, as a more experienced writer, I go into sessions with younger artists without preparing ideas because I anticipate that our initial discussions and time spent getting to know each other will provide the material for our collaboration. All this to say, there is no “right” way to do this.

 

  1. Show up on time and ready to work

I know we’re all artists and we’re all supposed to be flaky, creative types but you’re now writing to hopefully generate income from your music so it’s also a business. Treat it that way. You wouldn’t show up late for work or cancel because you didn’t feel like going so don’t do it with your co-writing sessions either. Showing respect for the process and your collaborator goes a long way towards setting the tone for a productive co-write.

 

  1. Make a plan on how you’ll both promote the song

The reality of the music business is that collaboration doesn’t end with the finished song. There will be subsequent discussions about demo costs, pitch opportunities and any one of a number of other details. What this really means is that in order to make yourself an “attractive” co-writer, you should remember to bring as much to the table as possible. This could mean bringing an industry connection or pitch opportunity or even having a recording studio where you and your co-writer can do the demo for free. It’s helpful to remember that the actual co-write is easy/fun part and it’s all the other parts of the process that ultimately make for a successful collaboration. Truly successful collaborations often extend beyond just writing the song.

 

  1. Discuss percentages for each co-writer

After writing close to a thousand songs, my assumption is that all my “from-scratch” collaborations are even splits. This means 50/50 if there are two of us, 33/33/33 if there are three of us, etc. I consider it bad karma (and frankly exhausting) to count words or try and figure out who created what when the song is done and then try to adjust percentages. Just know that some days you’ll contribute more and some days your co-writer(s) will and that it all evens out in the end. If the song is brought to you mostly (or even partially) finished, then be clear on what the split will be in advance so there isn’t a misunderstanding later on. It’s simply better to just deal with this stuff. Also, it’s considered bad form when discussing your collaborations later to state that you “really wrote most of it” or any variation thereof. The bottom line is that without your collaborator the song wouldn’t be the same song that it is no matter what was directly or indirectly contributed.

 

Don’ts

Putting the business aside again for a moment, the collaborative process, at its root, is about trust and chemistry. The following “don’ts” are suggestions about how to avoid damaging or compromising that trust.

 

  1. Don’t ever criticize a co-writer’s suggestion

This is the ultimate vibe killer. There is vulnerability in trusting someone with your ideas and it only takes one “that sounds stupid” or “that’s a bad idea” to kill the goodwill that should be part of the process. This is not to say that you won’t hear (and suggest) dumb things in the process of a co-write. It happens all the time but it’s enough for you to simply say you’d rather keep looking for another idea or try something else at that point in the song. There’s no percentage in saying someone’s idea is “bad” or “wrong.” First of all, this is art and it’s subjective but more importantly (and I’ve seen this more times than I can count) you could crush an admittedly weak idea that was only going to be a stepping stone towards a truly great one. Be patient with your collaborator and yourself and you’ll be amazed at the results.

 

  1. Don’t insist on one of your ideas if your co-writer doesn’t seem interested in it

You may be in the middle of a co-write and come up with a snippet of lyric or melody that you absolutely love but for some reason your co-writer just doesn’t get it. My suggestion is to make your best case for it and if your co-writer doesn’t like it, let it go. It’s that simple. There are too many ways to write a song to derail the process over a simple disagreement. The key to collaboration is making sure you’re both on board with an idea before moving forward. That being said, if you feel your collaborator consistently doesn’t like ideas that you feel are strong, there’s no rule that says you have to keep writing with this person.

 

  1. Don’t edit too harshly early on in the session

There’s real value in keeping a co-write moving along. Squeezing too hard on a single line or section of the song too early in the process can take all the creative energy out of a session. Better to either keep in a “good enough” line with the understanding you’ll come back to it when you begin to review what you’ve written or take a break if the line just isn’t coming. There will always be time for editing but I’d suggest not going too deep on that front at the expense of getting the shape and form of the song together first.

 

 

  1. Don’t push too hard to collaborate with a more established/successful songwriter

As songwriters, we all know who the hot/marquis writers are. We hear their songs on the radio, meet them at music conferences and, in some cases, came up with them from when they were “nobody.” The unwritten rule I’ve observed is that it’s better to be asked to co-write by a more established/successful writer than it is to ask them to co-write yourself. If your personality is such that you just can’t wait for that to happen, my recommendation is that you should ask once, politely and don’t take it personally if the writer isn’t interested or doesn’t have time. It’s abundantly clear what you, as the less experienced/successful writer, stand to gain from the collaboration but it’s up to the more successful writer to decide if your talent, motivation and, yes, connections warrant them taking the time to collaborate with you. It’s simply the law of the jungle. Hopefully, you’ll be in a position to write with a less experienced/successful writer yourself one day and you’ll treat that writer exactly as you’d hope to be treated yourself.

 

Conclusion

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of co-writing rules but simply a few guidelines to help those new to the game to understand it a bit better. The best kinds of co-writes are the ones where both collaborators feel like they’ve written something better than either could have written alone.

Good luck!

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars. Go to http://www.educatedsongwriter.com/webinar/ for the latest schedule. Cliff’s company, http://www.NashvilleStudioLive.com, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos. You can download a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” by going to http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com/ebook.  Facebook: www.facebook.com/EducatedSongwriter  Twitter: edusongwriter

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


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

Songwriting Tip: Write Not Just Any Song, But A HIT Song!

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 04, 2013 @01:56 PM

Write Not Just Any Song, But A HIT Song!

Q & A With Songwriter Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick, songwriter

Interview by Lorenz Rychner

 

Robin Frederick is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records, executive producer of more than 60 albums, and an in-demand lecturer on the music industry. She has written and produced hundreds of songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. In her two books, Shortcuts to HIT Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV, both of which we reviewed in this magazine, we found a treasure trove of good advice of the kind that can only come from someone who knows whereof they speak. Ms. Frederick has that kind of track record.

In this issue of Recording we focus on the recording songwriter, and we asked Ms. Frederick to address the kinds of questions that we trust will be on many readers’ minds.—LzR

Q: I want to make some money—how do I know what songs to write to make that happen?

A: Like any business, you need to give the music industry something they can sell in today’s market. The best way to do that is to study current hit songs. If you have a genre in mind when you write, it will help a lot when you’re ready to approach the industry. To find a genre you’re comfortable with, check out the music charts online and in music industry magazines. Look for hit songs you like. (Don’t study the ones you don’t like!) If you’re not familiar with these songs, listen to them on iTunes or a stream-on-demand music site. Ask yourself what it is about the song that appeals to you. How does it make you feel? Is there a lyric or melody technique you could try in a song of your own?

Q: How can I “emulate” a song without stealing from it?

A: Studying hit songs is the quickest way to pick up new songwriting techniques. You’re not looking to write a new song based on the hit—it’s a way to learn and practice songwriting craft. Songwriting is a lot like learning to ride a bicycle. You’ve got to get a feel for it, find your balance, before you can really ride on your own. Emulating a hit song is a little like putting on training wheels. It will help keep you on track and heading in the right direction as you develop new skills.

To practice songwriting with a hit song as a guide, find an existing hit with a well-defined structure—easy to identify verse and chorus sections—and a good hook. The hook is usually the first or last line of the chorus. It should be memorable and sum up the overall feeling of the song. Learn to sing the hit song’s melody. Once you can do that, write a lyric line of your own that you can comfortably sing to the hook melody of the hit. (Again, the hook is probably the first or last line of the chorus. If you’re not sure which one, then just pick one to work with.) Wherever the hook appears in the original, repeat it in your “training” version.

To  get a feel for how your lyrics sound when sung to a contemporary hit, fill out your chorus. Write more lines that support your new hook, its meaning, its emotion. Be sure they fit comfortably into the hit song melody. You don’t have to stick to every note and syllable, just get close.

Now, write a lyric for the verse. It should lead to your chorus, supporting it with more information about what the singer is feeling or experiencing. Notice whether the hit song uses images to paint a picture. Try using images in your lyric. If the hit song features conversational phrases, then you do the same.

That’s really all you need to do for this exercise. Now you’ve got a feel for the way a hit song is structured, how the lyric expresses the theme, and how it feels to sing your lyrics to a contemporary hit melody. You’re starting to “ride the bicycle.” Just remember, the hit song is copyrighted. You can’t use any part of the melody or lyric in a song of your own. The best idea is to use this as an exercise. Study successful songs and you’ll be successful!

Q: I have trouble writing melodies to go with my lyrics. Any suggestions?

A: You can use the natural melody of speech to help you find the melody that lives in your lyric. Just speak your lyric out loud with a lot of emotion. The more emotion you put into it, the more melody you’ll hear! That’s because we use the melody of speech – the pace, rhythm, volume, and pitch—to express our feelings. Try it for yourself: Say the phrase “Oh, no” in a high, fast-paced tone. Now, say it again in a low, descending voice. The first expresses anxiety, the second sadness or resignation. The words didn’t change, just the melody of speech.

What’s the emotion you want to express in your lyric? Speak the lyrics with that emotion in mind and see where the melody takes you. Then preserve the pace, the pauses, and the overall up and down movement of the pitches. Try exaggerating them to create a basic melody. It’s a good idea to record this raw melody idea so you can come back to it later. You can add chords and a rhythm track to hear how your melody would sound in a song. Feel free to play with it, change notes, add a pause, start on different beats. If you get too far away from your original idea, just go back to your recording.

Q: My friends like my songs but people in the music industry tell me they’re not commercial, my lyrics are too hard to follow and I don’t write big choruses...

A: If you’re looking to pitch your songs to the mainstream, commercial radio market—either for yourself as an artist or for someone else to sing—then you really do need to keep your listener in mind at all times. Give them enough information to make them feel that they’re right there with you experiencing what you’re experiencing. For instance, if you’re using a lot of poetic imagery, you might want to alternate that with some straightforward, conversational lines to make sure the listener doesn’t get lost. Your friends know you, they know what happened to you and how you feel, but radio listeners are complete strangers. To evoke a response from them, you might need to strike a balance.

Big choruses are important because they grab and hold the listener’s attention. For radio airplay that’s a must-have. However, there is a market that doesn’t require big choruses: songs for film & TV. This fast-growing market often prefers a simple, strong refrain line to underscore the emotion in a scene, rather than a full-blown chorus which could distract the viewer.

Q: What’s the winning formula for a hit song?

A: There really isn’t a formula. But there are song craft techniques that have proven to connect with listeners, and these are essential if you want to reach a broad audience—song structure, melodic contrast, lyric imagery, are a few. That said, the first thing you (and every songwriter) should do is express what you feel with honesty. Do that first, then go back to see if you can broaden the appeal by adding more song craft to support your theme and give it more universal appeal. Adele is a great example of a hit songwriter who blends personal songwriting with craft in a way that’s compelling for listeners.

A successful song applies song craft in a creative way, so the song sounds fresh. For instance, I love what’s happening with melodic contrast and momentum in many current hit songs. These are two techniques that listeners really love, so you should be looking at them. But it’s how you use these within your song that will make it both original and commercial. Song craft is a challenge to your creativity; it’s not there to stifle it.

Q: I don’t know what to write about.

A: There are some themes that are universal. Most people have been in relationships, enjoyed times of celebration, and most have experienced loss. These emotions are universal, not the specifics of what actually happened. Try writing a song that evokes a feeling. How did you feel when a relationship broke up? What did you feel physically? What kinds of images paint a picture of those feelings?

You can also look outside yourself for song ideas. Watch a movie or TV drama. Choose a scene and write a song that expresses the feelings, the situation, or attitude of one of the characters.

Try a different angle on a familiar theme. There are lots of songs about how bad it feels to break up with someone. How about a song about the plus side? If you’re a shy person, try writing a song from the point of view of a confident, outgoing party animal!

Q: I have trouble with my hooks, they’re just not catchy enough.

A: A good rule of thumb: Keep your hook short to make it more memorable. You could use a simple, conversational phrase, just a few words. In my book I cite three that were successful hits: “You had a bad day” (“Bad Day” by Daniel Powter, Billboard #1 for 5 weeks in 2005); “Truth is I never got over you” (“Truth Is” recorded by Fantasia, #1 for 14 weeks on Billboard Adult R&B Airplay chart), “You’re gonna miss this” (“You’re Gonna Miss This” recorded by Trace Adkins, #1 on Hot Country Songs).

Once you have a short phrase, imagine what your listener will want to know when they hear that hook, what questions will they be wondering about? What kind of a bad day and why? Gonna miss what? This tells you what the rest of the lyrics should be about—filling in the rest of the story that the hook hints at. Think of your hook as a mini-version of your song.

Q: I have trouble making my verses and choruses different enough, they all sound the same.

A: For a radio hit, your chorus has to grab attention, to shout from the rooftop “Here I am!” No more explaining, no more background information—this is the heart and soul of your song. To make sure listeners notice the chorus, use one of the most effective song craft techniques—contrast. Contrast gets attention!

If your verse is fast-paced and wordy, consider smoothing out the pace of your chorus. Hold out the notes a little longer, give the melody a more fluid feel. If your verse is in a low note range, try putting the chorus in a higher note range. A sudden jump upwards of even a few notes will catch attention and raise the emotional intensity of the song.

In fact, you’ve probably noticed that hit song choruses are often in a higher note range than the verse. That’s because when we get emotional, our voices tend to rise. By putting the chorus in a higher note range, you make use of a natural response. Listeners automatically hear more emotion in a chorus that’s in a higher note range.

Q: I can’t seem to come up with a good melody that doesn’t already sound like a lot of existing songs.

A: You’re not alone; this happens to all songwriters! A melody that sounds like a lot of others, one that’s generic or clichéd, is often just the first melody you came up with. But successful songwriters don’t stop there. They treat it as raw material, a place to start, not the final melody of the song. In fact, you can rewrite a melody, just like you rewrite a lyric.

First, take a look at the individual lines of your melody. Are they all starting on the same beat? Try varying the start times of your phrases. Starting a line on the 3rd beat of the bar or an upbeat is a great way to add a fresh sound. (The “and” in “one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and” is an upbeat.)

Are all your lines a similar length? If so, here’s a quick fix that really works and will give you melody a contemporary edge: Add a couple of notes and words to the end of one line and run it into the next, creating a single long line. Or you can start a line earlier, eliminating the pause at the end of the line before. Varying the line lengths will add interest to your melody. Eliminating pauses will add momentum.

Rewriting is both fun and creative. Enjoy yourself and try new things. Remember, if you don’t like the direction your song is going, there’s an “Undo” button. Just push it and get back to where you started. Then try something else. There are endless possibilities!

For more about Robin Frederick, visit her website at www.robinfrederick.com. Her books are published by TAXI Music Books at www.songwritingbooks.com.

This article is printed with permission from Recording magazine. For more information on recording magazine, go to: http://www.recordingmagazine.com

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit song, Melodies, Lyrics, songwrite, Robin Frederick, A&R, Rhino Records, hook, syllable

Songwriting Fact: Donna Summer Wrote 8 of her Top 10 Hits

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, May 17, 2012 @03:30 PM

Songwriting Fact: Donna Summer Wrote 8 of her Top 10 Hits

Donna Summer, singer-songwriter

Donna Summer, whose music dominated the 1970s disco era, died of cancer on Thursday at age 63, leaving a legacy of hit singles like "Bad Girls", "Love to Love You Baby," "Last Dance" and "Hot Stuff."

Summer, who won five Grammys and sold more than 130 million records worldwide, died in Florida. She began her career in Germany where she performed in productions of the shows "Hair" and "Porgy and Bess" and worked as a studio session singer. However, Donna Summer has been given credit as a powerful vocalist, has not been given much credit as a songwriter. She has co-written eight of her top 10 hit songs, co-writing a total of 12 Billboard Hot 100 Hit Singles. These are the songs that she co-wrote her hit songs as follows:

With Eddie Hokenson, Bruce Sudano, Joe "Bean" Esposito:
"Bad Girls", which hit #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1979 and became a classic dance hit.

With Giorgio Moroder & Pete Bellotte:
"Love To Love You", which hit #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1975

With Michael Omartian:
"She Works Hard for the Money", which hit #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1980

With Giorgio Moroder:
"The Wanderer", which hit #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1980

With Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte:
"Heaven Knows", which hit #4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1979

With Giorgio Moroder:
"On the Radio", which hit #5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1980

With Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte:
"I Feel Love", which hit #6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1977

With the legendary songwriting and production team of Stock, Aitken & Waterman:
This Time I Know It's for Real" #7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1989

With Michael Omartian:
"Unconditional Love" (featuring Musical Youth), which hit #43 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1976

With Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte:
Spring Affair, which hit #58 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1976

With Bruce Sudano, Michael Omartian
"Love Has a Mind of Its Own" (with Matthew Ward), which hit #70 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1976

With Michael Omartian, Bruce Sudano
"Supernatural Love", which hit #75 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1976

 

 (Edited by Jessica Brandon)

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

 

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, Songwriting, hit song, Billboard, Donna Summer

Songwriting Tips: Seven Easy Steps to Write Hit Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Sun, Mar 28, 2010 @09:19 AM

by Molly-Ann Leikin, Songwriting Consultant


How To Write A Hit Song

I've written poems and I've written lyrics. I've learned if you can do one, you can usually do the other. As a poet, I've enjoyed the pure creative process, and the occasional publication of my work.

But I've never made a dime writing a poem. Ever.

On the other hand, I live very comfortably on my lyric royalties. And it beats working.

In my practice as a songwriting consultant in California, I hear almost every other new client tell me he or she can't write lyrics. To help them, I've developed a seven-step system, and it works.

If you're a poet who's tired of being broke, and would like to occasionally use your gifts to write more commercially, this article can help you make that transition. It can also help lyricists who are stuck, composers who claim they write music only, plus the entire world of left-brain computer types who ache to create something romantic—like a song.

When writing one, be aware that melodies are open to interpretation - so when you write a tune, what you feel or intend is still safe in your heart.You don't have to reveal yourself or stand completely naked in front of the world. But once you put words to a tune, your feelings are totally out in the open and everyone knows what's in your heart. Therefore, it can be very inhibiting to write lyrics, which is often why writers get stuck.

But here is the process I use with my clients to make lyric writing simple. I suggest you use all seven steps. Cutting corners is usually why a lyric doesn't work.

Most poets and beginning songwriters make the mistake of writing acres of lines of iambic pentameter and then set out to look for someone who can turn that dreary rhythm into an exciting melody. Almost nobody can, no matter what the words are saying. So don't write your lyrics first. ]Get the tune, then write the words. So let's assume, for this exercise, that you have a melody but no idea of what to say in your lyric. Don't worry if you don't have a tune. I'll give you one.

STEP 1. Sing or play the tune of a nursery rhyme. Any of them will do: Baa Baa Black Sheep, Humpty Dumpty, Ring Around the Rosie - it doesn't matter which you choose. Use this melody for practice. As you listen to it, scribble down some non-rhyming prose. Ignore the exact notes, but listen to the feelings. Let your words be a stream-of-conscious exercise to warm up your imagination. Don't use rhymes or logic. Try to be visual, silly, playful and have fun with it.
Here's an example of some lines I scribbled down after listening to "Itsy Bitsy Spider":

A former tooth farmer from Fluffy, South Apricot, dug through Exxon's banana shoe hairbrush section for kangaroo lingerie, after the De La Hoya/Pope Potato wrist rake from Western Tire Cough Drops slid unnoticed into burping toenails.

STEP 2. Now please write a silly, visual non-rhyming lyric to your tune. Match each note with one syllable. Fill your non-rhyming lyric with ridiculous pictures. Again, don't be logical, don't make it make sense. Every line can be about something different. The first might concern shoe repair, the second, airport parking. In this draft, try to keep all the rhymes OUT. Here's an example of a nonsense lyric I wrote, to the tune of "Jack and Jill".
Lizards frying Jaguars
All hum Hawaiin shoe trees
Disneyland will hiccup in
The mayor's purple phone soup.

STEP 3. Now write an uncensored list of silly titles that will fit with the stresses of the first line of your nursery rhyme. No matter how many notes in that line, keep your title to seven syllables or less. Shoot for twenty or thirty possible titles. Don't write anything you've heard before. Let your imagination roll. Don't say, "Oh, that's dumb." Write it all down. You might find one of these nonsense titles could actually turn into a real one later. "I Love You" is fine, but Jewel's "Swallow The Moon" gets you in the gut. A good title will write the whole song for you. A mediocre one will leave you stranded in line two.
Here are some nonsense titles I wrote to the tune of
"Jack and Jill":

Santa knit a Hershey Bar
Orange dancing astronauts
Drinking bricks can make you skate

STEP 4. Write a few real titles with the same number of syllables as your silly ones. Here are some I wrote to
"Jack and Jill":
Sundays with the London Times
Do you ever think of me
Moonlight over Lake O'Hare

STEP 5. Choose one of your real titles. Write the story it tells in prose. Just a couple of sentences will do fine. Writing the story as a letter might be easier for you. If any lines come out rhyming, change them so they don't. That way, you'll be able to express yourself with complete freedom, and without the constraints of rhyme or meter.
When you finish this step, you'll know the beginning, middle and end of your story before you start to write the lyric. Most songs have two verses, a chorus and a bridge, so allow space for them in your story. By writing it first, you'll be able to see if you have enough information to fill a whole song, so you won't get stuck half-way through with nowhere to go. You can always cut out words and lines later.

STEP 6. Using the information from your story, write a non-rhyming lyric to the nursery rhyme melody you've chosen. Should rhymes mysteriously appear, delete them.

STEP 7. Now write the "real" lyric, with the story and the rhymes.


I suggest you do all seven steps. Not four, not two. Seven. My clients who don't are still claiming they can't write lyrics. But many of my songwriters who do are climbing the charts.
The more lyrics you write, the easier it gets. So please do this exercise five times, each with a different nursery rhyme. Once you learn how to map out a lyric, and write it to a melody, you're 90% there.
© 2010 Molly-Ann Leikin
www.songmd.com
Molly-Ann Leikin (rhymes with bacon) is a songwriting consultant with dozens of gold and platinum records plus an Emmy nomination.  The author of “How To Write A Hit Song, Fifth Edition” and “How To Be A Hit Songwriter”, and the producer of “Molly-Ann Leikin’s Master Class in Songwriting”, Molly consults with talented writers and artists all over the world, with a view to helping them market their material.  She also matches lyricists with composers.  And she’s very good at it.  Three of her clients have Grammy nominations, another won an Emmy, and so far, 5067 others, with Molly’s help, have placed their work in movies, on TV, CD’s and in commercials.

Her website is www.songmd.com.  You can reach her at songmd@songmd.com.  If you live in the USA or Canada, you can call her toll-free at 800-851-6588.  For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit song, hit songwriter, Lyrics, Molly-Ann Leikin, emmy, platinum records, how to write a better song, hit song writer

USA Songwriting Competition Winner On Tonight Show "Conan O'Brien"

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jul 23, 2009 @11:37 AM

Kate Voegele not only hit the big time by landing #10 on the Billboard 200 Album charts but also appeared earlier this week on Tonight Show "Conan O'Brien" on July 20, 2009. Kate got her start right here by winning the 2005 USA Songwriting Competition and she is still the youngest first prize winner at 18 years old at that time. 

 

 

 

Tags: Kate Voegele, hit song, hit songwriter, songwriting competition, song writing showcase, USA Songwriting Competition, Billboard Charts, One Tree Hill, Tonight Show, Conan O'Brien

USA Songwriting Competition Winner Hits Top 10

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jun 19, 2009 @12:22 PM

Kate Voegele Performing at USA Songwriting Competition's showcase at SXSW

Kate Voegele's new album with Interscope Records was released on May 2009 and it hit Top 10 on the Billboard charts on this week of June 15, 2009. 

Kate is also an actress on "One Tree Hill". She has appeared on "Good Morning America" and her new single "99 Times" is climbing the Billboard charts and has been receiving heavy airplay throughout United States. 

Kate Voegele started her claim to fame by winning first prize in the 2005 USA Songwriting Competition with her song "Only Fooling Myself" in the Pop category. She became the youngest winner at just 18 years old at that time. After winning the USA Songwriting Competition, she went on to perform at USA Songwriting Competition's showcase at SXSW on March 2006 (see picture above). Her stunning performance and her win lead her to be signed to Interscope records shortly after. Her winning song "Only Fooling Myself" was featured in her debut album with Intercsope records and it peaked at #37 on Billboard Charts (Adult Top 40). Her debut album peaked at #27 on the Billboard 200 Album Charts. 

Many USA Songwriting Competition winners in the past have received recording and publishing contracts, have their songs placed on the charts as well as having their songs placed on film and television. 2006 First Prize Winner and 2008 Overall Grand Prize Winner Jordan Zevon was signed to New West Records and appeared on TV program “Late Night With David Letterman”. 2007 Overall Grand Prize Winner Ari Gold had his winning song “Where The Music Takes You” hit #10 on the Billboard Dance Charts. Darrell Scott, winner of the country category of the 2005 USA Song writing Competition had his winning song "Good Ol USA" cut by award winning country singer Faith Hill and the song was renamed “We've Got Nothing But Love to Prove.” Also, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer (Kensington, MD), winners of the Children's' music category of the 2005 USA Song writing Competition won a Grammy award in the Best Children's music album in the 2006 after winning the USA Songwriting Competition. Judges include A&R managers from record labels such as Warner, Capitol Records, Universal, BMG/SONY Music. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition visit:

http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: Kate Voegele, hit song, hit songwriter, songwriting competition, composing songs, One Tree Hill, sxsw, songwriting showcase, Billboard Album Charts

How Songwriters Can Create a Winning Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, May 08, 2009 @12:25 PM

~written by Ira Greenfield

Many songwriters have asked me what makes a winning song. As VP of development at USA Songwriting Competition for the past 14 years and I have heard winning years through the years, a winning song should be creative in both music composition aspect as well as the lyric composition. A good example is the top winning song of 2008 competition "Home" written by Jordan Zevon, Jordan Summers and Morty Coyle. Musically, it displays surprises in Chord changes and the lyrics about coming home are not the clichés of what you hear on radio. It didn't hurt the song that chorus is  catchy.

Another example is the winning song of the country category in 2007 "I Can Live Without You", written by Mary Danna and Troy Verges. One would think the song is about someone who doesn't want to live with another. However, there is a twist at the end of the sentence in the chorus "But I just don't want to". They have taken a love and heartache song and given a "surprising twist" in the end. Also, the bridge was short, surprising and also emotionally high (with the melody hitting a high note at the end of the melodic line) and yet sad. That song still remains a favorite at the USA Songwriting Competition.

I have heard submissions where songwriters try to write the derivative songs that were number one on the charts at one time and end up being awkward. One case was a songwriter who took the entire track of Jennifer Lopez song "If You Had My Love" and wrote a similar melody to the background music, even the melodic line's rhythm was so similar. The chorus even copied the melody of the original song. Our judges thought the song has been plagiarized, let alone not being creative as the judges left the room singing to Jennifer Lopez song instead. Needless to say, that song didn't win.

I realized an interesting fact that the top winning songs of the past two years have been a three-way collaboration. The winning song last year was written by three songwriters and so was the year before ("Where the Music Takes You", written by Ari Gold, Joe Hogue "JOJOHO" and Sean Petersen). That song also hit top 10 on the Billboard Charts after winning the competition. "Where the Music Takes You" was unique, it had no intro, the vocals start as soon as the music plays. The chorus was so catchy that the judges left the song singing to it.

Speaking of catchy, the winning song in 2004 was written by five songwriters ("My Three Wishes", written by Patrice Pike, Wayne Sutton, Sean Phillips and Darrell Phillips). The opening hook in the chorus of the Alternative song "My Three Wishes" was accented in an off beat way that would draw the listener to want to hear more. You can tell that the song took extra effort and creativity.

A song may sound nice to listen to but please note that a lot of work is being done to the song: musically, lyrically, artistically and more. Cher's biggest hit "Believe" was written not by one but six songwriters! Paul Barry, Matt Gray, Brian Higgins, Stuart McLellan, Timothy Powell, and Steven Torch wrote that hit number one in 23 different countries. Where would Cher be without this great hit song like this? Could you be creative enough write a song better as good as this or even better? Write one and submit it to us in the USA Songwriting Competition.

Information:

http://www.songwriting.net/enter


Tags: Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, hit song, hit songwriter, song contest, songwriting competition, songwriting contest, songwriting partner, collaborator, Melody, writing songs, song writing showcase, composing songs, music composition, lyric writing