Songwriting Tips, News & More

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: When the Well Runs Dry

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Mar 07, 2013 @09:00 AM

When the Well Runs Dry

 Mark Cawley, songwriter

By Mark Cawley

I don’t believe in writers’ block so much. I do think you’re gonna have dry spells; periods of being uninspired from time to time. If it goes on long enough, self doubt can creep in until you wonder how you ever wrote a song in the first place. So how do you do your best to keep the well full?

You prepare. One definition of prepare is to “make ready beforehand for some purpose”. Nothing beats that moment of divine inspiration…but if you’re writing songs for a career you know you can’t conjure up these things every time. Sometimes it helps to have done some homework and stockpiled ideas for those days when you need something to get you going.

Keeping a list of ideas/titles has always been my favorite. I can’t tell you how many times these lines that I heard, read, or found have worked their way into a song on a day when I had nothing. I’m not the first to come up with things you can do to be creative when you’re not actually writing; there are some tried and true ways to use your time wisely: writing down bits of conversation, walking down the aisles of a bookstore and jotting down titles that catch your eye, watching movies and television with your paper and pen close by. You can highlight lines in newspapers, magazines, and books until all these things make their way onto a list of ideas for the future. Being intentional in your search for ideas can really pay off in the long run.

One of the secrets for me has been to make sure I get these lines all in one place. Doesn’t matter if they seem disconnected, I found them at all different times so there’s no thread anyway. Keeping them handy has been the key. Being able to throw out lines to a co-writer or just pore over the list while I’m playing guitar/keys or looking for a drum groove has gotten me unstuck more times than I can count. Some of these never turn into anything but can spark something else, some of them become titles, and lots of them find their way into verses or bridges.

If you write music, switching instruments is another lifesaver. Write on something you’re not familiar with and you’re bound to eventually come up with something different and inspiring.

Lastly, just taking a break can help. Give it a rest for awhile and do whatever lets you replenish your mind and body. I’ve taken breaks that range from just taking a quick walk to going weeks without touching an instrument.

Refresh, replenish, and refill the well... before it runs dry!

 

About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley's 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. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cuts 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 one-on-one co-active coaching service, iDoCoach. Check it out at www.idocoach.com

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Mark Cawley, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross, Chaka Kahn, writers block, Spice Girls

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

Passing of A Songwriting Author: John Brahney

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 @10:30 AM

PASSING OF A SONGWRITING AUTHOR

John Brahney with hit songwriter Diane Warren

(John Brahney with hit songwriter Diane Warren)

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 22, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- John Braheny, the man known as the "Songwriters Best Friend," and the author of the best-selling book The Craft and Business of Songwriting died January 19, 2013 after a long bout with prostate cancer, in Los Angeles. He was 74. 

Along with partner Len Chandler, Braheny was the co-founder and director of the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase (LASS), a national non-profit organization that provided exposure and encouragement to an impressive list of later-to-be-successful new writers and writer-artists from 1971-1996 including Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham, Janis Ian, Warren Zevon, Karla Bonoff, Stephen Bishop, Wendy Waldman, and pop music's most successful contemporary songwriter, Diane Warren, for whom Braheny and Chandler critiqued over 150 songs when she was only 15.

In recent years, Braheny has taught songwriting and music business seminars across North America and classes at UCLA, Musicians Institute, LA Recording School (Hollywood) and the Songwriting School of Los Angeles. As a journalist, he published over 600 in depth interviews for a variety of magazines including the magazine he co-founded and edited for LASS, The Songwriters Musepaper. John conducted audio conversations with 55 hit songwriters for United Airlines in-flight Entertainment Network from 1998 – 2005, and was the on-air co-host of Samm Brown's For the Record broadcast on KPFK, Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles.  

Born in Iowa, Braheny first broke into the music business as a touring and recording artist and released a solo album in 1970 titled Some Kind of Change. His songs were recorded by others including"December Dream" cut by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys.

Braheny served three terms on the Board of Governors of the L.A. Chapter of the Recording Academy. He was past president of the California Copyright Conference (CCC), and served on the Board of Directors of the National Academy of Songwriters (NAS), the Songwriters Guild of America, and on the boards of advisors for many songwriters organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

John is survived by his wife, JoAnn, a brother Kevin, a sister Mary, a son, Michael Toth, a grandson, Evan, and thousands of grateful songwriters.  

Plans for a memorial celebration are pending. Visit the Facebook page "Friends of John Braheny."

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, John Brahney, legend, author, The Craft and Business of Songwriting

Songwriting Tip: Writing Music to Words (Part 2)

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jan 21, 2013 @09:56 AM

Writing Music to Words  (Part 2)

 

 Harriet Schock, songwriter

Last year, I wrote an article for the USA Songwriting Competition called “Writing Words to Music.” This year I’d like to explore the other side of that coin. Since I write both words and music, and mostly write alone,  when I collaborate, I prefer to have the finished lyric or finished melody to work with. If someone gives me a finished lyric, I read it first…in rhythm. The rhythm of the words will dictate much of what I do as a composer. I’ve seen some composers try to make a lyric fit a melody idea they have. This is often like putting a square peg in a round hole. You have to be completely free to start from scratch.

I love writing to Arthur Hamilton’s lyrics (he wrote words and music to “Cry Me A River” among other hits). That’s because he writes short lines that are much easier to write a good melody to than longer lines with more beats. I had a student the other day who was having trouble coming up with a good melody for her song but when we analyzed the lyric, both the verse and chorus were in iambic pentameter. It could have been Shakespeare! This would make the verse sound a bit like the chorus and give the overall song a sameness. So, if you’re choosing a lyric to set to music, look out for that. It’s a road to heartache.

So you have a lyric and you put it in front of you and your instrument. You’ve read it out loud and gotten a bit of the rhythm. Now what? I don’t sit down without my recorder. I just use a small digital recorder and I don’t go to the piano without it. I start singing the words and playing chords. And I record everything. Sometimes I have a drum track going before I start, usually not. But I try to get a rhythmic feel before I start. I record whatever comes into my mind, with special attention to the chord changes as well as the melody. Then I turn it off and walk away. In a few hours or a few minutes, I’ll go back and sing another melody into the recorder. Sometimes I don’t try another one until the next day. But I NEVER listen back until I have about ten different melodic approaches. Once you listen back, the melodies start to sound really good and then you can’t think of other things. It’s like a movie director who falls in love with his temp track because he’s heard it so many times. Don’t listen back, as tempting as it may seem.

After you’ve gone through this, then you can listen.  Try to get your first impressions of each melody the first time you listen through the melodies. After two listens, they’ll start to sound good because they’ve broken the unfamiliarity barrier. You need your first impression. Does the melody sound inevitable yet not predictable? Does it make the hair on your neck stand up? Is it memorable without being derivative? Of course, it has to fit the mood and intention of the lyric, but I’m assuming all of them do that.

Now you get to play it for the lyricist. Usually he or she is just thrilled to have a great melody to the words. Sometimes, though, there’s a dummy melody in his head he wrote it to and when your melody veers from that rhythmic approach or emphasis on certain words, etc., he can be surprised and will have to hear it a few time before he warms up to it. I have heard that Bernie Taupin, also a composer himself,  was often a bit shocked when he heard Elton’s melodies to his lyric because it was frequently so different and unexpected. I’m sure he found a way to make peace with that over the lucrative and record-breaking years.

Remember, the greatest lyric in the world will simply never be heard without a good melody. It’s the wave length on which the words travel and without it, they’re not going anywhere.

 

© 2013 Harriet Schock

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored two other Jaglom films and is starring in the current movie “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Harriet is in the process of writing the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on herbook (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com.

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, Helen Reddy, Harriet Schock, Writing Music, Writing Words, iambic pentameter, Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady

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

5 Beatles Secrets about Songwriting I wish I'd discovered decades sooner

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Sep 10, 2012 @11:35 AM

Five Beatles Songwriting Tricks

by Matt Blick

The Beatles, songwriting geniuses

The Beatles are known as the most successful music group in music history, selling over a billion records worldwide. The songwriting partnership between Lennon and McCartney is legendary. The Beatles collectively were also songwriting Ninjas, but they employed many tricks that anyone can add to their songwriting tool box. Here are 5 less obvious examples:

1. Mutate Your Chorus

As well as starting songs with the chorus, some of The Beatles’ greatest hits open with a chorus hybrid that previews the title and hooks.

The intro to Help has the same chord progression as the chorus but moves twice as fast and features the title 4 times (to the chorus’s 3).

Use this trick and by the time you reach your chorus the listener will be hooked by the reassuring feeling that they’ve heard your song somewhere before.

Also used on: She Loves You, Can’t Buy Me Love.

2. Bluesify Your Melody

We expect to hear blue notes like the b3, b5 and b7th in rockers like Back In The USSR but the Beatles often added these notes into more melodic material too.

In Blackbird the final phrase uses the b7 on inTO the LIGHT and the b3 on dark BLACK night.

Tricky to pull off if you’re not a confident singer — you might want to insert the blue note into your chord until you’ve learnt to pitch it correctly. Using it will add a soulful edge to your melodies.

Also used on: Ticket To Ride, From Me To You.

3. Delay The Root Chord

Starting a song on the tonic chord is a rut the Beatles managed to avoid a surprising number of times.

Eleanor Rigby starts on C major (the bVI of Em) before heading to the home chord. It’s one of the many things that gives the track such an immediate sense of tension. Using this trick will give your progressions more forward momentum.

Also used on: All My Loving, Hello Goodbye.

4. Utilise The Outside Chord

Many of us employ ‘out of key’ chords (whether we realise it or not!). But out of 186 Beatles compositions only 22 remain in key!

In Strawberry Fields Forever, Lennon pulls the rug from under the Bb major tonality by replacing the F major chord with an F minor .

Bb Let me take you down ‘cos I’m going Fm to…

It’s like the stomach drop you experience on the crest of a rollercoaster. Later he creates a disorientating momentary high by replacing the Gm with a G major.

Eb Nothing to get G hung about

Outside chords will surprise your listeners and freshen your melodies.

Also used on: I Am The Walrus, Fool On The Hill.

5. Restate Your Lyrics

The Beatles didn’t make their lyrics memorable just by repeating sections wholesale. They also repeated and adapted words, phrases and sentence structures.

Take A Day In The Life. 4 verses, a middle 8 and only one repeated line.
And yet it’s memorable (in part) because of lyrical links like these -

I read the news/saw a film today, oh boy
and though the news was rather sad/holes were rather small
found my way downstairs/coat/way upstairs
I just had to laugh/look

Using this subtle trick will make your lyrics sticky and give a sense of unity to a track.

 

Beatles Related Quotes:

"I don't work at being ordinary" ~ Paul McCartney
"Try to realize it's all within yourself no one else can make you change, and to see you're only very small and life flows on within you and without you" ~ George Harrison

 

(edited by Jessica Brandon)

Matt Blick is an Eclectic Electric Songwriter and Singer. He writes interesting articles relating towards songwriting and being an independent music artist. He can be reached at www.mattblick.com as his personal site and Beatles Songwriting Academy (www.beatlessongwriting.com)For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, The Beatles

Animating The Songwriting: Making Music That Moves

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Sep 05, 2012 @11:13 AM

Animating The Song: Making Music That Moves

by Melissa Axel

Songwriting

People often say music is "the soundtrack of our lives," but it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that its chief role is to animate them. The nature of life is movement. The word animate means "bring to life" … "the appearance of movement" … "give inspiration, encouragement, or renewed vigor." For a host of reasons, only some of which we can begin to explain, music moves us.

But why? What is it about melody and lyrics set against a grid of time that makes us cry, dance, sing, even scream along? There's some kind of magic in capturing our thoughts and emotions in words and music—something that casts a spell over us when it's done in a way that reaches all the way into the soul, grabs hold of the things that mean the most to us, and never lets go. It may not always be easy to determine exactly what that magic is, but we can explore using a wide variety of means to make our songs more vibrant and meaningful to the listener.

Here are 5 ways to help fully bring a song to life:

* Make your point. One point, and one point only. It's common to crowd a song with more than one key concept, message, or idea. Often, more than one strong element can take away the powerful draw of another (for example: love story vs. achieving your potential). Eliminate competing metaphors or side stories, choose the most compelling focal point of the song, and write every lyric in support of making that point.

* Set the scene. Immerse the listener in the "universe" of the song. If something is happening in the song, listeners want the scoop on where and when. In a poetic way, let us know what the setting is like for the narrator or lead characters in the song. For example, if the song is about the moment two people met, where did it happen? In a tiny city apartment? On a hillside? What time of day? What was the light like then? Sunset? Dawn? Middle of the night?

* Give us the details. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but you can also paint quite a picture with words. Describe the key elements of whatever is happening or happened that inspired the song. Are there any objects that played a role in the situation? If there are people involved (as there often are), what were they wearing? Was there anything unusual about how they looked or acted during the "moment" of the song?

* Show us the inside. We're used to seeing, hearing, and talking about the outside of things—and people, but songs give us the rare opportunity to glimpse inside and explore the emotional dynamics below the surface of a situation. Use that opportunity to go deeper and eloquently bare the truth. What is the writer, narrator, or “lead character” of the song thinking or feeling that might not normally be shared with the listener?

* Allow us to feel. Rather than tell us how you feel with the typical clichés ("I love you, I miss you, I'm so lonely, I'm so angry"), share the truth as honestly and uniquely as you can … and let us experience catharsis through our own emotional reactions. It's a delicate balancing act—being authentic and preserving the "mystery." Challenge yourself to illustrate the things that move us all in creative new ways without spelling them out in the simplest, “tried and true” heartstring-pulling language.

These are just five of countless ways to bring a song to life. What other ways come to mind for you?

 

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music, went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS is reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Tori Amos. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Bringing song to life, improving songwriting

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