Songwriting Tips, News & More

Radio Podcast, featuring USA Songwriting Competition 2012 Winners

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 09, 2013 @01:46 PM

2013 Radio Podcast, featuring USA Songwriting Competition 2012 Winners

Mike Schmid, songwriter. USA Songwriting Competition Grand Prize Winner

(Pictured: Mike Schmid, 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, Overall Grand Prize Winner)

This radio podcast features songs of USA Songwriting Competition winners: Darrell Scott, Mike Schmid, Jonathan Ferreri, Charlotte Sometimes, Mark Spiro, DaniElle DeLaite, Murray Atkinson, Sally Nyolo and more.

 

*Or Click here to download Podcast >>

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

 


 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, winners, Darrell Scott, radio, podcast. USA Songwriting Competition, Mike Schmid, Jonathan Ferreri, Charlotte Sometimes, Mark Spiro, DaniElle DeLaite, Murray Atkinson, Sally Nyolo

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

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

Write Not Just Any Song, But A HIT Song!

Q & A With Songwriter Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick, songwriter

Interview by Lorenz Rychner

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: I don’t know what to write about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Songwriters Showcase Pictures & Videos at SXSW

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 @03:19 PM

USA Songwriting Competition presented a showcase at during world renowned "SXSW" in Austin, TX:

Danny Fastfingers, Austin, TX

 Danny Fast Fingers

 

Scott Fant, Austin, TX
 Scott Fant

 

Rachael Sage, USA Songwriting Competition winner
 Rachael Sage (Honorable Mention Winner)

Andrea England, USA Songwriting Competition
 Andrea England (Finalist, 12th Annual USA Songwriting Competition)

Berteal
 Berteal (Finalist, 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition)

Michael Wesley Stinson, USA Songwriting Competition
 Michael Wesley Stinson

 

Watch videos:

 Michael Wesley Stinson

 Rachael Sage

Watch more videos here >> 

*Hosted by Mike Abb

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Songwriters Showcase, songwrite, sxsw

Songwriting Tip: The Power of Simplicity

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 06, 2013 @09:00 AM

THE POWER OF SIMPLICITY

by Danny Arena

Danny Arena, songwriter

 

As the boundaries of country music continue to expand, it’s easy to get so caught up in modulations and syncopated rhythms that we can forget the power that a strong, simple melody can have. In my songwriting classes I teach at SongU.com, I try to make a point of giving one assignment to write something simple musically.

 

SIMPLE ISN’T EASY

While a melody may be described as "simple" by someone, the writing of it is usually far from easy. It involves achieving a perfectly natural balance between repetition and change so that the song is easily singable, but not boring. In this column, we’ll look at two of the components that make up a strong, simple melody. We have a tendency to think our own melodies may become dull when a musical phrase is repeated two or three times. As a songwriter full of musical ideas, it’s easy to end up with a song that has too many melodic ideas. In truth, some of the most well-known melodies like, "Yesterday" (Lennon/McCartney) and "Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" (Leigh) rely heavily on repetition. If one of our main goals as a songwriter is to write something that's easily memorable, then by far the best technique available is the power of repetition.

 

USING VARIATION

The downside of repetition is that too much of it can bore the listener. I like to think of it this way. Suppose you were eating spaghetti with red sauce for dinner four nights in a row. Probably by the time the third or fourth night rolled around, you’d be tired of eating the same exact meal. Now, imagine that you change the meal slightly each night: the first night - spaghetti with red sauce; the second night - Chinese sesame noodles; the third night - lasagna; the fourth night - penne pasta with garlic and olive oil. By making a few changes, the same meal can still be satisfying. It’s like that with your music - a little variation goes a long way.

 

As an example of the power of repetition with change, let’s take a look a hit song my wife, Sara Light co-wrote with Arlos Smith called “Home To You”. The verse consists of a total of eight measures, but only two musical ideas, one of which is the following two-measure pattern that starts the song:

 Sara Light & Arlos Smith “Home To You”

What makes the melody particularly memorable is the fact that this musical idea or motif is immediately repeated two more times (see example below). By the time the second verse rolls around, the melody is very familiar.

 "Home To You" by Sara Light & Arlos Smith

From the song, "Home To You" written by Sara Light & Arlos Smith. © Mamalama Music (ASCAP)/Good Ol Delta Boy Music (SESAC). All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Although the initial musical idea (in example 1a) is repeated three times in a row, there are several subtle variations employed that help keep us tuned in to the music, allowing the repetition to work its magic without us becoming bored.

VARIATIONS KEEP THE LISTENER TUNED INTO THE SONG

Notice the first time the musical idea appears, the chord pattern is a G chord followed by D (with an F# bass). But when the musical idea is repeated, the chord pattern changes and an Em7 chord is substituted for the G, which is then followed by C chord. This small harmonic variation in chord structure the second time allows us to return to the initial chord pattern again (G, D/F#) for the third time with fresh ears. Also, notice that each time the two measure musical pattern repeats, the melody begins the same, but ends a little differently. This is a type of variation commonly known as melodic variation and it is often due to the changing of the chords in the musical motif as in the case here. Finally, notice that rhythm of the melody changes slightly each time the musical phrase is repeated but is close enough to the original musical idea that it still reinforces it.

 

So the next time you hear one of your favorite songs on the radio, try to listen for some of those subtle variations in the music. They may be small, but they can make a big difference.

 

Hope to see you on the charts.

-Danny

 

About Danny Arena
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer and professional songwriter. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition, and serves as an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville, and an adjunct member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University. In addition, he has been invited to teach songwriting workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad, and performs his original songs regularly in Nashville at venues like the Bluebird Café. As a staff songwriter for Curb Magnatone Music Publishing, he composed several songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founder, CEO, and one of the main site developers of www.SongU.com, which provides over 100 multi-level courses developed by award-winning songwriters in addition to online coaching, co-writing, industry connections, and pitching opportunities.

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, Bluebird Cafe, songwrite, Danny Arena, Tony Award, Simplicity, Volunteer State Community College, Vanderbilt University

Songwriting Tip: How Do I Sell My Songs?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 @10:01 AM

How Do I Sell My Songs?

How Do I Sell My Songs?

by Molly-Ann Leikin, Music Industry Mastery Coach

Songwriters always ask me, “how do I sell my songs? Can you show me how to sell my songs? Please help me sell my songs.”

As songwriters, we don’t sell our songs. Anybody who tries to buy your music is a thief.

Nobody buys lyrics, either. That, too, is a scam.

As songwriters, we earn royalties when our songs/tracks are recorded and released on CD’s, performed for profit on the air – radio, TV, online, and licensed for use in TV shows, movies, commercials, and downloaded all over the web.

When CD’s of our work are released for sale, the songwriter usually gets half of the royalty income, called a mechanical royalty, which at the moment, is 9.2 cents per track per copy sold. When this money is collected, our publishers send us royalty checks each quarter.

A large chunk of the money earned by songwriters comes from performances for profit on the radio, TV and online. Here’s how that works: there are three performing rights societies in the US - ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. (Most countries outside the USA have their own societies). To collect performance royalties, you have to join one of the societies. They keep track of when and where our songs are broadcast, from a 5000 watt station in Beserk, MI, to a 100,000 watt station in Manhattan, and send royalty checks directly to us based on the number of paid performances logged in their random samplings. As songwriters, we also receive checks for foreign performances in most countries around the world. A few still refuse to pay, but we’re working on that. Domestic royalties are distributed quarterly. Foreign are distributed semi-annually.

Since we rarely know where are songs are performed on the air, and when, it’s always a delicious surprise going to the mailbox and finding a royalty statement, plus a nice, fat check, showing our songs have been sung and performed on the radio, in movies, TV, and downloaded in countries whose names we can’t even spell.

But we don’t sell our songs. Ever. Ever. Ever.

For more information about how to market your songs so they start creating income streams for you, I’ll be glad to set up a personal consultation, either by phone or email. Thank you for understanding that for legal reasons, any material sent to me without my consulting fee, must, regrettably, be deleted immediately.

© 2013 Molly-Ann Leikin

Molly-Ann Leikin, hit songwriter

Molly-Ann Leikin is an Emmy nominee. The author of “How To Write A Hit Song” and “How To Be A Hit Songwriter”, she has written themes and songs for over five dozen TV shows and movies, including “Violet” that won an Oscar.

After marketing consultations with Molly, five of her clients have won Grammys, seven more have Grammy nominations, and so far, over 6200 of Molly’s lyricist and composer protégées have placed their work in TV shows, movies, on CD’s in commercials, and their songs/tracks have been downloaded all over the web. It all starts with a consultation. www.songmd.com

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

Tags: song writer, song write, Songwriting, songwrite, Molly-Ann Leikin, Grammy, Sell Songs, Selling songs, hit

Songwriting Tip: Polishing the Silver Bowl

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 @02:56 PM

Polishing the Silver Bowl

By Pat Pattison

SilverBowl 

I found a silver punch bowl in my cellar. I vaguely remembered it being a gift (from one of my weddings). It was completely covered with tarnish (an interesting symbol), and, since I was Feng Shui-ing, the required move was to toss it. As I was about to, I was interrupted by the little Midwestern voice inside my head: “IT’S SILVER!! You can’t throw it away!”

I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring that Midwestern voice, or at least sidestepping it. I tried, but as I was about to slip the bowl into the trash bag, it got louder, sounding a lot like my mom: “Nooooo! It’s SIIILVER!” “OK,” I bargained, “if I have any silver polish under the kitchen sink (where all that stuff languishes), I’ll shine up the bowl to see if it’s worth keeping.” Why would I have silver polish? I figured it was an easy escape from The Voice.

Who knew? To my surprise, I did have a jar of silver polish under the sink, (apparently another remnant from one of my weddings). Alas, let the cleaning begin.

I covered the bowl with the grey goop and, as per instruction, allowed it to dry. Wiping it off (with a clean cloth—another surprise under the sink), I discovered that, once the tarnish was rubbed away, the bowl was pretty snazzy. “I’m gonna keep this,” I said, as The Voice basked in the warm glow of its little victory.

Once I’d made the decision to keep it, I looked at the bowl more carefully, noticing the spots I’d missed. I applied more grey goop on the offending areas, waited, then rubbed it off—a bit harder this time. Ah, nice and shiny, both outside and in.

Um, except for the silver leafing all around the rim and on the four curved, leafed legs, still tarnished, with excess polish sticking in all those little crevasses. I tried rubbing with the cloth, but there was no way to get into all those places. I thought, “I’ll use my toothbrush. I can always rinse it off afterwards…”

More polish, and now the scrubbing took longer, not to mention the occasional spray from the toothbrush bristles, requiring goggles. (Silver polish stings the eyes.) The work was more localized and focused, taking longer to cover smaller areas. But finally, after rinsing with warm water, the rim and the legs were sparkling. “Good work,” I cooed to myself.

Oops. For the first time I noticed the thin etched lines swirling both on the interior and the exterior of the bowl. They were still tarnished, not an eyesore, but still not shining like they could. My impulse was to ignore them, but now The Voice reared up again. “Finish what you started. Quit being lazy.” Urrgh!

Q-tips. Again, the work was much more localized and painstaking. Following those swirls wasn’t easy, but after some close attention, a little bad language and a sore wrist, the silver bowl was finished. It glistened. Everything Midwestern in me shone with the glow of a job well done. I filled my gleaming silver bowl with apples and set it in the center of the coffee-table. Voilá!

The moral of this little tale?

It’s not like, when I found the bowl, I immediately saw that the leafing or the etchings were tarnished and needed work. I had plenty to do before I was able to notice those smaller details.

Move from bigger to smaller. Don’t sweat the small stuff until the big stuff is cleaned up.

Intent is the biggest: What’s your song about? Try to say it in one phrase.

Prosody is huge: Is this idea stable or unstable? All your decisions about structure will depend on how you answer this question.

Very, very big: The three questions every song must answer:

1. Who is talking?

2. To whom?

3. Why?

These three questions establish the Point of View of your song: 3rd Person Narrative (he, she, they), 1st Person Narrative (I, we, he, she, they), 2nd Person Narrative (you, he, she, it, they), or Direct Address (I, you). They also ask why you’re saying what you’re saying. What’s the point of the song?

Verse development is big: how can you develop your verse ideas so your chorus (or refrain, in an AABA form) gains more meaning, more emotional weight, each time we hear it.

Song form is middle-sized: Verse/Chorus or Verse/Refrain?

Deciding on things like rhyme scheme, line lengths, number of lines, is small.

Changing a line or a word is really small. Don’t spend too much time up front searching for the perfect word when you’re still working on the bigger decisions. Everything could change.

Don’t sweat the small stuff until the big stuff is cleaned up.

Gather tools. Obsessively. You’ll need them for all the different jobs you have to do. Keep them under your kitchen sink.

Happy polishing.

Pat Pattison, songwriting professor

Pat Pattison is a Professor at Berklee College of Music, where he teaches Lyric Writing and Poetry. In addition to his four books, Songwriting Without Boundaries, Writing Better Lyrics, The Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure, and The Essential Guide to Rhyming, Pat has developed three online lyric writing courses, one on poetry, and one on creative writing available through Berkleemusic.com. He has written over 50 articles for various magazines and blogs and has also filmed a free 6-week online songwriting course for coursera.org, available March 1st, 2012.  



Pat continues to present songwriting clinics across the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Several of his students have won Grammys, including John Mayer and Gillian Welch.

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Prosody, Berklee, Polishing songs, Narrative, Verse, compose

Songwriter Shawn Colvin makes her life an open book

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Aug 03, 2012 @10:19 AM

Edited by Jessica Brandon

Shawn Colvin, songwriter

Shawn Colvin recently published memoir, “Diamond in the Rough.”  Colvin, 56, has struggled at various times with depression, alcoholism, eating disorders and failed relationships.

At the same time, she’s had a career as a singer-songwriter that has netted her three Grammy awards, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year for “Sunny Came Home” from the 1996 album “A Few Small Repairs.”

That controversial song told about a woman burning down her home – making “a few small repairs” to a presumably unsatisfactory life.

“It’s scary to write a book that’s personally revealing, so to get some positive feedback is very rewarding,” she said in a recent telephone interview from Cape Cod, MA.

The book raises questions about how she’s been able to have the long career she’s had, given the problems she has struggled to surmount.

“I think you can ask anyone else with a chronic illness and find that, between treatment that’s successful and other coping mechanisms, you do carry on for the most part,” she said. “There are periods you’re not able to do your best, but it’s like battling any other chronic disease. It’s very uncomfortable at times.

“It’s really just a question of dealing with your illness and doing your job,” she said. “Yeah, I’m on stage and I suppose that has its pressures. But it’s what I’m familiar with and able to do, even when not feeling my best.”

Colvin, who was born in South Dakota but grew up elsewhere, learned guitar early and moved to Texas in the late 1970s, where she absorbed folk, rock, country and other musical elements.

She came to New York in the 1980s and made a mark in Greenwich Village folk-rock circles, singing backup on Suzanne Vega’s “Luka.”

Columbia Records signed her and released “Steady On,” which won her fast attention as a singer-songwriter to watch for the title song, “Diamond in the Rough” and “Shotgun Down the Avalanche.” (All were written with John Leventhal.)

The title song, co-penned by longtime partner John Leventhal, has dark lyrics about the way “the best of ’em wind up sweepin’ dirt off the street,” but it also has the kind of slashing, high-spirited rock ’n’ roll guitar hooks more suitable for dancing than somber reflection.

“The title song, even if it’s about struggle, is pretty upbeat, a pretty fun song,” she said. “We came up with the title together first. But I didn’t know what really to say. But you just start chipping away; you get a line here and a line there, and it starts to lead you on.”

“Also, (songwriting) has a great deal to do with how it sings. I don’t just sit there with a piece of paper and hear music in my head and then write lyrics. You have to sing along and see what comes out. Sometimes you don’t plan it – words just come. It’s a strange process, but you know when it’s working.”

Colvin has a loyal following now, but acknowledges it isn’t what it was when “Sunny Came Home” rose into the Top 10 and “A Few Small Repairs” sold almost a million copies (according to www.allmusic.com). She was one of the headliners of the 1997 Lilith Fair, a tour featuring women singer-songwriters that itself became heralded as a concert-industry trendsetter.

But that high didn’t last. “I don’t want to diminish that time when I had a big song,” she said. “It was a lot of fun. It was a time when singer-songwriters, especially women, were very popular. For me it was the perfect storm of right place, right time, right person.

“I loved the song and I think it deserved the attention it got. But I don’t set out to have big hits. I’m happy with where I am and where I’ve always been. The fans with me are the fans who will always be with me. I just happened to have a great ride, a very interesting experience.”


Source: The Community Press & Recorder, Cincinnati

 

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

 

  

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Grammy Awards, Shawn Colvin, Sunny Came Home

State Of The Music Artist

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jun 29, 2012 @01:17 PM

State Of The Music Artist


 by Mark Cawley

With my blogs and coaching I’m always hoping to inspire, share stories and always, always tell the truth at least as I know it.  The truth is a pretty valuable thing to hear in a business of dreams. So with a backward nod to Clint Eastwood here goes.

“The Ugly”

If you’re an artist or writer and you’re still working a plan based on an outdated model, you have to adapt or die. It’s the ugly truth. Somehow the artist in us wants to be above the businessman and let someone else deal with it. That time is long gone and time to embrace what IS working.  This is not breaking news to most people reading this but I still have lots of writers and artists coming into my coaching with unrealistic goals  like landing a major publishing deal with a big advance . There are a few exceptions but for the most part that hasn’t existed in Nashville or anywhere I know of for a long, long time. Same for a major label deal.

“The Bad”

There are so many really good writers and artists falling by the wayside because nurturing a “baby writer or artist” costs too much these days. It makes perfect sense though. If you’re a publisher or label and the pie has shrunk, you just don’t have the money to gamble with. If you give that big advance how are you going to make it back in an era of free fall music sales? This is why you’ve been reading about things like 360 deals for the past few years as well as seeing projects stay “in house” as much as possible. Reading Bob Lefsetz letter is a good way to stay up with the conversation. He’s read by most industry people as well as artists.

“The Good”

There’s help. Writers, artists, producers, industry pros  and publishers are making themselves available in unique ways these days though workshops, online seminars or, as in my case, coaching . There is some real crap out there, so do your homework, but if you dig you’ll find experts  who have actually done what you want to do and are willing to share.

I’ve  been reading a terrific book called Platform by Michael Hyatt recently and it’s perfect info for any songwriter or artist looking for ways to get noticed. Michael has been the head of Thomas Nelson Publishing here in Nashville dealing mainly in Christian books but has a music business background as well.

One of the things that struck me was a section about turning really good authors away because they weren’t willing to use social media. They want to write and be left alone. Let someone else promote. These writers in his world and in the music world are going unpublished. Michael wrote the book as sort of a “how to” to help them navigate the new model of self-promotion.

The point is there are resources to help you adapt to newer models. Facebook fan pages, blogging and tons of other ways to be heard and create and nurture a fan base. The Internet is your marketing person and you can do it… by yourself and …it works. It’s not near as romantic to think about tweeting and blogging to let people know what you’re creating but none of us wants our music to exist in a vacuum so… we promote and network. We ARE the business and that’s a great thing!

One last note..if you play live go out and do it, everywhere,everynight!!

 

Mark Cawleys’ songs have appeared on more than 15 million records. Over a career based in LA, London and Nashville his songs have been recorded by an incredibly diverse range of artists. From Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK and around the world. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cut’s in Country, Jazz & R & B. His groundbreaking website “Song Journey” created with Hall of Fame writer Kye Fleming was the first to mentor writers from around the world one on one online. He is currently writing and publishing as well as helping writers and artists in the US, UK and Australia with a new one on one co-active coaching service. Visit www.idocoach.com for details. 

For more details on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, music artist, Mark Cawley

Songwriting News: Universal Music reaches deal with publishers

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 @10:55 AM

Universal Music reaches groundbreaking deal with publishers

 Universal Music Group

The National Music Publishers' Association has negotiated a far-reaching licensing deal with Universal Music Group on music videos, the group announced on Tuesday.

 

It is the first major-label deal to pay royalties to songwriters and music publishers for videos.

The pact also could end up providing additional royalties for songwriters and music publishers in emerging platforms like ringtones.

 

It comes as many musicians have grown more frustrated about the lack of financial compensation they receive for use of their work in new media services like Vevo and YouTube.

 

As a sign of how tense the relationship has become, last February in TheWrap, Matt Pincus, founder and CEO of Songs Music Publishing, slammed Vevo for earning $150 million in revenue without cutting independent publishers in on the money.

 

"Are record companies to blame for relying on shoddy language to withhold royalties, or is it Vevo's responsibility to insure that the songwriters that helped it pull in $150 million this year share in their success?" Pincus wrote. "Whatever the case, this issue of fairness must be addressed."

 

Vevo is a joint venture music video website operated by Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Abu Dhabi Media, making Universal's participation key.

 

"The agreement announced today is an important first step in resolving industry-wide music video issues," David Israelite, NMPA president and CEO, said in a statement. "UMG deserves credit for being the first record label to partner with the entire songwriting and music publishing community through this model licensing deal."

 

Under this license deal, music publishers will grant the rights necessary for the synchronization of their musical works with music videos, and, in return, receive royalties from these videos based on a percentage of Universal's receipts.

 

The agreement also enables songwriters and music publishers to receive retroactive compensation for past use of their musical works in UMG's music videos. In addition to music videos, the agreement provides songwriters and music publishers compensation for additional UMG product offerings including ringtones, dual disc, multi-session audio and locked content products.

 

[Source: TheWrap.com]

 

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, Universal Music Group, publishers

Songwriting Tip: Composing For Film and TV

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jun 14, 2012 @12:54 PM

 

Songwriting Tip: Composing For Film & TV

By Brian Tarquin

Brian Tarquin, songwriter
There is more to composing than just buying a computer and a handful of plug-ins! After 20 years composing for television and films, with three Emmys and seven nominations, I’ve come to rely on instincts and input from producers and music editors around me. It’s a team effort, and the sooner you learn this lesson, the better.

1. Get the Vibe. Remember you are composing music for the show, which will be heard by its fans. Understand the viewers and what works between score and picture. In Ken Burns’ Civil War series, what worked was that beautiful solo violin melody, not blazing metal guitar. Proper background score is a key to a successful series.

2. Understand exactly what the producer or music supervisor wants.This can be a very tricky thing. It can change from day to day and from moment to moment. I found that it could become confusing if more than one person gives you directions. The best thing to do is ask for musical references from the main person giving the instructions. For example, if they are requesting a vibe like Led Zeppelin-meets-Metallica, then make sure you get your project’s creative team to specify what elements of each band they like and how they want them combined. Ask as many questions as possible to nailing the exact vibe they want.

3. Don’t rush it, take time and get it right. This really pertains to composing for new clients. Even if you are juggling many projects, as we all seem to do, give it the time it deserves. Clients can sense when you are rushing and not giving it the proper attention. Remember the kids in school who had six weeks to do their final paper, but waited until the night before to do it? By showing the client that you care about their project, it will almost ensure you a continued relationship for future projects.

4. Use real instruments when you can, don’t rely on plug-ins and sample CDs. As a guitarist and recording artist for many years, it is annoying to me that there are so many electronic composers today who take the shortcut and substitute talent for computer plug-ins and samples. Instead of getting a real drummer they use some drum “extraordinaire” plug-in and samples from CDs of horns and bass. It makes no sense––just hire real musicians to make it sound as authentic as possible. Back in the day, I remember laboring through sessions getting musicians to nail the right sound before the digital era and plug-ins; it actually was a great challenge to see if you could achieve the sound for the project and a real feeling of reward when you did.

5. Don’t reuse old cues. This is something we are all guilty of––yours truly as well! In all my experience I’ve found that trying to rework old cues to try to make them sound different for a new client is more time consuming than actually composing from scratch. And trying to pass off an old cue to a new client thinking it’s “close enough” is bad business, because nine out of 10 times the client will have so many changes that you will be doubling your work. I don’t know how many guys do this, but it’s a lot like trying to turn a polka song into an electronica tune and passing it off to the client. Believe me, they will know!

6. Watch the show and understand how the music is used. Believe it or not, there are composers out there who do not bother to watch the show they are composing for, which seems like a recipe for failure. Set your DVR to record a few episodes and see how the music is synced to picture and compose accordingly. Before I even start composing for a new show I always watch a number of episodes and then go back to the music director and ask what specifically worked for those shows in regards to the music. I also like to throw out ideas to the music director before I proceed, to see if I’m on track.

7. Make sure to send WAV samples (no MP3s) for approval. I’ve learned not to send MP3s to people, because no matter how many times you explain to them that it’s an MP3, they always get bothered about it sounding “too compressed and lacking bottom end.” Well, that’s because IT’S AN MP3 and you’re listening to it on COMPUTER SPEAKERS!!! Then of course they look at the file size and say, “Oh, okay then, never mind.” So there goes a half-hour of my life I won’t get back!

8. Never send a demo sample! Man, this is such a catch-22, you can’t believe! Clients always say, just send a demo so I can hear how it’s coming along. So you send a rough mix to them and the first thing they say is, “It Sounds Like A Demo!” Well DUH, it IS a demo! So if you are going to play something for anyone for the first time, it should be the final mix of the song. Back in the early days of being a recording artist I remember the record label would always tell me to just send demos or rough mixes of the songs “so we can get an idea of what you are working on.” These were the days before I had a nice recording studio; my setup was just a Tascam DA-88 and a cheap Carvin mixer. So off the rough mixes went and the label would come back with, “It sounds like a demo!” Well yeah, that’s because they are demos that you said were okay to send!

9. Keep in good communication with the producer or music supervisor. This is one of the most important things to do. Always check in with the client, especially if you have a long lead-time for the final deadline, because ideas can change. For example, that song they told you to emulate at the start of the project may have changed three times and the client might have have forgotten to tell you. Of all my advice to you, this is the most crucial! I’ve been involved in projects that started off as heavy metal, then midway became techno and then finally wound up as a punk song I had to compose from scratch. Yes, it’s a lot of work and chasing, but it’s all part of the gig.

10. Never say “That’s the best I can do!” Many of us have been at the end of our rope with certain clients, for one reason or another––you want to say “I’m done, you do it!” I certainly have been there with a few people, but the best thing to do is ask for an extension if the changes they request become too much. Step away from the project for a few days, if possible, then come back to it with fresh ears and appease the client.

 

 [This Article is reprinted with permission from June 2012 issue of Music Connection magazine]

The multi-Emmy-winning composer-guitarist Brian Tarquin has established himself as a top TV composer-recording artist and owner of Jungle Room Studios. Some of his accomplishments include writing the theme music for MTV’s Road Rules, as well as producing music for many other TV shows such as CSI, ABC’s Making The Band, Extra, Alias as well as the Keanu Reeves film, The Watcher, and many more. Visit Tarquin’s music catalog at http://bohemianproductions.net/musicsearch.html. To see his recording facility, Jungle Room Studios, visit http://youtu.be/P9QEUO1K0pw.

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, Writing Music, Composing For TV and Film, music supervisor