Songwriting Tips, News & More

Tools For The Songwriter: Audio In The Land Of The Free

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 @12:26 PM

Tools For The Songwriter: Audio In The Land Of The Free

By Eleanor Goldfield

 Songwriting Tools

 

Get your songwriting rig started for nothing

 

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but believe it or not, there is such a thing as free audio software. For those of you looking to get into demoing, writing, or simply laying down ideas in your own studio setup, this land of the free has some cool tools to get you going.

It’s the (wo)man, not the machine...

It’s tempting to spend big money on audio gear; much of it is expensive, and money can seem insignificant when you’re passionate about something like audio. It’s not like having a passion for collecting seashells.

That being said, the amount of expensive gear you have is not indicative of your abilities. This point was made starkly clear to me one day when I asked Ed Cherney (Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Iggy and the Stooges, etc.) what his thoughts were on home studios. He spun around in his Aeron chair, a Neve 8048 console behind him and an iPhone in his hand. “Got one of these?” he asked, pointing to his phone. I nodded. “Give it to me and I’ll make you a hit record. It’s who’s behind the tools, not the tools,” he said with his contagious grin.

Not all great gear is expensive, some of it is even free (read on!), and you can build your rig one piece at a time. I can’t tell you how many great producers and engineers I’ve spoken to that started their stories with “All I had was...”

What follows—the breakdown

I’m breaking this up into two sections. The first section is for those of you who already have a DAW such as Pro Tools, and a MIDI controller. This section will focus on how to make sounds from within those programs, with tools other than what you use to simply record your own voice or instrument through a mic.

The second section is for those of you who don’t have a studio setup. There I focus on software programs for simple recording and for some synth use, as well as tools other than a DAW and MIDI controller, tools that will still allow you to create and demo.

Pro Tools pre-loaded

This is about free stuff, so I won’t tell anyone to go buy Pro Tools. But if you have Pro Tools or an equivalent DAW, then you can make use of many free plug-ins and add-ons, and we’ll mention some right here. I’ll stick to virtual instruments and simulators—compressors, delays and such processors can wait for another day.

All the major DAWs come with numerous synth sounds and virtual instruments; you should explore yours exhaustively before you spend money on add-ons and third-party libraries. I won’t go to the length of listing all those DAWs with their included sounds—but I do encourage you to get to know whatever is waiting to be discovered in your own DAW.

As I work primarily in Pro Tools, an industry standard, I’ll start by mentioning the virtual instrument plug-ins that you get for free when you first install and open the program. Many of you are likely to purchase it sooner or later, and as with any new purchase, it’s nice to know the full range.

Xpand, now Xpand 2, is one package that I’ve used a lot, not only on demos but in finished recordings. From soft, hard and action pads to ambience, percussive and polysynths, Xpand allows for an infinite amount of experimenting and layering. There are four separate MIDI inputs, each instance housing 4 channels, to be used discretely or blended; for example, setting all four to channel 1 will layer all four sounds together. Alternatively, you can choose to turn on and off different inputs, switching between sounds. Each input has two effects sends, level controls and timbre adjustment parameters such as envelope depth, cutoff, release, arpeggiation and modulation.

The ethereal sounds in Xpand are my favorites. I consider the simulations of real instruments to fall short, but they can be interesting pieces in a more abstract synth ensemble. For a large part of a score I did for an alternative psychological thriller, I pulled eerie and freaky sounds from Xpand.

Structure Free is another one that I’ve had fun experimenting with. It’s a sample player that allows you to import your own samples and effect them. As you can imagine, there is a paid version of Structure that allows for even more creative depth, but as a jumping-off point, the free version can really set the mind spinning with all sorts of possibilities. As in Xpand, you can have up to four instruments or patches at one time, from your own library or from Structure’s built-in library. There are two edit windows in which to effect your patches, including filters, filter envelope, velocity, pitch, key range and more.

Vacuum looks really really cool in its “post-apocalyptic” graphic design. This monophonic tube synth has only a single sound, but lots of parameters to play with. Spending some time with the knobs and switches can give you a really interesting layered piece.

Boom, a drum machine and sequencer, works great as a quick and easy way to set up some sequencing ideas that you can later replace with either real drums or with a more advanced, true-to-life drum program.

DB-33 is a tonewheel organ with a rotating speaker, as in B3 and Leslie. Simple and straightforward in design, no bells, no whistles. And Mini Grand is an acoustic grand piano, no explanation needed there.

Eleven is an amp simulator. Pro Tools comes with a free version of Eleven. [If the name Eleven doesn’t ring a bell, then we suggest you watch This Is Spinal Tap—Ed.] Like Boom, this can serve as a jumping-off point, a way to lay down ideas that will then be augmented by another program—or, in my case, the full version of Eleven. Two cabs and two heads may sound like an overly stripped-down version, but it’s about a million times better than attempting electric guitar direct without a simulator.

Third-party freebies

In addition to what Pro Tools includes already, there are companies that offer free demo versions of their plug-ins—not as advanced or in-depth as the full versions, but still allowing for experimentation, demoing and recording.

Some demo versions will cut out or make irritating sounds as you use them. Since I have the patience of a 2-year old on caffeine, particularly when creating, I steer clear of these. Also, I’m sure there are many more than what I’m covering here [kvraudio.com is a good place to start looking—Ed.], but here is a glimpse into the wonderful world of free third-party plugs.

Native Instruments offers some of the best free virtual instruments that I’ve used. For free, you can download Reaktor 5 Player, Guitar Rig 5 Player and Kontakt 5 Player, which include libraries of more than 300 sounds and effects. Here, the sound quality is really the highlight. These free players offer a sprinkling of the company’s acclaimed and varied sounds, from drums to synths to keys. Supported formats include stand-alone, VST, RTAS (Pro Tools 9 and 10), AAX Native, 64-bit AAX, and Audio Units. They’ll run on Windows 7/8 and Mac OS 10.7+ and require 3 GB of disc space.

SampleTank FREE by IK Multimedia is another expandable version of the full SampleTank. It comes with 58 sample-based sounds and 146 preset sounds, ranging from modular Moog to female choirs and acoustic guitar. Supported formats are standalone, Audio Units, RTAS and VST, on Windows XP/Vista/7/8 or Mac OS X 10.5+.

Symptohm Melohman PE (Performer Edition) by Ohm Force comes with more than 1200 presets, and lets you throw in your own samples, toggle between 7 different MIDI controller modes, and augment and bend the sound with built-in parameters. It offers two different graphical skins: a clear classic layout, and one that “embodies the true spirit of Ohm Force” (see the screenshot and rejoice). It’s available for Mac and Windows in VST, Audio Units, and RTAS (some bugs have been reported when used in Pro Tools 10).

Addictive Drums (XLN Audio), BFD (FXpansion) and DrumCore (Sonoma Wire Works) can be had in free, stripped-down versions of their full drum programs.

Addictive Drums is a fully functional demo with kick drum, snare, hi-hat and cymbal. Windows 7/8 and Mac 10.6+ in VST, Audio Units, RTAS, AAX and stand-alone.

BFD2 demo will only run as a standalone on Windows XP/Vista/7/8 or Mac. It won’t let you import any samples, you just use the 9-piece kit that comes with it. You can’t save or export anything but the demo will run forever and has no expiration date.

DrumCore also doesn’t time out and supports VST, Audio Units and RTAS for Mac 10.4+ and Windows XP/Vista/7/8. It comes with two kits, as opposed to 100 in the full version, a basic grooves library, and no standalone capability.

Zero-dollars recording software

Let’s say that Pro Tools, Logic or another paid DAW isn’t in your studio setup but you want software on your computer to record demos and ideas. Well, fret not. There are free recording software programs out there. I have used a few of these myself and the others come suggested by students and friends. I’m sure a Google search could unearth even more.

GarageBand from Apple comes free on new Macs and has an incredibly user-friendly platform. Simple controls, simple navigation, all while delivering thousands of built-in synth sounds and virtual instruments as well as loops. A “Windows version” is supposedly out there, but I can’t speak for its legality or its stability—it’s not offered by Apple.

Audacity is a fairly well-known program that I’ve used primarily for editing and exporting OGG files. It has high-fidelity capabilities (up to 32-bit float) and is simple and streamlined. Although it only supports VST or coded (via LADSPA or Nyquist) versions of plug-ins, it has built-in EQ, compression, pitch shift, noise canceling, echo, reverb and fun little tricks like “voice cancellation” which removes center-panned audio through inversion. It is available for Mac OS 10.4+, Windows XP/Vista/7/8, and Linux.

Ardour offers pay-per-month software DAWs but also has a free version that simply doesn’t allow for plug-in settings to be saved. For me, this was never a big pain as I learned on analog gear where I had to handwrite all the settings for later recall anyway. Ardour is an incredibly versatile platform that allows for unlimited track count (CPU dependent), internal and external routing (to other software and hardware), AU plug-in use, Pro Tools-like transport recording, and access to any of your sample libraries without compatibility issues. You do have to download the Jack Audio Connection kit which essentially allows for Ardour to communicate with audio interfaces and connect various applications, such as Ardour, to external hardware. Ardour runs on Mac OS 10.4+ (not tested on 10.6+ however) and Linux.

Wavesurfer and Traverso DAW are two free programs that seem to be more for the computer-savvy and tech-interested. I have used neither. Traverso seems to have much of the functionality of the above software programs, including multi-track capabilities, importing, editing, effects, and automation. Both run on Mac OSX, Windows and Linux.

iFree

And finally, let’s talk about iOS apps. Even more so than plug-ins and DAWs, the number of apps available for the audio world is astronomical. I won’t list them all here, obviously, but again I will list those that I can vouch for, either personally or through human contacts (like my Editor). My list is mostly for the iPhone; be aware that iPads offer different and expanded possibilities.

If you’re like me, you don’t always get great ideas when you’re conveniently seated in front of your DAW. You get ideas in the car, on the bus, in the grocery store, at dinner, and so on. In these imperfect situations, you know you just have to hum that melody or lay down that riff idea or you’ll lose it and never write the most amazing song ever! I feel your pain.

But I’m not a fan of the iPhone’s voice memo recorder. I can’t label or organize notes besides an arbitrary date and time stamp, and it has a finite record time, but it won’t tell you what that is.

QuickVoice, however, is something that I use for everything from interviews to guitar-riff ideas and vocal melodies. You can record upwards of an hour of audio, title it and send up to 5 MB of information (around 3 minutes) as a CAF file or ringtone. It also offers different recording-quality settings, allowing you to choose smaller file size or higher-quality audio.

Tape from Focusrite is a cool little iPad recorder with good basic features and great organizational options for files.

Pocket Wavepad, another free app that allows you to record and then effect audio, lets you get a bit more in depth, even to start editing.

Hokusai Audio Editor is a free multi-track recording app, even more of a heavyweight, allowing for several audio tracks to run simultaneously, imported or recorded. You can then effect, edit and export your finished product as a WAV, MP4 or transfer to your computer via USB or Dropbox.

SampleTank, the aforementioned synth, also comes in app form. Much like the plug-in, the app has hundreds of instruments and patches for you to choose from, layer, and record. With a 4-track MIDI recorder and drum pads, you have access to over 120 user presets, more than 600 instruments and built in-insert effects.

Alchemy Synth Mobile Studio from Camel Audio is another free app that delivers a powerhouse of creativity in a user-friendly interface. It delivers high-quality audio in everything from guitars and basses to synths and drum kits. Much like SampleTank, it has a 4-track sequencer and drum pad window, with added fun and functional tidbits like tilt and inertia to physically control sounds.

Groovemaker is skewed towards the DJ realm but still a great tool for electronic creations. It comes with over 120 loops that you can mix, remix, edit and layer in real time to create a unique blend of your own style and ideas.

easyBeats LE is a free 808-style drum machine app. If drums are your forte, this app can combine your own generated rhythms with built-in samples to create a beat on the go—easily.

Guitar Free and Piano Free, as well as Real Guitar Free are apps that let you play the instrument on your phone, but not record. However, with features that allow hammer ons, strumming, and plucking, you can work that riff out on the go and make a note of the tab or arrangement until you get a chance to record it.

And finally

Clearly, whatever it is that you’re looking to create, there is no shortage of free software to assist you in your musical endeavors. I’ll just throw in one last audio geek musing: Take heed that there’s always a paid upgrade (or, on iOS, an in-app purchase) to be had; some are worth it, some aren’t. As with most things in life, this paid vs. free gear is a balance. Have fun in the land of the free!

 (Reprinted with permission by Recording Magazine

Eleanor Goldfield is a Los Angeles-based writer, musician and freelance tech and studio consultant. She is lead singer in the hard rock band, Rooftop Revolutionaries, and works with several studios and pro audio professionals in management and consulting capacities. For more info, check out eleanor-swede.com.

For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition: http://www.songwriting.net/enter

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Pro Tools, songwriting tools

Songwriting Tips: 25 Mistakes Music Artists Make

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 22, 2014 @02:10 PM

25 Mistakes Music Artists Make

By Eric Alexandrakis

25 Mistakes Music Artists Make

A rogues’ gallery of slipups every recording songwriter should avoid!

They’re everywhere, like cheap wine in a crinkly brown Mini-mart bag. Some think they look cool walking around drinking out of it, but in the end, it shows no control... no discipline... no clue. Yes, you know what I’m talking about. Or do you?

I see them every day: those constant mistakes that artists make without thinking. Some are minute, some are grand, some are just so incredibly dumb—but all can be avoided with some simple logic, and restraint from laziness.

WARNING: The things you are about to read are real. They have been taken from real examples of bad promo campaigns and bad career decisions. If you happen to recognize yourself in any of these examples, I apologize, but... No I don’t. If you haven’t fixed what you’re reading about yet, here’s hoping you’re now embarrassed enough to do so!

1. I’m going to make a living from music and be rich and famous... and the best part is, I don’t have to do real work!

You know how you go to college to train, work toward a major in order to get a full-time job to support yourself, and work for years to build your profession to make a better living and to improve, blah blah blah? Yeah, guess what!

Making music a profession requires the same attention to detail. It’s a full-time job which requires daily investment, generally until the day you die, or until you have enough niche success to sustain you so that you don’t have to work anymore. Don’t read past this line until you come to grips with this scary reality.

How cool, you kept the crinkly brown bag from the Mini-mart, I’m glad. Now keep breathing into it... that’s right... sloooowly... don’t pop it, because you’ll need it for the rest of your life. Or for the rest of your musical career. Or both.

2. Who needs a plan? I’m just getting started here, I can wing it...

Start with a two-year plan with monthly goals. Design it like a business plan. If you have to make a bar chart with pictures of girls stacked on top of each other for measurement, so be it. Without a plan, you’re spinning your wheels and I’m wasting my time writing this.

3. A bio? I can handle that, I just have to tell everyone I’m a genius!

No, you can’t write it yourself, and neither can your English major cousin Miri. Yes, yes, Auntie Grizelda is always raving at family get-togethers about Miri’s wonderful grades... as her department-head boyfriend 20 years her senior sits next to her looking posh in his bowtie, asking you to pass the yams.

Sorry, I got carried away... No I didn’t—get a proper bio written. Comparing yourself to every major rock star and hit album in a bio does not make you relevant. I see this all the time. “With a voice like Bono and a stage presence like Michael and a political awareness reminiscent of Lennon...” Yeah, and just a hint of cinnamon. You have to leave it up to the critics to call you the next Kevin Federline. (Assuming that’s what you want.)

If you need help with your bio and absolutely don’t know where to turn, I’ll let you in on someone I’ve personally worked with successfully. Have a look at the website for Katy Krassner, www.katykrassner.com, and if you like what you see, commission her to write you a bio. She writes bios and press releases for major artists, actors, brands, and indie labels.

4.  Website? You’re kidding, right? Everybody just uses Facebook!

I’m a bit of a hypocrite on this one, as for the last few years I’ve been using Facebook as my hub, but I am now constructing a proper site. FB has worked well with a lot of EDM artists and labels, for example, but ultimately it’s a trend. What if it went away tomorrow? Do you really want all of your content to live only on Facebook? It’s just best to be able to have your own separate hub, where you can control your content entirely, and not be subject to weird rules where suddenly a picture of you taking a bath is owned by some corporation and ends up on a billboard on I-95.

By a “proper” site, I don’t mean use a free template from some random business site or whatever. Hire a reputable company via word-of-mouth/research (yes, even this takes effort), and do it right. If you must use a service that offers template sites, at least use one like HostBaby, one that understands what musicians really need in their web content and won’t leave you with a site that doesn’t deliver.

5. The world will recognize the genius in my every note.

Just because you can make music, doesn’t mean it’s good. I know a guy (one of many, actually) who has all the right intentions, but his ego is out of control. He has money and thinks that just because he has the means, his music is good. It’s average, and worst of all, he can’t sing, but thinks he can sing and doesn’t take criticism.

Take the criticism, it’ll save you money in the long run, but don’t take it from Auntie Em. She’ll always love your singing. My Aunt Pauline loves my piano playing and tells everyone about it, but she’s never heard me play.

6. I’m on Internet Radio!

No one cares if some random internet radio station inIndianais playing you. Your mother might, but she already got her copy of the album for free. Focus on the greatest audience, with the most practical and realistic means.

7. We’re growing our brand organically!

Organic food rots faster because it lacks those evil preservatives. Remember that. Do it right.

8. My music’s available on iTunes!

Don’t sell your music on iTunes, unless you have a good cover or can get into the “New Releases” section. What’s the point of creating a middleman? Why invest in a publicist, radio promoter, etc. so that iTunes can prosper? Just direct everyone to your site and sell direct from there.

9. Singles are the new Albums!

Why are you selling singles? If you can’t write a decent album, you have no purpose. Don’t listen to this nonsense about the album being dead. Make a good one, and sell it as such. If you’re going to put marketing efforts and dollars into one song, sell an album as a whole and make $10 instead of 99 cents. Just don’t stop promoting it after two months. 10 songs = 10 months of promo possibilities. Duh!

10.  I’m looking for a label and manager...

How nice. Have you sold 20,000 copies on your own? Because if not, they aren’t looking for you. If you’re not willing to do the work, no one of value or credibility will either.

11.  On social networks, posting the same posts promoting the same songs over and over again will eventually get people to buy the music.

No, people will start deleting you, and you will look desperate and lame.

12. I can tell folks I’ve sold 2 million albums even though the RIAA says I haven’t. Who’ll know?

Don’t think people won’t check riaa.com. I always do.

13. I’m too cool to pay bills on time... or at all.

If you couldn’t afford it, you shouldn’t have ordered it. Don’t blame it on the fake accountant.

14. What do you mean, that’s not what the contract says? That’s not how I read it!

Read and understand your agreements, and blame yourself for not getting what you thought you were getting. If you paid for one month of promotion, don’t ask to Skype with the promoter every month for 4 months, after your month has expired.

15. My new producer had two Grammies and a platinum album... in 1985!

Just because a producer has some decent credits...from 20 years ago, doesn’t mean they are worth your hard-earned cash. I’ve seen some ridiculous deal points in my day. Everything from $10K/song production costs, to 3 points + 10% of all placement fees on top. Stay away from this nonsense. I’ll hook you up with a great and affordable mixer. Just ask.

16. There’s nothing wrong with my image!

Yes, well. We can tell you’re really 50 and not 25, Madame. Dude, about that beard—ZZ Top was cool 20 years ago. Even a poor musician can afford $3 for a razor and shaving cream. I don’t care if it’s part of your vibe, what would you say if your mother saw you?

Tattoos are overdone and usually done badly, and you can’t take them off if you decide you hate them. And unless you’re in the iTunes top 10, you shouldn’t be wearing leather pants.

17. Wait. Image? What’s that? Do I need one?

And please don’t dress like a bank teller and pose with a guitar looking vaguely dissatisfied. I’m mystified at how imageless some artists can be. Did you not have posters of your favorite musicians on your walls when you were younger? Like, ever?

18. Faking people out is edgy, folks like to be fooled.

Deception is not a marketing tool. If you lie, it will always come back to bite you. You don’t have to disclose your debit card PIN, just be realistic.

19. I’m too cool to have a budget!

Pretending you have money when you don’t is beyond idiotic. Have more confidence in yourself and write a good song.

20. I got straight to the secretary of this big guy inHollywood, piece of cake!

Good for you, bub. When’s the premiere?

21. Yeah, I post more pictures than songs, so what? It’s all about image, right?

We get it, you’re in love with yourself, but if you spend more time posing for pictures than writing and releasing music, people will notice just that.

22. Meh, who cares what I tweet, as long as I do it a lot?

It’s called “social” networking for a reason. Be social, entertaining, charming, interesting and most of all, engaging.

23. I’ve got 100,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter!

Yeah, but between 0 and 10 impressions per post. No sucker will believe you really have that many people interested in you with those numbers. Social networking is an art and a science, and it seems that brands are finally starting to realize its importance. A great example of how social networking is supposed to work is at facebook.com/DuranDuran. The aforementioned and wonderfully talented Ms. Katy Krassner runs it.

24. This is serious stuff, man! Don’t you dare laugh at me!

Martin Solveig is a really cool electronic artist fromFrance, and he has a really fun sense of humor and is willing to laugh at himself. Have a look at some of his videos on YouTube. It’s about music and entertainment, not about trying to show off the fake jewelry or Bugatti you borrowed for the shoot.

25. Play every day? Why?

That’s what you’re supposed to do, remember? And don’t just play. Be a music student, not a rockstar wannabe. Learn everything you can, because ultimately it will come down to how good the music is, not how much of a poser you can be.

 (Reprinted by permission from Recording Magazine

Eric Alexandrakis is a highly successful songwriter, producer, and recording musician. He has had several Top 40 hits on the Adult Contemporary charts, has licensed hundreds of songs for film and video, and recently completed a remix of Depeche Mode’s new single “Should Be Higher”. Learn more at www.ericalexandrakis.com. And he’s recommending Katy Krassner because he likes her work, and thinks you will too.

For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition: http://www.songwriting.net/enter

 

Tags: song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, A&R, Eric Alexandrakis, recording songwriter

Songwriting: It’s Like Riding a Bicycle

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Apr 02, 2014 @10:31 AM

Songwriting: It’s Like Riding a Bicycle

Bicycle in your mindRemember when you learned to ride your first bicycle? It wasn’t easy. You fell down a lot, but you kept trying. At first you needed someone to hold on, keeping you steady. Then you used training wheels to help you stay upright as you pedaled. Then, finally, you were able to ride on your own. You had found that complicated thing called balance. After that, it was a breeze! The process of writing songs is a lot like riding a bike. It’s all about finding a balance!

=> Balance Melody, Chords, Lyrics – Writing a song that listeners will love involves finding a good balance between melody, lyrics, and chords. If you have a busy lyric with a lot of words and images then writing a melody that’s easy for listeners to follow might make it easier for them to understand and remember the song. It gives your song a chance to make a greater impact. When there’s too much going on, listeners miss important moments and they may just tune out.

The Singer-Songwriter genre, for example, is often lyric heavy and you’ll notice that, while the melodies make use of interesting phrase lengths and phrase starts, there are plenty of repeated melody patterns — lines repeated in sets of two, three, or four, organizing the melody so listeners can take it in easily while focusing on the lyrics. An extreme example of balance between lyrics and melody can be heard in the Rap genre. Lyric content and lyric rhythm have taken over, while the melody notes have become almost a monotone. 

On the other hand, if you have a complicated melody with a lot of rhythmic interest and interval jumps, try keeping your lyric straightforward and easy to follow, maybe use more repetition in your chorus lyric than you normally would.

A good rule of thumb: As the attention-grabbing quality of one of your song elements goes up – lyrics, melody, or chords – think about lowering the others. This doesn’t mean the other elements should become simple and predictable. Instead, try organizing them in patterns or using more repetition so listeners can focus on the more complicated things.

=> Study the balance in your genre – Each genre has a balance of melody, lyrics, and chords giving it a characteristic sound. For instance, the Pop genre tends to have plenty of melodic interest while keeping lyrics focused on an emotion, asking listeners to FEEL the lyrics rather than think about them. The Country genre, on the other hand, relies on lyric stories with plenty of physical detail. Listeners need to pay attention to the lyric in order to get the full impact. As a result, melodies tend to be a little less complex than in the Pop field. This doesn’t mean you can write a boring melody! You’ll still need to keep your listeners interested. But you might want to use fewer melodic twists than you would in the Pop genre.

=> Balance craft and inspiration – Balance is also an essential part of your approach to songwriting as a whole. Finding a balance between inspiration and song craft can help you express your deepest thoughts and feelings and in a way that listeners can understand and respond to.

Inspiration is the heart of your songwriting. It’s what guides you, tells you what’s important, and delivers that brilliant line out of the blue. But inspiration can be a very personal thing and it may not always be there when you need it. Sometimes it can even deliver inspired lines for a different song! But, if you balance it with a good amount of song craft, you can get the most from your inspiration, communicating effectively and surrounding those inspired gems with lines that support them.

=> It takes time to find your balance – Just like riding a bicycle, it takes practice to learn what good songwriting balance feels like. When you learn a new melody or lyric writing technique, don’t expect to immediately fold it into your songs and smoothly ride off into the sunset. There’ll be some wobbles and falls. You might scrape your knees a few times. But, just like you did when you were a kid, get back up on your bike and try again. Once you get the feel, you’ll be flying down the sidewalk with the wind in your hair in no time!

=> Get some training wheels – The best songwriting “training wheels” are hit songs. These songs already have good balance, the kind that listeners are comfortable with. This week, learn how to play and sing one recent hit song that you like. (You can find the current radio charts at BDSradio.com.) Notice the balance between lyrics, melody, and chords. How is the melody organized? Which melody lines are repeated and how many times? When do the lyrics simply repeat and when do they demand attention? Try writing a song with a similar type of balance.

Best of all, like riding a bike, once you learn what balance feels like you never forget!

by Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick has written more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records, Executive Producer of 60 albums, and the author of “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” available at Amazon.com. Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: www.RobinFrederick.com  and www.MySongCoach.com.

For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Robin Frederick, inspiration

12th Annual Songwriters Showcase During SXSW

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 18, 2014 @07:37 PM

 

 

USA Songwriting Competition hosted a Songwriters Showcase during SXSW in Austin, TX on March 14, 2014. It marks the 12th Annual Songwriters Showcase in which USA Songwriting Competition started way back in 2003 at then Borders Books and Music. The annual showcases has showcased up-and-coming songwriters. Notable past songwriters included: Kate Voegele (2005 USA Songwriting Competition 1st Prize winner, Billboard Top 10 Artist) who was signed to Interscope Records, Ari Gold (2007 Overall Grand Prize Winner), who hit Top 10 on the Billboard Charts after winning the Songwriting Competition and Jordan Zevon (2009 Overall Grand Prize Winner). 

Our 2014 edition included songwriters at Mozart's Coffee Roasters in Austin, Texas, such as:

Jackie Venson

Jackie Venson, songwriter

 

Andrea Pais

Andrea Pais, songwriter


Leni Stern (Honorable Mention Winner)

Leni Stern, songwriter

 

D.B. Rielly (Honorable Mention Winner)

D.B. Rielly, songwriter

 

Tony DeSare (First Prize Winner, Jazz)

Tony DeSare, songwriter


  

 

For more information on entering the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: 
http://www.songwriting.net/enter

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

Songwriting Tip: Grammar Matters

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 03, 2014 @10:15 AM

Songwriting Tip: Grammar Matters

 by Harriet Schock

Harriet Schock, hit songwriter

Yes, I meant that both ways. I’m writing on matters of grammar and I’m also writing in case grammar matters. So for a songwriter, when does it matter? Well, I suppose that depends upon your target audience. If you’re a novelist, it always matters. That’s why book writers have editors. Today, even a great storyteller may make the usual grammatical errors, especially if he went to school in the last decade or so. But even if a person has been taught in the best English class there is, he may make the usual mistakes. His brain is simply Teflon where the rules of grammar are concerned.

 

So who is the target audience for your songs? Does it matter to your listeners if you make sense? If communication is desirable, then grammar is very helpful because it actually helps a person be clear. And if you’re performing in a club, you’d better not lose the listener because your communication wandered off into the woods. Grammar can help keep you in sync with your listener.

Now I’m not talking about “proper speech” that would prohibit you from being colloquial. Technically it’s “whom are you kidding?” But no one in his right mind would say that in a song. It’s not the way people talk. One of my biggest hits had the word “ain’t” in the title and used a double negative. I did it on purpose. So I’m not being a purist. I’m just trying to make the point, for instance, that if you said “I lay here and drink my coffee” some people would be confused, because “lay” is the past tense of “lie.” So how could you be lying here yesterday and drinking your coffee today? So technically, it’s “I lie here and drink my coffee” or “I lay here and drank my coffee.” The whole lie/lay thing is confusing to people but it’s simply a matter of whether it’s something you do (lie) or something you do to an object or person (lay). You lay the book on the table. You lie on the bed.  Eventually the dictionary will simply put “lay” as a synonym with “lie” because usage dictates meaning. (That’s how we’re losing the difference between “imply” and “infer.”) But at the moment they don’t mean the same thing so if your target audience knows the difference between “lay” and “lie,” you’ve just lost some points by using it wrong. I know, I know “Lay lady lay” was wrong, but Dylan couldn’t very well say “Lie, lady lie.” To add to the confusion, “lie” has two meanings.

There are many examples of these grammatical pitfalls. For instance, if you’re making a lyric sheet for someone to look at, remember that “The book is on its side”—not “it’s side.” There are whole websites and discussion groups devoted to the fact that there is no apostrophe in the “possessive its.” Auto correct can get you in trouble when you’re texting because that thing wants to put apostrophes in everything. And while we’re talking about apostrophes, don’t use them to create a plural. It’s not “Come hear these singer’s.” The plural of “singer” is “singers” for heaven’s sakes. And don’t say “I have sang”—it’s “I have sung,” just like “I have drunk,” not “I have drank.” Bad grammar may not affect how well you sing, but it’s enough to drive a literate person to drink. And who knows? You might just have some literate folks in your target audience. 

 

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 he rbook (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to:www.harrietschock.com

For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to:http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Harriet Schock, Grammar

Songwriting Tip: Obscurity vs Clarity

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 @11:03 AM

Obscurity vs Clarity

By Harriet Schock

Harriet Schock, Hit songwriter

I believe that there’s an invisible line that goes from the mouth of the singer to the ears and heart of the listener and if that line is broken by a lyric that makes no sense, the listener’s attention leaves.

Of course, there are many examples of songs that make no sense and have been hits, but when you cite these as examples, I would ask: 1) Was the melody and harmony so killer that people loved it in spite of the lack of clarity? 2) Was it sung by someone so famous that anything they put out will become a hit? 3) Was the audience chemically altered so that each song and bite was better than the one before, no matter what they were hearing or eating?

I have taught songwriting since 1986 and occasionally I’ll have a student who announces he wants to write an obscure song. And granted sometimes songs in films can be a bit generic so that the story takes place on the screen, not in the lyric. But even there the lyrics need to make sense.  I find that thetwo most common reasons for someone’s wanting to write an obscure, ambiguous lyric are: 1) His craft is limited and he thinks he’s being clear when he’s not or 2) He’s not willing for the real story to come out for personal reasons.

There’s a vast difference between writing on two levels and being ambiguous. I believe songs should make sense when you first hear them. Then upon second and third listening, deeper meaning can be discovered. Ambiguity generally leaves the listener wondering what you actually meant.

All of this has been about the lyric. But needless to say, the melody and harmony (chords) are vitally important. They are the wavelengths that carry the lyric along that invisible line I mentioned earlier. Obscurity breaks the line, but a weak melody completely dissolves it.

As performers we can tell when we have a strong melody, compelling harmony and a lyric that moves the listener. That’s when the audience is very quiet and attentive. Sometimes they cry, and we like that too.

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 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit songwriter, songwrite, Harriet Schock, Songwriters Tip, singer songwriter, top 40

Songwriting Tip: The Backyard Connection

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 @09:49 AM

The Backyard Connection

by Mark Cawley

Back Yard Musicians Songwriters

If you've been writing songs for awhile you have to have heard someone preach about the value of networking and getting connected.

Pretty much a given, you can create in a vacuum but you can't grow there.You may be all alone in your room and in your head when you create but to get that song (and you as a writer) in front of people it takes more people. More people means connecting and more connecting. Takes a village to raise a hit. Where to start?

Scour the village!

What does that look like for a beginning writer or a writer living outside of a major music center? It takes some digging on your part. For instance, I coach songwriters from all over the US and beyond these days and many live in places like Indiana, just to pick one. I urge them to look for a local resource first. If you write lyrics but don't play an instrument see if you can connect with someone who's a good player. If you're a songwriter but don't have production skills look for someone around you who's making magic in the basement. Grow together.

One of my favorite ways to connect in these cases is to, in the words of John Hiatt "pull my pony up and hitch my wagon to your star". Is there someone you've heard in a local club? Online? At church? Who's a diamond in the rough? Connect with them. So many writers made a career of working with an unsigned artist and as the artist gained attention, as good ones tend to do, the songwriter’s name was attached. I'm not just suggesting you pitch your songs to this budding artist but suggest you offer to co-write. Get them invested in the song and as they rise so will you. Not every artist we know and love came from LA, New York or London. Some of them came from small towns and for the sake of my point, the pride of Seymour, Indiana, John Mellencamp.

 

I Was Born In A Small Town

I know John a bit from my days of playing in Indiana and most of the people connected to him in the beginning were all local players. The guys I saw in the local bars where the same ones I saw years later at the LA Forum. Some of his earliest hits were co-written with a local lyricist named George Green. John worked with what he had around him.

Sure the odds go up if you move to one of the cities I mentioned and put yourself out there but in the meantime make the most of what's right in your backyard. Might seem like a small connection but it just might be the one to hitch your pony to. Oh yeah, one more Hoosier...John Hiatt.

 

Got Nothing Against the big Town

In defense of the writers and artists that make the big leap to a major market, most of the ones I know worked hard at making and keeping connections. One of my favorite illustrations would be the number of them that offered to sing demos for songwriters, sometimes cheap, hoping that as the writers song gets heard someone will discover the singer. In my first few years in Nashville it was common for me to call some of these folks like Gretchen Wilson, Brett James, Clay Davidson, Ruby Amanfu and Neil Thrasher to sing a demo for me. Worked out pretty well for me and for them.

No matter how you get your break, you never stop connecting on any level in this business you chose.

 Mark Cawley, songwriter

Mark Cawley

Nashville, Tennessee

1/15/14

Photo: Google Images

About: 

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 Khan 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 worldwide with a one-on-one co-active coaching service, iDoCoach.

For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Mark Cawley, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross

Songwriting Tip: A Strong Opening Line Is Important

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Sep 18, 2013 @11:27 AM

Songwriting Tip: A Strong Opening Line Is Important When Writing Lyrics
By Anthony Ceseri
Songwriting Tip: A Strong Opening Line Is Important
Having a powerful opening line is an important gateway into the lyrics of your song. A great lyrical introduction is an awesome way to get listeners interested in your story right off the bat. Plus, if it’s boring, you run the risk of losing them. People have really short attention spans these days, so effectively grabbing their attention early is crucial.
Having said that, I better get to my point… and make it quick! I recently revisited a great example of a strong opening line in the song “Round Here” by Counting Crows. The first line of the song says:
 
Step out the front door like a ghost into a fog,
Where no one notices the contrast of white on white
 
This is a great intro for a few reasons. The first is it’s really visual. Any time you engage the senses, you’re probably doing a good job of inviting people into your story. This line does that by engaging your sense of sight. It’s easy to picture a ghost and a fog as described here. Immediately, we set a stage of what this lyric will look like in our heads. And it’s effective.
It’s even fun to try and visualize the slight contrast that might actually be there between what we envision a ghost to look like and a thick fog.
In addition to that, this is a fantastic simile. There’s a comparison being made between someone who feels they just aren’t being noticed by the world, and a ghost in a fog. The element that ties these two thoughts together to make it an effective simile, is the idea that no one can see this person. It works very well.
This opening line is also very intriguing. After hearing it, I already want to know more because it’s so interesting. Had the first line had the same idea, but been said more simplistically and generically, I wouldn’t care as much. What if the song had opened with a line like this:
 
Step out the front door
Feeling like no one can see me
 
Eh. Suddenly I just don’t care as much anymore. I mean, it’s basically saying the same thing as the real first line, but in a bland, non-descriptive and generic way. Maybe I’d listen carefully to the rest of the lyrics. But maybe I wouldn’t. The “ghost into a fog line” is infinitely stronger and makes me want to stick around for more.
You can see how putting a really strong line up front is a great way to get your listeners excited about your story right off the bat. Granted, you want to keep them interested as your story continues along, but that first line can be crucial to getting their attention. Good imagery with a strong simile or metaphor, like we saw in the opening line of “Round Here,” is an awesome way to get your song rolling.
For a lot more useful songwriting information, grab my free eBook here: http://successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/ 
For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Anthony Ceseri, songwrite, lyric writing, Strong Opening Line, intro

Songwriting Tip: Easy Way to Write a New Song Lyric

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jul 02, 2013 @09:30 AM

Easy Way to Write a New Song Lyric (Even if You’ve Got Writer’s Block)

“How, as a human being, does one face infinity? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums, through encyclopedias and dictionaries…” –Umberto Eco

The fastest and easiest way to write a new song lyric is to begin making a list.

You're no stranger to list-making. Lists help you remember what to buy at the grocery store. They track things you need to do today. Bucket lists store famous places you want to see, people you want to meet, life experiences you want to have before you die.

In short: lists help us make sense of a chaotic world. They help us plan, prepare, and organize our lives. But even aside from all their practical uses, lists can also be entertaining and beautiful in their own right.

“Apples and quinces,

Lemons and oranges,

Plump unpeck'd cherries,

Melons and raspberries,

Bloom-down-cheek'd peaches,

Swart-headed mulberries,

Wild free-born cranberries,

Crab-apples, dewberries,

Pine-apples, blackberries,

Apricots, strawberries;

All ripe together

In summer weather…”

–”Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti

Lists Can Be Emotional

An old friend of mine likes to sit and list out things that make her happy and things that she's grateful for. She says making these lists lifts her mood and focuses her attention on positive things.

Every time she does that, whether she realizes it or not, she's writing her own personal version of “My Favorite Things“. The lyric of that Rodgers & Hammerstein classic is really just a long list of pleasing images, helped along by some delicious-sounding rhymes.

And the structure couldn't be any simpler: it's a list song! Just a list, plus a few lines of commentary toward the end. In modern terms, that lyric could be somebody's Pinterest board set to music.

Five Famous List Songs

In case you need more inspiration…

Reasons to Quit“–by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. In the verses of this lyric, the singer lists out reasons why he should stop smoking and drinking, struggling to convince himself to kick the habit.

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover“–by Paul Simon. A bit of false advertising here: the chorus lyric lists ways to leave your lover–but only five. Where are the lost forty-five ways, Paul? Oh well, we get the idea.

I've Been Everywhere“–by Geoff Mack. This song packs 91 towns into two minutes and 45 seconds. The song's four verses are just tongue-twisting lists of cities for the singer to test her memory (and lung capacity) against. I've been performing this one for years, and this song sends a thrill through the audience every time. Probably because the audience is placing bets on whether you'll turn blue and pass out at the end of a verse…

Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)“–Cole Porter wrote many list songs in his day that have since gone on to become classics, but “Let's Do It” was his first. Each verse is a list of people, animals, and even objects that “Do It”: one verse lists birds; another lists sea creatures; another lists insects. So really each verse is a sub-list.

Hate it Here“–by Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. The singer lists out ways he's been keeping himself busy ever since his love left. Little chores, little things to stay busy–mowing, sweeping, laundry, checking the phone and the mail over and over again… this song's a great example of how a simple list can tell a story.

More List Songs

  • “21 Things I Want in a Lover” by Alanis Morrissette
  • “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” by Eric Maschwitz and Jack Strachey
  • “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?”, a sea chantey

And this is just a tiny fraction of the list songs you can find out there in the musical wild.

Keep your eyes and ears sharp for lists–they turn up often in articles, novels, poems, lyrics, and in your own life. Any given list could be a song. Even something as seemingly mundane as a grocery list reveals something about the person making it.

Let's Do It (Let's Write a List Song)

Maybe one of the topics above got your gears turning–here they are recapped, plus a few extras:

  • Things you love (a kind of Pinterest board set to music)
  • Reasons to [do something you're reluctant to do]
  • Things you admire in a lover
  • Things you do to keep busy while avoiding [something unpleasant]
  • Things that remind you of [a person or place that's important to you]

You can write from your own perspective or you could write as a character. Any one of these list song ideas could easily sprout hundreds and hundreds of variations. If you write a “My Favorite Things”-style list song from the perspective of Gengis Khan, by the way, please let me know.

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

Tags: song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit songwriter, songwrite, nicholas tozier, writers block

Songwriting Tip: Stockpile Ideas for Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jun 20, 2013 @09:12 AM

Songwriting Tip: Stockpile Ideas for Songs

Problem: You don’t have big chunks of time to spend on your songwriting. (Not many of us do.)  So when you finally do get an afternoon to work on your songs – or at least a couple of uninterrupted hours – you need to get the most  from it. You don’t need to be spending the first hour or two just trying to find an idea you want to work on.

Here’s a songwriting tip  that can help you avoid wasting hours:

1. BE A SONGWRITER ALL THE TIME

Most of us don’t think of ourselves as songwriters first and everything else second. Try it for a day. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing – at work, hanging out with family or friends, or watching TV – keep your songwriting ears open. Listen for ideas, themes, and lyric lines you can use. Sometimes a simple statement by a friend can becomes an idea for a song. Dialogue lines in an emotional TV drama can become a verse lyric. A headline on a news show can become a song title.

Watch a video tutorial on song titles that work.

2. KEEP A “MEMO TO SELF”

Don’t trust your memory to hang on to the phrases, titles, and ideas you run across. If you’re able to keep your songwriter “ears” open for an hour or two every day, you’ll quickly build up A LOT of material. Some of it will be useful at your next songwriting session and some you might keep for later. And of course you’ll end up throwing out some lines – just think of it this way: If you’re not throwing stuff out, you’re not being creative enough! :-D

Keep a notepad handy to write down lyric phrases. You can record your melody ideas on a cell phone with Voice Memo. Then when you have a chunk of time to work on songwriting, go through your notes and select the best ones to get you started.

And remember this… once you’ve started a song, part of your mind keeps working on it, even when you’re busy doing other things. Don’t be surprised if you start noticing ideas, images, and lines that would work in your song while you’re working or playing. Be SURE to record these or write them down! You don’t want to lose them. Next time you have a couple of uninterrupted hours to work on songwriting, these lines will be there to add to your song and spark new material.

3. SPEND YOUR TIME WISELY

Time is a resource just as much as other songwriting resources: money for demos,songwriting books and courses, demo musicians, collaborators, recording gear, And if you’ve got a job or you’re going to school, then time is in limited supply. So get the most from what you have.

Put together the raw material for your lyrics or ideas for melodies while you’re on a break between classes or commuting to and from work. Keep your songwriter ears open while relaxing with a TV show or with friends. In other words, use those small chunks of time that would otherwise be lost. Just because you’re not sitting with your guitar or keyboard, doesn’t mean you’re not songwriting. Turn this time into a valuable resource that helps you get your songs written!

Based on Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting by Robin Frederick. Available at Amazon.com.

Copyright 2013 Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick, songwriter & former A&R for Rhino Records
  

Robin Frederick has written more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records, Executive Producer of 60 albums, and the author of “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV.” Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: www.RobinFrederick.com  and www.MySongCoach.com.

For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit: 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