Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting for Film & TV

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jul 01, 2013 @09:45 AM

SONGWRITING FOR FILM & TV

By Robin Frederick

 SongwritingFilmTV

Thousands of songs are used in TV shows, films, and commercials each year. You've heard them in shows like Grey's Anatomy, The Vampire Diaries, House, Gossip Girl, 90210, Hart of Dixie, Nashville, and more. You've heard them in commercials for Subaru, Lowe's, AT&T, Volkswagen, and Traveler's Insurance.

When listeners hear something they like, they often head straight to the product or TV show website to find out the name of the artist or song title. Sales at iTunes can be anywhere from 20,000 (Jason Walker's "Down" featured in The Vampire Diaries to 100,000 (Ingrid Michaelson's "Keep Breathing" featured in a season-closing episode of Grey's Anatomy).

When you add in performance royalties and fees for the song's use, film & TV can provide a solid income stream that pays off over time, especially if you have numerous placements.

 

SO WHAT DOES YOUR SONG NEED TO DO?

For every song that's placed, many are auditioned - often hundreds - but only one is chosen. The song that will get the job is the one that enhances the emotion or adds impact for viewers.

Is a character discovering real love for the first time? The song needs to evoke that feeling for the audience. Is the film set in a small town in the 1950s? The song must accurately recall the era and provide the emotional mood needed. Always remember: the song serves the needs of the project.

With that in mind, it may seem a little strange that a majority of the songs that are placed in film and TV are written and recorded first, before they’re ever pitched to these projects. Often, the songs are part of an artist's CD. While they're being written, there's no way to know how these songs might eventually be used in a film or TV show.

So, if you don't know how your song will be used, how can you craft it to increase your chances of a placement?

 

WRITE UNIVERSAL LYRICS

Music users in the film and TV market often say they're looking for songs with "universal lyrics." But just what does that mean?

A universal lyric is...

A lyric that a large number of people can identify with or relate to.

A lyric that will not conflict with the specific content of a scene.

A good lyric for film and TV is universal enough to allow the song to be used in a variety of scenes while maintaining emotional integrity, originality, and focus.


Hint: Choose a common theme

Of course, no song will work for every scene but some themes and situations occur more frequently than others - falling in love, breaking up, or overcoming adversity, for example. If you choose one of these, you're more likely to be successful. Watch a few TV episodes and look for common themes. Chances are you're already using some of them in your songs.

Find out how to bring your lyric theme to life.

 

Another Hint: Don’t do the scriptwriter’s job

Too many specific physical details, like place names, proper names, and specific story details, will limit the uses of your song. For example, let’s say your song is called "Sara Smile." That was a great title for a Hall & Oates hit but… it could be confusing to viewers if there's no character named Sara in the scene. For film & TV uses, try a title like “In Your Smile” or “I Need Your Smile.” Let the scriptwriter name the characters.

 

MUSIC: THINK LIKE A FILM COMPOSER

Filmmakers have always used instrumental music to communicate mood, energy, and atmosphere to the audience, from soaring love themes to the high anxiety of a fast-paced action cue.

As songs have grown in popularity with viewers, they're being used to replace some of that instrumental music. A song that works well for film and TV is one that, like an instrumental cue, uses melody, chords, pace (tempo), and rhythm to evoke a single mood or energy level.

If you've written an uptempo song about a wild party or a slow song about lost love, you're already using tempo and rhythm to express energy or mood. Songwriters often do this instinctively, but you can hone that ability for the film and TV market, making your music even more expressive and useable. Like a film composer, you can choose a tempo and groove that physically express the energy level you want, then back it up with chords melody, and lyrics.

Listen to the instrumental cues that accompany various types of scenes: action, danger, romantic meeting or breakup, characters having fun, arguing, or being thoughtful. Notice how the music adds to the effectiveness of scene. Try writing a song that makes use of a few of those elements, something that might work instead of underscore. This is a great way to get into the film & TV songwriting mood!

Above all, listen to songs that are being used in the context of a scene and analyze what works and why. You can find all the current TV shows that are using songs at www.TuneFind.com.

Based on Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV  by Robin Frederick. Available at Amazon.com.


Copyright 2013 Robin Frederick

 Robin Frederick, songwriter

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.” Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: www.RobinFrederick.com  and www.MySongCoach.com.

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, USA Songwriting Competition, Robin Frederick, A&R, Rhino Records

Songwriting Tip: Write Not Just Any Song, But A HIT Song!

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 04, 2013 @01:56 PM

Write Not Just Any Song, But A HIT Song!

Q & A With Songwriter Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick, songwriter

Interview by Lorenz Rychner

 

Robin Frederick is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records, executive producer of more than 60 albums, and an in-demand lecturer on the music industry. She has written and produced hundreds of songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. In her two books, Shortcuts to HIT Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV, both of which we reviewed in this magazine, we found a treasure trove of good advice of the kind that can only come from someone who knows whereof they speak. Ms. Frederick has that kind of track record.

In this issue of Recording we focus on the recording songwriter, and we asked Ms. Frederick to address the kinds of questions that we trust will be on many readers’ minds.—LzR

Q: I want to make some money—how do I know what songs to write to make that happen?

A: Like any business, you need to give the music industry something they can sell in today’s market. The best way to do that is to study current hit songs. If you have a genre in mind when you write, it will help a lot when you’re ready to approach the industry. To find a genre you’re comfortable with, check out the music charts online and in music industry magazines. Look for hit songs you like. (Don’t study the ones you don’t like!) If you’re not familiar with these songs, listen to them on iTunes or a stream-on-demand music site. Ask yourself what it is about the song that appeals to you. How does it make you feel? Is there a lyric or melody technique you could try in a song of your own?

Q: How can I “emulate” a song without stealing from it?

A: Studying hit songs is the quickest way to pick up new songwriting techniques. You’re not looking to write a new song based on the hit—it’s a way to learn and practice songwriting craft. Songwriting is a lot like learning to ride a bicycle. You’ve got to get a feel for it, find your balance, before you can really ride on your own. Emulating a hit song is a little like putting on training wheels. It will help keep you on track and heading in the right direction as you develop new skills.

To practice songwriting with a hit song as a guide, find an existing hit with a well-defined structure—easy to identify verse and chorus sections—and a good hook. The hook is usually the first or last line of the chorus. It should be memorable and sum up the overall feeling of the song. Learn to sing the hit song’s melody. Once you can do that, write a lyric line of your own that you can comfortably sing to the hook melody of the hit. (Again, the hook is probably the first or last line of the chorus. If you’re not sure which one, then just pick one to work with.) Wherever the hook appears in the original, repeat it in your “training” version.

To  get a feel for how your lyrics sound when sung to a contemporary hit, fill out your chorus. Write more lines that support your new hook, its meaning, its emotion. Be sure they fit comfortably into the hit song melody. You don’t have to stick to every note and syllable, just get close.

Now, write a lyric for the verse. It should lead to your chorus, supporting it with more information about what the singer is feeling or experiencing. Notice whether the hit song uses images to paint a picture. Try using images in your lyric. If the hit song features conversational phrases, then you do the same.

That’s really all you need to do for this exercise. Now you’ve got a feel for the way a hit song is structured, how the lyric expresses the theme, and how it feels to sing your lyrics to a contemporary hit melody. You’re starting to “ride the bicycle.” Just remember, the hit song is copyrighted. You can’t use any part of the melody or lyric in a song of your own. The best idea is to use this as an exercise. Study successful songs and you’ll be successful!

Q: I have trouble writing melodies to go with my lyrics. Any suggestions?

A: You can use the natural melody of speech to help you find the melody that lives in your lyric. Just speak your lyric out loud with a lot of emotion. The more emotion you put into it, the more melody you’ll hear! That’s because we use the melody of speech – the pace, rhythm, volume, and pitch—to express our feelings. Try it for yourself: Say the phrase “Oh, no” in a high, fast-paced tone. Now, say it again in a low, descending voice. The first expresses anxiety, the second sadness or resignation. The words didn’t change, just the melody of speech.

What’s the emotion you want to express in your lyric? Speak the lyrics with that emotion in mind and see where the melody takes you. Then preserve the pace, the pauses, and the overall up and down movement of the pitches. Try exaggerating them to create a basic melody. It’s a good idea to record this raw melody idea so you can come back to it later. You can add chords and a rhythm track to hear how your melody would sound in a song. Feel free to play with it, change notes, add a pause, start on different beats. If you get too far away from your original idea, just go back to your recording.

Q: My friends like my songs but people in the music industry tell me they’re not commercial, my lyrics are too hard to follow and I don’t write big choruses...

A: If you’re looking to pitch your songs to the mainstream, commercial radio market—either for yourself as an artist or for someone else to sing—then you really do need to keep your listener in mind at all times. Give them enough information to make them feel that they’re right there with you experiencing what you’re experiencing. For instance, if you’re using a lot of poetic imagery, you might want to alternate that with some straightforward, conversational lines to make sure the listener doesn’t get lost. Your friends know you, they know what happened to you and how you feel, but radio listeners are complete strangers. To evoke a response from them, you might need to strike a balance.

Big choruses are important because they grab and hold the listener’s attention. For radio airplay that’s a must-have. However, there is a market that doesn’t require big choruses: songs for film & TV. This fast-growing market often prefers a simple, strong refrain line to underscore the emotion in a scene, rather than a full-blown chorus which could distract the viewer.

Q: What’s the winning formula for a hit song?

A: There really isn’t a formula. But there are song craft techniques that have proven to connect with listeners, and these are essential if you want to reach a broad audience—song structure, melodic contrast, lyric imagery, are a few. That said, the first thing you (and every songwriter) should do is express what you feel with honesty. Do that first, then go back to see if you can broaden the appeal by adding more song craft to support your theme and give it more universal appeal. Adele is a great example of a hit songwriter who blends personal songwriting with craft in a way that’s compelling for listeners.

A successful song applies song craft in a creative way, so the song sounds fresh. For instance, I love what’s happening with melodic contrast and momentum in many current hit songs. These are two techniques that listeners really love, so you should be looking at them. But it’s how you use these within your song that will make it both original and commercial. Song craft is a challenge to your creativity; it’s not there to stifle it.

Q: I don’t know what to write about.

A: There are some themes that are universal. Most people have been in relationships, enjoyed times of celebration, and most have experienced loss. These emotions are universal, not the specifics of what actually happened. Try writing a song that evokes a feeling. How did you feel when a relationship broke up? What did you feel physically? What kinds of images paint a picture of those feelings?

You can also look outside yourself for song ideas. Watch a movie or TV drama. Choose a scene and write a song that expresses the feelings, the situation, or attitude of one of the characters.

Try a different angle on a familiar theme. There are lots of songs about how bad it feels to break up with someone. How about a song about the plus side? If you’re a shy person, try writing a song from the point of view of a confident, outgoing party animal!

Q: I have trouble with my hooks, they’re just not catchy enough.

A: A good rule of thumb: Keep your hook short to make it more memorable. You could use a simple, conversational phrase, just a few words. In my book I cite three that were successful hits: “You had a bad day” (“Bad Day” by Daniel Powter, Billboard #1 for 5 weeks in 2005); “Truth is I never got over you” (“Truth Is” recorded by Fantasia, #1 for 14 weeks on Billboard Adult R&B Airplay chart), “You’re gonna miss this” (“You’re Gonna Miss This” recorded by Trace Adkins, #1 on Hot Country Songs).

Once you have a short phrase, imagine what your listener will want to know when they hear that hook, what questions will they be wondering about? What kind of a bad day and why? Gonna miss what? This tells you what the rest of the lyrics should be about—filling in the rest of the story that the hook hints at. Think of your hook as a mini-version of your song.

Q: I have trouble making my verses and choruses different enough, they all sound the same.

A: For a radio hit, your chorus has to grab attention, to shout from the rooftop “Here I am!” No more explaining, no more background information—this is the heart and soul of your song. To make sure listeners notice the chorus, use one of the most effective song craft techniques—contrast. Contrast gets attention!

If your verse is fast-paced and wordy, consider smoothing out the pace of your chorus. Hold out the notes a little longer, give the melody a more fluid feel. If your verse is in a low note range, try putting the chorus in a higher note range. A sudden jump upwards of even a few notes will catch attention and raise the emotional intensity of the song.

In fact, you’ve probably noticed that hit song choruses are often in a higher note range than the verse. That’s because when we get emotional, our voices tend to rise. By putting the chorus in a higher note range, you make use of a natural response. Listeners automatically hear more emotion in a chorus that’s in a higher note range.

Q: I can’t seem to come up with a good melody that doesn’t already sound like a lot of existing songs.

A: You’re not alone; this happens to all songwriters! A melody that sounds like a lot of others, one that’s generic or clichéd, is often just the first melody you came up with. But successful songwriters don’t stop there. They treat it as raw material, a place to start, not the final melody of the song. In fact, you can rewrite a melody, just like you rewrite a lyric.

First, take a look at the individual lines of your melody. Are they all starting on the same beat? Try varying the start times of your phrases. Starting a line on the 3rd beat of the bar or an upbeat is a great way to add a fresh sound. (The “and” in “one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and” is an upbeat.)

Are all your lines a similar length? If so, here’s a quick fix that really works and will give you melody a contemporary edge: Add a couple of notes and words to the end of one line and run it into the next, creating a single long line. Or you can start a line earlier, eliminating the pause at the end of the line before. Varying the line lengths will add interest to your melody. Eliminating pauses will add momentum.

Rewriting is both fun and creative. Enjoy yourself and try new things. Remember, if you don’t like the direction your song is going, there’s an “Undo” button. Just push it and get back to where you started. Then try something else. There are endless possibilities!

For more about Robin Frederick, visit her website at www.robinfrederick.com. Her books are published by TAXI Music Books at www.songwritingbooks.com.

This article is printed with permission from Recording magazine. For more information on recording magazine, go to: http://www.recordingmagazine.com

For more information on the 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit song, Melodies, Lyrics, songwrite, Robin Frederick, A&R, Rhino Records, hook, syllable