Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tips: From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 01, 2012 @01:55 PM

From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

by Melissa Axel

Songwriting & Editing by Melissa Axel

After my last article Demo vs. Master Recordings, I was asked to share how one of my own songs moved through the demo stage to completion. That and this post are both written from the recording artist perspective (rather than songwriter pitching songs for other singers to record). This is the evolution of "Golden Rule," from my album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS …

"THIS IS IT!" The rush of adrenaline, hard work rewarded, that magical feeling of inspiration successfully translated into a complete, singable tune … You know the feeling you get when you've just finished writing a new song. Eureka, you've done it! But, you're not done with it.

At least, I wasn't done when I shouted from our piano in mid-afternoon triumph for all the neighborhood cats to hear. Even after the editing stage, "Golden Rule" went through several major revisions—the kind best made by sitting down with a trusted musical advisor (in this case, our producer) to carefully analyze a basic recording of the song. The changes made in this pre-production stage turned a pleasant but complex tune into an engaging song with a clear message of love and self-acceptance.

One thing we noticed in the first piano/vocal demo was that there seemed to be two different pre-choruses in the song—and each one appeared twice. This took power away from the composition by creating several different build-ups that never fully paid off. It felt great to play and sing those sections, but as a listener, even I got lost when I heard my initial recording. Where was the peak of the song?

Another issue was how the perspective of the song progressed. It began in third person about a struggling little girl, shifted to the girl's voice questioning her situation, and then to mine, empathizing with everyone who'd gone through the same thing. It seemed like an interesting story arc at the time, but I had admittedly come up with a narrative that was too confusing to clearly deliver its point. What was the punchline … and whose line was it, anyway?

After a hard look at each section of the song, we decided to stick with the first pre-chorus. I let go of lyrics I was originally attached to when I saw how much more powerful the song became without them. We also cut down the instrumental parts, keeping just a short vocal vamp and a quick instrumental build-up to the "bookend" outro. With so many lyrics on the cutting room floor, we no longer needed to give the listener as much musical "buffer" to process what was being said.

Still, I adored that other section, whatever it was. Those chords just felt like they belonged, and the statement "but everyone is special, everybody's unique / that's what they say, and I'd like to believe it" was only the key point of the whole song. A-ha—that was no second pre-chorus, it was the end of the bridge—the climax! Those words now mark the shift from third to first person as we continue into the chorus, "so I sing, soft but strong, 'there is nothing wrong with you.'" Sure enough, these few lines had also functioned as a pre-chorus, because the chords lead back up to the final chorus, only even stronger this time.

For me, transforming our demo in pre-production was the most crucial part of the recording process. Between tightening the form, upping the tempo, and putting unnecessary bits on the chopping block, we cut over two minutes from the song, clarified its structure, and made its core message crystal clear. Having settled on these essentials, we gave a revised piano/vocal demo to the string arranger and other musicians as we prepared to take "Golden Rule" into the studio.

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS is reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Tori Amos. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Berklee, demo, writing songs, songwrite, Master Recordings, singer songwriter, Regina Spektor, editing, Norah Jones, Tori Amos

Songwriting Tip: Art vs. Entertainment

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jun 20, 2011 @03:21 PM

 Art vs. Entertainment: How do you see yourself in the world of music?

by Melissa Axel



Regina Spektor

How do you see your role in the music industry? You may say that you're an artist, creatively interpreting your experiences and the world around you to evoke an emotional response. Or perhaps you identify more as an entertainer, offering delight and diversion from the ups and downs of everyday life. The two are not mutually exclusive, but how you see yourself—in music and in life—determines everything from what you write about to what kind of performances you give (if any) to how you interact with everyone who hears your songs. What works for Regina Spektor (see picture insert) does not work for Lady Gaga, and vice versa … but why?

 

Regina's power lies in her purity: intelligent, honest lyrics and raw vocal delivery are the essence of her style as a performer and as a writer. Her work may not compel you if you're more interested in fantasy than reality, but her unique talent for highlighting the humor and poignancy of "real life" is unmistakable. And, she's incredibly engaging to watch even when seated in black on an empty stage, save for a baby grand.

 

Lady Gaga has said that she considers herself a songwriter first, yet so much of her energy goes into extravagant stage production and image design. Love her or hate her, if you've seen any of her live performances, it's hard to argue that she's not expressing herself and often sharing emotions that ring true with others, albeit surrounded by spectacle. Remember, even the most seemingly unnatural things on earth were created by us humans.

 

So who is the artist and who is the entertainer? These two examples show us not only what differences there can be among performing songwriters, but how each music creator has the ongoing opportunity to define him or herself through creativity, emotion, amusement or all of the above. Artists entertain, and entertainers create art. Both require talent, skill, endurance and vast amounts of hard work. Both roles can touch and inspire, heal and comfort, sometimes provoke and even alienate, but above all, connect. Whatever approach we bring to it, music brings us together and returns us to our core essence, in all its diversity.

 

A more important question may be "are you being true to yourself in all that you create?" In an industry full of manufactured imagery, mass-marketed talent and carefully crafted showcases, authenticity is a rare gift indeed. It is the bold singer who approaches the performance of a song with humility, choosing quiet notes over vocal affectation to highlight an important lyric, saving the big wails for contrasting emotional impact.  It is the brave writer who chooses to speak the truth, in his or her own words, even when there's no telling whether anyone else wants to hear it.

 

Let everyone else try to decide whether what you're doing is "art" or "entertainment" … they certainly won't all agree anyway. It's your choice how to express yourself through your work—and defining who you are to yourself will give you the best understanding of your role in the world of music.

 

Who are you, really? Who do you want to be? Are they one and the same?

 

 

 

MelissaAxel

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, Melissa Axel was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Her new album “love. humanity. Metamorphosis” will be released September 20, 2011. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: Lady Gaga, Regina Spektor, Art vs. Entertainment: How do you see yourself in, performing songwriter, define art