Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriters: Make Your Demos Really Pop!

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, May 03, 2012 @11:45 AM

Songwriters: Make Your Demos Really Pop!

 Singers Guide to Powerful Performances

Okay. You’ve written good songs and now it is time to record demos of them. You know that a demo doesn’t need to be perfect, but it has to be good enough to sell your songs to a publisher or be placed in film or TV by a music supervisor. The success of a song reaching the ears of the many will ride on a number of factors, including having a demo that really sells your song, a demo whose vocal is wisely calculated. Here’s how to get it there...

 

The Song That Doesn’t Sell

 

If your demo’s vocal isn’t stylistically believable, the song won’t sell itself. Good songwriting will be obscured, and possibly passed over, when a music supervisor or publisher listens to a song that has off-pitch, weak vocals or vocals that are stylistically incompatible with the music. For example, say you’ve written an R&B song and hope it will be sung by Christina Aguilera. But when you record the demo, your vocal sounds like an old-style cabaret singer with overly precise word articulation and a loose, wide vibrato. Result: The style of your song will be eclipsed and most likely passed over.

 

Who Will Sing Your Song?

 

When a publisher listens to a demo, if s/he can’t envision a certain artist singing it, chances are slim that s/he’ll pick it up and submit it to an artist for consideration. With that in mind, as you write a song or revise it after it has been written, evaluate the style of your song and match it to one or several possible artists you believe could sing it. This brings us to some important steps that many skip entirely or skimp on in their haste to demo and submit their songs.

 

Do Your Research

 

Before you write a song that you hope to have sung and recorded by specific artists, spend time listening to a cross-section of their currently released material to find out: Are there any particular keys or types of melodies they favor? How much or how little vocal range do they tend to use? Do they use mostly single syllable or multi-syllabic words? Are there any characteristic ways they use their voice, such as certain vowel sounds for their peak or climatic notes? Is their vocal bluesy, belting or whispery? Do they use much sustain? Do you hear a certain recurring manner of rhythmic phrasing or a use of embellishments?

Identify all this before you write your song or revise it, so you’ll compose music and lyrics that are stylistically consistent. You will also discover if you have the vocal skill to sing on your demo or if you should have a talented singer record it.

 

Prep Your Vocals

 

If you plan to sing on your demo, doing this simple exercise before you record will help you to improve your sound. Sing the melody of your song without lyrics, phrase by phrase, using a simple vowel sound such as “Ah,”  “Ee” or “Eh.” Don’t connect the notes with an “h.” Instead, keep your vowel pronunciation consistent as you slowly and smoothly sing each phrase.

Doing this has several benefits. 1) By removing the lyrics, you’ll focus on the musical flow of the melody and this will bring to attention any possible musical edits you deem stylistically necessary. 2) Your voice is the vowel sounds (not the consonants of words). This exercise can help to improve your tone and pitch accuracy, because it requires you to work the sound of your voice only. 3) Singing the melody with a single vowel exercises your vocal muscles so you can sing more easily. Once you’ve done this (over and over) to your satisfaction, sing the song with lyrics and notice any improvements. At this point you can begin to stylize your voice to suit the intended artist or song placement.

 

Learn from Singers

 

If you’ve decided to sing on your demo, but your vocal style doesn’t complement the genre of the song, practice with recordings of singers who sing in that genre. Record yourself so you can compare your rendition to those other singers and make adjustments as needed.

 

Studio Recording Tips

 

There are two important studio factors that either enhance or diminish your recorded vocals. Take the time to get the right headphone mix. You should hear yourself well and not feel “crowded” by the volume of other instruments. If needed, try the “one ear off” technique; Leave the headphone off one ear to hear your voice acoustically in the room.

The type of mic chosen and the mic’s placement should match rather than alter your voice and it should capture your best sound. When using your home studio to record, the standard microphone input on your computer is usually inadequate to make good quality vocal recordings. Use a separate audio interface with a preamp or, for the more budget-conscious, use a USB studio condenser microphone.

 

Remain Objective

 

While it may be difficult to remain objective, the whole project will fail if you do not evaluate your recording with a professional detachment that can discern stylistic consistency, perform-ance believability and accuracy of pitch and rhythmic phrasing. If the first two in-gredients are there, the pitch and rhythm can be fixed by punches or corrected in the recording software.

 songwriting

Vocals Still Sound Bad?

 

If you have followed all these suggestions and the vocals still don’t sound as good as they need to, it is time to acknowledge that you may not be the right singer for this recording. Your skill is songwriting and you want the quality of your art to be evident to others, so find an appropriate singer to record your demo.

There are some talented singers out there who will jump at the chance to get studio experience, an endorsement or even possibly a demo recording of their own. You can find singers through contacting voice coaches in your area, online musician referral services or bulletin boards, by referral from recording studios, other musicians you may know and through Music Connection’s musician’s online social network: AMP (http://musicconnection.com/amp).

You can offer to pay a singer or possibly draw up an agreement allowing them to use the recording as a demo to showcase their voice as long as they don’t sell or record the song as their own. Your song should already be copyright protected prior to going into the studio.

[Reprinted with permission by Music Connection magazine]

Jeannie Deva is recognized as one of the nation’s top celebrity voice and performance coaches. As a recording studio vocal specialist, she has been endorsed by producers and engineers of Aerosmith, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones. Her newest book publication is Singer’s Guide to Powerful Performances. See http://JeannieDeva.com. 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, demo, Elton John, Studio Recording Tips, Jeannie Deva, Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones

Songwriting Tip: How Does Your Song Stack Up?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 02, 2012 @11:40 AM

HOW DOES YOUR SONG STACK UP?

Danny Arena, Songwriter

Every now and then, I like to tape the entire country top 40 and analyze the songs in terms of song structure and various timing considerations. In this column, I wanted to share with you the results of my most recent survey.

1. Song Form. Everyone says write your song in a song form. Maybe you've wondered just how important that is to making the top 40? Well as usual, out of forty songs on this particular week when I analyzed them, every one was written in one of the well established song forms. 

Form Number of Songs in the Top 40
AAA none
AABA 9
Verse/Chorus 15
Verse/Chorus/Bridge 7
Verse/Lift/Chorus 7
Verse/Lift/Chorus/Bridge 2

As has been the case the past three years, the majority of songs in the top 40 used the simple verse/chorus structure (though some included instrumental sections). Second place was very close, with the AABA's getting the nod by a slim margin, followed closely by the V/C/B structure and the V/L/C structure. As you might expect, there were no AAA songs, although one or two a year usually make their way into the top 40.

II. Length Of Introduction. How long should an introduction to a song be? The introduction should be long enough to establish the feel and tempo of the song, and possibly introduce a motif. Anything longer, and your introduction is simply taking up valuable space in the song and probably hurting the song. 

Length of Introduction # of Songs in the Top 40
< 10 seconds 8
11 - 15 seconds 25
16 - 17 seconds 7
> 17 seconds none

Average length = 12 seconds

The fascinating statistic here is that twenty-five of the forty songs fell into the second category and no songs had introductions longer than seventeen seconds. 

III. Time To Get To The Chorus (including the introduction). Okay, so we've all heard the expression, "don't bore us, get to the chorus". Let's see how the songs in the top 40 compared on this very important timing issue.

Time To Get To The Chorus # of Songs in the Top 40
< 30 seconds 4
30 - 40 seconds 10
41 - 50 seconds 11 
51 - 60 seconds 10
61 - 75 seconds 5
> 75 seconds none

Average time = 45 seconds

There were only five songs in the top 40 that took longer than a minute to get to the chorus. Out of those five songs, three were written or co-written by the artist. Take a tip from the top 40 and get to the chorus in under a minute.

IV. Length Of Song (including the introduction). Finally, let's take a look at song length. 

Length of Song # of Songs in the Top 40
< 2:30 none
2:30 - 3:00 11
3:00 - 3:30 25 
3:30 - 4:00 4
> 4:00 none

Average time = 3:17 seconds

This category changed the most from last year. Last year, the average time for a song was right around the three minute mark. This year, the majority of songs were in the 3:00-3:30 category. It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues.

V. What It All Means. So what do all these statistics mean? While I don't recommend putting your song under a microscope during the writing of it, it is interesting after your song is written to see whether or not it falls into the "pocket". If you notice that your song takes over a minute to get to the chorus, you may want to consider getting there quicker. If your song is in an obscure song form (like one you made up yourself), be aware that not many of those make it to the top 40. In the end, there are always exceptions to the rule and knowing the above information should not be a guiding factor in compromising the writing of a song. But it can help give you a healthy perspective after the writing of the song. Most of all, just keep writing the best songs you possibly can.

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 70 multi-level courses developed by award-winning songwriters in addition to online coaching, co-writing, industry connections, and pitching opportunities. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting Tip, Danny Arena, Song Form, Song Intro, Song Length

2012 USA Songwriting Competition Radio Podcast

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 05, 2012 @04:29 PM

 

Tune in to the 2012 USA Songwriting Competition Podcast, featuring of the winners of the USA Songwriting Competition (past & present). Click on the audio player above to listen to the music (See Above)

Music featured in this podcast by:

Alexander Cardinale, singer-songwriter

Alexander Cardinale & Morgan Taylor – Traffic Lights (16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition First Prize Winner, Pop & Overall 2nd Prize)

Gabriel Mann – Lighted Up (2002 USA Songwriting Competition Overall Grand Prize)

Orly Forman & Yagel Sulchiner, performed by Orly – Boy on a Hill (16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition First Prize Winner, Folk)

Molly Hunt, Troy Johnson & Jack Williams, performed by Molly Hunt – Go There (16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition First Prize Winner, Country & Overall 3rd Prize)

Simon Spire – A Four-Letter Word (16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition First Prize Winner, Folk)

Nenna Yvonne - Go Around (16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition Overall Grand Prize)

Ed Romanoff, Crit Harmon & Mary Gauthier – Breakfast for One on the 5th of July (16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition First Prize, Lyrics)

Patrice Pike, Wayne Sutton, Sean Phillips & Darrell Phillips, performed by Patrice Pike and “Sister Seven” – My Three Wishes (2004 USA Songwriting Competition Overall Grand Prize)

Nianell - Finally (16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition First Prize, Gospel/Inspirational)

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, American Idol, USA Songwriting Competition, Billboard Charts, Alexander Cardinale, Radio Podcast, Gabriel Mann, Orly, Molly Hunt, Simon Spire, Nenna Yvonne, Ed Romanoff, Patrice Pike, Nianell

Getting Your First Big Yes In Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 03, 2012 @12:15 PM

Getting Your First Big Yes In Songwriting

By Molly-Ann Leikin

 Molly-Ann Leikin, Songwriting Co-writer, Song Marketing Consultant

This morning, as I took my walk up the hill behind my house, I realized that if I stacked all the no’s I’ve been told from day one, they would block the Alps.

 

On the other hand, the yeses would barely make it past my ankle.

 

Nonetheless, I am enjoying a great career in the music business.

 

Over the years, I’ve probably heard more no’s than most songwriters, because I wasn’t a groupie, I wore a bra, didn’t do drugs, and I wasn’t anybody’s daughter.

 

But after seven years of “you can’t be serious,” a publisher at Warner Brothers asked me to write a song for somebody, and I was back with it the next day at 7:24 a.m. Waiting on WB's front step, which is totally out of character for drive-around-the-block-once-then-split me, I was cool when WB guy rolled in at eleven. He didn’t use my song that time, but he appreciated my passion. After 398.2 days of this, he signed me a staffwriter.

 

Yes, I am talented. But everybody's talented. I just wanted it more.

 

Do you?

 

© 2012 Molly-Ann Leikin

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. Through co-writing and song marketing consultations, four of Molly’s clients have Grammy nominations, another won an Emmy, and so far, with Molly’s help, over 6000 of her other lyricist and composer protégées have placed their work in TV shows, movies, on CD’s and in commercials. Molly would be happy to discuss a co-write or consultation with you: 800-851-6588 songmd@songmd.com www.songmd.com

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Warner Brothers, Molly-Ann Leikin, Song Marketing Consultant, Co-writer, First Big Yes

Songwriting Tip: Sharpen Your Music With The Flat Seven Chord

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Apr 02, 2012 @01:18 PM

SHARPEN YOUR MUSIC WITH THE FLAT SEVEN CHORD by Danny Arena

Danny Arena, Songwriter
There are seven standard chords that are part of every key in which you may be writing a song. In traditional theory, these are known as the "diatonic chords", but you can simply think of them as the chords we tend to gravitate towards first when writing music. The reason is simple - they are the ones we hear the most. However there are also some commonly used chords that are called non-diatonic that turn up in many hit songs. One of these so-called non-diatonic chords is called the flat seven (or flatted seventh) chord. It can be a valuable tool to have in your composer's toolbox.

Formation of the Flat Seven Chord 
The flat seven chord is formed by first determining the seventh note of the scale of the key in which you are writing your song. Lower this note by a half-step (also known as "flatting" the note) and you have the flat seven. For example, in the key of C, the flat seven would be a Bb chord. In the key of G, the flat seven chord would be an F major chord. 

How It's Used 
The flat seven is generally used in one of two ways. First, the flat seven chord can also be used as a "surprise" chord, where you set the listener up to hear a certain chord, but give them the flat seven chord instead as a "surprise". This is how Jimmy Webb first popularized the use of the flat seven chord (in fact, the flat seven chord is also known as the Jimmy Webb 7th). The bridge in the Grammy winning song "Beauty and the Beast" (songwriter - Menken/Ashman) uses the flat seven as a surprise chord as does the Faith Hill classic hit "This Kiss" (songwriter - R. Lerner/B. Chapman/A. Roboff) which incorporates the flat seven chord in the verse chord progression. 

An Example 
Let's say you are writing a song in the key of C and have the following chord progression for the verse (1 chord per measure): 

C F C F
Em Am F G

One way to surprise the listener would be to play a flat seven chord (Bb) instead of the F chord in the seventh measure. Another way to surprise the listener would be to play the Bb chord in the 8th measure after the F chord, and use an extra measure for the G chord.

So the next time you're looking for a little different twist on an old progression or just a different chord to start that chorus or bridge on, don't overlook the flat seven chord - it's really pretty sharp (sorry for the pun there...I couldn't resist). 

Hope to see you on the charts. 

-Danny

About Danny Arena

Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer who has worked as a staff songwriter for Warner/Chappell Music and Curb Magnatone Music Publishing. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition. He is currently an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville and has been a member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University as well as a guest lecturer at the Berklee College of Music and Belmont University. Together Danny and Sara collaborated on composing songs for the Broadway show "Urban Cowboy: The Musical" which was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founders of the online educational website www.SongU.com which provides multi-level songwriting courses developed and taught by award-winning songwriters, song feedback and mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit:http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting Tip, songwrite, Flat Seven Chord

Songwriting Tip: Ya Gotta Move...Yourself !!

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 27, 2012 @03:03 PM

Songwriting Tip: Ya Gotta Move...Yourself !! 

By Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley, songwriter

One of the most valuable lessons I learned over years in writing for artists, writing with artists and taking direction from my publisher was to not study too hard.

I learned this the hard way! I’ll go way back for some examples. I was writing for a major publisher during the 90’s, and I knew that part of my job was to stay current. I would shoot for the biggest artists of the day and usually had a heads up on direction from my publisher, other writers and even producers.

I’ve always loved great singers and found it easy to hear their voice in my head when I was working on something to pitch for them. Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Aretha Franklin, Wynonna, Chaka Khan...I was a channeling fool. For years cuts were coming along but the ones I really wanted were eluding me. I would listen to everything they’d done, groove, key, subject matter and try to nail something I could hear them doing. What I didn’t think about is a really, really great artist isn’t looking for “something that sounds just like them”.

During these years I can’t tell you how many songs were put on hold by the powers that be thinking the song ( and demo) sounded exactly like their artist. At the 11th hour something would usually go amiss. You may have been there. Everything looks perfect, time to start spending the money you’re going to see...nothing to it, I’ve done my homework, my 10,000 hours and damn it...I deserve it!

As you know you need a thick skin and crazy confidence to take the rejection this career will hand out so I would grieve for a time and then jump back in. Then a funny thing happened....

As I was writing for the market I was also getting with better and better co-writers. We had the same war stories but if we wrote long enough we would eventually say let’s forget it and just write what we want, something that we can walk away and say “ I don’t care if this ever get’s cut. Then they did. In a short period of time Tina, Joe, Chaka and Wynonna cut songs that didn’t sound remotely like ones written “for” them. All songs I was proud of. Sometimes it was a creative publisher who had the imagination to hear a song as the next step for an artist even when all the powers that be said they were nuts for sending them a song so different than what was being asked for. Sometimes it was using one of those people in your network, whatever it took to get the artist to hear it.

So the big lesson for me was a true artist is trying to move forward, not repeat themselves. They want to be challenged and they want to challenge a listener or fan. Usually they don’t know what form that will take until they hear it but if the song moved you first maybe you can move them and hopefully they can move a few million other people and then...you can take that to the bank!

© Mark Cawley, Nashville, TN 3/20/12


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, Mark Cawley, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, The Spice Girls, Kathy Mattea, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn

Music Gear: iRig™ MIX and DJ Rig, iPhone app with Hardware

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 @11:23 AM


 IK Multimedia at WMC (Winter Music Conference)

IK Multimedia showcased 2 new products (See Video above) at the 2012 WMC (Winter Music Conference) in Miami Beach on March 19, 2012:

iRig™ MIX
The first mobile mixer for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. iRig™ MIX is the first mobile mixer for iPhone, iPod touch or iPad devices. iRig MIX offers the same controls you would expect from a professional DJ mixer (crossfader, cues, EQ and volume controls, etc.) in an ultra-compact mobile mixer that can be used with a huge variety of iOS DJ mixing and other apps. iRig MIX is a DJ mixer that allows DJs to use a traditional setup with two devices (one plugged into each of the independent channels) OR a single iOS device. For the single iOS device setup, the output of the single device is split into dual-mono and sent to the individual channels. Additionally – for the first time on any DJ mixer - iRig MIX can be used for mixing any type of audio source (coming from mp3 players, CD players, etc.) with an iOS device using automatic tempo matching and beat syncing. This is accomplished with X-Sync, a feature that works in combination with the DJ Rig free app from IK Multimedia that is included with iRig MIX.


DJ Rig
The pro-quality DJ mixing app. DJ Rig is a full-featured, double-deck DJ mixing app for iPhone. DJ Rig provides instant song playback from the device's music library, tempo sync, sample-based pads, performance recording and an arsenal of high-quality DJ effects. Together with the iRig MIX, DJ Rig provides the most portable pro-quality setup for mobile DJs and musicians.

DJ Rig stands out from the crowd of DJ apps for its complete set of professional features including some that cannot be found in any other app such as X-Sync. This mode allows anybody to automatically synchronize the app audio with any other external audio source. DJ Rig “listens” to the device's audio input, determines its BPM tempo and syncs the app audio automatically. Read more about iRig™ MIX and DJ Rig at:  http://www.ikmultimedia.com/irigmix/moreinfo/djrig.php

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Music Gear, iRig MIX, DJ Rig, iPhone app, Hardware, IK Multimedia

Songwriters Showcase During SXSW (Videos & Pictures)

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 @10:00 AM

Songwriters Showcase During SXSW

(Pictures by Mike Abb)

USA Songwriting Competition hosted a songwriters showcase last Friday (3/16/2012) at a beautiful scenic venue at the banks of the lake in Austin's Mozart's Coffee Roasters, with over 200 people in attendance. See Videos:

Alexander Cardinale (1st Prize Winner - Pop, 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition & Overall 2nd Prize):

 

 Video of Ed Romanoff (1st Prize Winner - Lyrics, 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition):

 

Video of: Orly (2011 USA Songwriting Competition, First Prize Winner, Folk):

 

Video of: Patrick Joseph Trio:

 

Pictured as follows:

Alexander Cardinale (1st Prize Winner - Pop, 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition)

Alexander Cardinale (1st Prize Winner - Pop, 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition & Overall 2nd Prize)

 

Ed Romanoff, First Prize (Lyrics), 2011 Winner, Singer-Songwriter

Ed Romanoff (1st Prize Winner - Lyrics, 16th Annual USA Songwriting Competition)

 

Orly, Folk singer-songwriter

Orly (2011 USA Songwriting Competition, First Prize Winner, Folk)

 

Patrick Joseph, singer-songwriter

Patrick Joseph, performing as a trio. 

 

Watch out in the space for more pictures and videos. Thank you for all that performed and came to the showcase. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, USA Songwriting Competition, Alexander Cardinale, sxsw, 2012, Orly & Yagel, Patrick Joseph, South By South West

Songwriting Tips: Your Best Friend Melody

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 @12:00 PM

Songwriting Tips: Your Best Friend Melody

by Ralph Murphy

Ralph Murphy, Songwriter

Ah melody! A songwriters best friend, your beacon in the night, an integral part of only great songs that makes your compositions shine, the signpost that points the way to a hit.

 
Yes, melody is all that and more. Perhaps too much more. As I deal with the affect of melody extensively in "The Book" and USA Songwriting Competition has asked me to be brief...I will be.

 
Unless you are dealing with an audience ready to dance and you are looking at 110 to 135 Beats Per Minute (BPM) at midnight, even then, what probably lures listener to you song is melody. However, what keeps them there is lyric, a simple story well told. I have friends tell me that they love this song or that song but they say they don't know the words. When I play "that song" for them surprisingly they know the lyric! What invites the listener into the song is melody, what keeps them there for a long time is lyric.

 
It is an interesting characteristic of the human animal that we are not very good at auditory multi-functioning.......hearing more than one moving part simultaneously. When that happens, given our preference we always defer to melody. So, where you tell your story and you want the audience to listen, remain linear otherwise you don't lead the listener to the lyric.


To quote my old pal Harlan Howard "Don't change your chord 'till you change your thought"!

 

However, on the other side of the coin, as a "creator of works" if you are called on to write for an artist with a huge vocal range and the ability to soar musically is part of their musical "persona" then you respond accordingly. One syllable words, open vowel sounds, minimal story and a huge melody are your best friends.


Always remember, you the writer must fulfill not only the listeners expectation but also the artists perception of the image they wish to project. When that happens it is a wonderful thing, everyone high fives and celebrates. When it doesn't happen the songwriter gets the blame!


Ralph Murphy is a producer and songwriter. He wrote huge hit songs such as Crystal Gayle "Talking in Your Sleep" and "Half the Way". Murphy has served as President of The Nashville Chapter of the Recording Academy and has been a NARAS National Trustee. Add to that the platinum records as a producer, the widely acclaimed Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting articles used as part of curriculum at colleges, universities, and by songwriter organizations, his success as the publisher and co-owner of the extremely successful Picalic Group of Companies and you see a pattern of achievement based on more than luck. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Melody, Ralph Murphy, Crystal Gayle, Songwriting Tips, Harlan Howard, Talking in Your Sleep, Half the Way

YES, YOU CAN BE A SUCCESSFUL SONGWRITER

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

YES, YOU CAN BE A SUCCESSFUL SONGWRITER by Danny Arena

Danny Arena, Songwriter

Yes, we all know it’s tough to break into the music business these days. But the news is not all gloom and doom. The truth is there are more opportunities for writers and artists today to make a living than ever before. You can be well on the road to becoming a successful songwriter or songwriter/artist if you follow some simple proven strategies:

  • MAKE SURE YOUR SONGS ARE THE BEST THEY CAN BE 
    The number one reason songs don’t make an impact on an audience or get recorded by outside artists is because they simply aren’t strong enough. Sadly, many writers waste thousands of dollars recording or demoing songs that aren’t ready to be recorded or pitched. And some waste more money hiring independent song pluggers and buying tip sheets to pitch those same songs. The music business is hard enough to break into with a killer song, much less a song that isn’t competitive. Instead of spending all that money on demos, recording studios and tip sheets -- buy a book on songwriting. Take a class. Attend a songwriter workshop or seminar. Aside from the networking opportunities you’ll encounter, you’ll probably learn a trick or two. Even if you already know the basic craft, you can still enhance your unique voice as a writer and strengthen your writing skills by incorporating new techniques into your lyrics and music. As Henry Ford said, "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty."
  • GGET FEEDBACK.
    Play your songs for an audience and see if that humorous line in the second verse really makes them laugh or if the bridge has the emotional impact you think it should. And by all means, have some professionals in the industry evaluate your song before you spend money on that demo or recording. A few professional insights on the song might save you a lot of money and heartache.
  • CCO-WRITE WITH OTHERS 
    Some feel that co-writing might compromise their integrity as a writer. But like a good marriage, there are also a lot of advantages to a good collaboration. A collaborator can bring a new perspective into a song that you never would have thought of on your own, or bring strengths to an area where you might not be as strong (e.g., music, playing, singing, etc.). As well as the obvious creative collaboration on the song, a co-writer also brings his or her entire network of friends and business contacts to the table. For that reason, we regularly hook-up cowriters at SongU.com in various songwriting challenges (the current challenge is the “blind date” challenge in which we’ve paired up over 100 writers who have never met to write long distance together). Last year, one of our members from Canada who was paired up with a writer from Hawaii collaborated on a Blues song. The Canadian writer then pitched the song to the director of a Blues Festival that happened to be in town that week. The pair ended up with their first co-write together getting recorded on a blues compilation CD alongside several well known Blues artists like John Lee Hooker. Together they accomplished what neither could have alone.
  • CHOOSE THE RIGHT DEMO
    When you do get around to demoing that great song, choose the right demo. Not every song needs a full blow-out demo. Every song has its own life and the best vehicle to showcase the songs really depends on the song. One of our SongU.com instructors, Cole Wright, a top Nashville songplugger, does a monthly feature in our e-Auditorium called “What’s Cole Pitching?” in which he plays and discusses several of the demos he’s pitched during the month. You’d be surprised how many guitar/vocal or piano/vocals he pitches and gets cut. So before you demo the song, give some thought to how to best let the song convey its message. Regardless of whether you do a full band demo or a simple piano or guitar/vocal demo, it needs to be a professional quality (i.e., the vocalist sounds like they should have a record deal and the guitar player is flawless).
  • JOIN THE DIGITAL AGE
    If you’re still recording your songs on that cassette or 8-track player and don’t know how to put them into MP3 format, you’re behind the times and are going to miss out on a lot of pitch opportunities. For example, when my wife, Sara Light, and I were writing for the Broadway show Urban Cowboy we got a call on a Friday afternoon from the director of the show that they needed us to write a new song for the close of the first act by Monday morning’s rehearsal – they needed lead sheet and worktape in hand at rehearsal. However, they were in New York City and we were in Nashville. With two days to write the song and get them a lead sheet and recording, there simply wasn’t a lot of time. If I didn’t have the skills to do the lead sheet on the computer and create/record the MP3 to email them at rehearsal, we would’ve missed a golden opportunity.
  • LOOK BEYOND THE OBVIOUS WHEN YOU PITCH 
    As the wise monkey, Rafiki, from the movie The Lion King says, “You must look beyond what you see”. Too many writers make the mistake of trying to only pitch their song to the top selling artists. You might as well buy a ticket to the lottery too because you’ve got just as much a chance of coming out ahead there. Your song is competing against the songs and networking power of every other hit writer and every other professional songwriter and publishing company around. Heck, that artist is probably writing songs for the album too and their producer probably runs a publishing company and has a vested interest in getting songs from his or her publishing company on the project. Even if your song is as good as all those other songs, it would be tough to compete against the established relationships and networking power of those other individuals. Instead of playing the lottery, play the odds. Today’s market is vastly different from what it was ten years ago. There are many more non-traditional opportunities available that weren’t available to writers before if you just look for them. For example, we have a regular pitching opportunity at SongU.com for a company in California that licenses songs for wedding slideshows, graduation slideshows and more. Some of our members make several hundred dollars a year from their songs being licensed in this way. The fact that online organizations like CDBaby.com give indie artists an opportunity to market and sell their projects means they can generate an income (and pay out royalties) without a big record label behind them. There are thousands of independent artists on MySpace - many of whom look to outside material when it comes time to record their album (and have devoted fan bases that buy those albums). With the help of the Internet, you may find surprising sources.
  • EXPOSE YOURSELF (well, at least your songs)
    Something definitely happens when you don't put your songs out there in the world for others -- they don't get cut! So take advantage of every outlet, every possibility, ever opportunity. You never know which will be the one that pays off. One of our members received a contract offer from MTV for use of some of her songs in one of their TV shows because they stumbled onto her songs on her website. If people can’t hear your song or find it, they can’t fall in love with it and want to license it or record it.
  • CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE
    Finally, remember that success is an ongoing journey, not a destination. As soon as you get your first single song contract, you want a staff deal. You land your first cut and then you hope for a single. You get a single and then you set your sights on having that #1 hit. You score a #1 hit and then they tell you that no one takes you seriously in the business until you have at least three #1 hits. In other words, this road has no end in sight. So enjoy and celebrate your achievements along the way.

Whether you are just learning to upload an MP3, a new open tuning on your guitar, or place in a songwriting contest – you are successful. Most of us did not choose this as a career. It chose us. We write songs simply because we can’t imagine life if we didn’t. So as long as you’re on this journey, you might as well buckle up and enjoy the scenery.

-Danny

About Danny Arena:
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer who has worked as a staff songwriter for Warner/Chappell Music and Curb Magnatone Music Publishing. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition. He is currently an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville and has been a member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University as well as a guest lecturer at the Berklee College of Music and Belmont University. Together Danny and Sara collaborated on composing songs for the Broadway show "Urban Cowboy: The Musical" which was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founders of the online educational website www.SongU.com which provides multi-level songwriting courses developed and taught by award-winning songwriters, song feedback and mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Danny Arena, Tony Award, Successful, Warner/Chappell Music, Curb Magnatone Music Publishing