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Top Ten tips for Entering Songwriting Competitions

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Sun, Jan 07, 2018 @07:24 PM

Top Ten tips for Entering Songwriting Competitions

By Jamie Anderson & Ira Greenfield
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Most people think that entering Songwriting Competitions have to be a pain-inducing experience that’s akin to getting a root canal. The truth is that many songs that have done well have taken steps to make sure the songs sound good.  You’ll discover when you read through these 10 tips on entering songwriting competitions doesn’t have to be a long and complicated process. In fact, you probably have all the knowledge you need to write a great song now.
 
It is always good to enter Songwriting Competitions to test out how good your songs really are. Here are ten tips to help you improve your chances of doing well in Songwriting Competitions:  

1. Vocals & Pronunciation. Put the vocals high in the mix, make sure pronunciation is clear. The lyrics can’t be judged if they can’t be heard. If people unfamiliar with your song can’t follow the story, then you need to remix it so the band doesn’t overpower your poignant lyrics. Also, make sure that the vocalist pronounces the lyrics properly. Our event director Eddie Phoon was a distinguished panelist at a Nashville Music Conference many years ago on a demo listening panel. The panel consisted on A&R director from record labels and music publishing companies, they listened to a Rock/Alternative song and everyone in the panel liked it except him. He said he liked the song but not the lyrics, he said he didn't get the lyrics “Open Your Ass”. The band responded “No, it's open your ears”, the crowd roared with laughter! Lesson learned: pronounce your lyrics properly, make sure the listener knows what you are talking about.

2. Make sure you’ve put your song in the right category. Just because you sing about Nashville doesn’t make it a country song. Load it up with weepy pedal steel, a mournful fiddle and make sure there’s a little twang in the singer’s voice. If you don’t sound like Carrie Underwood or Eric Church, hire someone who does to sing your song. Is it jazz? It should have something beyond one ninth chord and a host of major chords. Use chord substitutions to give it that smooth jazz sound. Is it folk? Add an acoustic guitar. Bluegrass? Better put in a banjo. Lyrics are important, too. If you’re singing about trucks and bars, it’s not jazz, unless you’ve been at said bar and consumed a couple of six packs. Listen to songs popular in that style and note the lyrics and arrangement. Don’t be that songwriter who wastes a good song by submitting it in the wrong category.

3. Arrangement & Collaboration. It’s not an arrangement contest. We don’t care if Clapton is your guitar player. Give us a compelling story or lyrics rich in metaphor. If you want to show off that hotshot guitar player, try a best band contest.  Instrumentals are in another category, of course, and for those, make sure there’s an engaging melody that repeats several times.

If you feel that you are great in writing great melodies but not that great in writing lyrics, go find a lyric writer. In the past 5 years of the USA Songwriting Competition, all top winning songs were written by more than one songwriter. Same goes for the Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts, most of the hits todays are multi-way collaborations.
 
4. Have a short intro. The judges have already listened to a hundred songs and consumed a pot of coffee. They don’t need a 24-bar intro. I know “Stairway to Heaven” has a really long cool intro, but then again, you are not Led Zeppelin. Be kind. If you’ve got lyrics, get to them in 8 bars or less. If it’s an instrumental, get to the central melody right away.

5. Have a lyric sheet that actually reflects what’s being sung. If there’s a word or two that’s different, no problem, but make sure you’ve included all the verses and everything that’s key to the song. If you forget the last verse, we’ll never know if mama gets out of prison. A missing bridge, especially one with the theme of the song, could cost you that coveted winning prize.
 
6. Avoid common rhymes like heart/start, fire/desire, shelf/self, do/blue, together/weather, right/light, and light/night. These are typical clichés. "You are my fire, the one desire...". They’ve been used in thousands of songs and have completely lost their emotional impact. A good rhyming dictionary can help you. Don’t forget about imperfect rhymes – these are the ones where the vowel sound matches but maybe not much else, such as right/fly or cape/lane.
 
7. Don’t use rain as a metaphor for sadness. Fred Rose already wrote “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and Willie Nelson already sung it. You can’t top that. Likewise, don’t use a storm as a metaphor for anger or a sunny day for being happy. Pretty much, stay away from weather metaphors. Besides, songs like these have been done before. So, try to write in a refreshing manner.

8. Tune your guitar. Many judges are musicians and unlike some audience members, they not only notice stuff like that, they’re distracted by it. Likewise, if your drummer is always a half beat off or if the harmonies are sour. Sure, it’s not a best band contest, but why complicate matters? Many of the song demos are sign way off key. It would be rather difficult for the judges to hear the melody if it is sung off key.
 
9. Don’t tell us your emotions, show us. “I’m sad you left me,” is boring. Tell us about the rose pressed in the family bible or how you found his keys on the kitchen counter. Think like a good cinematographer. A talking head is coma-inducing (“I feel sad” or “You’re so mean”) but add a vivid landscape and a great mystery and you’ve got Citizen Kane. In other words - show, don't tell.

10. Look for a unique angle and use detail, avoid being derivative. “She broke my heart and left me” has been sung a million times. We don’t care anymore. “She slammed the door and on the way out, ran over my foot with her new cherry red Ford truck” – now that’s interesting. Use all your senses. Did he give you a rose? How did it smell? Don’t just tell us it’s red – go to a thesaurus and tell us it’s fuchsia, deep pink or maroon. Don’t tell us you like his kiss. Tell us how it tastes. Don’t tell us her dress is pretty, tell us it feels like warm silk.

Many songs that we hear are rather derivative in it's melodic lines as well as parts of the lyrics feels as if it has been plagiarized.
 
We have heard submissions in the USA Songwriting Competition where songwriters try to write the derivative songs that were number one on the charts at one time and end up being awkward. One case was a songwriter who took the entire track of Jennifer Lopez song "If You Had My Love" and wrote a similar melody to the background music, even the melodic line's rhythm was so similar. The chorus even copied the melody of the original song. Our judges thought the song has been plagiarized big time, let alone not being creative as the judges left the room singing to Jennifer Lopez song instead of this song that was entered. Needless to say, that song didn't win.
 
Now go tune your guitar, fire the drummer and write some great songs.
  
 
Jamie Anderson is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist who’s taught songwriting and other courses at Duke University, arts centers, in her studio, and via Skype. Her experience in music is varied, from songwriting competition director to playing hundreds of gigs in the US and Canada. She’s also judged other song contests and released ten albums of original music. Coffee is her super power. www.jamieanderson.com and www.jamiebobamie.wordpress.com

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, Co-Writing Songs, music publisher, record label, Plagiarism, Rewrite

Eight Reasons Why You Should Have a Co-writer

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Dec 08, 2017 @02:46 PM

[Songwriting Tip] Eight Reasons Why You Should Have a Co-writer

By Jake Gakovik

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Opinions about co-writing songs are very much divided—some love it, some hate it. Although a lot of songwriters frown upon the idea of working with other songwriters, co-writing is actually more common than you might imagine.

Take a look at the songs on any of the charts, at any given time, and chances are you’ll find that a lot of them are the result of a cooperation between co-writers. You will even see a lot of songs created by teams of 4+ songwriters!

Some of the most successful music of all time has been the creation of co-writing teams like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and many more.

If you’re still not if sure co-writing is your thing, here are eight reasons why you should give it a try. Who knows, the results could be chart-topping.

  1. Improve your style with new techniques and writing skills

Every songwriter has different writing skills and a different songwriting process. Sometimes this process works and your skills are all you need to create a hit song. More often than not, though, this is not the case.

In a lot of situations, working as hard as you can is simply not enough for you to write that one song that will help you make it in the music world.

Combining your skill set with another songwriter, who can also have a different writing process, can be good for you. Co-writing is a great chance for you to improve your own process by seeing how someone else approaches the same song and to adopt some new writing techniques.

Most importantly, if you find a partner with whom you can create a mutually-beneficial relationship, where you add value to each other’s work, you’ll be on the right way to success.

  1. Learn about your strengths and weaknesses

No one is perfect. We all have our flaws and skills, or talents we lack. Knowing that about yourself is a big step towards finding your voice and your style. Another way you could deal with your weaknesses is to find someone who excels in the areas you don’t and vice versa.

Working with someone else on achieving the same goal can also help you identify a character trait that you didn’t know you had. Your partner could play a big role in helping you work on that specific weak point.

Once you get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, you will see if you’re a good fit for each other and if working together will produce great results.

  1. Let your creativity soar and have fun

Writing your song is the fun part, especially if you’re working with someone else. Share the energy and excitement with your writing partner and it will definitely show in the song you create.

With high spirits, a positive atmosphere and good energy, creativity is bound to flow! If, at some point, you get stuck, just talking to your co-writer about it can help you overcome the block and get back into creative waters.

  1. Use a new set of eyes (and ears) to improve your songs

Say you started writing a song, but never finished it. There’s a number of reasons why this might happen, as we all know. Perhaps you just ran out of inspiration or you didn’t like it and decided to leave it be. Maybe you just got stuck and couldn’t finish it.

Try showing your unfinished work to your songwriting partner. They may have some ideas on how to finish the song and make it even better than you ever thought possible when you gave up on it.

This doesn’t have to apply only to abandoned and unfinished work. If you have a song you have finished but you’re not sure it’s good enough, ask your partner for feedback and maybe you’ll end up with a hit song.

  1.  Be accountable to someone else

No matter how responsible you are as a person, tight deadlines and time pressure can affect us all. Even if you mark you calendar and firmly determine the time when you’re going to sit down and write, something can always come up in the last possible minute.

By scheduling in time for work, you actually make a commitment and become accountable to someone else but yourself. This is a great way to keep yourself honest and dedicated to the writing routine. It’s much harder to avoid responsibility when you’re responsible for more than just your own work.

  1. Work half as hard and have twice the results

This is one of the practical reasons you should have a co-writer for your songs. However obvious this may sound, people often forget about the fact that two people working together generally need half the time and effort needed to write a song than it would take them if they were working individually.

Of course, that’s not always the case, but usually two heads are better than one.

You could also look at it this way: in the time you would need to write one song yourself, you and your writing partner could create two or more songs that are influenced by both your techniques and styles.

  1. Split the costs of your demo in two

This is another practical reason that people forget about more often than not.

When you and your writing partner are done with the song and you both think it’s ready to be heard by people, it’s time to create a demo. You have couple of choices here:

  • You can turn to professionals to record your demo right away, or
  • You can record the demo yourself and then hire professionals to turn it into a master track through professional studio tracking and post production.

Either way, you have someone to split the costs with which gets you one step closer to getting your songs in front of relevant people and companies.

  1. More people will be pitching your song

Once your song is written and demo recorded, it’s time to start pitching. This is usually the boring part for most songwriters, but when you have a partner by your side, the work immediately becomes easier as there is now two of you doing the pitching.

It’s not just the number of people that matters here. Since you worked hard on the song together, it’s important to both of you that the song succeeds, which is why you’ll do your best. A great little bonus is that with a partner you have more contacts in the music industry and the ability to grow your network, which can certainly come in handy for any future work.

 

The truth is that co-writing is not for everyone, but unless you give it a shot, you will never know if it’s your thing. Even if you decide to do it, it could take some time before you find the winning combination of skills and knowledge in your co-writing partner. But when you do find a partner you connect with and that you can really work with, you’ll get to experience the happiness and satisfaction that only comes from putting a great song into the world. Just imagine what the world would have missed if, for example, Paul McCartney decided to exclude John Lennon from the songwriting process.

 

Jake Gakovik is a session guitarist, music entrepreneur, and co-founder of www.supremetracks.com, a professional online recording studio where you can get your songs arranged, recorded and mastered by award-winning music professionals.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, Co-Writing Songs, music publisher, record label, Plagiarism, Rewrite

The Songwriter’s Survival Guide

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Nov 03, 2017 @12:50 PM

The Songwriter’s Survival Guide
by Joe Hoten

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Song writing is one hair-tearingly frustrating, jump-out-of-your-seatingly exciting and air-punchingly rewarding pastime. That's quite a lot to experience from one activity, so if you're ready for that kind of roller coaster ride – one with plenty of loop-the-loops and vertical drops – then here are a few things to watch out for when you're penning your next number 1.

Humble Beginnings

Staring at a blank page can be like being lost on an Antarctic plain – nowhere to go, and no hope in sight. But, while being able to do absolutely anything can seem daunting, you've got to try and see the opportunity in it. Don't get carried away being overwhelmed by all the greatest songs ever written glaring down at you. Everybody goes through a little self-doubt now and then, but all it does is arrest your development. You can end up thinking your way into inaction. Just pick up your guitar and play. Or pick up your pen and write. Do, or do not. Once you've started messing around with a riff, a melody, even a single chord, the wheels will begin to turn, and you'll find yourself inching towards your goal.

Try not to discount anything before you've even done it. This is an easy trap to fall into, but it always comes down to this: you can't improve upon nothing. If you accept that a masterpiece isn't just going to drop out of your head onto your piece of paper, you'll find it a lot easier to rack up a respectable amount of 'OK' ideas that you can then hone and polish. A great idea can stem from anything – lyrics can inspire certain movements within your melody, or a particular chord could make you feel something that surprises you. Whatever it is that sparks that initial interest, run with it as far as you can.

Finding the Right Words

The music is a huge part of the emotionality of your song, but it’s up to your lyrics to convey your message literally. Keep them artful, rhythmical and true to your own character. People can spot a faker a mile off – say what you mean, and mean what you say, and everything else will follow.

Also, as tempting as it may be to flip things on their heads, beware of such tropes as writing depressing lyrics to happy music. It's completely possible to pull off, but equally possible to fluff up. That sort of thing is rarely so black and white as to simply swap out your majors for minors – you'd be going for more of an ironic melancholy that may best be saved for later. For the first few songs, pick the themes and vocabulary that do suit your music, just so you become accustomed to the effects such pairings can have. Learn how to roll before you reinvent the wheel.

The Great Plagiarism

All too often songwriters clap their hands together with glee as the final pieces of their puzzle fall into place… only to realise that the picture they’ve put together is strangely familiar. And that’s because they’ve unwittingly re-written somebody else’s song. This can be pretty soul-crushing to double check, but it's definitely worth it in the long run. No self-respecting creative mind would be at ease knowing it'd just regurgitated someone else's work, so you're probably going to have to carry on listening to as broad a range of music as you can manage. Sure, you'll notice trends reappearing across genres, and by all means use them for your own ends – but take heed of how they make you feel. If you notice a bunch of songs that sound the same and you find it a little tedious, it's time for you to buck that particular trend.

The Finished Product?

Is it really possible to know when your song's truly complete? Perhaps not when there always seems to be something else to think about. Is your melody hummable? Is the structure interesting? Does your verse flow nicely enough into your chorus? Is your word choice clear enough for your meaning? These are the questions that can keep you up at night. It's difficult not to become obsessive about every tiny little detail, second and third guessing every decision you've made, but at some point you're just going to have to throw your hands up and say 'that's enough!' When practically every note and every syllable could be different, sometimes you just have to go with your heart. After all, that's whereabouts your song's going to be felt when your fans hear it.

Phase 2

Now the writing phase is complete, congratulations are in order! Well done. And now for the bad news. You should probably prepare to want to change everything all over again, because now other people are going to hear your song.

Live It and Love It

The first thing to do is make sure you've learned your song inside out. This brings with it its own obstacles. Some say practice makes perfect, some say familiarity breeds contempt. In the context of learning songs, you need to find the happy middle ground. Learn it well enough so that it becomes second nature, as you'll be a lot more comfortable in front of an audience, and will hopefully develop a few muscle memories. But don't bore yourself to the edge of sanity either – we don't want a passionless recital from a robot who's fried their own circuits.

It’s great to try to test yourself – the comfort zone is where your creativity curls up and dies. By all means throw in a new technique you’ve been studying, go crazy with syncopation, make your rhymes and references as unusual as you like – just make sure you can pull it off. That’s what you wanted, after all. It certainly would suck if you vaingloriously flew straight at the sun only to have your wings melted off as you plummet into the sea of failure. Reading off your tablet doesn’t show the same degree of dedication as rattling off lines committed to memory, and fluffing up your carefully written solo probably won't win anybody over either. Prove to everyone you're serious about this – you're already been through the writing rigmarole, so you owe it to your creation. Let it live! Play it live! Well!

Rewrite the Wrongs


Once you've played your song a few times – and especially once you've written a few more – it's natural to start rethinking it. This is not necessarily a drawback. In a few rare cases, a song is just born immaculate – in which case, don't slap God in the face and change it! But as you learn more and more about music, you probably will start to think of choices you didn't make with your song back then as missed opportunities.

Revising your own work is a right and a necessity. Don’t get ahead of yourself and try to skip this stage – only once you have something to improve upon will you be able to see what needs to be improved. There’s nothing worse than rushing a song and allowing your fans and bandmates to get know a version of it you’re not satisfied with, then visibly tiring of it then making changes they may not take kindly to. This should by no means stop you road testing your song, because, especially if this takes place before trusted friends and peers, you may get the essential feedback you need to make the leap from good to brilliant. But you've got to play this hand carefully, and swiftly too – there must be a cut-off point between showcasing the idea and the big reveal where you actually decide definitively that it's as good as it's going to get. You can always move onto a new song, after all.

So there's a few little potholes you might encounter on your road to success. While a couple of them might slow you down, they're unlikely to stop you in your tracks. Don't be afraid of falling into traps such as these – if anything, trigger them for yourself. Do accidentally-on-purpose rip someone off, do write unfittingly upbeat music for your hard-hitting couplets, do stretch yourself musically and risk tripping over yourself in public. Like anything, it's a learning curve, and you'll probably learn best by doing it. Make mistakes, break some eggs, and realise none of these things are really going to hurt you, or mean that you're any less of a songwriter. In all likelihood, you'll be all the stronger for it.

 

Written by Joe Hoten, from Bands For Hire https://www.bandsforhire.net

 

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


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, Co-Writing Songs, music publisher, record label, Plagiarism, Rewrite