Songwriting Tips, News & More

Are Your Song Pitches as Perfect as They Should Be?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 @03:58 PM

[Songwriting Advice] Are Your Song Pitches as Perfect as They Should Be?
by Jason Blume

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When I critique songs during my workshops and webinars I ask the writers what their intention is for their song. For example, do they hope the song will be recorded by a hit country artist, or is the writer a folk singer who wrote the song to perform it him- or herself at coffeehouses. Is the goal to have the song recorded by a pop star, or to license it for placement in television or films? I need to know the writer’s hope for the song so I can assess whether the melody and lyrics are hitting the target the writer was aiming for. Songs that work perfectly for one artist or genre might be completely inappropriate for others.

In a surprising number of instances, when I ask the writers’ intention for their songs I get responses that reveal they are not listening to the recent hits by the artists they hope to write for. For example, sometimes a song that would fit perfectly on a playlist of 1960-era folksingers is intended by the writer to be recorded by one of today’s country stars. Similarly, a song that sounds appropriate for a 1980s boy band might be intended for a current urban/pop star.

My prescription is to go to Billboard and jot down the titles of the top five songs in the genres where you believe your song might fit. Listen to those songs carefully and print their lyrics. Note the rhythms in the vocal melodies, the instrumentation, the songs’ structures, the chord changes
and the style of language used in the lyric. Then ask yourself if your song contains similar techniques. It can also be beneficial to seek professional feedback to be sure we do not have a blind spot and that our songs are indeed accomplishing what we intended.

If your goal is to place a song with a specific artist, study his or her recent hits. I’m not suggesting we clone those songs; we need to push the creative envelope–not rehash musical territory that has already been covered. But we need to accomplish this while writing material that is consistent with the genre we are aiming for.

Give your songs their best shot by studying the market and being sure your pitches are “pitch perfect” for the artists or licensing opportunities you target.

[Reprinted by permission from BMI]

Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on three GRAMMY-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies.

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, songwrite, song demo, Jason Blume, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs

[Songwriting Expert Advice] Writing and Placing Christmas & Holiday Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 @01:20 PM

[Songwriting Expert Advice] Writing and Placing Christmas and Holiday Songs
by Jason Blume
christmas_holiday_songs.jpg

Imagine receiving airplay and earning income from a song year after year and having that same song be recorded by multiple artists over a span of decades. That is what can happen with a holiday-themed song. For many songwriters and music publishers, landing a holiday recording that becomes the next “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” or “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” is the greatest gift they could hope for.

While Christmas is likely the first thing that comes to mind when you think about holiday songs, there have been successful songs that relate to other holidays, as well. It would hardly be New Year’s Eve without Auld Lang Syne, and there are Valentine’s Day songs, songs played on Cinco de Mayo, Chanukah favorites, and St. Patrick’s Day songs, such as those recorded by the Irish Rovers and other artists from the Emerald Isle. There are also songs that are associated with patriotic holidays, and of course, birthday songs.

Michael Jackson’s recording of “Thriller” is sure to be heard toward the end of every October, as is “The Time Warp,” from the soundtrack of “The Rocky Horror Show.” But the song most closely associated with Halloween is the “The Monster Mash” (written by Bobby Pickett and Leonard Capizzi and recorded by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers). Peaking at #1 when it was released in 1962, the song has charted three subsequent times since its initial release and has been covered by artists including Sha Na Na and the Beach Boys, continuing to generate income for decades.

Trivia buffs might enjoy knowing that legendary songwriter and recording artist Leon Russell played piano on the original recording of “The Monster Mash.” Other Halloween perennials include Danny Elfman’s “This is Halloween” (from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”) and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” (Zevon, Leroy Marinell, Robert Wachtel).

Lee Greenwood’s signature song, “God Bless the U.S.A.” (written and performed by Greenwood) was first released in 1984, peaking at #7 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart. Greenwood’s recording of the song was re-released and gained a bigger audience during the Gulf War and following 9/11. The recording charted a second time, reaching #16 on the Billboard Pop chart and #12 on the Adult Contemporary chart, amassing sales of more than one million copies.

American Idol’s Season 2 finalists recorded a cover version of “God Bless the U.S.A.” that reached #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and was certified “Gold” for selling more than 500,000 copies. Numerous artists, including Beyoncé, have released or performed versions of the song, establishing it as a true holiday standard, and Greenwood’s version receives extensive airplay and live performances during every patriotic holiday, such as Veteran’s Day, the 4th of July, and Memorial Day, as well as at political rallies. Miley’s Cyrus’ recording of “Party in the U.S.A.” (written by Claude Kelly, Dr. Luke and Jessie J) is likely to receive airplay on the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve for many years to come.

Some radio stations alter their formats and play only Christmas music from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. Billboard magazine lists the popularity of Christmas songs on a U.S. Holiday Song chart. Songs on these playlists can generate royalties for their writers and publishers for a lifetime, but there is a benefit for the recording artists, as well.

Artists who record the first version of a holiday song that becomes a standard ensure that they will receive annual airplay, and remain in the public consciousness for years–possibly even decades–after their non-holiday releases are no longer included on current playlists. These artists can extend their careers and earn musical immortality by doing annual Christmas concerts and by performing the song closely associated with them on holiday television shows.

Perennial chestnuts such as “Silent Night” and “Deck the Halls” have been part of the Christmas soundtrack for decades, but more recently, songs such as Faith Hill’s recording of “Where Are You Christmas,” Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Alabama’s “Christmas in Dixie,” and Elvis’ rendition of “Santa Claus is Back in Town” can be found on Christmas playlists throughout the world.

I spoke with Justin Wilde, owner of Christmas and Holiday Music which is the number one music publisher of original Christmas, Chanukah, Halloween, and other holiday songs. Wilde’s company represents more than 240 songwriters and has secured holiday releases with artists including Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, Glen Campbell, Anita Baker, Toby Keith, Ray Charles, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Mathis and many more, as well as a long list of television and film placements.

Wilde stated that it has always been difficult to get Christmas and other holiday songs recorded because only a small percentage of releases fall into these categories. Most of the songs on Christmas albums are artists’ versions of standards. In some instances, there are no new, original songs included at all. Typically there are not more than two or three original songs included, and with the advent of more artists writing or co-writing the few original songs on their holiday releases, securing these recordings has become even more daunting.

When asked what writers and publishers can do to increase their odds, Wilde responded, “To maximize your chances of a placement, write mid- or up-tempo songs. There are probably ten ballads out there for every mid-tempo song.” While he acknowledges that he has placed a small number of sad holiday songs, he stressed that most listeners don’t purchase or listen to Christmas songs to hear sad messages, such as “My baby left and I’m feeling so blue” or songs about the homeless. Positive, happy songs tend to be easier for him to place. He added, “Appeal to your listeners’ senses with lyrics they can see, taste, and smell. Include at least one great, fresh, original line in each verse.” He also mentioned that in terms of genres, country music typically has the most artists releasing Christmas releases, followed by pop and R&B. So those writing and representing songs in those styles will have the most opportunities to secure placements.

With there being so few slots for original holiday songs, it becomes even more important for writers to find fresh, unique angles and imagery to separate their work from the pack. For example, if you rely solely on cliché Christmas images such as the stockings hung by the fire, the presents under the tree, the carolers, and decorations, it is unlikely that your song will compel an artist to bump his or her own song from the album in order to include yours. Avoiding references to specific geographic locations and keeping your lyrics gender neutral (when applicable) expands the number of casting possibilities.

Hit songwriter and publisher Steve Leslie of SNG Music also stressed the importance of finding fresh, new images to include in holiday songs. In his song “Candy Cane Christmas,” (written by Steve Leslie, Frank Rogers and Darius Rucker, and recorded by Darius Rucker) the lyric includes references to tiny little boots covered in snow, apple cider warming on the stove, and kids twisting like little tops in their beds.

“It’s easy to write trite, but that’s not what we want,” said Leslie. He continued, “We need a new twist on an old theme. For ‘Candy Cane Christmas,’ Frank Rogers (who produced the song) wanted an idea that would be about a physical object, like a Christmas tree or silver bells, but something that hadn’t been done before. I Googled ‘Christmas objects.’ As I looked down the list I saw “candy cane” and I liked the alliteration of ‘Candy Cane Christmas,’ and the payoff line, ‘sweet as it can be,’ knocked it out of the park.”

Legendary songwriter and songwriting educator Marty Panzer (collaborator on many of Barry Manilow’s biggest hits, Kenny Rogers’ “Through the Years,” and more than 100 Disney placements) echoed the importance of bringing a unique element to songs for the holiday market, as well as to all songs. Panzer shared, “It was Barry Manilow’s idea to write “It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve” (written by Marty Panzer and Barry Manilow/recorded by Manilow) for his Uris Theatre run, which was being recorded for his first Live album. We wrote the song on Monday… it was orchestrated on Tuesday… and recorded on Wednesday.

As with all songs we wrote together or separately, the most important point, was to write something that hadn’t been said before. Though New Year’s Eve is generally thought of as a celebration of the coming new year, it is for many, if not most, a time of introspection and looking back over the year (or years) that have passed. It’s often a time of regret, anxiety, and an acute sense of loneliness. There was no song we knew of that addressed any of that.”

Panzer continued, “Barry wanted to write a song of comfort and encouragement for those people who were possibly hurting on New Year’s Eve, more than they were celebrating. Happily, “It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve” turned out to be just that song. Its uniqueness, Barry’s extraordinarily warm and moving performance, and the grace of God, have made it a perennial at radio, where it’s gotten great airplay, for all these years. Barry Manilow Live was Barry’s first Number 1 album. ‘It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve’ was the only single from the album. Barry performed the song on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve TV special, for probably the next 10 years.”

When asked whether there are special melodic considerations for holiday songs, Justin Wilde stated, “Melodic simplicity is probably more important for a holiday song than for a non-seasonal recording. You probably want something the average person can hum along with, not something that only a professional singer can sing. For example, songs with a two-octave range or octave interval jumps that are so challenging, vocally, that you’re not going to hear it by carolers or in school productions.” He suggested, “Write those Great American Songbook-style songs that stand the test of time and work in various genres. Songs that can be arranged and recorded in a variety of styles–as opposed to songs that rely primarily on a current-sounding musical track to hook the listeners–will have the best chance of becoming a perennial favorite.

Wilde added, “If I listen to your song three times and I can’t sing back at least half the melody, it’s not a song that can be a standard.” He stated that the repetition of a short (i.e., two to six note) melodic or rhythmic motif helps a melody to be memorable. By weaving the rhythm or the interval established in that melodic phrase throughout the fabric of the song, the melody becomes embedded in the listeners’ brains.

A technique sometimes used in holiday songs is to weave in melodic snippets of classic holiday songs that are in the public domain. An excellent example of this can be found in Barry Manilow’s “It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve” (written by Manilow and Marty Panzer), which includes melodic phrases of “Auld Lang Syne.”

When asked what the biggest mistake is writers make when writing the Christmas and holiday songs they submit to him, Wilde stated, “Failing to workshop a song; not getting professional feedback and failing to rewrite their song before demoing it.” When asked about placing Christmas and other holiday-oriented songs in television shows and movies, Wilde shared, “For holiday-themed television and movies, songs are like audio props or set decorations. For example, when you open on a Christmas episode on TV you want to see Christmas trees or decorated shopping malls that tell you that it’s Christmastime. Songs for Christmas episodes have the same function. They need to help establish that this is a Christmas episode. If it’s an original song the public will not recognize it as a Christmas song unless the lyric includes many mentions of Christmas and Christmas images upfront and throughout.”

The first step in pitching holiday songs is to learn which recording artists, and film and television productions, are seeking this type of material. This information can be gleaned from tip sheets (such as RowFax, for those who are focused on the Nashville market) and through establishing relationships with A & R executives and music producers, as well as film and TV music supervisors. While Justin Wilde’s Christmas and Holiday Music publishing company specializes in holiday songs, any successful publisher should have the necessary contacts to learn which artists are looking for holiday songs, and should have access to the decision makers.

Traditionally, the best time to pitch Christmas music has been from January through July, with most artists’ holiday projects being finished by or before mid-August. This was necessary to allow sufficient time for physical product to be pressed, album covers to be designed, and copies to be shipped to distributors and placed in stores. But in today’s world of digital releases, artists who are releasing material only in a digital format might record and release a holiday single only a few weeks prior to the holiday.

Whether your goal is to write and place the next holiday standard or to have a non-seasonal smash hit, the keys to success remain a combination of exceptional, fresh melodies and lyrics with persistence. Justin Wilde estimates that he pitched one particular song more than 2,000 times over a period of twelve years before finding it a home with an artist.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday and hits and happiness in the coming year!

 

[Reprinted with permission by BMI (Broadcast Music Inc)]
 

Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50 million copies. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Azar, and John Berry. After twelve years as a staff-writer for Zomba Music, Blume now runs Moondream Music Group. For additional information about Jason’s online interactive critiques and webinars, latest books, instructional audio recordings, and workshops, visit www.jasonblume.com

Information on the Inaugural Christmas Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/xmas


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, pitching songs, songwrite, song demo, Jason Blume, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, writing christmas songs, X'mas song

Songwriting in Nashville

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 @07:00 AM


Songwriting in Nashville

By Jason Blume

Music_Row_street_signs.jpg

When I first came to Nashville, the joke at demo sessions used to be, “Which melody do y’all want? Number 3 or number 4?” The implication was that country melodies were all alike -- and only the lyric mattered. Now, the lyrics still have to overflow with details, pictures, and unique angles--but that won’t matter if they’re not attached to a killer, fresh, instantly memorable, hook-laden MELODY!

As part of my most recent webinar (in addition to the song critiques) I identified the melodic tools used in some of the biggest current hits. It really hammered home for me that “outside” songs (not written by the artist or co-producer) have to have EXCEPTIONAL melodies and rhythms.

For the people who complain that country music today is crap and that it ain’t country anymore … I have two things to say:

1) Music in every genre changes and evolves (thankfully!). Motown, the Beatles, Aretha, Sinatra, are all amazing and have all had their time of ruling the radio airwaves--but we can’t get those kinds of songs recorded by today’s artists. So, why should country music stay frozen in time? I LOVE the old country standards, but if I want a successful career, I can’t write songs that would have been appropriate for Hank, Patsy, Jones, Johnny, or anybody else who is dead, and expect today’s artists to record them; and

2) If you think today’s songs are poorly written or just cranked out crap, try writing “I Drive Your Truck,” “Drink a Beer” or “The House That Built Me,” or melodies as fresh and instantly memorable as those in “Came Here to Forget” (Blake Shelton); “Somewhere On a Beach” (Dierks Bentley); and “Church Bells” (Carrie Underwood) -- ALL OF WHICH WERE WRITTEN BY OUTSIDE WRITERS -- NOT THE ARTISTS.

Another issue came up during the webinar …

When I critique songs I frequently ask, “Who do you hear this song for?” You should always be prepared to answer that. A publisher will almost definitely ask that question. If you cannot come up with a list of artists who are currently having hits and do not write their own material exclusively, then you are probably not writing material that targets the current market. This is a business, and part of our job is to be aware of the kind of material being recorded by artists who are currently on the radio--and do not write all of their own songs. We need to write for those artists’ future albums – – not rehash what they’ve already done. Our ticket to success is to give them material that will deliver them to the next level.

Sometimes, I hear songs that are truly terrific--songs that I love--but they are not the kinds of songs publishers can pitch and earn money from. In some cases, it’s because these are “singer/songwriter” songs--the kinds of songs that performing writers write for themselves. In other instances, they might sound like they’re from a different era. I spent years writing both of those kinds of songs and bitterly complaining (while working hideous temp jobs) that my songs were “better than the crap on the radio.” I desperately wanted a publishing deal, but I wasn’t writing the kind of songs a publisher could place. The turning point came when I accepted that if I wanted to write for catharsis that was fine. But if I wanted to earn a living as a songwriter, I needed to write songs with lyrics and melodies that would compel an artist (or publisher or record label exec) to choose my song over a thousand others (including those written by the current hit-makers, as well as the artist and the producer). I still needed to write from my heart--but I needed to also target my listeners’ hearts.

It takes EXCEPTIONAL songs to break through--and those songs must have outlets in the current market. Publishers and other music industry pros are starving for those songs, but they have no need for perfectly crafted, predictable ones. One of the things I love so much about teaching songwriting is that so many of the skills we need to take our songs to that next level are learnable--and that amazing songs really can change lives.

 

Now, time for the sales pitch. July dates for interactive song critique webinars are now posted on my website. The webinars combine in-depth critiques of a song from every participant, lessons, and topics such as “what publishers want”; “how to take a lyric to the next level”; and “how to pitch songs,” as well as Q&A. Note: Every session has filled up--and half the attendees are “repeat offenders.”

http://www.jasonblume.com/song-critique-webinars.html



Jason Blume is the author of This Business of Songwriting and 6 Steps to Songwriting Success (Billboard Books). His songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, etc. Jason’s songs have been included in films and TV shows including “Scrubs,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Assassination Games,”, etc. A regular contributor to BMI’s MusicWorld magazine, he presented a master class at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and teaches songwriting throughout the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, the U.K., Canada, Bermuda, and Jamaica. After twelve years as a staff-writer for Zomba Music, Blume now runs Moondream Music Group. For additional information about Jason’s latest books, online classes, instructional audio CDs, and workshops visit www.jasonblume.com.


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

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, songwrite, Recording, song demo, Jason Blume, song structure, demo recording, writing hit songs, Honing Your Craft, demo sessions

Show—Don’t Tell: 3 Steps to Writing Better Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 @05:33 PM

Show—Don’t Tell: 3 Steps to Writing Better Lyrics

by Jason Blume      

 Songwriting

 

Our goal, when we share a song, is to evoke emotion in our listeners—to have them not only know what the singer is feeling, but to empathize—to feel the emotion. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is by bringing your audience inside the world of your song—showing them a scene unfolding—instead of simply telling them how the singer feels.

Writing lyrics that “show—don’t tell” is one of the basics of songwriting, and is one of the first things taught in almost every songwriting class. But for many songwriters, it’s easier to write lyrics that state how the singer feels. For example: “My heart is filled with happiness”; or, “I’m lonely and my heart is broken.” But while these statements clearly express what the singer is feeling, these types of statements don’t typically evoke emotion in the listener.

By incorporating three elements—action, imagery, and detail—into your verse lyrics, you can write lyrics that tell a story. Note that this tool is primarily intended for verse lyrics. In songs containing choruses, the chorus lyrics tend to be more general. Their function is to be a summation of the concept and to hammer home the title. Telling the story is the domain of the verses.

A: Action

You might recall from elementary school that verbs are figures of speech that convey action or doing. By incorporating action words you ensure that you are avoiding simply stating feelings.

An easy way to include action is to identify the emotion you are hoping to evoke then ask yourself, “What would a person do if he or she were feeling this?”

Instead of saying, “I’m missing you and my heart is broken,” you might write lines that show what missing someone and being heartbroken looks like.

For example:

  • I hug the pillow where you used to lay your head
  • I clutch a tear-stained picture of you
  • I drove to the club where we used to hang, but I couldn’t walk through that door
  • I wipe the tears that keep running down my face

Note the action words—the verbs in the examples above: “hug,” “clutch,” “drove,” “walk,” and “wipe.”

Similarly, instead of saying, “I’m in love,” show what a person in love does by writing lyrics such as:

  • I wrote your name and mine inside a heart
  • I keep singing your name like a favorite song
  • I read your text that said “I love you” at least a hundred times

The action words—the verbs in this example are: “wrote,” “singing,” and “read.”

Note that the first lyric examples never actually stated, “I miss you,” or “My heart is broken.” Nor did the second examples say, “I’m in love,” or “I’m happy.” They didn’t need to—because by “seeing” what the person in the song is doing the listeners are able to surmise how he or she feels.

To master the tool of incorporating action it can help to imagine you’re writing the script for a video, and the actors’ actions will be based solely on the words of your lyric. If you write, “my heart is breaking,” you have not told the actress what she is supposed to do to show this.

A listener cannot “see” what it looks like when a heart breaks. But if you write, “She fell to her knees as he packed his bag, and tears ran down her face”—this is something a listener can visualize. The actress knows that she is supposed to fall to her knees and cry.

I: Imagery

Imagery refers to things that be can seen. Words that convey images are nouns. Note that some nouns—such as “heartache,” “sadness,” “happiness,” and “joy”—do not represent things that are tangible. They are descriptions of emotional states. Effective use of imagery entails including words that describe things that can be seen or touched.

While you cannot see “heartbroken,” you can see the images and actions that convey that a person is heartbroken. For instance:

  • He falls to his knees and lays flowers on her grave
  • She sits in his chair and wipes her tears with a tissue
  • He kisses her photo

The images in the examples above include: “knees,” flowers,” and “grave”; “tears” and “tissue”; “photo” and “lips.”

The inclusion of these images help to show that the character in the song is heartbroken. The listeners are better able to empathize with the character’s emotional state because the lyric allows them to envision the character and the items around them, as well as the action taking place.

By including tangible items in your lyrics—things such as: furniture, clothing, a car, a house, a specific place, food, and other concrete nouns, you enable your audience to enter your song.

D: DETAIL:

Detail is the third component that will help you to show what is occurring—instead of telling how the singer or character in the song feels. By including adjectives and adverbs—or adjectival and adverbial phrases—you further describe the scene, allowing your listener to visualize it more clearly. The inclusion of detail also contributes to making your lyric unique and distinctive.

By adding detail to the examples above we can further engage listeners.

  • He falls to his knees and lays flowers on her grave – or – He falls to his knees on the cold, muddy ground and lays white lilies from her garden on her grave
  • She sits in his chair and wipes her tears with a tissue – or – She sits in his old rocking chair and wipes bitter tears with a wet, crumpled Kleenex
  • He kisses her photo – or – He kisses the photo he took of her laughing that weekend they went camping at Reelfoot Lake

Instead of using words like “pretty” or “beautiful,” provide a description. What interests you more?

She could turn every head when she walked in the room
She was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen
More beautiful than any words could ever say Like she’d stepped right out of my wildest dream

or

She had a jet-black ponytail
That curled around a butterfly tattoo
Black stilletto heels, white string bikini top And eyes that could make a sky turn blue

Incorporating Brand Names

Incorporating brand names (i.e., Ray-Ban,Levis, Calvin Klein) and the names of businesses (i.e., McDonald’s, Walmart, Dairy Queen) can be an excellent way to infuse details into your lyrics. For example, countless songs have mentioned brands of cars such as Chevy, Ford, Mercury, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz——but is it legal? No—but you won’t be sued as long as you present the product or business in a positive light. Your song essentially becomes a free commercial.

Additional Hot Tips: Establish a Time and Location

Specifying a time when the action is taking place can help you to tell a story—instead of telling how the singer feels. A line of lyric such as, “It was3 AMon a rainy winter night” almost demands that you continue the story—to describe what happened next.

A time doesn’t have to be exact. It could be:

  • The hottest day of summer
  • The September sun was right above my head
  • It was the middle of the longest night of my life

Placing the character in a specific location is an additional tool that can help you to tell a story. Knowing where the action is taking place can also make it easier to include detail. Is the character in his or her bed? On a roller coaster? In a supermarket? At a nightclub? In an airport? At a restaurant? In a cabin in the woods?

Examples:

  • I was sitting in my truck
    Underneath a streetlight
    Outside the house that used to be ours
  • The sun peeked above the ocean
    As I woke up on a beach inWaikiki

To view some lyrics that include exceptional use of details check out:

  • I Drive Your Truck (recorded by Lee Brice; written by Jimmy Yeary, Connie Harrington, and Jessi Alexander)
  • Last Friday Night (recorded by Katy Perry; written by Max Martin/Dr. Luke/Bonnie McKee/Katy Perry)
  • Terms of My Surrender (recorded and written by John Hiatt)
  • Irreplaceable (recorded by Beyoncé; written by Amund Bjoerklund/Mikkel Eriksen/Tor Hermansen/Beyoncé Knowles/ Espen Lind/Shaffer Smith)
  • Night Changes (recorded by One Direction; written by Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson, along with Jamie Scott, Julian Bunetta and John Ryan)

There are no rules in songwriting, and I’m not implying that you should never tell how you feel in a lyric. Countless songs have become hits without the benefit of this tool. But it’s an important tool to have in your proverbial toolbox.

Detailed stories filled with “pictures” are the cornerstone of the lyrics ofNashville’s current hits—but as you can see from the lyrics referenced above, this tool can help set your songs apart in every genre. Infusing your lyrics with A: action, I: imagery, and D: detail can be the ticket to deliver your lyrics to your listeners’ hearts—and your career to the next level.


Jason Blume is the author of This Business of Songwriting and 6 Steps to Songwriting Success (Billboard Books). His songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Azar, and John Berry (“Change My Mind,” a top 5 single that earned a BMI “Million-Aire” Award for garnering more than one million airplays). In the past eighteen months he’s had three top-10 singles and a “Gold” record in Europe by Dutch star, BYentl, including a #1 on the Dutch R&B iTunes chart. He was also a former winner of the USA Songwriting Competition. After twelve years as a staff-writer for Zomba Music, Blume now runs Moondream Music Group. For additional information about Jason’s latest books, instructional audio CDs, and workshops visit www.jasonblume.com

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Lyrics, Jason Blume, writing lyrics

5 Songwriting Tips to Turn Good Songs into Hit Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Oct 29, 2014 @05:15 PM

5 Tips to Turn Good Songs into Hit Songs

by Jason Blume 

Hit songwriter Jason Blume breaks down how a perfect pitch leads to a smash hit

 songwriting

I recently hosted one of my monthly BMI Nashville Songwriter Workshops, where each of the 50 attendees had an opportunity to pitch one song to a successful publisher. Typically, at these workshops, with few exceptions, every song played was perfectly crafted. The writers have mastered the use of current song structures; the lyrics made sense and were well written; rhymes were where my ear expected them to be; and the melodies worked well with the chords—avoiding any dissonance. Yet the publisher took copies of only five songs—10 percent of those that were pitched.

It was a good reminder that “perfectly crafted” is a starting point, but it isn’t enough. In order to rise above the competition, our songs need to go beyond the expected, pushing the creative envelope and differentiating themselves from the hundreds—if not thousands—of other well-written songs that are all vying for a coveted slot on a major label artist’s recording.

A publisher once told me that when he plays songs at meetings with record label executives, he needs his songs to “slap them out of their A&R trance.” The same holds true when pitching songs to record producers and recording artists. The publisher went on to explain that these industry pros are bombarded with songs—mostly written by published songwriters with track records—so all of the songs under consideration are good, but only those songs with that extra something jump out of the pile and demand attention.

Similarly, writers who play their songs for publishers, in the hope of securing a publishing deal, need to take into account that the publisher probably already has an extensive catalog of songs, and possibly staff writers, for which he or she is responsible. There should be compelling reasons for a publisher to choose your song over the competition—elements that instantly announce that your song is unique and exceptional and that it is destined to become a smash hit that will elevate an artist’s career to the next level.

Imagine that every song needs to score a minimum of 100 points to become a hit. Some of those points will typically be earned by the lyric, some will be awarded because of the melody, while others might come from the musical backing track.

So… what elements can you add to your songs to provide those extra points that compel artists, publishers and record label executives to choose your songs over the competition and carry them to the top of the charts? The more components we include, the more points we rack up and the better chance for success. Let’s look at some ways to separate songs from the pack—and transform them from good to wow!

Include Unique Melodic Elements and Unexpected Melodic Intervals
A memorable melody is essential—but only those melodies that feel fresh and original will rise above the competition. There are several ways to ensure your melodies grab attention. The tools described below can take a song to the next level.

Listen to the intervals used in Kris Kristofferson’s classic, “Help Me Make it Through the Night.” The note choices in the first line are anything but predictable. Similarly, listen to Neil’s Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done,” and note the unexpected note and chord choices. A more contemporary example is Pink’s hit “Try” (written by Busbee and Ben West), which incorporates unexpected melodic intervals that allow the artist to soar vocally, matching the intense emotion of the lyric.

Stock melodies won’t contribute to a listener choosing your song over the competition.

Add Instrumental Hooks
By adding instrumental hooks—catchy instrumental melodic phrases—you give your listeners another reason to latch on to and connect with your song. For example, the distinctive tenor saxophone line sampled from Balkan Beat Box’s “Hermetico” provides some of the most memorable moments in Jason Derulo’s smash hit “Talk Dirty.”

It accomplishes this both by incorporating an instantly recognizable lick—and introducing a sound that’s fresh, attention grabbing, and not typically heard in hip-hop. The baritone sax part heard in the verses contributes yet another special element. Similarly, the catchy tenor sax line woven through Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” was one of the most distinctive elements of that number one hit.

I’m not implying that using saxophones is the magic bullet. Hit songs have included instrumental melodic hooks that were played on keyboards, banjos, electric and acoustic guitars, accordions, fiddle, bass guitar, harmonica and countless other instruments. It’s interesting to note that in Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” the added melodic hook that helped propel this song to the top of the charts was performed by a combination of instruments and vocals—without lyrics.

Including unique, memorable instrumental motifs, and instruments and/or sounds that go beyond the expected can take your songs to the next level.

Incorporate Fresh Rhythms
There has been a recent trend of infusing hip-hop rhythms into contemporary country songs. This can be found in hits such as Blake Shelton’s “Boys Round Here” (featuring Pistol Annies), Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kinda Night.”

Regardless of musical genre, one of the most effective ways to separate your songs from the pack is to craft melodies that give the vocalists interesting rhythms to sing. This is often accomplished by incorporating syncopation.

There are countless examples of hits that use this technique. Some exceptional ones to study include Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart,” Eli Young Band’s “Drunk Last Night” and Lorde’s “Royals.”

Melodies that go beyond stock, predictable rhythms differentiate themselves from the competition.

A Fresh Lyric Concept and Title
It’s obvious that building your song on the foundation of a strong lyric concept—an idea that millions of listeners can relate to—is important. But to elevate your song from good to exceptional, explore a new angle in your lyric, a fresh approach or a novel way to express your concept. This can be done in both the title and the individual lines of lyric.

Notice how intriguing the titles and corresponding concepts are in classic songs such as “Billy Jean,” “Hotel California,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Take This Job and Shove It” and “Proud Mary.” There are also countless examples of contemporary hits that have unique titles and lyric angles, such as “Roar,” “I Hope You Dance,” “(What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You) Stronger,” “From a Distance,” “Alien,” “I Kissed a Girl,” “The House That Built Me” and “I Drive Your Truck.”

At the time I wrote this article, seven of the top 10 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart had one-word titles, demonstrating their popularity. Hits with one-word titles have included: “Problem,” “Rude,” “Fancy,” “Cruise,” “Crazy,” “Wanted,” Stay” and “Domino.”

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ GRAMMY-nominated hit “Same Love” blazed new territory with a lyric that tackled the topic of same-sex love and marriage. It’s interesting to note that the chorus of that song is sung from the first-person perspective. By avoiding “preaching” to the listeners, and not telling them what they should think or feel, the song evoked emotion by allowing its audience to empathize with the singer.

If you were a recording artist seeking material, would you choose a title and concept as interesting as one of those listed above—or a more mundane idea such as “Oh, Baby I Love You,” “You’re the One I Need,” “I Miss You”? A great title and an equally strong concept can be the ticket to take your song to the top of the charts.

Incorporating Nonsense Syllables/Non-Lyric Vocal Hooks
A publisher at one of my workshops told the attendees, “When you add a ‘na-na-na,’ an ‘oh, oh, oh,’ ‘hey, hey, hey,’ or some other sounds the audience can sing along with, you increase your song’s chances of being recorded ten-thousand-fold.” I’m guessing it might not help quite to that extent, but his point is an important one.

One of the catchiest and most memorable elements of Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert’s number one duet, “Somethin’ Bad,” is the “oh, oh, oh” sung during the intro and included throughout the song. Similarly, Bruno Mars featured a hook sung on the syllables “oh, yeah, yeah, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” during the intro of his GRAMMY-nominated “Locked Out of Heaven.”

The use of non-lyric vocal hooks is not limited to any specific genres, and exceptional examples of these can be heard in Lady Antebellum’s “Compass,” Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” Britney’s “Till the World Ends,” Feist’s “1-2-3-4” and Keith Urban’s “Long Hot Summer.” While it won’t be right for every song, this tool is an important one that can help sear your song into listeners’ brains.

In summation, if you don’t give an artist, an A&R executive, record producer, music publisher—or your listeners—a compelling reason to choose your song over the competition—they won’t. Think outside the box and give your songs those extra points that can turn them from good songs to hit songs!

 

[Reprinted with permission from BMI Music World Magazine]

Jason Blume’s songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Azar, and John Berry (“Change My Mind,” a top 5 single that earned a BMI “Million-Aire” Award for garnering more than one million airplays). In the past year he’s had three top-10 singles and a “Gold” record in Europe by Dutch star, BYentl, including a #1 on the Dutch R&B iTunes chart. Jason authored three of the best selling songwriting books, 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting, and is in his nineteenth year of teaching the BMI Nashville Songwriters workshops. A regular contributor to BMI’s Music World magazine, he presented a master class at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and teaches songwriting throughout the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, the U.K., Canada, Bermuda, and Jamaica. He is also a winner of the USA Songwriting Competition (in 2002). 

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, A&R, Jason Blume, hit songs

Top 10 Best Songwriting Books

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 08, 2012 @12:09 PM

Top 10 Best Songwriting Books by Jessica Brandon

 

We have been receiving questions "Can you recemmend us the best books on songwriting?", "Is this the best book ever on songwriting?". Here is our Top 10 list of the best songwriting books:

 

How to Be a Hit Songwriter: Polishing and Marketing Your Lyrics and Music by Molly-Ann Leikin
Molly-Ann Leikin is the award-winning songwriter and songwriting consultant who helps good songwriters all over the world become hit songwriters. Whether your work just needs a little rewriting, polishing or some strong connections, Leikin will guide you step by step to the top of the charts.

 

Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting by Jimmy Webb

Jimmy Webb, songwriter
Jimmy Webb is a legendary songwriter wrote household hit songs such as "MacArthur Park", "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", "Galveston". This book he write covers technical matters from basic chord theory and rhyme schemes to the protocol of pitching songs, Webb draws on a trove of personal anecdotes from a career spanning more than two decades.

 

How to Write a Hit Song by Molly-Ann Leiken. Molly-Ann Leiken presents an insider's look at the challenging and rapidly changing role of a professional songwriter. When someone with a house full of gold and platinum records sits down and says, "This is how I did it!" the rest of us are blessed to listen and learn.

 

Writing Better Lyrics - by Pat Pattison This book does exactly what it's name suggests, it will help you write better lyrics. It has so many exercises and ways to generate lyric ideas.

 

Melody in Songwriting: Tools and Techniques for Writing Hit Songs (Berklee Guide) -by Jack Perricone. This book examines hit songs and learning from them. This book will make you appreciate the value of this idea.

 

The Craft and Business of Songwriting by John Braheny. Examples from world class songwriters such as Paul McCartney, Lenny Kravitz and TLC. This book has been a bible for songwriters for a long time. 

Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo. I have learnt a lot from this book. Popular songwriters (songwriting giants) including Carole King, Paul Simon, Frank Zappa, Randy Newman, and Madonna discuss their songwriting methods and the way their classics came to be.

The Craft of Lyric Writing -by Sheila Davis. This is a good book with a strong focus on the lyrical side of songwriting. It is both educational and entertaining.

6 Steps To Songwriting Success: Comprehensive Guide To Writing And Marketing Hit Songs -by Jason Blume. Jason has had songs recorded by The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and many others. He has also won the USA Songwriting Competition (First Prize) in the past. Learn from the pro himself!

The Songwriters Idea Book: 40 Strategies to Excite Your Imagination, Help You Design Distinctive Songs, and Keep Your Creative Flow by Sheila Davis. Everyone wants to be original, and this book can be a very helpful tool towards that end. It's great book to help break you out of your normal way of approaching lyric writing, not to mention aid when you are blocked.

 

This article is brought to you courtesy of USA Songwriting Competition. For more information on thew 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Molly-Ann Leikin, Top 10 Books On Songwriting, Jimmy Webb, John Braheny, Jack Perricone, Sheila Davis, Jason Blume