Songwriting Tips, News & More

Vince Gill Showcases Songwriting Strengths

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Oct 25, 2011 @05:29 PM

By Michael McCall (Edited by Jessica Brandon)

Vince Gill, Singer-Songwriter

(Source: Associated Press) The title of Vince Gill’s new album focuses on his instrumental skills. But the music more intently highlights another talent: songwriting. On “Guitar Slinger,” Gill concentrates on lyrics about friends and issues, turning out stories that are sometimes entertaining and often touching.

Some draw on his sense of humor: The title is a roadhouse rocker inspired by Gill’s catastrophic loss of musical equipment in Nashville’s 2010 flood. Others confront tragedy: “Bread and Water” is based on the death of Gill’s older brother, who struggled with daily existence after suffering a severe head injury. “Billy Paul” questions why a close friend took such a deadly turn, while “Buttermilk John” honors the late steel guitarist John Hughey, who worked with Gill for many years.

As usual, Gill’s guitar playing adds color to his songs, and he balances the difficult stories with those of love and faith: “Who Wouldn’t Fall In Love With You” is a beautiful love song to his wife Amy Grant, and “Threaten Me With Heaven” explores his religious beliefs.

Altogether, “Guitar Slinger” shows Gill utilizing a veteran’s craft to delve into truths essential to who he is. It shows how a superstar can age gracefully while continuing to sharpen his talents.

CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: “If I Die,” written with Ashley Monroe of the Pistol Annies, is an emotionally resonant prayer that balances sin and salvation in beautiful terms.

Vince Gill has recorded more than twenty studio albums, charted over forty singles on the U.S. Billboard charts as Hot Country Songs, and has sold more than 22 million albums. He has been honored by the Country Music Association with 18 CMA Awards, including two Entertainer of the Year awards and five Male Vocalist Awards. Gill has also earned 20 Grammy Awards, more than any other male Country music artist. In 2007, Gill was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to:

http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit songwriter, singer songwriter, Grammy Awards, Vince Gill, CMA Awards

Songwriting Tip: How To Write A Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Sep 23, 2011 @09:49 AM

How To Write A Song by Toby Gad

The songwriter behind hits by Fergie, Beyoncé, Colbie Caillat, and more, opens up his box of secrets...

 Toby Gad, professional songwriter

I’ve written songs for quite a while now, over two decades, and I still get a kick out of it. I used to write eighty to a hundred songs a year but it seems like success has only made me work harder—last year I wrote and recorded a hundred and eighty songs, and this year probably just as many.

I already wrote songs when I was seven years old, very basic but useful songs that I would chant on the bicycle on my way back from school in the brutal German winter, songs that would warm my freezing hands, songs about pretty much anything that came to mind. Over the years my songs got better, but even today before most writing sessions I have moments when I think, “I really don’t know how to write a song.”

Chemistry

I have long ago given up trying to write a song by myself. I tried a few times, but mostly got insecure about it halfway through the writing process and tossed it before long. For me it’s really the chemistry with an artist that provides the fertile ground for a seed to sprout. I also find that different collaborators inspire in different ways. Last year I wrote songs with over a hundred different collaborators, some of them superstars and some of then complete unknowns. Some of them were established writers or artists I had worked with before, and some of them were upcoming artists that seemed to have something intriguing about their talent that made me want to write a song with them.

I couldn’t say that superstars are more inspiring than some unknown artists, but I certainly put more pressure on myself in A-list sessions, since the labels and managements have high expectations, and stars can spare only a little of their valuable time. I’m not sure if the pressure makes the songs better. Some good songs just happen, and I couldn’t say why on this particular day this song came about. As random as all this now sounds, I do know a few things that I have learned over the years that I can share.

Let’s start with the most basic and yet most profound:

A song is a feeling

A good song makes you feel something, often so intensely that you keep thinking about it for days, so intensely that it makes you cry, or laugh, or it can make you want to dance, or it helps you vent your anger... A bad song is a song that doesn’t make you feel anything. Often it is that simple. If you have a hit, then it is usually a song that makes a lot of people feel a lot. That’s why many listeners want to hear such a song over and over and—you hope—they also want to buy it. So it helps to trust your feelings when you write a song.

When I first meet an artist or writer, we feel each other out, talk about life, and often that leads to interesting subjects to write about. On my first session with Colbie Caillat she said, ten minutes into our conversation, that she loves singing and making records, but really what means the most to her right now is the love she gets from her boyfriend. I loved that thought and we wrote our first song “What means the most.” The song wrote itself in two hours, and every word in the lyric reflects how she feels about him. On our second writing day she was still the hopeless romantic and said she could even imagine saying “I do” to him one day. So we wrote “I Do,” which became the hit single of her current album.

These songs have a genuine urgency and authenticity to me. They feel honest and spontaneous and they really make me feel something every time I listen to them. That is my personal reward for making music.

Lyrics matter

To me the lyric has become increasingly important. I used to run around with a dictaphone and record melodies all day long. Lately I just jot down words and lyrics. The music often comes naturally, later in the writing process. Sometimes I still jam in a session and let music and lyric flow together, from scratch, but that’s more the exception now.

Maybe it’s just me, and I don’t even consider myself a lyricist, but I do listen mainly to the words in a song, and if a lyric feels out of place then even the best beat and melody can’t save it... but a great lyric with a mediocre melody can still make a great song. By “great” I don’t mean academically legitimate. To me, “great” means believable, conversational, from the heart, conclusive, unique, urgent, creative, honest, and with a purpose.

Listen

I get my best inspiration by really listening to my artists and writers. The good ideas are often between the lines, and some of my questions can feel like I’m the shrink, but by getting into the mind of the artists I make sure the song is authentic and the artist will identify with it later on.

Even when I don’t write, one ear is always listening for words that could provide good starting points for a future writing session. I collect such fragments on long lists that I browse through before writing sessions. This way I have a Plan B in case the conversation with the artist doesn’t lead to anything song-worthy.

Songwriting is a ball game

We bounce ideas back and forth, kick them around, smack them on the ground, throw them high up in the air, and during the process we assemble the elements that feel good to everyone involved. If one player doesn’t feel like playing one game then we start another game. Some games are so much fun that no-one wants to stop playing. Those are the songs that write themselves.

By bouncing ideas back and forth the good ones come together, bad ones naturally get weeded out, one sentence leads to another, and suddenly there is an unexpected great line that may never have surfaced in a different context. That’s why I’m not a fan of “closet writers” who get a track and then write everything in their own headspace. Some writers function well that way, and it drives me crazy to sit in a room with someone who doesn’t share their thoughts. I like to be part of every lyric and I want to share my melodies and ideas as they come to light and evolve. I feel only then can I be great in my capacity as an “incubator”.

Make it memorable

Back in the days of the musicals, the writers had to make songs so memorable that the audience would walk out of the theatre and still sing the songs, after hearing them only once. The movie musical Mary Poppins has a good example of “memorable”... maybe annoyingly so, but so much fun that even the most serious audience member walks out singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. I adore how shamelessly creative this word is... creative license!

Let go

If something doesn’t feel right while you’re writing it, then maybe it’s time to try something else. In some sessions we write for three hours and suddenly one of us doesn’t feel good about the concept anymore. Then it is really important not to be afraid to toss everything and start over. Usually that leads to a better idea.

Last year I also had a few sessions that ended with no song. That can be very frustrating, especially if it is with an important artist. But I find it better not to record anything if it doesn’t feel right. Otherwise I record something I don’t like, only to find myself having to arrange that bad song, mix it, play it to my curious publishers and managers and the artist’s record label, and spread a meaningless idea that I’m not proud of.

The big question I ask myself is this: Can songwriting ever become boring? After several thousand songs, will I run out of song ideas one day, or just write bad songs after all the good ones have been written? But so far every writing day still feels like a safari. I get better at spotting the leopards, I’m less afraid of rhinos, and I still find new surprises all the time.

 

This article is reprinted by permission by Recording magazine. Toby Gad’s writing credits include Beyoncé’s “If I Were A Boy,” Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Colbie Caillat’s “I Do,” Nicole Scherzinger’s “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” The Veronicas’ “Untouched,” Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” and Selena Gomez’ “Year Without Rain”, to name a few. Photos courtesy Toby Gad. For more information on Recording Magazine, go to: http://www.recordingmag.com

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Toby Gad, Fergie, Beyonce, Colbie Cailat

Songwriting/Collaboration: The Power of Co-writing

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Aug 08, 2011 @05:21 PM

Creative Collaboration: The Power of Co-writing by Melissa Axel

 

Melissa Axel (Artist Relations, USA Songwriting Competition) & Andy White, photo by James E. Jacoby

Everybody knows the three keys to a successful business are "location, location, location!" For successful songwriters, there is another mantra: "co-write, co-write, co-write!"

Still, many of us have grown accustomed to making music alone in our creative caves and may be nervous about teaming up with other writers. Let's take a look at some of the benefits of creative collaboration, whether it takes place in the same room or online with a co-writer many miles away …

Different minds bring fresh perspectives. Unless you've been deliberately writing about a variety of subjects, it's likely (and natural) that your songs tend to focus on the same handful of topics you know best or care about most. Pairing with someone else brings a second lifetime of experiences to the writing table, challenging you to try on new shoes and see what another person's ideas might look like told through your eyes.

Variation opens up new melodic and harmonic possibilities. If you tend to favor the same keys and chord progressions, writing with someone whose first instrument is different from yours can lead you down fresh musical paths. Guitarists could try writing with a pianist, violinist, cellist, mandolin player, etc. (and vice versa). Also, look for people who share some of your influences and lyrical interests but are into other musical styles or approaches to songwriting as well. Always wanted to explore African grooves or incorporate bluegrass elements into a pop song? Find an artist/writer comfortable in territory that's new to you, and give it a try!

Two heads really are better than one. It's easy to beat our heads against the wall or even put a song aside for years when we get stuck on a section of lyrics or melody that just doesn't feel "right." Or perhaps you have some choruses that need verses or a song that's missing a bridge. Trusted writing partners not only bounce ideas off of each other but also can become a great for completing unfinished songs and making sure each word and note is the strongest possible choice.

So where do you find people to co-write with? They might be performing artists in your local music community, writers you know from songwriting websites and social network groups, composers who usually write instrumental music, or producers who create tracks for artists who only sing or rap. Be open to meeting songwriting partners if you travel to perform or attend songwriting conferences, too. It's easy to write across the miles with online audio/video chat programs or even by sending MP3s and lyrics back and forth via email.

If you're ready to broaden your songwriting horizons, take your time and get to know potential co-writers and their writing styles. As your songwriting becomes more plentiful, diverse, and enriching, you'll be glad you reached out and found creative collaborators who are a really great fit.

 

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 will be released September 20, 2011. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Berklee, writing songs, Co-writer, writing lyrics, Creating in a Group, collaboration, co-writing

Songwriting Tip: Creating in a Group, The Collaborating Game

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jul 14, 2011 @10:39 AM

Creating in a Group – The Collaborating Game

 Pat & Pete Luboff

Here’s a fun way to get your creative juices flowing. Get two or three, or more people in a room to play the collaboration game. The rules are simple:

 

1. NO NOES!

 

You can point to your nose and shake your head to emphasize this rule! This means anything goes! Ignore all your self-imposed limitations and barriers. Utterances such as “I can’t sing,” “That won’t work,” “I’m not good at lyrics,” “That’s stupid,” and all the variations on that theme are NOT ALLOWED. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to eliminate the negative if everyone agrees to this rule.

 

2. NO EVALUATIONS

 

If you judge your ideas before you express them or simultaneously with expressing them, you stop the flow of your ideas. When working in a group, each person has the responsibility to say WHATEVER IDEAS ARE TRIGGERED IN THE PROCESS. If you think to yourself, (trying to avoid Rule 1 by not saying it out loud) “That’s stupid,” and stop yourself from saying it, you have eliminated the stimulus that might have inspired the next person’s thought. Our rule of thumb is, if you really think it’s stupid, you are OBLIGATED to say it out loud. In the early stages of creating, all ideas are good ideas! The time for judging them comes much later in the process. Leave your judge outside the door for now.

 

3. STAY POSITIVE

 

No noes means all yeses! Every idea can be greeted with a “yes.” Every idea will inspire new ideas in other members of the group. Here are some positive phrases that can be used to build on ideas:

 

Yes, and…. Suppose…. Another idea….

Or…. Also…. How about….

What if…. And…. Let’s….

 

These phrases are indispensable tools for expressing respect for all the ideas that flow in a collaboration.

 

 

4. HAVE FUN!

 

Be silly. Make jokes. Say the wildest thing you can think of. Laugh! Aren’t we lucky to be writing songs?

 

Let’s play the collaboration game:

 

You can use any photo as the stimulus for the game. For example, use a photograph of two people kissing.

 

There’s one at http://www.masters-of-photography.com/D/doisneau/doisneau_kiss.html Double-click the photo and it will be large enough to fill one page, which you can print out. Each person in the room takes a turn saying a sentence or two about the story of the picture.

 

The idea is to say anything that comes to mind very quickly and then pass the picture to the next person. Keep going round and round until you really feel you’ve dug that kissing well as deep as you can! Here are a couple of examples:

- She just told him she’s pregnant.

- Their braces are stuck together and they’re going to an orthodontist to get unstuck.

- He doesn’t know her at all. He’s kissing her to distract her while he picks her pocket.

 

There is no end to the ideas that you can come up with. What did s/he he say just before this photo was taken? What are the fellow behind them and the woman next to them thinking? What’s going to happen next? These are the questions you will be asking about the people in your songs, so you are practicing the art of characterization.

 

This game of getting the creative flow going without boundaries can be played with any photograph or curious item. You will have to remind yourself to return to the fun, open attitude of this game whenever you feel yourself getting bogged down creatively.

 

Collaboration business tip: We think it’s best if everyone agrees up front that the song will be shared equally by all the writers who are participating in the collaboration. Mathematics can kill a collaboration. That’s why they call it division!

 

Write On!

 

Pat & Pete Luboff have recordings by Snoop Dogg ("Trust Me," the first single from the platinum-selling album "Top Dogg") Patti LaBelle (gold album and the title song for "Body Language: the Musical"), Bobby Womack (No. 2 on Billboard's Black Music chart), "Hometown, USA" from the John Travolta movie "Experts," on Michael Peterson's new CD, recently charting Miko Marks, and more.  They've been teaching songwriting workshops together since 1979. The Luboffs are the authors of the Writer's Digest new book "101 Songwriting Wrongs and How to Right Them" and "12 Steps to Building Better Songs," which they self-publish. For more information, visit http://www.writesongs.com

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Billboard Charts, Songwriting Tips, Billboard Books, Billboard Album Charts, Billboard #1 Hit, Billboard, Creating in a Group, The Collaborating Game, Pat, Pete Luboff

USA Songwriting Competition Winner Kate Voegele on TV, Releases CD

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 18, 2011 @03:20 PM

USA Songwriting Competition Winner Kate Voegele Back on "One Tree Hill," Releases 3rd Album

Knitting Factory

NEW YORK (Billboard Magazine) – USA Songwriting Competition Winner Kate Voegele is back on TV show “One Tree Hill” and has just released her third album yesterday "Gravity Happens" under ATO records. Kate Voegele won first prize in the 10th Annual USA Songwriting Competition in the Pop category. She went on to perform at USA Songwriting Competition's showcase during SXSW (see picture), went on to get signed after winning the USA Songwriting Competition and she hit Top 40 in the Billboard charts with the same song that she won at the USA Songwriting Competition with “Only Fooling Myself”. 


On the May 17 episode of CW's teen drama "One Tree Hill," Mia Catalano -- the character played by Kate Voegele -- returns to Tree Hill feeling refreshed after a brief sojourn to work on her music.


Voegele knew exactly how her character felt: the pop-rock singer/songwriter missed a few episodes of "One Tree Hill" this past winter to finish her third album "Gravity Happens" for ATO Records (May 17).


"It was a much-needed little sabbatical to take because music is really my first language," the 24-year-old artist said. "I've been doing it a lot longer than I've been in this acting world, and I'm so happy that I took the plunge and did it."


Since joining the show in early 2008, Voegele has juggled her musical endeavors (her last album, 2009's "A Fine Mess," hit top 10 on the Billboard 200 Album Charts) with her filming schedule. She also toured the country with Jordin Sparks. 


While the dual commitment has made Voegele's day-to-day life more hectic, her role on the show has resulted in original songs like "No Good" and "Wish You Were" garnering prime placements on the long-running program.


"Heart in Chains," the first single from "Gravity Happens," will be performed by Voegele on the show's season finale -- the same day the album is released.


Meanwhile, Voegele will showcase her visual artistry in an upcoming sponsorship with Oakley sunglasses: The budding painter designed original artwork for a signature pair of shades that will hit stores this summer. Each pair will include a free download card for "Gravity Happens.""It's all very connected," Voegele says. "Even some of my lyrics are in this design for the sunglasses. Oakley has been an amazing partner and sponsor, and I'm stoked to see come out soon."


In the meantime, Voegele will be busy unveiling "Gravity Happens," which she described as "more honest and raw." The set features sing-along tracks like "Hundred Million Dollar Soul" and "Sunshine in My Sky." She's joining Natasha Bedingfield on the latter's Less Is More summer tour, which kicks off June 5 in Northampton, Mass.


As for taking on additional acting projects aside from "Hill," Voegele says, "I never would have dreamed that we would have such a cool tie-in with a show like 'One Tree Hill.' So you kind of just take it as it comes."


(Editing by Jessica Brandon & Zorianna Kit)

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Kate Voegele, One Tree Hill, Billboard, Gravity Happens, ATO Records, CW, Jordin Sparks, Oakley sunglasses

Photos From USA Songwriting Competition's Showcase During SXSW

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 28, 2011 @08:06 PM

In response to all of you that have asked, here are the pictures of our songwriters showcase during SXSW Week in Austin, TX at Barnes & Noble book store:

 

Dave Merena Performing at songwriters showcase during SXSW

Dave Merenda (2010 USA Songwriting Competition)

 

 

Drew Jacobs

Drew Jacobs (2010 USA Songwriting Competition First Prize Winner, Novelty category)

 

Jacinta

Jacinta (2010 USA Songwriting Competition First Prize, Dance/Electronica)

 

Raleigh Hall & Ian Holmes

Raleigh Hall & Ian Holmes (2010 USA Songwriting Competition First Prize, Gospel)

 

Shane Cooley

Shane Cooley (2010 USA Songwriting Competition, Finalist)

 

Melissa Greener

Melissa Greener (2008 USA Songwriting Competition First Prize, Folk)

 

For videos of the showcase, please click here:

http://www.youtube.com/usasongcomp

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Melissa Greener, USA Songwriting Competition, sxsw, Songwriter Showcase, Shane Cooley, Raleigh Hall, Ian Holmes, Jacinta, Drew Jacobs, Dave Merenda

Hit Songwriter Ken Hirsch Talks About Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Apr 04, 2011 @01:51 PM

Hit Songwriter Ken Hirsch Talks About Songwriting, interviewed by Kiran Michaels

Ken Hirsch, Hit Songwriter


Ken Hirsch won First Prize in the Pop category of the 15th Annual USA Songwriting Competition as well as the Overall Second Prize with the song he wrote "Is That So Bad", co-written with Rosie Casey, Peter Roberts and Hillary Podell. He has also written the numerous hit songs such as “I've Never Been To Me” by Charlene and top 40 hit song “Two Less Lonely People In The World” by Air Supply. His songs have been recorded by legends in the music business. He talks to Kiran Michaels about how he writes songs and how he gets inspiration for it.  

1. You have written with the top names in the business today such as Hal David ("Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head", "This Guy's in Love with You"), Gerry Goffin ("Will You Love Me Tomorrow"), Paul Williams ("Evergreen"), Howard Greenfield ("Breaking Up Is Hard to Do"), Ron Miller ("I've Never Been To Me" & "Touch Me in the Morning') and have written songs that have been recorded by the the biggest names: Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Air Supply, etc. Can you describe how you write a song? 

In my case, with most of the above co-writers, I created a complete melody first (which is always subject to change and molding)and then played it for them either live or on tape.  Most of these co-writers like to be inspired by a melody and rarely just write a freestanding lyric.  With Howie Greenfield, "Two Less Lonely People In The World" started as a title he had come up with from his personal book of titles and lyric fragments.  However, there have been just as many co-writes that happen simultaneously in the room which brings a whole other type of energy to the process.  On rare occasions I am given a partial/completed lyric or a lyric idea.  All three procedures are viable as long as the results work.  Every other blue moon I write both music and lyrics and thus avoid any creative conflicts and sharing of royalties!



2. Hal David, Gerry Goffin  and Howard Greenfield sounded like the people from the Brill Building. Did you ever write songs at the famed Brill building? 


No, when I was hitting the streets in 1970, it was kind of the end of the Brill building era  but a publisher I played my songs for in the building connected me with Doc Pomus ("Save The Last Dance For Me", "This Magic Moment"), one of the most famous of the Brill Building writers, who became my partner and mentor.  



3. How do you get ideas for creating a melody?

Other than seeing what bills need to be paid, usually an interesting set of intervals or chord progression can get the juices flowing.  

 

4. Who is your favorite songwriter, music wise? What did you learn from him/her?

In Pop it would have to be Burt Bacharach and Carol King.  Burt's sophistication combined with his innate soulfulness and Carol's ability to write hooks with a soulful energy are masterful.  They write melodies that are both accessible and unpredictable.  Then there's everyone else from Irving Berlin to Richard Rogers to Jule Styne to McCartney/Lennon to James Taylor to Ashford & Simpson, etc.



5. Who is your favorite songwriter, lyric wise?

I've been fortunate to write with some of the best so they all fall into that category.  I personally like lyrics that aren't too obscure, can be easily grasped or tell a great story.  Everyone from Sammy Cahn to Marty Panzer to so many of the country writers who really are wordsmiths of the first order.



6. How did you write your winning song? Did the melody come first or the lyrics or background music?

Our song "Is That So Bad" (co-written with Rosie Casey, Peter Roberts and Hillary Podell) actually started with a track that Peter was working on.  I added most of the melody and Rosie and Hillary, an artist we were working with, created the lyric.  It was loosely based on Hillary's own experience and then fleshed out by Rosie.  A fortunate confluence of events!  The final demo was produced by Smidi Smith and sung by Windy Wagner, so it's had quite a journey - so far! 



7. The top 3 winners this past year were all collaborations. Is collaboration in Songwriting important these days? 

It is and it isn't.  It depends on your strengths and ability to work with others.  But collaborations generally bring a lot of energy and ideas to the table that you necessarily wouldn't have come up with yourself.



8. Can you describe the collaboration with other writers and producers?

If everyone is pulling in the same direction it can be inspiring.  It helps if everyone can put their egos aside and concentrate on the work.  It's always a gamble, certain collaborators pull things out of you that you did not foresee.  It sometimes puts you into a different zone than what you're comfortable with but that can have positive results.  I've been writing a musical "An Officer and a Gentleman" with Robin Lerner ("This Kiss") and although we've never collaborated before we're both bringing different sensibilities to the project and it seems to be melding really well.  So the crapshoot this time is paying off!



9. What advice would you give to up-and-coming songwriters out there? 

It's all been said a million times but try to go with your gut and try not to compromise too much.  Having said that, try to be as objective as you can.  Don't fall in love with everything you write, many of the times it can be improved.  Don't be reluctant to give up on an idea if it's not working.  I try to separate myself from the writing and put myself in the place of the audience and imagine if I would enjoy listening to this song or if it moves me.  And it helps to have a very thick skin, never take the rejections personally - as hard as they may be to accept, there might be a fairy tale ending just around the corner.  And always keep the tape recorder running!

Ken will be performing his winning song along with a medley of his hit songs “I've Never Been To Me”, “Two Less Only People In The World”, etc at USA Songwriting Competition's showcase at Bluebird Cafe on May 5th

Tags: song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Ken Hirsch, hit songwriter, Billboard Top 40 Hit, Grammy, Gerry Goffin, Hal David, Carol King, Paul Williams, Howard Greenfield, Ron Miller, Brill Building

Tom Silverman: On Songwriters And The New Reality Of The Music Business

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 29, 2011 @06:17 PM

Tom Silverman On Songwriters And The New Reality Of The Music Business

Interview by Lorenz Rychner

 

Tom Silverman, founder the independent label Tommy Boy Records

Tom Silverman founded the independent label Tommy Boy thirty years ago. Over time it was home to a great many award-winning artists and consistently dominated the Dance charts.

Together with industry veteran Dave Lory, Tom Silverman launched the New Music Seminar (www.newmusicseminar.com) where today’s songwriters, artists, and recording musicians can tune into the latest industry trends as presented by high-profile producers, performers, and other industry figures who are at the forefront of the new developments.

We will report on the latest seminar taking place in February in Los Angeles. In the meantime, we wanted to hear Tom’s views on the state of the industry as it affects songwriters and new artists.—LzR

Formerly, songwriters/artists looking to make a career from performing their own material pretty much needed a record label deal to make it happen. Not now. What has changed?

Tom Silverman: I think it is important for songwriters to understand what’s going on with the music business, what the changes are, so that they can adapt and figure out the new ways of plugging in. There may be more opportunities than ever before, if you can see the big picture. A lot of them still think it’s business as usual.

So what I’m talking about is—as the business has gone downhill, like 80 percent in the last 10 years—the number of artists that are signed has decreased probably by 60 or 70 percent over what used to be released in the past by labels. People at labels have becoming very wary, they are not taking risks, they can’t afford to be wrong. In the old days if they batted .250 that was okay, now they have to bat .400. And on the ones that lose, they can’t really afford to lose that much money.

So who has the best chance to still benefit from a label deal?

Labels are looking for artists who already have a head of steam, who have built a base for themselves so they’re not starting from scratch. There are exceptions, but fewer and fewer. They are looking for artists who already have a big fanbase, like fifty thousand Facebook fans, a million YouTube views, so they are not starting from nothing. They are looking for different things than they used to look for, and radio isn’t necessarily breaking certain genres of music the way it used to. So all of that means that music is a lot different now.

How can a songwriter adapt if radio isn’t in his picture?

On radio you used to have about 30 seconds before the hook to get listeners interested before they would change station. For your songwriters it’s important to know that if you’re getting exposed on YouTube or on Spotify or even Pandora, you have five seconds to suck the listener in, because in ten seconds they could be somewhere else.

Goodbye intro...

Your readers might even consider using a different song structure for the promotional version, the one you put online, the one playing behind the YouTube video—instead of three or four minutes long, maybe it’ll be two minutes long because people’s attention span seems to have shortened compared to what it used to be. You want an opportunity to expose more music and give them a taste, and if they like it, they can go to iTunes and download the full four-minute version.

So there might be a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-out version of every song, in additon to the full three-verse version there might be a two-verse version...

...and the intro might not be an intro but the second half of the chorus to grab the listener...

Absolutely, so people have to start to experiment with different song lengths, different song structure. Listeners could be playing a game at the same time, checking their text messages—there are so many ways that people are ingesting music, it’s no longer either radio, or at a club, or in front of their hi-fi speakers at home.

And it’s mostly earbuds now...

I remember in the old days when I was producing records we always used to have that single mono Auratone speaker that we used to listen to the final mix to make sure nothing was missing. That was what it would sound like on a car radio or a kitchen radio, like what most people would be listening to. Now they might just as well have a little white wire coming out with two earbuds, and a little compressor that makes it sound like 192 kbps, and see if it still passes muster. When you’re in the studio, you listen to huge studio speakers with big amps, great sound from 20 to 20, but that’s not how people are listening to music, really. These are things people should watch and consider.

On your seminar website I saw the term “Creative Quartet”. What is it?

I also call it the Creative Conundrum; it is composed of four elements that combine to make an artist a hit artist. There is a lot of clutter in a world where over a hundred thousand albums are released a year, and over 81,000 of them sell less than 100 units, and 17,000 releases sell only one unit! Thousands of musicians produce releases on their home computers, with programs like Garageband, and they pay maybe 35 dollars to put it up on TuneCore, and these releases don’t get bought by anyone, but they get in the way of the artists who are in real studios spending real money in real time trying to break through. There’s so much clutter out there, the artists have to have a sound, everything about them has to be differentiated to have a chance at breaking through.

What are the four elements?

Okay, so we break it down.

• The first is the song. It has to stand out, above the other songs actually, the composition, including lyrics and everything about how the song is written.

• Second is the production, the recording, the performance—everything that happens in the studio.

• The third element is the live show; a lot of groups are breaking because of the notoriety of their live shows. If they’re great live, then that could be how they market themselves and promote themselves, and in some cases, a great-enough live show can make an artist break, even if the songs are just OK and the production is just OK but they are just so amazing live. More and more that is the case, as radio is diminishing in power.

• The fourth and last area is becoming the most important, more and more, and that’s the image, the concept, the story, the platform, what does the artist stand for, what do they look like, what is their image. All of that stuff that previously was intangible back in the pre-video days.

Not image as strictly looks...?

In the video days the look became more important, but now in the YouTube days, people are buying artists based on what they stand for, “How do they affect me?”. Susan Boyle is a great example, that one little video of her ended up selling 31/2 million albums in six weeks this time last year, based on what people liked about her that she stood for—here’s this hausfrau from Northern England, able to beat the odds, and people thought anything is possible and they bought that story. She’s singing the same song that Rod Stewart and a million other people sang before, and the production was good and the performance was competent, but if it was any other artist, if wouldn’t have sold a thousand copies.

She was different...

...so the whole thing is, how do you differentiate yourself? Her story was differentiated, plus there was the X-factor, England, which leaked over into the US on YouTube and got tens of thousands of views if not more.

Think about Lady Gaga, if not for her image, would she be this big? I mean she has good songs and good productions, but without the image, I don’t think so. What about the Black Eyed Peas without Fergie? Sometimes you just have to put the package together in a way that it makes sense.

The image has always been important, but it has never been more important than it is now, and by image I don’t just mean the look, I mean the story, what they stand for, is it a political band, are they nonconformist, do they stand for something like Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead maybe, or a jam band might. Is there a perception that they are meaningful, is their lifestyle something people can relate to, they’re buying the lifestyle more than they’re buying the music. “I’m into what this artist is into, so I’m buying this guy”, as opposed to just the song.

Is this order of the elements fixed, or is number four creeping up to take the place of number one?

Well, the order I gave you is the chronological order that starts with the song of course. If I were to list the four elements in terms of impact they might have on somebody’s career potential, I would move the image up.

To the top?

Yes, in a way it is already number one. The image shouldn’t be the afterthought. The concept of the group should be decided on before the song is even written, because—if the songs don’t fit the concept of what they’re standing for, then it’s a mismatch and doesn’t work.

So the first thing an artist has to say before even getting into the studio or starting to write is “what do I stand for, what am I trying to say, how am I going to be different from any other artist, how can I differentiate myself in this area”.

Then he’ll make songs that differentiate themselves because the hooks or whatever will be so outstanding that they’ll reach out from the internet and grab you by the throat and suck you right in. So the next morning when you wake up, that song is still stuck in your head. That’s the purpose of a great song, and then the production is getting the great performance that delivers that song.

Maybe a song doesn’t have to have all four of those things, but it should have two or three.

Maybe an artist doesn’t do live show but his videos are killer...

...or there may be a case where the song is just so great that it overwhelms the need for an image. But usually those ones will sell a lot of singles on downloads but not albums. People always buy the album if the artist is meaningful to them, but not if only the song is big; then they don’t need the rest of the songs on the album, they just want the one song.

A lot of consumers just enjoy songs, and don’t have to have an artist attached to it, they just like that record. That’s OK, by the way; the new business, the economics of singles, could become substantial, because the other change in the business now, back to the way it used to be in the ’50s, is that five times as many singles are selling than albums. So I think a lot of writers, producers and artists are missing the opportunity to make hit singles.

I think also the artists are making the mistake of trying to make an album right away. I think the idea is to make a song, find the one song that’s going to move people, then the album will come out of that. Use the song to prospect, to tune up, to find your audience.

Sticking to singles allows someone to test the waters without breaking the bank.

Yes, and that’s not new. When I started Tommy Boy, we only did twelve-inches, we didn’t do 45s and we didn’t do albums yet. Until we found a twelve-inch that resonated, even in 1981 money, $3.98 was already four times what now a download is, and most of them only had two or three versions of the same song—instrumental, a cappella, maybe bonus beats and the radio version or the album version, so that was a good margin for us in those days. Imagine today, in dollars adjusted for inflation... that would be like nine or ten bucks. Imagine if you could get nine dollars per download, we’d have better economics and we could sign more artists than we’re signing now.

Anyway, that’s really what needs to be known. Making a whole album for a new artist, a writer or a producer will spend a whole lot of time, and usually that artist isn’t going to get picked up. But in the same amount of time they could do five or six different artists with two songs each and test those, and when one connects, then make the album. If it doesn’t connect, make another single.

Why are we as an industry so fixated on the album? It’s an anachronism that we have refused to accept. People are so egotistical, they think people want to buy a body of work from an artist or group when nobody even knows who they are yet. That’s pure ego, and it’s time for that to really stop for new artists. Once an artist is established and has built a fan base, when there is a demand, it’s a different thing. Until they do, a single is a fabulous tool for prospecting.

You also have a different perspective on making money from one’s music.

How do you change your mindset when you realize that music is the way you build your relationships with your fan base, but it’s not necessarily the way you’ll be making money? The way you’re gonna make money is merchandise, touring, maybe some music sales, and maybe other things we haven’t even thought of yet. But it’s the relationship that you’re monetizing, not the records per se.

So these are some of the things that we’re gonna be discussing at the seminar.

 

More about Tom Silverman can be found at www.newmusicseminar.com/blog/about-us/staff/ 

 

Excerpted from the March edition of Recording Magazine 2011

©2011 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. 5408 Idylwild Trail, Boulder, CO 80301  Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119  For Subscription Information, call: 1-800-582-8326 or www.recordingmag.com For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, please go tp: http://www.songwriting.net 

Tags: song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Songwriters, Song writers, Tom Silverman, tommy boy records, the music business, the new reality, New Music Seminar

The 3 “PS” of Songwriting — Present, Protect, Promote

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 23, 2011 @03:01 PM

The 3 “PS” of Songwriting — Present, Protect, Promote

Simple strategies for making sure your hard work gets what it deserves
By Bruce Kaphan
Bruce Kaphan (Photo by James Saxson)
 

(Bruce Kaphan, Photo by James Saxon)

You write songs, but are you doing everything you should to take care of the business end of songwriting?
As a reader of Recording you are, by definition, a recording musician who knows how to make a song sound good. Today we’ll help you focus on how to present the song so as to maximize the business potential of your production.
Protection of your work is important. You may have seen the monthly columns that entertainment lawyer Todd Gascon and I have been co-authoring, called It’s Your Music—Know Your Rights. From those texts I’m summarizing points to keep in mind for the protection of your work.
Lastly we’ll suggest ways to promote your songs—some time-tested ideas for how to turn your songs into income generating entities.
   

Presentation

Focus is a challenge to most self-recording singer/songwriter/musicians. Do you wear lots of different hats? Are you trying to promote yourself as a singer, songwriter, musician, recording engineer, or producer? That can be distracting.
How do you prioritize? And how far should you go with the recording and production of your songs? Do you intend to sell your song “as is” to someone who will record and produce and release it? Or do you record and produce your own songs and sell the finished recordings?
Whichever of these two paths you choose should determine how you present (produce) the recording of your song.

Selling your song

If you’re looking to just shop the song, for someone to sing who will take it elsewhere for production, then present it accordingly as a song demo. [Note that this is different from the artist demo which isn’t really done much any longer, now that you might as well make a finished record for sale, since the technology allows for that even on a modest level.—LzR]
When I’m producing a singer and looking for songs, I prefer to hear the songs as unadorned as possible. While the most stripped-down version isn’t necessarily always better, I like for the song to stand out clearly, maybe with just a single voice accompanied by a single instrument (most likely guitar or keyboard). There may be exceptions—cases where a musical hook is so deeply embedded in the essence of the song that it must be present in the song demo, in a way that requires a more elaborate production than I’d usually suggest.
Still—if you are trying to sell just your song, it will be to an artist or possibly a team comprised of artist, producer, management, record company, etc., etc., who will have their own ideas about how best to produce the song.
Your song, even though you’re not making a big production out of it, will have a better chance at getting picked up if it is presented properly. If you can’t effectively sing your song, hire somebody who can, so it sounds convincing rather than questionable.

Selling a record of you and your song

Do you sing and perform on the recordings of your own songs? If you’re just starting out, and you think you have what it takes to be a star, but you have hardly begun to launch the business side of your career, think about how your recordings represent you.
One of my clients plays mostly solo shows, singing and playing guitar. He sells CDs at his gigs. He’s made a few albums. All but one of them present the music similarly to what people hear at his gigs—mostly just one guitar and a vocal. 
He had a dream of doing an album with a full band, so we did one, at much greater expense than his solo albums—musicians had to be paid, we needed to work in a bigger, more expensive studio, etc., etc.
He loved the way the album came out, but has noticed that it doesn’t sell as well as his other albums, because his audiences generally want to hear his recorded music presented the same way as his live shows.
If you’re a singer-songwriter starting out, it’s going to be a lot easier and much more economically realistic to work as a solo artist—with fewer mouths to feed, airline tickets and hotel rooms to purchase, etc., etc. If this is how you’ll present yourself onstage, doesn’t it make sense to make recordings that reflect this same presentation? In business, this is called branding.
Last—take pride in your work! With recording tools improving all the time, you may as well put the effort into making your recordings sound as good as they can be.
 

Protection

There are certain legal steps you must take to protect your interest in your intellectual property. In past issues in our column It’s Your Music—Know Your Rights, we’ve discussed the following tasks in great detail. Let’s summarize them in this list that should never be far from your eyes...
Step 1: Copyright your songs. We describe copyright in detail in our March 2010 issue. In our April 2010 issue, we show you how to file a copyright claim.
Step 2: If you record with other musicians or singers, ask them to sign a Service (or Sideman) Release. You’ll find more details for this and Steps 3–6 in our June, 2010 issue.
Step 3: If you use the pre-existing work of others (sampling), depending on the type of sampling, you’ll need to get the permission of the copyright owner and/or publisher.
Step 4: To earn royalties when your songs are broadcast, affiliate with a PRO (in the USA, ASCAP, BMI or SESAC), either as a writer, or writer and publisher.
Step 5: To earn royalties when your masters are broadcast on the internet, digital cable, and satellite radio, register with SoundExchange.
Step 6: If you manufacture a physical product (like a CD or vinyl), get a UPC bar code for the packaging and ISRC code for the master recordings.
Step 7: If you publish your songs, form a publishing company. This can involve forming a business entity, obtaining a business license in the city in which you live, doing a DBA name search/filing for a fictitious business name in the county in which you live, possibly filing for permits for doing business in your home, etc., etc. You’ll find more details on these topics in our July, 2010 and August, 2010 issues.
Step 8: If you’re self-publishing, provide adequate notice of your copyrights on your packaging and on your discs. We describe this in detail in our March 2010 issue.
 

Promotion
Words From An Expert

I asked Steve Seskin, one of the most successful writers in Nashville today, to share his thoughts about getting songs into the right hands. Steve had his songs recorded by Tim McGraw, Neal McCoy, John Michael Montgomery, Kenny Chesney, Collin Raye, Peter Frampton, Waylon Jennings, Alabama, Mark Wills, and Peter Paul and Mary. His song “Don’t Laugh At Me” was a finalist for CMA “Song of the Year” in 1999, and has spurred an entire tolerance movement, launched by the Don’t Laugh at Me Project. Other Seskin hits include: “I Think About You,” “Life’s A Dance,” “No Doubt About It,” “If You’ve Got Love” and “Grown Men Don’t Cry.” (More at www.steveseskin.com)
 
Here’s what Steve had to say:
“When it comes to writing songs for others to record, there are many ways to go at getting songs to the artists looking for them. The best way is to partner with a good publisher who will act as a middleman between the writer and the various people involved in a recording project. It’s not that easy to get a publishing deal these days, so what else can a writer do to pitch their songs?
In Nashville, writers collaborate on songs, and it has just as much to do with business as creativity. I tend to choose collaborators strictly because of the creative connection, but I see a trend towards more writers hooking up with emerging artists to co-write specifically because there’s a greater chance the song will be recorded if you write it with the artist.
If a writer wants to pursue this route, the best thing to do is to perform at lots of writers’ nights and showcases with the hope that an up-and-coming artist or producer will hear their songs and either be interested in cutting one of them or possibly co-writing for their project.
This is also a good way to meet other co-writers in general, because it lets writers hear each others’ songs, which is one of the things to do before considering co-writing with someone.
Lastly, if you have a song that you think would be good for a specific artist, I would certainly try being creative about finding ways to get it to them, such as sending it to the manager, producer, or A&R person at the label. It’s a long shot but there’s no harm in trying. Let’s not forget that Kris Kristofferson pitched “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” to Johnny Cash by landing a helicopter on his front lawn. Flying lessons, anyone?”
In the music business, just having talent and skill usually isn’t enough to further your career—you need to be in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing; you have to jump into the stream at just the right time... and you have to be able to swim!
Perhaps the title of this article should have been The Four P’s, because persistence will have to be a permanent partner on your path to success.
 
Bruce Kaphan ([email protected]) appears every month in our column “It’s Your Music—Know Your Rights”.
 
Excerpted from the March edition of Recording Magazine 2011  ©2011 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. 5408 Idylwild Trail, Boulder, CO 80301  Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 
For Subscription Information, call: 1-800-582-8326 or www.recordingmag.com For more information on the USA Songwriting Competition, please go tp: http://www.songwriting.net 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting Tip, The 3 “PS” of Songwriting, Present, Protect, Promote, Bruce Kaphan, James Saxon, Recording magazine

Kate Voegele Talks About Songwriting

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

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

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

Kate Voegele Performing at USA Songwriting Competition showcase at SXSW

 

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

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