Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 06, 2012 @12:00 PM

 

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

 

A successful songwriter gets you creative in a hurry 

By Joe Bouchard

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

 

When many of the great rock songs were written in the ’60s, writers would hack out a song in an hour or two. For example, “A Hard Day’s Night” was written by John Lennon overnight. The next morning it was done and ready to record in a few hours.

I’m very happy with the songs I’m doing these days. The biggest change to my working style in the last three years has been my “Demo in a Day” habit I’ve gotten into. It goes like this:

 

1. Start with a great hit song.

 

2. If you can’t find a hit song in your bag, use any song sketch that you’ve got. Or cover somebody else’s song. You’ll learn if you force yourself to dig, and be creative. Remember—even the great songwriters write a stinker sometimes, but keep pushing.

 

3. Get a good computer (Mac is my preference, but many successful writers make brilliant music on PCs too) and sequencer/DAW program. Learn the programs thoroughly. If you are having a problem with a program, look up a solution on YouTube. Chances are some geek has posted an answer, and can show you how things work without reading the manual.

 

You don’t need a lot of fancy hardware. I use only two mics for demos, an SM57 for guitars and a RØDE condenser for vocals. Most everything can be done with a direct box, or with plug-ins in the sequencer. My recording program is MOTU Digital Performer, I’ve been using it for years; occasionally I’ll use Pro Tools, and have started using Logic too.

 

4. Demo the song. Work quickly.

 

 

Morning

 

Get up early. Shut off all emails, Facebooks, don’t answer the phone—let the answering machine pick up all calls. Don’t watch the morning news, or check the weather. Make coffee.

 

First, record a Guide Demo to a click if you can—mono or stereo, it doesn’t matter— with just simple piano chords, or acoustic guitar chords. Don’t be fussy. Just throw an open mic in the room and wail away. Don’t fix any wrong notes or out-oftuneness, the cruder the better. This Guide Demo will force you to stay focused to get you to the finished “Demo in a Day”.

 

Put the Guide Demo in the top track of your sequencer. You will be turning this on and off as you work on your “Demo in a Day”.

 

Add markers at the top of your sequencer that mark the intro, verses, choruses, any bridge, and the ending.

 

Now do a rough drum track. I use Toontrack Superior Drummer; the sounds are very realistic and I have hundreds of MIDI drum files that give me any style I might want. I even bought other drum MIDI files from a company called Groove Monkee. They all work seamlessly with Digital Performer. Making drum parts is only a matter of drag and drop from the Groove section of the plugin to a MIDI track that is assigned to the Superior Drummer instrument.

 

Use markers to vary the drum parts as a real drummer would. Add fills either a bar or two bars before each new section. It’s easy to see on the screen when a new section is coming. Usually the drum feel is the hardest to nail, so try different parts until you are happy with the feel and how it expresses the feeling in the Guide Demo. Be patient, this could take up most of your morning.

 

Break for lunch when you’ve got the drum part programmed.

 

 

Noon

 

Right after lunch start recording rhythm guitars. The goal is to have a finished song by the end of the day, so you can’t get too fussy with sounds. I often use a Line 6 POD for guitar. It’s fast and it works. The sounds are very mixable. Even Pete Townshend admits to using one in a pinch. Next do piano parts or other coloration

 

parts. Percussion can help too. Bass parts you can do last, or first—it’s up to you. Don’t spend a lot of time on fixing little things. Loop a part if you stumble in the 2nd verse, or 2nd chorus.

 

Doubling parts will make it sound like a classic rock song. I don’t double with copy and paste and time shift, I prefer to actually play the same part twice and pan them L and R. It sounds like the way music was made in the late ’60s and early ’70s. [See this month’s Talkback for hints on creating doubled parts quickly—Ed.]

 

Sing a rough vocal. Add harmonies. Double the harmonies. Replace the rough vocal with a better vocal. I don’t like Auto- Tune, but I might use the tiniest amount on a rough spot.

 

All the time I am recording, I’m reaching for plug-ins that do my eq, compression, and reverb. If I need to automate part of the mix, I’m doing that as I’m recording.

 

 

And night

 

Break for dinner. After dinner, mix it down. It shouldn’t take too long to get something reasonable, since you’ve already set up eq and compression as you were recording. When you get a mix, load in onto your MP3 player. Take a short drive in your car and test the mix. I always do the “car test” for mixes. Remix until satisfied.

 

By now it’s about 10 PM. Do you know where your song is? It should be mixed and presentable to your friends, relatives and the rest of the band.

 

I’ve spent months working on certain song demos. In the end, with that style of recording the results are mixed at best. The “Demo in a Day” technique works better. By forcing yourself to work quickly it’s easier to keep zeroed in on the emotional focus of your song.

 

By the end of the day you will hear whether the song is going to be great or not. If it isn’t, don’t sweat it, you’ve only invested one day of your time; tomorrow you can go on to a new song. The perfect song is waiting around the corner.

 

Joe Bouchard is a singer, songwriter, and bass player who has worked with his brother Al in bands like Blue Öyster Cult— he was first interviewed in our October 2011 issue. To learn more about his music, visit www.bluecoupeband.com.

 

Excerpted from the March edition of Recording Magazine 2012.   ©2012 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. 5408 Idylwild Trail, Boulder, CO80301 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 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net


Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, 4-track, Joe Bouchard, tip

Songwriting Tip: From Demo To Master

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 05, 2012 @02:15 PM

From Demo To Master: Arranging, Recording, Mixing & Mastering by Melissa Axel

MelissaAxel, JustinPeacock conduscting string section

As with previous posts, we continue from the recording artist perspective (rather than pitching a song to a vocalist) where the last article, From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience, left off. This post explores how the song "Golden Rule" was arranged, recorded, mixed, and mastered for release on the album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS …

With pre-production complete and crucial decisions made about song structure, lyric edits, and more, "Golden Rule" was finally ready for recording … or was it? Not quite yet. Before we could take the song into the studio, we still had to finalize the instrumentation and arrangement to build the overall vibe of the track.

We'd chosen a great drummer/percussionist for the album, and our producer arranged a meeting with him to go over the feel of the song. They each brought some great groove ideas to the table (our producer has a percussion background as well), and the drummer and I played together a bit to lock in the most natural tempo.

Hearing how the piano and drums fit together, we decided the song would feel great with an upright bass. We hired a terrific player versed in jazz and rock who brought various textures to the album, and for this track, a jazzier pop feel worked best. We talked through the song, played with some ideas, and then it was time to record the rhythm section. We tracked piano, drums and upright bass live in the studio with each instrument isolated in its own room, separated by glass windows for eye contact.

No matter how good your musicians are and or how much you've rehearsed, there's a special magic you're going for in the studio that only comes from letting go and playing until everything "gels" between the performers. Our session was no exception, and once I'd recorded a scratch vocal as our guide for the song, I was free to focus on the nuances of the piano part and how it connected with what the other musicians were doing. Once we had something down that we were all pleased with, I went back and recorded the rubato (out of time) intro and outro sections by myself on piano.

With the basics down, we turned our attention to the arrangement. In essence, "Golden Rule" is a song about empowerment, and we wanted a string section to bring out its emotional strength. It needed to sound both fresh and familiar—inspirational without being cheesy, moving without being "over the top." Violinist/composer Kailin Yong listened to our basic tracks and created an arrangement for violin, viola, and cello that built up to great intensity and also provided a sense of comfort and universal acceptance to the listener.

Once the arrangement was complete and we were all happy with a midi demo of the parts, we scheduled a recording session for the strings. Kailin played lead violin, joined by Tom Hagerman (DeVotchKa) on second violin, Mackenzie Gault (Flobots) on viola, and Beth Rosbach (Sphere Ensemble) on cello. Our producer took on the role of conductor, with an engineer who specializes in live recording at the board.

The string players were charged with bringing more to life than just notes on the page: each musician would also fill the music with the emotions of his or her own experiences from childhood. Though I knew some of them well, I had just met others for the first time that day, so we connected for a bit and exchanged a few brief stories before tracking began. As we layered several takes of the string section, a mini string orchestra evolved before our ears, and I heard the incredible difference it makes to record live musicians.

After the strings were finished, it was time to lay down the final vocal. Every singer needs to feel supported by the music, and I realized how much easier it is to deliver a solid, heartfelt performance with a strong, grooving rhythm section and beautiful string arrangement backing me up. We spent some time listening back to the takes and comping the best phrases into a cohesive track that reflected the message and openness of the song.

But capturing great performances with great sound is not enough: the complete picture of a song is brought to light by an exceptional mix, and we were fortunate to be working with a producer whose specialty is mixing. He had a vision for each song—and the entire record—from the beginning, as well as a strong understanding of my own sonic preferences. We left him to his own creative devices and returned to find the unique sound and placement of each instrument perfectly treated in a stunning mix that drew the listener in and highlighted all of the most special moments of the song.

The final mix of "Golden Rule" (and eleven other songs) then went to our mastering engineer, who processed or "sweetened" the audio to maximize sound quality for both CD/digital and vinyl/analog formats. Since the sound of this music was intimate, sweeping, and highly organic, we chose to master the album for high dynamic range. Unlike many "wall of sound" tracks released since the compact disc began to dominate the industry, compression was used sparingly to keep the quiet parts quiet and the big orchestral parts loud and powerful by contrast. The result is a listening experience of greater sonic depth (and an absence of ear fatigue).

"Golden Rule" had completed its evolution from demo to master. From pre-production to arranging, to recording, mixing and mastering, the process was a detailed, lengthy, and enriching one that not only prepared us well for future recording projects but provided a fulfilling creative journey in and of itself.

 

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, songwrite, From Demo, Master, Arranging, Recording, Mixing, Mastering

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: 6 Traits of A Badly Written Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jan 10, 2012 @12:00 AM

6 Traits of A Badly Written Song

(source: Music Connection magazine)

By Bobby Owsinski

songwriting

Although we’ve all heard the stories about a great song that was written in 10 minutes, most well-written songs are actually finally crafted by many rounds of re-writes. Many inexperienced songwriters don’t take enough time to hone a song, and as a result, their songs may display a number of undesirable traits. Keep in mind that regardless of the genre of music, from rock to country to goth to rockabilly to alien space music, there are common elements that keep a song interesting to your particular audience, and also characteristics that rear their head when a song doesn’t hold the listener’s attention as well.
Here are 6 traits commonly found in badly written songs that were culled from two of my books, The Music Producer’s Handbook and How To Make Your Band Sound Great. My apologies for using song examples that might seem a little dated, but I wanted to chose ones that most people are familiar with after years of airplay.


1. The Song Is Too Long
Many songs have sections that are way too long. Two-minute intros, three-minute guitar solos and five-minute outros are almost always boring. You are always better off to have a section too short rather than too long. The only exception is if you can actually make a long section interesting, which usually takes a lot of arranging skill and even then still might not keep the audience’s attention. One really long outro that does work, for example, is on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic “Free Bird” (don’t laugh––it’s one of the most played songs ever), where slight arrangement changes, kicks and accents every 16 bars really holds the listener’s attention.

2. The Song Has No Focus
Beginner songwriters often have no focus to their songs, which means that the song meanders from chord to chord without a clear distinction between sections. This is usually the result of not honing the song enough and thinking it’s finished way before it’s time. Sometimes there’s really a song in there if you peel it back a bit, but usually the only way to fix it is to go back to the drawing board for a major rewrite.

3. The Song Has A Weak Chorus
Sometimes it’s hard to tell when the verse stops and the chorus starts because they’re basically the same. An interesting chorus usually has something different about it from the verse. It may be just a little different, like adding background vocals or another instrument, or an accent or anticipation to the same chord changes and melody (like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Crossfire” with the horn hits and guitar fill). Or it can be a lot different with different set of chord changes or melody combined with the arrangement changes like “Vertigo” by U2, “This Kiss” by Faith Hill or the Eagles’ classic “Hotel California.” Either way, something has to change in the chorus to lift the energy and keep the song memorable.

4. The Song Has No Bridge
Another common songwriting mistake is no bridge. A bridge is an interlude that connects two parts of that song, building a harmonic connection between those parts. Normally you should have heard the verse at least twice. The bridge may then replace the third verse or precede it. In the latter case, it delays an expected chorus. The chorus after the bridge is usually the last one and is often repeated in order to stress that it is final. If and when you expect a verse or a chorus and you get something that is musically and lyrically different from both verse and chorus, it is most likely the bridge.
A bridge is sometimes the peak of the song where it’s at its loudest and most intense (check out the bridge of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”), or it could be its quietest and least intense point (the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” where Pete Townsend sings “...It’s only teenage wasteland,” or the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water”).
Almost every great song has a bridge, but there are the occasional exceptions. Songs that are based on the straight 12-bar blues frequently don’t have bridges but might use dynamics or arrangement to provide the tension and release. An example would be the ZZ Top classic “Tush.” There’s no bridge in the song, but the snare fill by itself––after the last verse into the outro guitar solo––supplies the release. Another would be the Guess Who/Lenny Kravitz song “American Woman” where there are just four bars of a different guitar and bass rhythm and a stop that performs that same function as a bridge.

5. The Song Suffers From A Poor Arrangement
Even with great songwriters, this is the most common mistake. Usually this means that the guitar or keyboard will play the same lick, chords or rhythm throughout the entire song. This can work perfectly well and might even be a great arrangement choice if another instrument plays a counter-line or rhythm, but usually it just means that the arrangement will be boring. You’ve got to make sure that the song stays interesting, and that means the addition of lines and fills. An example where a structure like this does work is “American Woman” again.

6. The Song Has No Intro/Outro Hook
If we’re talking about modern popular music (not jazz or classical), most of the songs have an instrumental line (or hook) that you’ll hear at the beginning of the song, maybe again in the chorus, and any time the intro repeats in the song. A great example would be the opening guitar riff to the Rolling Stone’s “Satisfaction” or the piano in Coldplay’s “Clocks.” If you want to make your producer happy, develop your hooks before you do your demos or hit the studio.

• BONUS Tip: They’re not “Originals”
A sure sign of an amateur writer who doesn’t take writing songs seriously is to refer to one’s songs as “originals.” A tape that says “originals” really has “club band” written all over it. Nothing against club bands, but no one is going to take your writing seriously when you refer to your songs using that word. It’s much better to say, “Here are some songs that we wrote” or “Here’s one of our songs.” You will be taken a lot more seriously by the very people that you want listening.

Now take a long, hard listen to your songs. Do any of them have any of the above traits? If so, it’s time for at least one more rewrite.
------------------------

This article is used by permission from Music Connection magazine's November 2011 issue. Bobby Owsinski is a producer, author and music consultant who has written 15 books on music, recording and the music business. Read some excerpts at bobbyowsinski.com or read his popular production blog at bobbyowsinski.blogspot.com or his music business blog at music3point0.blogspot.com.

For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Verse, Songwriting Tip, songwrite, inexperienced songwriters, Badly Written Song, hook, refrian

Songwriting Tip: How to Write a Song Using Other Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Nov 03, 2011 @04:53 PM

By Kari Kiddle, Yahoo! Contributor Network

(Source: Yahoo! Contributor Network)

Songwriting
I know what you're thinking: I can't write a song if my pen depended on it. (A little joke). But you can! I started writing a few years ago, and now I can't stop. It takes practice, thought, and most of all patience. By reading this, you'll learn how to write a song in 5 easy steps.

1.) Start by brainstorming what type of music you want to write. What's your favorite band? I find it easier to write music that I like to listen to.

2.) Next, grab a pen and paper. I like to pull my inspiration from songs that I've fallen in love with. Like a phrase that your favorite artist used? Find a way to re-write it. For example, in Sara Bareilles' "Love Song", she talks about going against what's decided for her. I used her angry inspiration to write my song Take You Down.

3.) If you can play an instrument fairly well, I suggest using chords from songs that you love to start. Go to a site like ultimate-guitar.com that provides tabs as well as chords.

4.) The hardest part is deciding whether to start with the music, or the melody. It varies for me. Sometimes I'll be playing around on my keyboard and start humming/babbling along to the chords. This eventually turns into a song. Other times I'm in the shower or car and a melody just randomly comes to my head.

For beginners, I suggest the first one. If you can't play an instrument, look online for backtracks that you could hum along to. You're not going to be able to freestyle words right away, so don't be afraid to sound like a three year old.

5.) Finally, it's time to put them all together. Take your clever words, melodies, and chords and sing/play your heart away.


Kari Kiddle is a singer-songwriter. Through the process of writing songs, playing gigs, and self-promotion, she has learned a lot of things that she would like to share with the world.

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting Tip, Write Song Using Other People's Songs

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