Songwriting Tips, News & More

How To Write A Hit Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jan 08, 2016 @09:48 AM

How To Write A Hit Song

by Mark Cawley

 songwriting

If chart success is your songwriting goal, then you need to pay attention to how today’s hits are actually written. MARK CAWLEY of iDoCoach.com shares some thoughts on breaking into a very competitive field..

Even as I sit down to write this, I can hear the groans. “Who is this guy? How can he claim to know how to write a hit? And if he knows, how come he hasn’t written a ton of them?”

So let me back up. No one can guarantee a hit. No label, no producer, no artist, and no songwriter. Max Martin misses, Diane Warren misses, Ryan Tedder misses. They all miss more often than they hit! There is no formula. But there are things you can do to up the odds of your song getting heard, cut, and (if all the stars align) becoming a hit.

 

Look Around You

Start by doing your homework. Listen to the hits and look for patterns. Are you hearing lots of songs about affirmation? Songs that say ‘I wanna see you be brave, stronger, beautiful, happy’? Songwriters have long understood that one of the quickest ways to a listener’s heart is to lift them up with your song. There’s a fancy term for this called ‘second person positive,’ which basically means writing lyrics that make someone else feel great about themselves. A classic example of this it would be the Joe Cocker standard, “You Are So Beautiful.”

I’m in Nashville and every publisher, artist and producer right now is asking for ‘uptempo positive’. The reason for this is the sheer volume of ballads and midtempo songs they get: for some reason, when a writer gets in the room with an acoustic guitar or a piano they turn into Ed Sheeran or James Taylor. It can be hard to create the energy required unless you plan for it, but again, your chances of getting that hit improve by giving the powers that be what they’re asking for.

One of the very best ways I know is to get in the habit of deconstructing recent hits. Go beyond just learning to play them: write down the structure, print out the lyric, make notes about the production. I’m always amazed at the songwriting clients I get who will say they want to write a huge song, but who pay absolutely no attention to the current hits. If you’re writing pop or even new country and still creating long intros, lots of verses, using only one hook, and aren’t familiar with terms like ‘post-chorus’, you might have a harder road.

Try going one step beyond deconstructing and create a playlist with a couple of hits along with a song of your own. Try to pick ones that might have a bit in common with yours, but the idea is to be objective. Does your song hold up to the two hits? If not, why? Go back to your notes. What’s different? The point is not to clone, just get this info into your subconscious so the next song you write is at least informed by structural ideas that are more current.

 

Do It Yourself

A bit of a disclaimer here. Even though you’re listening to the radio and learning the structural and lyrical as well as musical content, the songs you’re hearing were probably written and recorded as much as a year ago. If you set out to write something exactly like what you’re hearing, you’re likely already too late! So what can you do now?

Try and take it all in and then add yourself to the mix. What makes you different as a songwriter? Can you bring something fresh to your songwriting? You could argue there’s nothing new under the Sun, but I would disagree. Music goes in cycles, styles change, old becomes new every once in a while. Our job is to tap into a listener’s head and create something that a whole lot of people are gonna love at the same time.

It’s not easy, but the chances get better by not only honing your craft, but learning what came before (even if it’s only a month back). It all goes into your toolbox as a songwriter and gives you the best chance of writing a hit.

 

Team Up

Finally, I want to talk about the biggest obstacle to writing that hit on your own. This is something that comes up in my sessions all the time: people say to me, “I look at the writing credits on a Beyoncé song and see six writers! How can I hope to be heard, if I’m not part of one of these writing crews?” It’s a tough one. But keep in mind, not every song is a hit by committee!

 

There are two ways to go to access this route. One is to create your own team. If you’re a writer but have no aspirations to produce, find someone who’s interested in production and work with them. If you’re a writer but not the artist, look for local talent; find someone with star potential and hitch your wagon to them. Hit songwriter Liz Rose co-write with Taylor Swift when no one else really wanted to know, and that worked out rather well for her…

 

The other route is to join an existing team. I just read an interview with Dr Luke in which he talked about signing writers to his publishing company, usually for their unique talent. Anything from track-builders to vibe masters that know how to get the most out of co-writing with an artist. The point was they gained entry to the writing process, and some have moved from being the fourth writer on a song to producing artists and co-writing with them. I did this for a few years, working with Eliot Kennedy and his hit machine Steelworks in the UK. By getting access to the artists he was working with, I got cuts on many of them, including the No 1 single Day & Night by Billie Piper.

 

Again, there’s no magic bullet for writing a hit... but you can definitely educate yourself to get your best shot. Good luck!

 

[Reprinted by permission from Songwriter Magazine]

 

ABOUT MARK CAWLEY

Born in Syracuse, NEW YORK, Mark has LIVED in Nashville FOR the last 20 years. His songs have been recorded by Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, The Spice Girls and many more. These days, he mentors WRITERS AND ARTISTS around the globe via iDoCoach.

To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, hit song, Lyrics, Writing Music, writing lyrics, Song writers, writing hit melodies

Co-writing Tips For Songwriters

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Aug 01, 2013 @02:09 PM

by Owen J. Sloane

guitarnotepad

Co-Writing A Song?. . .
Take Care Of Business First!

Co-writing songs with another co-writer or a producer can be a great way of improving or exploiting your songs, but caution must be exercised to ensure that you don’t end up with a split in ownership of the copyright, or other consequences, you don’t anticipate. In the following article Owen J. Sloane, Esq. Partner: Gladstone Michel Weisberg Willner & Sloane, ALC–Los Angeles, CA offers eight solid tips to help you through the co-writing process.

1. When you sit down with a co-writer to start co-writing a song, make sure to establish that when the song is finished you will mutually agree on the splits in writing. In the absence of a written agreement, the Copyright Act provides a default position that divides copyright ownership in the song equally regardless of the relative quantity or quality of the material created by each co-writer. And there is no distinction in copyright law between lyrics and music or between writer’s share and publisher’s share. The percentage of ownership is based on 100 percent of the song, including lyrics, unless you agree in writing to a different split. And that split will apply even if the music is exploited without the lyrics and vice versa, unless you specifically provide in writing that the writer’s intent was not to merge lyrics and music together, but to treat them as separate copyrights. In that case, the writer of the lyrics and the composer of the music would split income as agreed only when lyrics and music are used together. Establish at the outset that ownership of the final song will not necessarily be divided equally.

2. Rappers are writers. A rapper who contributes original material to your song is entitled to share equally in the ownership of that song with all other writers, unless you and he/she mutually agree otherwise and put that agreement into a signed writing. Also a person who supplies beats may claim an interest in the song resulting from use of those beats. This is still unsettled in law, but don’t take a chance and don’t use beats supplied to you without an agreement in writing as to how much of the copyright you are willing to give up to the creator of the beats.

3. Once the song is finished, agree on the splits and commit that agreement to writing. A simple agreement listing the song title, the percentage of the song owned by each writer, i.e. “the splits,” dated and signed by each co-writer will suffice for each song.

4. If your song is completed and submitted to a producer or musicians for recording, unless otherwise agreed, the producer and the musicians who record the song may acquire a copyright interest in your song by reason of their contribution(s) of original material to the song during the recording process. Not all contributions will entitle them to a copyright interest, i.e., minor tweaks to the song, licks created by musicians and arguably even beats, may not qualify for copyright protection. Accordingly, make sure it is agreed up front in writing, whether the producer and/or the musicians will have been deemed to contribute anything to the song itself in your opinion to vest in them an interest in the song. If so, the splits should be agreed upon in writing and if not, the producer and musicians should sign off waiving any claim to an interest in the copyright in the song. Since the copyright in the recording is different from the copyright in the song, a separate agreement should be reached regarding both copyrights.

5. Register the copyright in the song and the sound recording with the Library of Congress as soon as possible. Although registrations do not ask for the percentage of ownership, they do ask you to indentify each author or claimant. Such applications can therefore be evidence of how many writers contributed to a song and their names and whether they are claimants.

6. If you register a song and later collaborate with a co-writer or a producer or other third party who adds new material, you can separately register the new version of the song. The new registration should identify the new material and will protect only the new material and establish a claim to co-ownership by the additional writers in the new material only. The splits for the song resulting from the incorporation of the new material need to be agreed to in writing but in such an instance the co-writers of the new material will acquire an interest only in the song embodying the new material and not in the song as originally registered.

7. If you agree that someone else has an interest in the copyright, be aware that under US law, each co-writer has the right to license the entire song on a non-exclusive basis and collect 100 percent of the compensation, subject to an obligation to account to the other co-writers. If you are an artist and want to control licensing to other artists, or want to approve usages, which you may find objectionable, you must have an agreement with the co-writers that either everyone must agree on a particular usage, or you as the artist have the exclusive right to approve usages.

8. Although each co-writer has the right to license 100 percent of the song non-exclusively, most licensees will require that all co-owners agree to a license. Accordingly, if you are an artist and want to compel other co-writers to issue licenses or agree to a license that you need as an artist, i.e., for a video, or for another synchronization usage, you need to cover that in the agreement as well, otherwise co-writers can nix a license by refusing to license or by asking for too much money.

(Reprinted with permission from Music Connection Magazine)

Owen Sloane, entertainment lawyer

Owen J. Sloane is a veteran music attorney who has represented many major artists over the years including Kenny Rogers, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Steve Winwood, Elton John and many others. Currently, he represents Daughtry, Rob Thomas (Matchbox 20), Suzanne Vega, and the Frank Zappa Estate, among others. Sloane authored this article with the assistance of Rachel Stilwell. Firm website: http://www.gladstonemichel.com. He may be reached at osloane@gladstonemichel.com 

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

Tags: songwriter, Song writing, Songwriting, producer, Co-writer, Song writers

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

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

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

Interview by Lorenz Rychner

 

Tom Silverman, founder the independent label Tommy Boy Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye intro...

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

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

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

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

And it’s mostly earbuds now...

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

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

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

What are the four elements?

Okay, so we break it down.

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

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

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

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

Not image as strictly looks...?

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

She was different...

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

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

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

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

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

To the top?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Excerpted from the March edition of Recording Magazine 2011

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

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