Songwriting Tips, News & More

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

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

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

 

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

 

A successful songwriter gets you creative in a hurry 

By Joe Bouchard

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

 

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

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

 

1. Start with a great hit song.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

4. Demo the song. Work quickly.

 

 

Morning

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Noon

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

And night

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Excerpted from the March edition of Recording Magazine 2012.   ©2012 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. 5408 Idylwild Trail, Boulder, CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information, call: 1-800-582-8326 or www.recordingmag.com  For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net


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

Songwriting Tip: From Demo To Master

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

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

MelissaAxel, JustinPeacock conduscting string section

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, From Demo, Master, Arranging, Recording, Mixing, Mastering

Songwriting Tip: The Prosody of Mystery in Mystery Train

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Feb 17, 2012 @01:00 PM

The Prosody of Mystery in Mystery Train

By Pat Pattison, songwriting professor

 Pat Pattison, songwriting professor

Ok, so who still cares about the young Elvis and his Sun Records recordings? Simple stuff, right? Sure. Scotty Moore and Bill Black are just rock-a-billy hicks thumping away the best they can, them good ol’ southern boys.

 

So why does Elvis’ Mystery Train still feel like a mystery to be unraveled, fresh on every listening? Have you heard it recently? C’mon, download it and check it out. Then come back.

 

So? Did you try to count it out? Go back and simply tap out the downbeats. See how you do. I’ll wait.

 

It can be a little confusing. Simplify it a bit. Forget the intro and start counting downbeats one beat before Elvis comes in with “train arrive.” It’s a pretty brisk tempo.

 

How many bars do you count before he starts line 2?

 

Right. Ten bars:

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

| / / / / | / / / / | / / / /| / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / |

 

Train ar-ri--------------ive sixteen coaches long

 

Then another ten bars:

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

| / / / / | / / / / | / / / /| / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / |

 

Train ar-ri--------------ive sixteen coaches long

 

Pretty neat. It throws you off balance, both the ambiguous entry (did you expect it there?) and the unusual ten bar phrase. Maybe, um, mysterious, eh?

 

But made even more mysterious because of the introduction. Now count it. I’ll wait.

 

Yup, six bars, but with a wrinkle. The first downbeat is pretty foggy, with the guitar starting in the half bar and playing its figure on & 3 &, making it even harder to find the downbeat. So it’s an unusual six-bar intro.

 

Then the vocal starts back-heavy (after the downbeat) in bar seven – the actual first bar of the ten-bar verse. Even more mysterious.

 

Only when you get to the “chorus,” the conclusion of the sequence, do you get to a stable 8-bar section, where he slams the door, letting you know what the mystery train has done to him:

 

Well that long black train got my baby and gone

 

Note, however, that the front-heavy (starting on the downbeat) “chorus” picks up in the tenth (weak) bar of the verse “Well that…,” making even the stable 8-bar sequence a tad ambiguous. Then the long/gone rhyme puts the finishing touches on the section.

 

There’s prosody galore in this treatment. The verse is unstable and mysterious – even spooky – while the “chorus” leaves no hope for our hero. It’s a nifty use of a third level of phrasing – how many you have bars in a section.

 

Either Scotty and crew had no idea what they were doing, or they really did. I’d opt for the latter explanation. Even if they didn’t think of it in terms of prosody, you can. And you can use it in your songwriting.

 

Go get ‘em.

 

© 2012 Pat Pattison 

Pat Pattison is a Professor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Songwriting. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Prosody, Songwriting Tip, lyric writing, expert

Songwriting Tip: Writing Words to Music

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 @12:06 PM

Writing Words to Music

by Harriet Schock, hit songwriter, teacher

Harriet Schock, hit songwriter

I write music and lyrics, but when I write with a composer who doesn’t write lyrics, I frequently let him/her write the music first. Some people have asked me how I actually put words to music that already exists. Even when I write the lyric first, I generally write a verse and chorus before I set it to a melody. So the second verse is always written to a melody, no matter how I start the song, with melody or with lyric. I find it amusing that songwriters who write words and music simultaneously sometimes say they could never write to a melody, and yet they write the second and third verses to a melody routinely.

If I’m given a melody with no lyrics at all and no title, I think it’s easiest for me to start with finding the title in the melody. Determine where that is and come up with a title and concept you really love. Then, find where the sections of the song are and find where the music is rhyming. By that I mean, find out which notes are in a repeated sequence, rhythmically, although they may be on different actual notes (Like “yesterday” and “far away” in the first line of the song “Yesterday”) This will determine your rhyme scheme, although it won’t be etched in stone.

Now, before you start pouring the lyric into the melody, be sure you’ve spent some time in your viewpoint and either know WHAT you’re going to say or where you’re coming from as the person who’s speaking. Otherwise, you’ll always sound like you’re “outside” the song and you’ll end up writing lyrics that sound like “lyrics” and draw the attention of the listener away like bad acting draws people out of the movie.

Of course, you also have to make sure the words sing well—that’s probably the most important thing of all. Make sure the syllables that are accented in the music are what would be accented in speaking. You can’t distract the listener with words that don’t flow well with the music. This means that if you’re writing up-tempo songs with lots of 16th notes, you’d better keep the consonants down to a minimum. Find combinations of words that roll off the tongue really easily and naturally with not a lot of stops. We’re not lucky enough to write in a Romance language like Spanish or French. English is a Germanic language and lots of things stop the flow of air. Maybe the reason why lines like “All I really wanna know” appear so often in dance tunes, is that they flow without stops on the air current. On the other side of the coin, “Would he make me stop and ask” in the same melody would give both singer and the listener a nervous tick.

Maybe that’s why we hear that “Ham and Eggs” was the original dummy lyric to “Yesterday.” Working with nonsense syllables can sometimes just get words that sing well into the spaces and break the silence barrier. From there, you can start writing the real lyric. At this point, all the principles of good writing should be applied. I cannot stress enough knowing what you want to say BEFORE you start filling in the melody notes with syllables.

I see songwriting as similar to parenting. No one’s really experienced in or prepared for it when we start. And we all just find our way. By the time we master it, the children are grown and the songs that embarrassed us early in our careers have, hopefully, been replaced by our newer work.

© 2012 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 will star in the upcoming movie “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway,“ currently in post-production. 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 online. In 2007, L.A. Women In Music honored Harriet a Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on book or (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to www.harrietschock.com.

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

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

Songwriting Tip: The Money Hello

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 15, 2012 @01:00 PM

The Money Hello By Molly-Ann Leikin, Co-writer, Song Marketing Consultant

 

Molly-Ann Leikin, hit songwriter

Your new project is finally finished. Time to switch into marketing mode.

But you don’t know anybody. Sleezeballs, maybe, but no one legit.

First, lose the sleezeballs.

Then, compose a snappy introduction. Use it at every industry function, and in all contact mail.

I call it the money hello. You’ve only got a few seconds to convince busy strangers that taking the time to read or hear your pitch, let alone listen to your work, will lead them to an instant eighteen-wheeler full of unmarked hundreds.

Try something like this:

I’m Jalapeño Pincus. I write and sing New Country, there are ten hit singles on my new CD,

Word is there’s nobody better than you at what you do, so I want us to meet before I sign with someone else.”

The letter you don’t want to write is: “kno job kno fud wiffe run offf w truk n trukker gotta sail mi songs t mak bayl..” Nobody wants to hear your sad story. Or deal with your give-me-strength spelling. So re-read what you write before sending it. And rewrite it, too. Just as if it were a song.

A powerful, short intro is essential to capturing someone’s attention. It’s like getting to the hook quickly in a song. While composing your message, be sure to ask how, and in which format, to submit your work, to whose attention, at which address, the anticipated turn-around time, and how to mark the message/package so it won’t be mistaken for spam.

 

Let me know how you do.

© 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, Molly-Ann Leikin, Song Marketing Consultant, Co-writer, The Money Hello

Top 10 Best Songwriting Books

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 08, 2012 @12:09 PM

Top 10 Best Songwriting Books by Jessica Brandon

 

We have been receiving questions "Can you recemmend us the best books on songwriting?", "Is this the best book ever on songwriting?". Here is our Top 10 list of the best songwriting books:

 

How to Be a Hit Songwriter: Polishing and Marketing Your Lyrics and Music by Molly-Ann Leikin
Molly-Ann Leikin is the award-winning songwriter and songwriting consultant who helps good songwriters all over the world become hit songwriters. Whether your work just needs a little rewriting, polishing or some strong connections, Leikin will guide you step by step to the top of the charts.

 

Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting by Jimmy Webb

Jimmy Webb, songwriter
Jimmy Webb is a legendary songwriter wrote household hit songs such as "MacArthur Park", "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", "Galveston". This book he write covers technical matters from basic chord theory and rhyme schemes to the protocol of pitching songs, Webb draws on a trove of personal anecdotes from a career spanning more than two decades.

 

How to Write a Hit Song by Molly-Ann Leiken. Molly-Ann Leiken presents an insider's look at the challenging and rapidly changing role of a professional songwriter. When someone with a house full of gold and platinum records sits down and says, "This is how I did it!" the rest of us are blessed to listen and learn.

 

Writing Better Lyrics - by Pat Pattison This book does exactly what it's name suggests, it will help you write better lyrics. It has so many exercises and ways to generate lyric ideas.

 

Melody in Songwriting: Tools and Techniques for Writing Hit Songs (Berklee Guide) -by Jack Perricone. This book examines hit songs and learning from them. This book will make you appreciate the value of this idea.

 

The Craft and Business of Songwriting by John Braheny. Examples from world class songwriters such as Paul McCartney, Lenny Kravitz and TLC. This book has been a bible for songwriters for a long time. 

Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo. I have learnt a lot from this book. Popular songwriters (songwriting giants) including Carole King, Paul Simon, Frank Zappa, Randy Newman, and Madonna discuss their songwriting methods and the way their classics came to be.

The Craft of Lyric Writing -by Sheila Davis. This is a good book with a strong focus on the lyrical side of songwriting. It is both educational and entertaining.

6 Steps To Songwriting Success: Comprehensive Guide To Writing And Marketing Hit Songs -by Jason Blume. Jason has had songs recorded by The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and many others. He has also won the USA Songwriting Competition (First Prize) in the past. Learn from the pro himself!

The Songwriters Idea Book: 40 Strategies to Excite Your Imagination, Help You Design Distinctive Songs, and Keep Your Creative Flow by Sheila Davis. Everyone wants to be original, and this book can be a very helpful tool towards that end. It's great book to help break you out of your normal way of approaching lyric writing, not to mention aid when you are blocked.

 

This article is brought to you courtesy of USA Songwriting Competition. For more information on thew 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Molly-Ann Leikin, Top 10 Books On Songwriting, Jimmy Webb, John Braheny, Jack Perricone, Sheila Davis, Jason Blume

Songwriting Tips: From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 01, 2012 @01:55 PM

From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

by Melissa Axel

Songwriting & Editing by Melissa Axel

After my last article Demo vs. Master Recordings, I was asked to share how one of my own songs moved through the demo stage to completion. That and this post are both written from the recording artist perspective (rather than songwriter pitching songs for other singers to record). This is the evolution of "Golden Rule," from my album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS …

"THIS IS IT!" The rush of adrenaline, hard work rewarded, that magical feeling of inspiration successfully translated into a complete, singable tune … You know the feeling you get when you've just finished writing a new song. Eureka, you've done it! But, you're not done with it.

At least, I wasn't done when I shouted from our piano in mid-afternoon triumph for all the neighborhood cats to hear. Even after the editing stage, "Golden Rule" went through several major revisions—the kind best made by sitting down with a trusted musical advisor (in this case, our producer) to carefully analyze a basic recording of the song. The changes made in this pre-production stage turned a pleasant but complex tune into an engaging song with a clear message of love and self-acceptance.

One thing we noticed in the first piano/vocal demo was that there seemed to be two different pre-choruses in the song—and each one appeared twice. This took power away from the composition by creating several different build-ups that never fully paid off. It felt great to play and sing those sections, but as a listener, even I got lost when I heard my initial recording. Where was the peak of the song?

Another issue was how the perspective of the song progressed. It began in third person about a struggling little girl, shifted to the girl's voice questioning her situation, and then to mine, empathizing with everyone who'd gone through the same thing. It seemed like an interesting story arc at the time, but I had admittedly come up with a narrative that was too confusing to clearly deliver its point. What was the punchline … and whose line was it, anyway?

After a hard look at each section of the song, we decided to stick with the first pre-chorus. I let go of lyrics I was originally attached to when I saw how much more powerful the song became without them. We also cut down the instrumental parts, keeping just a short vocal vamp and a quick instrumental build-up to the "bookend" outro. With so many lyrics on the cutting room floor, we no longer needed to give the listener as much musical "buffer" to process what was being said.

Still, I adored that other section, whatever it was. Those chords just felt like they belonged, and the statement "but everyone is special, everybody's unique / that's what they say, and I'd like to believe it" was only the key point of the whole song. A-ha—that was no second pre-chorus, it was the end of the bridge—the climax! Those words now mark the shift from third to first person as we continue into the chorus, "so I sing, soft but strong, 'there is nothing wrong with you.'" Sure enough, these few lines had also functioned as a pre-chorus, because the chords lead back up to the final chorus, only even stronger this time.

For me, transforming our demo in pre-production was the most crucial part of the recording process. Between tightening the form, upping the tempo, and putting unnecessary bits on the chopping block, we cut over two minutes from the song, clarified its structure, and made its core message crystal clear. Having settled on these essentials, we gave a revised piano/vocal demo to the string arranger and other musicians as we prepared to take "Golden Rule" into the studio.

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Berklee, demo, writing songs, songwrite, Master Recordings, singer songwriter, Regina Spektor, editing, Norah Jones, Tori Amos

Songwriting Tips: The Easy Way to Write Hit Melodies

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 @01:48 PM

The Easy Way to Write Hit Melodies

By Molly-Ann Leikin, Song Marketing Consultant

www.songmd.com

 Molly-Ann Leikin, Hit Songwriter & Consultant

To write stronger, memorable, singalongable tunes, here’s the process I use.  It has worked for 88% of my clients.  The 12% who didn’t have success, just plain didn’t do it.

My way isn’t the only way to write a melody, but if you are having issues with this part of your songs, here are six quick steps that work. 

When my songwriter clients send me their songs for consultation, and there is a problem with their tunes, it’s usually because these writers are playing chords, expecting them to do the melody’s job.  They can’t.  But when the notes come first, voila. 

The entire second chapter of the fifth edition of my book, “How To Write a Hit Song”, is about writing stronger melodies.  All of chapter eleven in “How To Be a Hit Songwriter” focuses exclusively on advanced melody construction. 

In both books, I define a melody as a series of single notes, with rhythm – something we hum or whistle.

Here’s how I write a melody.  There are 532 songs that are now on or have been on the charts because the writers tried this process:   

l. Put your guitar aside for now.  I know that sounds blasphemous, but when you change the process, you can change the result. C’mon.  Try it. 

2. At a keyboard, keep your left hand behind your back, while you choose individual notes with one finger on your right hand. Don’t play chords.  Just choose notes.  I’m watching…

3. Record everything.  Listen back, tweak what you’ve got, record, listen, tweak, record again, listen again, tweak, record.  Repeat this for a week.  Save all takes.  Then, at the end of that week, listen to everything.  

4. Assuming you like what you’ve written and rewritten, use those notes – no chords – just those notes – as your chorus melody.

5. Repeat the process for the verse melody, then the bridge, making sure the rhythm and melody of each section are completely different from the other two, and from anybody else’s song.

6. When you’re satisfied that the melody of each section is original and irresistibly singalongable, THEN add the chords. 

Let me know how you do.

 

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 marketing consultations with Molly, four of her clients have Grammy nominations, another won an Emmy, and so far, with her help, over 6000 of Molly’s lyricist and composer protégées have placed their work in TV shows, movies, on CD’s and in commercials.She’d be happy to set up a consultation with you:  www.songmd.comsongmd@songmd.com,  800-851-6588.

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

Tags: song writer, Song writing, Melody, Molly-Ann Leikin, How To Write A Hit Song, Songwriting Consultant, Write Hit Melodies, How To Be a Hit Songwriter

Songwriting Tip: 6 Traits of A Badly Written Song

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

6 Traits of A Badly Written Song

(source: Music Connection magazine)

By Bobby Owsinski

songwriting

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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