Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Dealing With Song Critiques

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

Songwriting Tip: Dealing With Song Critiques

by Harriet Schock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

 

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

 

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

Songwriting Tip: Defaulting to the Nearest Cliché

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

Defaulting to the Nearest Cliché

by Harriet Schock

 CLICHE2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Songwriting Tip: Get Away from It

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Sep 08, 2015 @06:25 PM

Songwriting Tip: Get Away from It

by Harriet Schock

TakeAWalk

Can you see the box better from inside the box or outside the box? Well, you see it two different ways, I guess. But if you’re looking for objectivity and perspective, you might try getting outside.

 

I think the same may be true of songs. I believe most of the writing needs to be done INSIDE the experience. As Natalie Goldberg talks about in Writing Down The Bones, write as much as possible from “First Thoughts.” It’s good to get as much written as you can from that moment of being truly immersed in the original inspiration and desire to communicate. It’s also good to get away from it for a while. Go do something else. It’s going to gnaw at you like a hungry child anyway, so you aren’t going to be in danger of forgetting it entirely.

 

Steve Wagner, a former student and wonderful songwriter, recognizes the wisdom in taking a break. He feels it allows him to come back to the song with the original enthusiasm and vision he once had for it. He wrote me once, “I had to get away from this for a while and I was successful at extricating myself, withdrawing from it so that I am excited to dive back in.” Kahlil Gibran’s advice to lovers would be well taken by songwriters for their songs: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” In that space, we might actually gain the understanding we are seeking for what the song needs.

 

That said, I must confess I usually write a song in a few consecutive sittings. I can’t leave it alone. I’ll think that’s all I’m going to do and I turn the keyboard off, leave the room and try to do something else, and I’m right back there like a boomerang within minutes. But with one of my songs, a song I was writing for my sister, I took a four or five month break. I didn’t consider it a break. I thought I wasn’t getting anywhere with the song and I refused to give my only sister a song that was lame, so I put it away. Six months later, I woke up one day and in the twilight between snooze alarms, I got the end of the chorus. The whole song builds to that and the title sits right in the last line of that section. I probably couldn’t have gotten that six months earlier. So if I’d kept after it, I may have gotten something inferior. As often happens in my experience, this little personal song I wrote to my sister to express something to one person, something I felt deeply, has become one of the songs everyone asks for when I perform. I suppose other people have big sisters or brothers also.

 

Then there are the writers who won’t leave a song alone until they ruin it. I have students I want to hog tie to keep their hands off their songs after the songs have reached a certain point.

 

There’s a famous joke about the screenwriter who’s on the desert with a film producer and they’ve been dying of thirst for days until they finally find a pool of water and it turns out not to be a mirage, but the real thing. The writer starts to drink and the producer stops him and starts peeing into the pool. When the writer asks him what he’s doing, the producer replies, “I’m just improving it a little.” Although this joke is more a reflection of how script writers feel about the creative intervention of producers, I tell it to my writers who can’t stop “improving” their songs even after they’re already great. They compulsively rewrite until they are divorced from the original surge of creative power that inspired them in the first place. They’ve perfected the songs right out of all emotional impact.

 

Rather than continue working on something that was first finished weeks earlier, taking a break from the song can help you see it again with new, appreciative eyes. A rather odd example of this last point happened to me recently. I was reading some new reviews of my work on Allmusic.com and my eyes drifted down to the discography section and I found there was a recording of one of my songs I never knew about. It was published by Jobete and they apparently pitched the song and secured the record, never mentioning it to me. When I heard the cover, it was as if the song were someone else’s. I wrote it more than 20 years ago, and the time away from it gave me perspective. It was quite a different experience from hearing the demo I had done right after I wrote it. And fortunately I was impressed with the song.

 

So the next time you’re compulsively rewriting the life out of your song or looking for that key to solve a song’s problem, take a break. Take a walk. Take a vacation. One way or another, get away from it. You’ll benefit from it. And so will the song.

 

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

 

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

Tags: songwriter, Songwriting, Songwriting Tip, lyric writing

Songwriting Tips: Oysters and Muses

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

Songwriting Tips: Oysters and Muses

By Harriet Schock

Oysters And Muses

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

TellUsWhatYouThink

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

Songwriting Tip: Beginnings

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Sun, Jun 15, 2014 @09:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Beginnings

by John Capek

Songwriting

What comes first. lyrics or music?   That’s probably the most common question I am asked when I conduct workshops and seminars.

 

My answer is that the more variety that a songwriter can add to starting a song, the better.

I try to start each song that I write from a different point of view as my starting point.

 

The choices include:

 

1. Writing a full lyric first and then putting it to music.

2. Writing a full track without melody first.

3. Writing a full track of music with melody but no lyrics.

4. Writing based on a song title.

5. Writing based on a story concept

6. Writing based on a beat or drum loop.

7. Writing using a musical instrument that is not your primary instrument of writing. If you are a keyboard player try a guitar, or vice versa.

 

All of these are valid and commonly used, or of course a combination of any.

 

My latest writing technique has been to try to write a complete lyric draft first without even thinking about music. Apple Loops has revolutionized my song writing. Once I have a draft of a lyric, I’ll explore a bunch of possibilities in Apple Loops and choose a groove, usually a guitar lick that works for the first line of my lyric. The rest of the song usually unfolds like a jigsaw puzzle from that point on.

 

1. Writing a full lyric first and then putting it to music.

 

In order to write a lyric first, we need to have a starting point for that. Many of my song writing friends and peers always carry a notebook with them during the day and keep one close when they are sleeping. A particular person encountered during the day, a sign on the street, a line from a newspaper or from something on TV is usually a catalyst for a word or line or visual image that can be noted and used at a later point.

 

I find that in my case, I never think about or analyze my song structures. Usually that first line will dictate where the song is going to go structurally.  A teacher friend of mine has noted that 90% of all; songs follow a structure similar to the children's nursery rhyme

 

MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB

IT’S FLEECE WAS WHITE AS SNOW

EVERYWHERE THAT MARY WENT

THE LAMB WAS SURE TO GO

 

Although that may be an oversimplification, I find that structural simplicity is a good thing to aspire to . In fact simplicity in general works best

 

2. Writing a full track without melody first.

 

Many producer/musician/songwriters work this way. If you have skills as a musician producer, many lyricist/melodists enjoy writing to tracks.   The majority of my song covers were written using this method.  When I have produced a track to submit to a lyricist/melodist, it is produced in a specific manner that I have found works very well.

In my case I try to make my tracks either very contemporary sounding or sometimes, in the case of a ballad, as timeless as possible.  The most important thing to do with tracks, is not to turn them into instrumental songs. They must leave space for the lyricist/melodist to add their part.

 

3. Writing a full track of music with melody but no lyrics.

 

One of my successful recordings was written using this method. I wrote a track and then added my own melody on top of the track. The lyricist then simply wrote the words to my melody and the song was completed. many famous tin pan alley songwriters wrote songs using this method. I have found that it works particularly well with ballads.  As a keyboard player I have been able to suggest melody ideas to the lyricist that are unique and unusual. This can lead to interesting places that may not have been thought of had the lyricist come up with a melody to a track

 

4. Writing based on a song title.

 

Often an event can happen in ones life or in the world that can inspire a song or story. Sometimes a persons name will do. When writing to a title, I often suggest to my students that they write a short prose story based on that title. That story then forms a data base of information that will feed the resulting song.

 

5. Writing based on a story concept

 

A much utilized song writing exercise used by a number of teachers is to write a prose story first. A common approach is to write a story based on a first love. In writing prose stories, we try to add as much detail as possible to give our own unique take to the story. I have found this to be a great starting point for songs. It is something like writing a small play or movies. in fact I believe songs are very similar to little plays or movies.

 

6. Writing based on a beat or drum loop.

 

In hip hop and rap, beats predominate. Again a simple starting point would be to go through the volumes of beats that are available and jam some words along with the beats. i find that it doesn’t matter at first if the words make sense or not. Ultimately as a a result of constant repetition a line will come through that makes sense and defines the meaning of the beat. A song lyric can then unfold based on a starting line.

 

7. Writing using a musical instrument that is not your primary instrument of writing. If you are a keyboard player try a guitar, or vice versa.

 

I am a good keyboard player. On guitar, I know three chords. However some years ago I produced and wrote an entire rock album written exclusively with my limited knowledge of guitar. This created a simplicity and rock feel that I could never have achieved had I used my normal writing instrument.

 

Song writing collaboration is a great way to extend ones vocabulary in writing songs. That vocabulary can be extended with different genre’s, styles age differences, geographical location and different specialization and skills.

 

 

Rod Stewart leads the list of popular music icons who have recorded Capek compositions. Others include Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Toto, Chicago, Olivia Newton John, Little River Band, Heart, Manhattan Transfer, Isaac Hayes and Amanda Marshall. John Capek’s most performed award winning songs include : “Rhythm of My Heart”, ”This”, ”Soul on Soul” and “Carmelia”.  Capek’s most performed productions include Dan Hill’s Billboard hit duet with Vonda Sheppard, “Can’t We Try” as well as work with Ken Tobias, Gene McLellan, Good Brothers and Downchild. As a keyboard player, John has recorded with Diana Ross, Olivia Newton John, Ian Thomas, Marc Jordan, Dan Hill, Kermit, The Chipmunks, The Simpsons and countless other international performers. John’s songs are heard in the feature films, “A Perfect Storm”, “Cocktail”, “Blown Away” and many others. For more information go to www.johncapek.com

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric writing, John Capek, composing music

Songwriting Tip: A Three-Stage Rocket to Lyric Writing

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, May 01, 2014 @10:37 AM

A Three-Stage Rocket to Lyric Writing

When NASA blasted a rocket into orbit, they did it in stages: The big lift-off, a second stage to get the payload into orbit and a third to fine tune the direction. So, what’s this got to do with writing lyrics? You can think of the lyric writing process in three stages:

  •  1. Getting started. (Lift off)
  •  2. Developing your idea. (Getting into orbit)
  •  3. Rewriting (Fine tune it)

=> STAGE ONE: GETTING STARTED
Beginning the lyric writing process with a title can give you a central beacon that will keep your song lyric focused – very important if you want to keep listeners involved. Any short phrase you find emotionally intriguing – or simply an honest statement of how you feel – can work as a title. Make it something you want to write about.

Then make a list of questions the phrase suggests. These are the questions you’re going to answer in your song. Try questions like: What does this mean? Why do I need to say it? How does it feel? How did it happen?  What do I think the consequences will be? Every phrase suggests different questions. And every songwriter will find different ones to ask. 

OR… you can start writing the first line of your song and work from that. Let’s say you overhear a line in conversation that sounds interesting or a line occurs to you that triggers a whole string of thoughts. Write everything down, then go back and look it over. Do you know what this song is about? Can you put the lines in some kind of order that develops an overall idea? By the time you write the second line of your first verse, you should have an idea where your song is headed.

=> STAGE TWO: DEVELOP YOUR IDEA
Decide on your song structure. For most songs, it’s a good idea to write in a form that has a chorus section, such as…
VERSE / CHORUS
VERSE / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS. (Read more about song structure.)

Feature your title in your chorus section; make it the first line or last line, or use it in both places. It will provide an anchor for your listeners, a focal point, so a little repetition is a good thing.  Surround your title with lines that support it. For example, you might choose to answer the question you feel is the most important. Or describe the emotions that are going on.

Remember, the chorus sums up the heart of your song. Be sure to keep it focused on a peak emotional moment. Don’t try to explain too many specific ideas in the chorus. Save that for the verses.

Lay out your verses around the chorus. Choose at least one of the questions from your list to answer in each verse and the bridge. By laying out your song instead of just writing whatever comes to you, you’ll stay focused on a single idea in each verse and you won’t wonder what you’re going to write about when you get to the bridge!

FILM & TV SONG TIP: If you’re writing songs for the film & TV market, keep the focus solely on a peak emotional moment and try to avoid a specific storyline. The script will take care of the story details. Also, for film & TV, the VRS / VRS / BRIDGE / VRS song form can work well. Try using your title in the last line of each verse. If you repeat that last line each time the verse comes around, it will add weight and create a chorus-like feel.

Find out more about writing songs for Film and TV.

=> STAGE THREE: REWRITE AND POLISH
Fill in more lines around the ones you’ve written. Simple, conversational phrases are fine but you might want to mix these with images, comparisons, and physical expressions of emotion to make your listeners really feel it! Don’t just tell them what you experienced; make them experience it, too.

Replace a cliché with a fresh idea. If you’ve written a line that listeners have heard a thousand times, try adding a twist, end the phrase in a different way than we expect.

Punch up your language. If you wrote “I need…” try “I hunger…” or “I crave…” Make your action words work harder, too. Instead of “you walked away,” use “you slipped away” or “you  danced away.” These words tell us more about the emotions that accompanied the action.

Go through your lyric and make certain you’ve answered the important questions about the situation. Did you say something in your lyric that raised more questions or hinted at something else? You’ve got to deal with that—either answer the question or change that line. You don’t want to leave the listener feeling unfulfilled.

This is the time to “encourage” some rhymes. Don’t force them; never change the natural word order of speech to accommodate a rhyme – you’re likely to lose the  believability of the lyric. Look for a rhyme that feels easy and natural. if you use “vowel rhymes” you have a huge selection to choose from. Like the name implies “vowel rhymes” merely rhyme the vowel sound.  Fine/time, now/house, love/stuff are all vowel rhymes. Check out www.B-Rhymes.com for lists of near rhymes. (Read more about rhyming.)

ONE LAST THOUGHT…
At times during this process, there’s likely to be a strong line that “just occurs to you,” a line you reeeeally want to use. If you laid out your song as a rough sketch first, take a look to see where the line might belong and put it there. If it doesn’t seem to belong to any section, then it might provide the germ of a new song. Write it on a separate sheet of paper and put it to one side. You can come back to it later to see where it leads. In songwriting, no good line is wasted – you just have to find the right place for it.

by Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick has written more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records, Executive Producer of 60 albums, and the author of “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” available at Amazon.com. Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: www.RobinFrederick.com  and www.MySongCoach.com.

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Polishing songs, Verse, compose, songwrite, lyric writing, Robin Frederick

Songwriting Tip: A Strong Opening Line Is Important

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Sep 18, 2013 @11:27 AM

Songwriting Tip: A Strong Opening Line Is Important When Writing Lyrics
By Anthony Ceseri
Songwriting Tip: A Strong Opening Line Is Important
Having a powerful opening line is an important gateway into the lyrics of your song. A great lyrical introduction is an awesome way to get listeners interested in your story right off the bat. Plus, if it’s boring, you run the risk of losing them. People have really short attention spans these days, so effectively grabbing their attention early is crucial.
Having said that, I better get to my point… and make it quick! I recently revisited a great example of a strong opening line in the song “Round Here” by Counting Crows. The first line of the song says:
 
Step out the front door like a ghost into a fog,
Where no one notices the contrast of white on white
 
This is a great intro for a few reasons. The first is it’s really visual. Any time you engage the senses, you’re probably doing a good job of inviting people into your story. This line does that by engaging your sense of sight. It’s easy to picture a ghost and a fog as described here. Immediately, we set a stage of what this lyric will look like in our heads. And it’s effective.
It’s even fun to try and visualize the slight contrast that might actually be there between what we envision a ghost to look like and a thick fog.
In addition to that, this is a fantastic simile. There’s a comparison being made between someone who feels they just aren’t being noticed by the world, and a ghost in a fog. The element that ties these two thoughts together to make it an effective simile, is the idea that no one can see this person. It works very well.
This opening line is also very intriguing. After hearing it, I already want to know more because it’s so interesting. Had the first line had the same idea, but been said more simplistically and generically, I wouldn’t care as much. What if the song had opened with a line like this:
 
Step out the front door
Feeling like no one can see me
 
Eh. Suddenly I just don’t care as much anymore. I mean, it’s basically saying the same thing as the real first line, but in a bland, non-descriptive and generic way. Maybe I’d listen carefully to the rest of the lyrics. But maybe I wouldn’t. The “ghost into a fog line” is infinitely stronger and makes me want to stick around for more.
You can see how putting a really strong line up front is a great way to get your listeners excited about your story right off the bat. Granted, you want to keep them interested as your story continues along, but that first line can be crucial to getting their attention. Good imagery with a strong simile or metaphor, like we saw in the opening line of “Round Here,” is an awesome way to get your song rolling.
For a lot more useful songwriting information, grab my free eBook here: http://successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/ 
For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Anthony Ceseri, songwrite, lyric writing, Strong Opening Line, intro

Songwriting Tip: The Prosody of Mystery in Mystery Train

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Feb 17, 2012 @01:00 PM

The Prosody of Mystery in Mystery Train

By Pat Pattison, songwriting professor

 Pat Pattison, songwriting professor

Ok, so who still cares about the young Elvis and his Sun Records recordings? Simple stuff, right? Sure. Scotty Moore and Bill Black are just rock-a-billy hicks thumping away the best they can, them good ol’ southern boys.

 

So why does Elvis’ Mystery Train still feel like a mystery to be unraveled, fresh on every listening? Have you heard it recently? C’mon, download it and check it out. Then come back.

 

So? Did you try to count it out? Go back and simply tap out the downbeats. See how you do. I’ll wait.

 

It can be a little confusing. Simplify it a bit. Forget the intro and start counting downbeats one beat before Elvis comes in with “train arrive.” It’s a pretty brisk tempo.

 

How many bars do you count before he starts line 2?

 

Right. Ten bars:

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

| / / / / | / / / / | / / / /| / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / |

 

Train ar-ri--------------ive sixteen coaches long

 

Then another ten bars:

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

| / / / / | / / / / | / / / /| / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / |

 

Train ar-ri--------------ive sixteen coaches long

 

Pretty neat. It throws you off balance, both the ambiguous entry (did you expect it there?) and the unusual ten bar phrase. Maybe, um, mysterious, eh?

 

But made even more mysterious because of the introduction. Now count it. I’ll wait.

 

Yup, six bars, but with a wrinkle. The first downbeat is pretty foggy, with the guitar starting in the half bar and playing its figure on & 3 &, making it even harder to find the downbeat. So it’s an unusual six-bar intro.

 

Then the vocal starts back-heavy (after the downbeat) in bar seven – the actual first bar of the ten-bar verse. Even more mysterious.

 

Only when you get to the “chorus,” the conclusion of the sequence, do you get to a stable 8-bar section, where he slams the door, letting you know what the mystery train has done to him:

 

Well that long black train got my baby and gone

 

Note, however, that the front-heavy (starting on the downbeat) “chorus” picks up in the tenth (weak) bar of the verse “Well that…,” making even the stable 8-bar sequence a tad ambiguous. Then the long/gone rhyme puts the finishing touches on the section.

 

There’s prosody galore in this treatment. The verse is unstable and mysterious – even spooky – while the “chorus” leaves no hope for our hero. It’s a nifty use of a third level of phrasing – how many you have bars in a section.

 

Either Scotty and crew had no idea what they were doing, or they really did. I’d opt for the latter explanation. Even if they didn’t think of it in terms of prosody, you can. And you can use it in your songwriting.

 

Go get ‘em.

 

© 2012 Pat Pattison 

Pat Pattison is a Professor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Songwriting. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Prosody, Songwriting Tip, lyric writing, expert

Kate Voegele Talks About Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Aug 24, 2010 @09:59 AM

Kate Voegele won first prize in the Pop category of the USA Songwriting Competition in 2005 and became the youngest winner at that time at just 18 years old as a teen phenom.

She went on to perform at USA Songwriting Competition showcase at SXSW (see picture below) and was signed to Interscope Records shortly after. Her winning song "Only Fooling Myself" went on to hit top 40 on the Billboard charts that year. Her 2nd album hit the Billboard 200 Album charts at #10. She has appeared on major TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", acted in "One Tree Hill" and toured with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks. 

Kate Voegele Performing at USA Songwriting Competition showcase at SXSW

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, Kate Voegele, how to write a song, American Idol, writing songs, Lyrics, lyric writing, USA Songwriting Competition, Billboard Charts, One Tree Hill, Billboard Album Charts, Hits, hit song writer, tips on how to write a song, Conan O'Brien

Songwriting Tips: Four Steps To Writing A Hit Chorus

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 20, 2010 @06:40 PM

Four Easy Steps to Writing A Hit Chorus

by Molly-Ann Leikin, Songwriting Consultant


How To Write A Hit Chorus

Want to learn to be better in songwriting? No matter how sophisticated our technology, a melody is still a series of single notes. Nobody ever sings chords or tracks.  They sing individual notes.


While creating music, some of us might hear melodic and/or rhythmic ideas in our heads, then high-hurdle the sofa en route to the keyboard to play and record them right away. Others may not hear anything specific, but will feel that lightning urge to create and hope they'll find some magic hidden between the black and white keys. But no matter where we find our music, or where it finds us, a melody is still a series of single notes.
You can't hum a track.


When there are problems with a melody, ( and most of them can't be fixed in the studio), they can be solved very simply by going back to the individual notes. Never mind how good the drum fills or harmonies are, or how cool the sax sounds in the bridge. If you find you have melody problems, and your hooks aren't strong enough, go back to square one - note one, and let's see where the trouble is.


I think of choruses as nursery rhymes for adults - short, repetitive, irresistibly singalongable, easy to remember. This may sound silly or disparaging to those of you with Julliard degrees, or who've been in bands all your lives. But if you aren't getting where you thought you should have gotten by now in your careers, you could change all that for the better in ten minutes.


When my clients are having melody problems, I assign them the nursery rhyme game. That is simply choosing five different nursery rhymes - doesn't matter which ones - "Mary Had A Little Lamb", "Humpty Dumpty", "Jack and Jill", "Itsy Bitsy Spider", "Ring around a Rosie" - any five. All nursery rhymes have just one musical section, which I call the verse. This exercise will show you how to write a simple, repetitive chorus to each of those verses, and that is basic melody construction.


Step One : from the last note of the verse melody, go up a major third to the first note of the chorus. (eg: C to E). Notice I said note, not chord.


Step two : tap a rhythm on your knee or on your desk - a rhythm that is dramatically different from the rhythm of the verse melody. Try several different rhythms, - don't stop with the first thing that pops into your head. Record everything. You never know what'll come up and you may not remember some of the good stuff.


Step three : once you have a rhythm that you like that is unexpected, starting on the note a major third up from the last note of the verse, add individual notes to create a short chorus. Make sure you repeat your chorus's first line somewhere in the body of that section. Beginners will write lines one and three the same, two and four the same, but you can write your choruses however you like. Be sure you don't simplify the process too much, and write predictably. And be careful not to borrow someone else's melody.


Step four : test your chorus with your verse. Is it surprisingly different? Or is it too similar? Could you tweak it a little? Change even one note? Remove two? Vary a rhythm pattern? Record everything and put your files aside for a day or two. Then listen again. If your new "melody" makes it through the night, chances are it's right. And although it's "just a nursery rhyme", you'll have very deliberately constructed a note-by-note melody with a strong hook. When you're 100% happy with it, THEN add the chords and the track.


Change the process, change the result.
For more suggestions on easily strengthening your music and lyrics, please refer to my books, How To Write A Hit Song and How To Be A Hit Songwriter. Both are available in paperback.

© 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, 5068 others, with Molly’s help, have placed their work in movies, on TV, CD’s and in commercials. Molly also writes articles for USA Songwriting Competition e-mail newsletters. Her website is www.songmd.com, and 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. However, please check her website first so your conversation is as productive as possible.

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

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