Songwriting Tips, News & More

How To Write A Hit Song

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

How To Write A Hit Song

by Mark Cawley

 songwriting

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

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

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

 

Look Around You

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

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

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

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

 

Do It Yourself

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

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

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

 

Team Up

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Reprinted by permission from Songwriter Magazine]

 

ABOUT MARK CAWLEY

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

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

 

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

Songwriting Tip: Gotta Love That Wrong Note

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jun 10, 2015 @10:59 AM

GOTTA LOVE THAT WRONG NOTE  
by Harriet Schock

 Gotta love that wrong note - songwriting
There’s a lot to say about “wrong notes” but I’m going to concentrate here on the good ones—the ones that you wait for in a song. They’re not really wrong, but they’re unexpected and give a color to the music that is rather magical. Some occur from simply non-chordal tones called appoggiatura, and we’ve all made lots of use of these. Otherwise, the melody is too diatonic, like coloring inside the lines.
 
But let’s talk about wrong notes as in “that note is not in the scale” sort of wrong notes. Those are the really fun ones. My current songwriting student, a wonderful composer/songwriter, Robert Intriligator turned me on to the phrase “The Rodgers patented wrong note,” which was coined by Deems Taylor, a biographer of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Richard Rodgers was arguably one of the greatest popular composers of all time. His body of work is vast and in a huge variety of styles. But there is a characteristic he became so known for, they coined a phrase for it. I asked Robert Intriligator to find a bunch of examples for me, and I went to the piano and noticed that these are some of my favorite places in his music. For example in “Something Good” from “The Sound of Music” that raised fourth on the word “childhood” is what we wait for. In “No Other Love” (from “Me and Juliet”) he uses a raised 2nd on the word “you” in the phrase “only my love for you.” In “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' ” the “morn” of “mornin'” is on a flat seventh of the scale or raised sixth, depending upon your viewpoint. In looking over most of his “wrong note” examples, though, Robert concluded that most of them are a raised second or fourth.
 
Of course, in “Maria,” commonly known as “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria,” he uses a raised fourth as well as a raised second in the first line; but because they’re not held or accented, they simply seem like passing tones and aren’t as remarkable.
 
In order to create a bit of dissonance, the note has to stay there for a while. All consonance in a song is like a plot in a play or movie with no conflict. It’s just not interesting enough to hold our attention. I remember when I first heard “When We Dance” by Sting I waited for that note on the word “love” in the line “like I love you.” Yeah! Of course, these dissonances, wrong notes or whatever you want to call them are everywhere. They’re not just in Richard Rodgers and Sting. It might be fun for you to look for them in the music you listen to and pick out by ear what the composer is doing. Where is the “wrong note” and which scale degree did he/she augment or flat? Anyway, studying Richard Rodgers can only help a songwriter/composer since there’s so much to learn from his music.
 
There’s an old expression in jazz that goes something like “If you hit a wrong note, go back and hit it again in the same phrase. That way it will seem to have been done on purpose.” The trick is to find out when and where to do it on purpose the first time.
 

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

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

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Lyrics, Harriet Schock, Grammy Award, love song

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

Songwriting Tip: Julianne Moore is Right

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 @09:11 PM

by Harriet Schock

Songwriting

A long-time student of mine, Michelle Krell, brought me a quote from Julianne Moore, winner of the Oscar this year for best actress:

“I’m looking for the truth. The audience doesn’t come to see you, they come to see themselves.”

This is certainly true of acting, but it’s also true of writing. The truth will hold up a mirror to the listener. This idea may be hard to sell in a business and a world that is rampantly narcissistic, but maybe it will appeal to people’s ambition. It simply works.

When you’re writing a song about yourself which is no doubt infinitely interesting to you, look for the pictures in the lyric that will draw the listeners into the story and help them see their own lives. And look for the universality of the truth. And I don’t mean vagueness. Some writers try to be general and not specific because they think more people will relate to it. That never works, unless it’s a special piece for a film where it can’t be specific. But if you start singing vague generalities in a show or an open mic, watch the audience start talking among themselves. Make sure the melody also communicates the message in a compelling way. See if it makes your own hair stand on end and play it for friends and strangers before you demo it to see if it does the same to others.
I have a chapter in my book called “Truth vs. Fact in Songwriting.” We should feel free to change the facts to tell the truth. That’s one of the best things about being a songwriter. We can change ALL the facts. And we’ve probably tried to change the truth a few times too. But that simply doesn’t work as well… not if it’s a real truth we’ve got in our sights.

I’ve come to the conclusion that excellent creative work on a subject people are not interested in can go pretty much unnoticed whereas bad work on a subject people ARE interested in can become quite well known. Just go to the movies sometime. But back to songwriting, that’s why there are so many songs (spanning the whole spectrum between excellent and mediocre) about people falling in love or people nursing a heartache. But if you want to write a song about an interesting character like “Mr. Bojangles” or “Fancy,” you had better put the listener at the movies, filling the lyric with visuals. “Try,” written by Colbie Caillat, Babyface and Jason Reeves, pulls off the difficult task of attempting to change behavior. But it does so with a lot of visuals, a universal theme, a melody with more hooks than a tackle box and a light touch on the preaching. (The video didn’t hurt either.) So if you want to write something about a subject that isn’t going to attract only teenagers in love or broken-hearted drunk people, then you’re going to have to try harder. You’re going to need to put some extra craft into it, some visuals that draw the listener into their own lives. Give them some indisputable truth that will give the listener an “aha!” moment, because even though you may be the one up there singing and their eyes are on you, it’s themselves they’re thinking of. It’s their lives they’re trying to understand better. And aren’t we lucky that we get to help them do that?

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

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Lyrics, Harriet Schock, Grammy Award, love song

Songwriting Tip: The Lover and the Beloved in Your Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 09, 2015 @07:38 PM

The Lover and the Beloved in Your Song

 by Harriet Schock

Songwriting

Songwriters can’t escape writing a love song at one time or another. But there’s one problem I see over and over in this type of song.

In life, as in songwriting, it’s better to be interested than interesting. If you’re interested in someone, that person will find you infinitely fascinating. If you’re trying to be fascinating, he/she will rarely even be interested.

Similarly, in songwriting, if you try to dazzle the person you’re talking to in the song, or the listener, with your own wonderfulness, you may have the audience talking among themselves. Consider the song “I Love the Way You Love Me” by John Michael Montgomery. Yes, he talks how her eyes roll when he sings off key but most of it is simply about her.

He likes the way her eyes dance when she laughs and the innocent way she cries at sappy old movies she’s seen hundreds of times….how she enjoys a 2-hour bath. We get a picture of the girl he’s singing to, which gives us a better idea of how he feels than if he was just trying to dazzle us with how much better off HE is with her.

Sometimes a songwriter will show me a love song written to someone and there isn’t one single thing in it about the beloved except, perhaps, how the beloved makes the singer feel. We can’t see the person he/she is singing about and we know nothing about that person.

Maybe this phenomenon is explained by what Carson McCullers says in “Ballad of the Sad Café,”

Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which had lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto.

This is so true that maybe it can be used in defense of the songwriter who fails to describe the beloved. It’s possible he doesn’t really see her at all. She is merely a catalyst. But unlike what we learned in chemistry class, the catalyst rarely emerges unchanged. So we might as well write about her in a way that will seem like it’s actually the beloved whom he loves and not just a place for the stored-up love to land.

 

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

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Lyrics, Harriet Schock, Grammy Award, love song

The 5 Minute Songwriting Class

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Feb 02, 2015 @08:37 AM

The 5 Minute Songwriting Class

By Michael Anderson

 Songwriting

          If you have been reading this series of articles you know that I have been referencing film and screenwriting as another paradigm for creative use of technique in your songwriting.

          I have lately found a source of inspiration that has been quite a revelation to me in that I found someone preaching the same guerilla techniques for film that I have been preaching for songwriting.

          His name is Robert Rodriquez, and you may know his work from films such as “El Mariachi” and “Sin City”.

          Anyway, he also has a book about his experience in making his first feature length film, “El Mariachi”. The book is called “Rebel Without A Crew”, and the narrative has similarities with my experience in the music business – a good read if you are into seeing how other people have pulled it off.

          Part of his book is the “10 Minute Film School” – I thought I might vamp on that concept for songwriters:

 

“The 5 Minute Songwriting Class”

 

          Part I: The first thing is you need a good idea – I have lectured on that over and over here. Creativity is about process – the old “success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” routine – but without that 10% inspiration the other 90% of your work is a waste of time. In fact, you can hire the “perspiration” part if you have the money – somebody will take your money and do all the necessary work for you if you know how to delegate and focus in that way.

          But if you are a struggling artist chances are you will end up doing most of the work yourself too because you can’t afford to hire somebody to be your “go fer”. That is OK, as Robert Rodriquez repeatedly points out, the only way to really be sure you are getting what you need is to do it yourself. That means learning all the little “processes” in the overall big picture process – learning your instrument, learning your tools for recording, learning your business procedure.

          But the initial spark is where it starts. Eddie DeGarmo told me that genius is defined by limitations – in other words, making what you have to work with work in your favor – do something on a low budget someone with all the resources in the world can’t do because they don’t have the focus for that. Find a creative way to solve a problem that no one could have come up with in any other way.

          To find that magic “idea” I recommend a few exercises that again, I am sure you have heard before.

 

          A: “Morning Pages” – direct from “The Artist Way” formula – you can do them in any way that works for you but the point is to get writing immediately in the morning while your brain is still connected to your creative subconscious and start flowing.

          Working without interruption starting first thing in the morning gets more creative work done than anything else I have ever found – a close second is late at night when it is quiet and you are tired – the same process – connecting to that part of your creative self that is a bit left of your reasonable, rational normal thought process.

 

          B: A similar process – the “Artist Date”  - again, straight from “The Artist Way”. Set aside time to goof off. Do nothing. Do what you want. Relax.

          I know, you don’t have time. Well, you can’t force creativity any more than you can make time go backwards – it is a flow and you need to find the rhythm of it – it is in another dimension, a parallel universe - and you need to find it  –  sync to it - it will not find you through your will. It may smack you upside the head at any moment, but you can’t control that. You have to be ready for it.

 

          Part II: Do it. Write it down and record it. Use what you have, when you have it. Don’t wait for the ideal guitar, perfect piano, latest software, newest recorder, machine, time, professional studio, whatever. Again, do it with what you have, when you have it. And do the very best you can do with what you have available. But also:

          A: Lower your expectations. Some people never do anything because they have such egotistic perfectionist tendencies that they can’t allow themselves to make a mistake. Get over that. Make mistakes. Fail. Learn. Do. Get better. Do it all again.

          B: Have a goal – what are you going to do with the demo? What are you going to do with the finished product? What do you need to do to get it to that point and how can you do that now?

 

          Part III: Mainly, enjoy the process of your work – enjoy the rush of the new idea. Enjoy the satisfaction of actually hearing a new part, a new line, a new creative way of doing something no one else has done – say the same thing in a fresh new way.

          Entertain yourself – make your melody, your lyric, your demo something you want to experience over and over again and show to people you trust who appreciate you.

          When you get there the other people will find you.

          Class dismissed. Go write a song.

 

You can contact Michael Anderson or purchase his “Little Black Book of Songwriting” at michaelanderson.com

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Lyrics, songwrite, Michael Anderson

Songwriting Tip: Why Play Other Songwriters’ Songs?

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


WHY PLAY OTHER WRITERS’ SONGS?

Songwriting

by Harriet Schock

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

Songwriting Tip: Five ways to Create Inspiration

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jan 09, 2015 @02:47 PM

Five ways to CREATE Inspiration

Jimmy Brewer, Songwriter

by Jimmy Brewer

We all know the feeling. You sit down to write your next song and you’re confronted by the dreaded ‘blank page syndrome’. You might sit there for hours, staring at an empty page or screen before you eventually lose your enthusiasm and give up for the day. It doesn’t have to be this way! Here are a few simple inspiration generating ideas for lyric writing that can help you break away from the fear of nothing and get back to the creation of something:

1) Object Writing
Every morning pick a random word (or check out www.objectwriting.com for new examples each day), set a timer for ten minutes and write freely using your senses to guide you. Writing from your senses helps to take the listener on a journey instead of just telling them what is happening. Over time this will enrich your writing with powerful imagery and in the short term could generate some interesting ideas for development. Visit my blog for some examples and be sure to check out Pat Pattison’s book ‘Writing Better Lyrics’ to find out more.

2) Facebook Statuses
People write some soppy, emotional, stuff on Facebook, use it! Be careful not to fall into the trap of sitting on Facebook all day, refreshing the page waiting for a good status to catch your eye. Instead, make a note of anything that resonates with you while you’re scrolling through your news feed waiting for the kettle to boil or eating your breakfast cereal…

3) Column Title Generators
These can be quite cool. Make two or three columns on a page and have a different category for each one. For example on one side you might have a colour and on the other have an inanimate object, or an item of clothing (think ‘Raspberry Beret’) or even the weather (‘Purple Rain’…definite Prince theme going on here). Fill each column up and mix and match until something strikes you as being interesting or coveys an emotion that you think could be developed into a song. Get creative with the categories and you’ll be amazed at what you can find. Sheila Davies’ book ‘The Songwriter’s Idea Book’ contains lots of excellent ideas like this.

4) Little Pocket Notebook
Often when you’re out and about you might hear certain phrases that jump out at you. Usually by the time you get home you’ve forgotten about them. I like to carry a tiny notebook and pen around just in case I see something quirky written on an advert on the side of a bus, or I overhear a conversation in the queue at the coffee shop. Always try and keep your eyes and ears open and stuff will find you. I guess these days you could just use your phone, but I think there’s something about actually physically writing something down that makes your subconscious mind remember it a bit clearer. Once you’ve filled a few pages you can pick one and put it on your terrifying Blank Page and there you go, it’s not blank anymore!

5) Rip Off Without Ripping Off
If you hear a song and you think ‘Wow, what a beautiful sentiment’ or ‘What an interesting way to say that!’, Strip away the imagery and take that underlying emotion and think up some other similar ways of conveying that feeling (maybe start by object writing it and see what comes out). This way you’re not taking the image of the original song and turning it into a cliché, you’re getting to the heart of what the artist is trying to say and retelling it in your own unique style.

These are some of the methods I like to use, and very rarely now do I sit staring at a white page. These ideas can help you to spend less time thinking about writing and more time actually writing. Please leave me a comment with your own ideas, I’d love to hear them!

For more songwriting tips and some free music visit my blog at www.jimmybrewermusic.com/blog

 

To enter the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Lyrics, 4-track, Jimmy Brewer

Songwriting Tip: Lyrics and Poetry

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

LYRICS AND POETRY

by Harriet Schock

Is Songwriting Lyrics and Poetry?

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

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

2) Write visually or show don’t tell

3) Use irony

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

Songwriting Tips: 10 Elements of a Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Aug 11, 2014 @01:34 PM

Songwriting Tips: 10 Elements of a Song
by Steve Cheeks

 songwriting

When studying songs and songwriting, there seem to always be common threads to the basic components of successful songs. Like most people, I am measuring a songs success by it's popularity more than any other factor, although it is not the only factor to consider. With that thought being set aside, lets look at the elements that make up songs in the Modern Contemporary Music era (the last fifty years of rock, pop, country and R&B). Please also note that these are not considered to be in any particular order.

1. Melody - The melody is the tune of the song that you sing or play. The best melodies are considered to be "catchy". This typically means that the melody is memorable, which should be the desired effect.

2. Chords (chord progression) - The chords accompany the melody of the song. This can also be, and is typically, part of the rhythm of the song. A chord progression is the order in which the chords are played.

3. Beat and Rhythm - The beat of a song is what "drives" the listener to "feel" the song (fast or slow). It is also referred to as the tempo (speed) of the song. Because music stirs our emotions, we often are drawn to a song because of the beat. The rhythm on the other hand, is the beat that the various instruments (drums, bass, guitar and keys) create.

4. Genre and Style - the genre of a song (rock, pop, country or r&b) is typically established by the beat and rhythm of the song. The style may vary once the song is constructed with the words and/or instruments. The style of the song branches out from the genre, such as, punk rock, alternative, hip hop, blue grass etc.

5. Concept (story) - All songs have a story line or theme. Typically the song title will convey the essence of that story idea and the words (lyric) will expound upon that idea or theme. The story concept and theme is typically stated in the title of the song.

6. "Hook"- Simply stated, the hook is the part of the song that you just can't get out of your head. It sort of "sticks" to your thought process, sometimes, even if you like it or not. All great (if not memorable) songs have great hooks. A song may also have sub hooks that are sections,words, phrases of music that will get inside your brain. The song title can typically be a "singable" hook or phrase as well.

7. Lyrics - What is being "said" in the song comes through the words called the lyrics. The lyric describes the concept, theme and/or title of the song. A lyric will typically rhyme in rhythmic phrases in the sections of music.

8. Song Sections - Songs are divided up into sections and have names, such as, intro, verse, chorus,bridge etc. Typically, the verse describes the concept of the title and hook that are typically in the chorus. Other sections such of music, such as the intro, bridge, lead breaks, etc., will function to support these main components of the song. Sections consist of measures (also called bars) that are typically four beats in length. Although they can be longer or shorter, sections are typically eight measures (bars) in length.

9. Arrangement - The arrangement is actually two-fold. First, the arrangement is the order in which the sections of music are placed, such as, intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus and so on. Secondly, the organization of the instrumentation, vocals and/or other parts of music that make up the song, are considered to be the arrangement as well.

10. Length - The length of a song is always a consideration, depending on the use of the song. If a song is being written and arranged for radio airplay, songs today are typically three and a half to four minutes long. They can be shorter or longer, but this is the typical length in today's musical formats. It should be stated that you will find successful songs with less (or even more) of the ten elements that are listed here. That doesn't make the song right or wrong, just different.

There are always exceptions to every rule,and in music, you will find that to be the case more often than not. In searching songs, I believe you will find most "hit' songwriters will use proven formulas with the elements listed above, in some shape or form. I always remind songwriters and musicians alike, that there are no "have to be's" in music, just "probablies." That's the purpose of using the word "typically" so often. As always, go back and study some of the songs from your favorite genre to see how many of the elements you can detect. I'm sure you will find that the more successful the song, the more song elements that are in the song. This should give you a great overview for your study. Happy Hunting!

Steve Cheeks is a Producer, Arranger, Singer, Songwriter and Psalmist. As a teacher, Steve has taught many hundreds of students how to play, perform and compose music with many different instruments. Currently, Steve is on a mission to teach the world to play and sing. He resides in Evans, Ga.

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Lyrics, songwrite, hook, song elements, Melody. create song, create melody, Chords, beat and rhythm, song structure