Songwriting Tips, News & More

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

Co-writing Tips For Songwriters

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

by Owen J. Sloane

guitarnotepad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Reprinted with permission from Music Connection Magazine)

Owen Sloane, entertainment lawyer

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

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

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

Songwriting Tip: 6 Ways To Motivate Yourself To Write Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 @12:00 PM

6 Ways To Motivate Yourself To Write Songs

by Cliff Goldmacher

 Cliff Goldmacher, songwriter

As passionate as we are about our songwriting, the reality is that sometimes it’s difficult to motivate ourselves to write. Whether it’s the fear of plumbing our emotional depths or just good old fatigue after a long day, there are often obstacles to overcome when it’s time to write. While flashes of inspiration are great, we can’t always count on the muse showing up on our schedule. Instead, we’ve got to make our own inspiration. I’ve put together a list of a few things that should help you keep your creative fires lit.

 

1. Set Up a Place at Home to Write

As simple as it sounds, having a place to go where you can focus and be creative can be motivating. Even if it’s just a small desk and chair in a corner of your living room, the fact that you’ve dedicated it to your art will serve as that little push you might need to write. Keep your writing tools – rhyming dictionary, guitar, laptop, etc. – out and easily accessible. It’s amazing what a difference putting your guitar on a stand versus keeping it in a case can make. Make things as easy as you can for yourself and you’ll be much more likely to dig in.

 

2. Set Up a Time of Day to Write

Routine can be a good thing even for something as artistic and creative as songwriting. If, for example, you know that every day at 7pm, you’re going to write for half an hour, then you’re more likely to do it. They say it takes a few weeks of consciously making yourself do something before it becomes a habit. A daily time to write will go a long way towards the healthy habit of songwriting.

 

3. Keep a File of Unfinished Songs

One of the hardest things about writing is starting with a blank page. By keeping an organized file of your unfinished lyrics and rough recordings, you won’t have to climb the mountain from the bottom every time you sit down. While sometimes it feels good to start with a fresh idea, don’t forget to check your unfinished ideas from time to time. It’s remarkable how a few days or weeks can add the perspective you need to see a partially finished song in a new light and finish it.

 

4. Find a Co-Writer

Nothing motivates more than accountability. If someone is counting on you to show up and work, you’re more likely to do it. Not only that but halving the burden can make writing a much more approachable pursuit. This is one of the many benefits of co-writing. Other advantages include having someone whose songwriting gifts complement your own in such a way that you both get a better song than you would have separately. If you haven’t co-written yet, this is as good a time as any to give it a try. Even if it’s not a perfect experience, we all benefit from observing firsthand someone else’s writing process.

 

5. Give Yourself an Assignment

Sometimes the idea that you can write about anything is just too much freedom. Often it’s easier to write if you have some guidelines. If, for example, you tell yourself you’re going to write a song with one chord you’ve never used or a song about a topic you’ve never covered, you’ll find it’s easier to get to work. Anything you can do to give shape and structure to what you’re attempting to write will make the task that much simpler.

 

6. Tell Yourself You’ll Only Write for Five Minutes

This is one of my all time favorites. On days where you’re really struggling to make yourself write, tell yourself you’ll sit down for five minutes. That way, if nothing is happening after five minutes, at least you’ve tried. It’s astonishing how often those days are the days where the breakthroughs happen. Taking the pressure off of yourself may be all that you need to get on a roll. That being said, if it’s just not coming, stop. There’s no point in making yourself miserable. There’s always tomorrow.

 

Conclusion

Being a songwriter is a gift but, as with most gifts, some assembly (otherwise known as work) is required. My hope is by suggesting a few ways to lessen the burden of getting started, you’ll be able to write more consistently and enjoy the accompanying results.

 

About Cliff Goldmacher

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including a brand new video series available at the link below.

http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com/video-podcast-series

You can download a FREE sample of Cliff’s eBook “The Songwriter’s Guide To Recording Professional Demos” by going to http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com/ebook

 

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting Tip. Motivate, motivation

Songwriting Tip: Tying the Mood of Your Song to Your Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jul 22, 2013 @12:00 PM

 

Tying the Mood of Your Song to Your Lyrics for a Better Listening Experience

By Anthony Ceseri

Anthony Ceseri, songwriter

Songs are usually the most effective when the lyrics tie into the mood of the music. You may have heard a simplistic example of this by being taught that songs about happy things should be played in a major key, while more depressing songs are more appropriate to be in a minor key. This is certainly a valid thought, but tying your words to your music doesn’t have to be limited to that. There’s a whole world of opportunity for creating prosody in your music by marrying your song’s mood to its lyrics and overall idea.

There’s a great example of this in the song “Walking on Broken Glass” by Annie Lennox. The title of this song is a cool visual that relates the idea of heartbreak to walking on broken glass. In itself it’s a nice lyric because not only is the idea of walking on broken glass easy to visualize, but it’s something you can feel when you hear it described. The sensation of hard glass against your bare feet is easy to imagine, so it’s good imagery. It does a good job of bringing you into the scene of the story.

On the other hand, underneath those lyrics is a musical bed (or the arrangement of musical instruments being played under the melody) that has a very staccato feel to it, for a lot of the song. The synthesizer and piano is played in a very chopped up and broken fashion. If you’re not familiar with the song, or need a refresher, you can hear it here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y25stK5ymlA

The connection that’s made between the lyrics and the music is that while the lyrics are discussing someone walking on broken glass, the music has a melody that sits on a broken up, staccato musical arrangement underneath it. You can almost think of the melody as the lead character while the musical bed underneath is the broken glass, if you wanted to think of this connection in terms of an analogy.

Sure, there are moments in this song where the music isn’t staccato and broken. But most of the times when the phrase “Walking on broken glass” is sung, it’s attached to a “broken” musical bed underneath. This is a nice gesture and sets an appropriate mood for the song. So not only are the descriptive lyrics helping to pull us into the story, but so is the feel of the musical accompaniment.

The only critique I can make here about how to music ties to the meaning of the song, is that this song is in a major key. You can hear it in the “happy” sound of the music. However, the lyrics are about heartbreak, so perhaps this song could have benefited from music that sounded a bit more melancholy.

But that aside, this song shows us a good lesson in prosody and tying our songs mood to what the words are saying through the use of a staccato sound attached to the concept of “broken glass.” I recommend trying to create moves like this in your own music whenever possible. It’ll help create a fulfilling listening experience for your audience.

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 writing, mood, Songwriting Tip, Lyrics, Anthony Ceseri

Songwriting for Film & TV

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jul 01, 2013 @09:45 AM

SONGWRITING FOR FILM & TV

By Robin Frederick

 SongwritingFilmTV

Thousands of songs are used in TV shows, films, and commercials each year. You've heard them in shows like Grey's Anatomy, The Vampire Diaries, House, Gossip Girl, 90210, Hart of Dixie, Nashville, and more. You've heard them in commercials for Subaru, Lowe's, AT&T, Volkswagen, and Traveler's Insurance.

When listeners hear something they like, they often head straight to the product or TV show website to find out the name of the artist or song title. Sales at iTunes can be anywhere from 20,000 (Jason Walker's "Down" featured in The Vampire Diaries to 100,000 (Ingrid Michaelson's "Keep Breathing" featured in a season-closing episode of Grey's Anatomy).

When you add in performance royalties and fees for the song's use, film & TV can provide a solid income stream that pays off over time, especially if you have numerous placements.

 

SO WHAT DOES YOUR SONG NEED TO DO?

For every song that's placed, many are auditioned - often hundreds - but only one is chosen. The song that will get the job is the one that enhances the emotion or adds impact for viewers.

Is a character discovering real love for the first time? The song needs to evoke that feeling for the audience. Is the film set in a small town in the 1950s? The song must accurately recall the era and provide the emotional mood needed. Always remember: the song serves the needs of the project.

With that in mind, it may seem a little strange that a majority of the songs that are placed in film and TV are written and recorded first, before they’re ever pitched to these projects. Often, the songs are part of an artist's CD. While they're being written, there's no way to know how these songs might eventually be used in a film or TV show.

So, if you don't know how your song will be used, how can you craft it to increase your chances of a placement?

 

WRITE UNIVERSAL LYRICS

Music users in the film and TV market often say they're looking for songs with "universal lyrics." But just what does that mean?

A universal lyric is...

A lyric that a large number of people can identify with or relate to.

A lyric that will not conflict with the specific content of a scene.

A good lyric for film and TV is universal enough to allow the song to be used in a variety of scenes while maintaining emotional integrity, originality, and focus.


Hint: Choose a common theme

Of course, no song will work for every scene but some themes and situations occur more frequently than others - falling in love, breaking up, or overcoming adversity, for example. If you choose one of these, you're more likely to be successful. Watch a few TV episodes and look for common themes. Chances are you're already using some of them in your songs.

Find out how to bring your lyric theme to life.

 

Another Hint: Don’t do the scriptwriter’s job

Too many specific physical details, like place names, proper names, and specific story details, will limit the uses of your song. For example, let’s say your song is called "Sara Smile." That was a great title for a Hall & Oates hit but… it could be confusing to viewers if there's no character named Sara in the scene. For film & TV uses, try a title like “In Your Smile” or “I Need Your Smile.” Let the scriptwriter name the characters.

 

MUSIC: THINK LIKE A FILM COMPOSER

Filmmakers have always used instrumental music to communicate mood, energy, and atmosphere to the audience, from soaring love themes to the high anxiety of a fast-paced action cue.

As songs have grown in popularity with viewers, they're being used to replace some of that instrumental music. A song that works well for film and TV is one that, like an instrumental cue, uses melody, chords, pace (tempo), and rhythm to evoke a single mood or energy level.

If you've written an uptempo song about a wild party or a slow song about lost love, you're already using tempo and rhythm to express energy or mood. Songwriters often do this instinctively, but you can hone that ability for the film and TV market, making your music even more expressive and useable. Like a film composer, you can choose a tempo and groove that physically express the energy level you want, then back it up with chords melody, and lyrics.

Listen to the instrumental cues that accompany various types of scenes: action, danger, romantic meeting or breakup, characters having fun, arguing, or being thoughtful. Notice how the music adds to the effectiveness of scene. Try writing a song that makes use of a few of those elements, something that might work instead of underscore. This is a great way to get into the film & TV songwriting mood!

Above all, listen to songs that are being used in the context of a scene and analyze what works and why. You can find all the current TV shows that are using songs at www.TuneFind.com.

Based on Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV  by Robin Frederick. Available at Amazon.com.


Copyright 2013 Robin Frederick

 Robin Frederick, songwriter

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, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, USA Songwriting Competition, Robin Frederick, A&R, Rhino Records

7 Reasons You Should Have a Songwriting Process

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jun 26, 2013 @10:52 AM

 

7 Reasons You Should Have a Songwriting Process

By Nick Morrow 

7 Reasons You Should Have a Songwriting Process

I hate formulas and processes.

I’ve always thought they suck the life out of everything, especially music. How can an artist be truly creative when they’re selling out to the drudgery of formulas? Why confine yourself to a “process” and limit your creative potential? Formulas are terrible, right?

I used to think so. But then I started reading about my favorite songwriters and realized they all had some sort of process for churning out great tunes. I figured, If the professionals all do this…maybe I ought to try it? So I started crafting my own songwriting process, and I noticed an immediate difference in the quality of my work.

Here’s what I’ve learned about having a songwriting process.

1. It helps you get disciplined about writing songs. I used to drive around and look for a new “writing spot” every time I wrote a new song. And you know what happened? I spent as much time driving around the countryside as I did actually wood-shedding on new songs.Having a process means you cut the deliberation time and get down to brass tacks.

2. It makes you take ownership in being a songwriter. Your songwriting is a like a little project where you get to write your own “operations manual.” You get to decide how things are done and in what order. Taking yourself seriously enough to craft some sort of process goes a long way in boosting your songwriting confidence, not to mention your enjoyment of the craft.

3. Having a process makes it less scary to start a new song. If we’re honest, we all fear the blank page. I’ve found that processes have a way of eliminating that fear, because it erases a lot of the the “unknowns.” I already know where I'm going to find the melodies (in my phone's digital recorder files) and where I'm going to draw lyrics from (my collected stash of lyrics and Scripture.) I already know I'm going to demo it on guitar once I can play the song through without stopping. These kinds of “known” variables will give you the comfort and confidence to start a new song without the hesitation.

4. It tells you what to say “no” to. When you go to write a new song, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Not just by the blank page, but also by pages of lyrics that are so scattered and disjointed that you have no idea where to begin. Sometimes the indecision can be staggering, and can keep us from moving forward. Having a set of parameters helps you weed out creative ideas that don't fit, and stay  focused on your goals.

5. You can tailor your songwriting process to lean into your strengths.Personally, I’m not a good “on the spot” songwriter. I’m jealous of friends who can sit down and hammer out a gem in a couple hours, but I’ve never been able to do that. So my songwriting process is built around a long gestation period. I collect lyrics and melodies over time and build several songs really slowly, rather than one at a time.

Whatever your strengths are, build into them. Read about other artists’ processes, use the bits that help, and forget the parts that don’t.

6. It forces you to be objective about your own work. One time I did an experiment. I took a notepad, a pen, and the discography by my favorite band, to see if there were any noticeable patterns in their music. Then I compared my own songs to the songs of my favorite band. My music usually had a verse and chorus, maybe a bridge. Their songs had at least four strong melodies every time. My songs were long- often five or six minutes. Theirs were routinely four minutes or less. I couldn't believe the differences.

When I looked at it on paper, I could see some tangible reasons that my songs were bush-league. It forced me to look at the areas I could grow as a songwriter.

7. It allows you to perfect the details of your craft. Having a songwriting process helps you prioritize. It automates certain things that otherwise you'd spend two weeks fretting over. It cuts out a lot of the time deliberating over little decisions. Some of those decisions will make themselves, and the others will fall into place in your newly refined songwriting process. It leaves room to do what you love most: write songs. And the more songs you write, the better you'll get.

Granted, true inspiration and creativity is no science. But I guarantee that if you look behind the curtain of your favorite songwriter, there are formulas to be found. Crafting your own process can push your songwriting to new levels. Excellence is in the details, and when you get comfortable within your process, you can focus on perfecting your craft.

These are just a few ways that having a songwriting process helped me become a better writer. What else should be on the list? What does your own songwriting process look like?

(Reprinted with permission from www.allaboutworship.com


Nick Morrow is a music artist and writer from Columbus, IN. He loves telling stories, pushing creative boundaries. 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, BMI, SESAC, process, Nick Morrow, formula, strength, ASACP

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

Songwriting Tips: Louise Goffin

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jun 19, 2013 @01:03 PM

Songwriting 101: Louise Goffin 

Singer-songwriter Louise Goffin grew up surrounded by music. As the child of acclaimed songwriters Carole King and Gerry GoffinLouisebegan writing and recording at an early age. At nineteen, she released her debut album, Kid Blue, to critical praise.
We got a chance to sit down with Louise to discuss her songwriting process, her legendary parents, starting her own label, and receiving a Grammy nomination for A Holiday Carole.

How would you describe your songwriting process? Is there a specific instrument you prefer to compose on?

Usually a song starts holding an instrument in my hand and playing and singing. Sometimes it helps to move an idea to an instrument the idea didn’t start on, to see it in a fresh light. An instrument I barely know how to play can lead me to a different place. Other times, playing piano, where I can get around the most, is what will break a song open. It’s usually quietly sitting with it and almost meditating while playing that brings a song to life.

Was there ever a specific song or album that inspired you to write your own music?

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The Beatles albums: Rubber Soul, Magical Mystery Tour, Revolver, Abbey Road, Let It BeMarvin Gayeand Tammi Terrell, the Sly and The Family Stone album Fresh, Motown records, Joni Mitchell’s, Blue, For The Roses, and The Hissing of Summer Lawns. James TaylorNeil Young’s After The Gold Rush. Paul SimonDavid BowieLed Zeppelin – practically all their records which to me still don’t date, The Pretenders’ first and second albums. Peter Gabriel records. Pink Floyd. I’ve always loved songs that put you in a movie lyrically, or ones that sound so full of raw attitude that you could forget your insecurities. I knew I had to have as much access to that as possible in my own heart, mind and fingertips to live and survive life.

 

Growing up as the child of two renowned songwriters, did you worry you wouldn’t be able to cultivate a distinct songwriting style?

I had a sense of my own style early on, though not very confident at first. My pen was smarter than my singing voice, and I was still posturing attitudes rather than showing my own vulnerability for a long time. I could write things that I couldn’t believably sing for a long time. What I worried about – having two renowned songwriters as parents – was how I was ever going to write songs even close to the level of expectation from me. I would have rather proved to the world I was good than prove I could be in the charts, which you didn’t necessarily have to be good to do. Because of this drive and feeling, I had so much to learn and so far to go. I kept myself locked up in my house, compulsively trying to get better at it.

It’s the “never-good-enough” disease that most people suffer from, but I was able to keep getting record deals to enable me to do little else but stay inside learning how to arrange, play different instruments, record, write, sing. The best of the best know enough to admit they’re better working with a team of people who bring what you don’t have to the table.

 

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What was the first song you wrote that you felt truly proud of?

Maybe it was “Trapeze” on my first record, Kid Blue. I wrote it when I was 17. I think two or three years after that, there was a song called “Against My Will.” It had lines in it like “we intoxicate our lives with romance, we sober to pain, never wanting to say goodbye or go back the way we came” and “there are some things you cannot kill, I call your name against my will.” I’d dig into some deep angst and torture once in awhile starting out, when I wasn’t being a kid having fun with an amp and an electric guitar.

 

You released 2008’s Bad Little Animals on your own label, Majority of One Records. Did you find this route gave you more freedom with your songwriting?

The route came after the songs were written. I wanted to release the songs I’d recorded over a four-year period and then all of a sudden I was going on a short tour with big audiences, and needed CDs to sell. I had to put together a package with hardly any notice. I did the artwork myself, mastered it and called the label Majority of One Records since I was only person in the record “company.”

Was there ever a song you found especially difficult to write?

The ones where the track comes first and then you have to write or finish the lyrics – those are the hardest for me to write to.

In addition to singing and writing music, you’ve played with a variety of musicians, including playing guitar on Tears for Fears’ 1997 tour. Has that experience changed your approach to writing and composing music?

What the Tears for Fears tour gave me was that after being on the road for four months, I longed to be home and writing, and I embraced that more when I returned from it. After you play the same show every night, the longing to create something new reaches a high pitch of necessity. I think being home and writing is the soul of everything else that follows. I wrote the songs for Sometimes A Circle after that tour.

How did it feel to receive a Grammy nomination for A Holiday Carole?

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Unreal. I had conflicting beliefs. One was this magical thinking that maybe one day I’d go to the Grammys with something I’d worked on, and the other belief was “no way” is this possible for someone like me. I say someone like me, because in spite of growing up around a lot of success, I had a hard time believing it could come from me. I was more comfortable with the role of thoughtfully ruminating in my room in isolation, and I believed you had to have a thick skin to be out with the movers and shakers, and I definitely didn’t have that.

Have you ever been up in a hot air balloon? You don’t feel any different whether you go up or down. In fact, landing just feels the same as going up, only the earth is getting closer to you. There’s no perspective in how it feels till you hit ground. Hearing that the holiday record got a Grammy nomination was like that. I didn’t feel I did anything different, didn’t feel any change of atmospheric pressure. It was just that all of sudden the ground was closer, and those movers and shakers didn’t look a million miles away from me anymore.

 

What’s next?
In the next month, I’m playing a Carole King song in a tribute to her receiving the prestigious George Gershwin award. There are three A Fine Surprise shows that Billy Harvey and I are rehearsing for. I have a good feeling about what’s to come. The wonderful gift about songwriting and spending time learning those songs is feeling prepared with something to give. I’m less preoccupied and more open to receiving the good that comes. It’s always a two-way conversation with the universe.
Alternative. Indie. Punk. Pop. R&B. Folk. Rock. Riffraf. Copyright © 2012-2013 Richard Fulco, Founder and Editor

(Reprinted with permission from Louise Goffin)

For for information of the USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Gerry Goffin, Louise Goffin, Carole King

Songwriters Showcase @ Bluebird Cafe

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, May 27, 2013 @04:05 PM

USA Songwriting Competition presented a showcase at the world renowned "Bluebird Cafe" in Nashville, TN on May 9th, 2013. 

Here are some video highlights:

 Maddy Rodriguez (Canada)

 

 

 

Will Hopkins Performing

 

Songwriters Performing at USA Songwriting Competition&squot;s showcase at the famed "Bluebird Cafe", in Nashville, TN

(from left: Bill DiLuigi, Sherri Gough, Maddy Rodriguez, and Berteal)

 

Jonathan Ferreri with Ashley Upton (1st Prize Winner, Country & Overall 2nd Prize Winner)

  Jonathan Ferreri with Ashley Upton (1st Prize Winner, Country & Overall 2nd Prize Winner)
 

Tom Schreck (Honorable Mention Winner)
  Tom Schreck (Honorable Mention Winner)
 

Dale Allen Pommer (Honorable Mention Winner)
  Dale Allen Pommer (Honorable Mention Winner)

Will Hopkins (Finalist)
  Will Hopkins (Finalist)

Songwriters Group Shot

From left to right: John Ferrarri, Ashley Upton,Chris Upton,Bill DiLuigi,(squatting, Liz Miller) Sherri Gough, Berteal,Maddy Rodriguez, Will Hopkins and Dale Allen Pommer. — with Jonathan Ferreri, Bill DiLuigi, Lizzie Miller, Sherri Gough, Berteal, Maddy Rodríguez and Will Hopkins at Songwriters Showcase @ Bluebird Cafe.

 

For more videos, see: http://www.youtube.com/usasongcomp 

View more pictures here >>

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Sherri Gough, Bluebird Cafe, Tom Schreck, USA Songwriting Competition, Will Hopkins, Jonathan Ferreri, Bill DiLuigi, Ashley Upton, Maddy Rodriguez, Dale Allen Pommer, Berteal

Recording & Songwriting Tip: How to record great vocals at home

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, May 09, 2013 @02:23 PM

Songwriting Tips: How to record great vocals at home by Sven-Erik Seaholm

How to record great vocals at home

The human voice is easily the most recognizable of sounds, at least to other humans. Even before we are born, we listen for, recognize and respond to our own mother’s speech and inflections. In pop music, from Rock to Rap or Rhythm & Blues, we still find ourselves instinctively searching for that fundamental element. While the magic of music lies in its power to imply or inspire a wide array of feelings and emotions, when it comes to details and specifics, only words will do.

This places a great deal of importance on the quality of the vocals, both performance-wise and in a technical sense. No matter how great the song, groove and arrangement are, it can all be quickly undone by the entrance of a weak, pitchy, or poorly recorded vocal performance.

In the recording process, the only surprises we’re looking for are pleasant ones. A consistent approach helps to minimize unforeseen distractions that can eat up precious time and energy. There are many facets to this, including the recording environment, the choice of microphone, preamps, headphones, effects and the physical comfort and wellness of the singer himself/herself. While each voice is as unique as the individual that possesses it, there are measures you can take to minimize the negative aspects, while maximizing your listeners’ enjoyment.

 How to record great vocals at home

The space is the place

It all begins with where the singer will be performing. Most home studios don’t have an acoustically treated isolation booth available, or even a room besides the area we’ve set aside to record in. The first consideration, then, is determining what this available space sounds like and how it influences the sounds generated within it. (See Eric Ferguson’s “Recording Fundamentals” in this and several previous issues for detailed discussions of room acoustics.)

Reflections coming off walls and windows can affect things in drastic ways, multiplying some frequencies or canceling out others due to the sound bouncing off hard surfaces and arriving at the microphone slightly later. This is why iso booths are so ‘dead’ sounding: they’re essentially taking the influence of the room out of the equation.

There are a number of ways home recordists can address this phenomenon. Moving the mic as far away from the walls as possible is a good idea. Treating those walls with sound-absorbing materials like blankets, carpet, foam and even eggshell cartons are equally time-honored solutions (although these tend to deaden highs and leave lows unaffected,and the non-foam solutions are fire hazards). Closets work great—provided there’s enough space to keep things from becoming too claustrophobic!—due to the sonic damping qualities of the clothing. If you’re looking for something that’s more ‘pro’ in looks, performance, and safety, check out solutions from Auralex, Primacoustic, Foam By Mail, and other vendors.

A more portable (and slightly easier to install) fix is a reflection filter, which surrounds just the microphone with acoustically absorbent materials; it’s essentially a tiny vocal booth that you can pick up with one hand and attach to a mic stand. Besides the smaller footprint, the added benefit is a reduced amount of ambient noise (computers, air conditioners, etc.) coming in as well. sE Electronics made and still sells the first Reflexion Filter which gave this type of product its name; many competing models are made by companies ranging from Primacoustic and Auralex to CAD (the Acousti-shield 32 is reviewed in this issue).

Mic check... 1, 2, 1, 2

Once you’ve got the actual vocal recording area established, it’s time to set up a microphone. There are several types to choose from and no one mic will be exactly right for every given situation. That said, large-diaphragm condenser types are generally the most suited to vocals, due to their extended frequency response and ability to capture subtle nuances. This can make them very versatile too, which is a consideration if you’ll need to be using it to record other instruments as well, i.e. acoustic guitar and small percussion instruments like shaker eggs and tambourines. They do however, require phantom power from a preamp or mixer to function. Tube condenser mics don’t, because they use their own power supply to power the tubes, which can impart a bit more warmth to recorded sources in the process.

Some condenser models also offer selectable polar patterns like omni and figure-8, which actually bring the room back in to the sound. Omni mics also minimize the proximity effect, the increased bass response that comes from getting closer to the mic in the standard cardioid pattern. There are many great condenser mic manufacturers to choose from, with AKG, Audio-Technica, Avantone, Blue, Earthworks, Lewitt, MXL, Neumann, sE Electronics, Sennheiser, Shure, Sontronics, and Telefunken among many fine choices.

A pop filter is a necessity as well, and its proper placement is key (see Figure 1). It should be set parallel to the mic’s diaphragm, at a distance that not only provides protection from plosives (‘P’s, ‘D’s ‘B’s ‘Fr’s and other blasts of air), but keeps your vocalist from “eating the mic” by standing too close to it.

Position the mic so that the diaphragm is pointing comfortably toward the singer’s lips. It should be high enough to keep the singer from slouching, but not so much that he or she is straining to reach it. I often tilt it slightly downward as well (see Figure 2), which picks up more chest tones and helps minimize plosives.

Dynamic mics like the Shure SM58 can make a fine choice when dealing with exceptionally “bright” voices or aggressive musical styles, such as Metal, Indie Rock or Rap. In fact, many successful singers like Bono and Björk often use them when recording, because they are familiar and stand up well to handling noise. This allows them to ‘perform’ in the studio much as they do in concert.

While it is certainly true that professional results can be obtained using “ordinary” microphones, the best advice is to purchase the best microphone and cable you can reasonably afford for this important task.

 

Preamps, eq and compression

The next link in the vocal recording chain is the preamplifier. Microphones typically have very low output levels. A preamplifier (or preamp) increases this signal to line-level, the signal strength required by effects and other devices in your signal chain.

For many of us, the only preamp available is the XLR mic input on our mixer or digital audio interface. There is generally an associated Trim or Gain knob for fine tuning just how much the signal is boosted. Most likely, there is a single red LED light that will illuminate when your signal is clipping, exceeding the recommended level and causing distortion. Having the singer go through some of the loudest passages during setup will help you to find this level, at which point you can turn it down slightly until the clipping disappears. The quality of your preamp can’t be overstated, because an inferior one can degrade the sound of even the best microphone.

EQ (or equalization) is the salt and pepper in your sonic pantry. Some microphones sound great right out of the can, while others could use a little more or less of certain frequencies. You might want to add a bit of ‘air’ around 12 kHz, for example, while de-emphasizing muddiness by pulling things down 2 or 3 dB at 250 Hz.

Less is definitely more when it comes to eq and if you can get by without it at this stage, all the better. Why? Because eq is yet another form of distortion. You are permanently altering the signal by moving these frequencies (and some of their neighboring ones) around and potentially creating other problems in the process. Too much salt or pepper can’t be easily undone, and putting off some eq decisions until after tracking helps us get the seasoning just right. It also provides a clear path “back to square one”, in case we wander too far away from the point at which we started mucking about in the first place.

Compression is another wonderful tool fraught with potentially damaging side effects. A compressor reduces the difference between the loudest and softest portions of your signal. One of the main benefits of using compression is that you can place your vocal much higher in the mix without having it jump out at the listener. The right amount just sounds “mo’ better”. but too much of this good thing can squeeze all of the life right out of a performance.

At first, using a compressor can feel about as intuitive as flying a helicopter! There are several parameters that need to be set and each of them affects the others: Input Gain brings your signal to the optimal level where the compressor can see it. Threshold is the point at which the compressor starts to do its work. Think of it like the height line at amusement-park attractions: everything above this line gets on the ride, everything below it remains unaffected.

Ratio controls how much you attenuate the signal, once it rises above the threshold. A ratio of 2:1 means that for every 2d B of volume increase above the threshold, the perceived volume increase is only 1 dB. A ratio of 4:1 signifies an even more drastic reduction in volume, because for every 4 dB jump in volume, it’s being heard as a 1 dB jump. Considering that 3 dB is essentially twice as loud as 1 dB, a ratio of 3:1 renders your peaks half as loud as they would be without compression. Compression ratios of 10:1 or more (up to infinity:1) are actually called limiting, creating a ceiling above which the signal never rises; this is usually used in mastering to prevent digital overloads that cause loud distortion, but has musical uses as well.

Attack is the time it takes for the compression to kick in. This controls the amount of transients you’re allowing to pass though before turning down (or attenuating) the signal. Slightly longer attacks allow the initial smack of a drum or pluck of a bass string to get through before the body of the note is compressed, giving a feeling of more “punch”, while shorter ones can smooth over plosives and spittiness in a vocal.

Release defines how quickly the compressor “lets go” of the signal, returning it to its normal state. You may have heard of compressors exhibiting “pumping” or “breathing”. This refers to the volume constantly rising up at the end of notes, as the compressor releases the signal. Slower release times make this anomaly less noticeable, but a fast release can be used at quicker tempos.

There are two basic types of compression knees, which are labeled simply enough “soft” and “hard”. Hard knees are easier to explain, in that they work pretty much as I’ve described to this point; everything above the threshold gets squashed by the amount you’ve set your ratio to. Unfortunately, this can be less “musical” sounding than a soft knee compression slope. Soft knee means that the dividing line between compression and no compression is rounded off, so that compression comes in at a lower ratio right near the threshold. This makes for a less noticeable effect upon the signal. Used on vocals, the net result might be described as more “natural” sounding.

Finally, Output (or Makeup) Gain simply takes your effected signal and turns it back up to an optimal level. Since compression lowers overall signal levels, makeup gain assures that your signal’s as loud, on average, coming out of the compressor as it was going in.

De-Essing is a related form of this effect; it’s a form of sidechain compression, which affects only a narrow frequency band. De-essers are usually set between 4–9 kHz to combat excessive sibilance (‘S’, ‘Sh’, and ‘T’ sounds). As useful as this is, it’s also advisable to skip this step during tracking, as it is very easy to overdo it and end up giving your vocalist an unwanted lisp. I generally wait until mixing to employ this effect. A great ‘old-school’ solution is to attach a pencil to the front of the mic with a rubber band, at the center of the diaphragm (see Figure 3). This can work wonders on taming those pesky ‘hot spots’, while retaining the sonic character of your mic.

Many manufacturers include preamps, eq and compressors housed within a single unit. These are commonly called recording channels. This all-in-one approach streamlines and simplifies the vocal chain, reducing the amount of time spent patching cables and tweaking parameters. Great examples of these are the PreSonus Eureka and Studio Channel, Universal Audio’s 6176 and the Joemeek oneQ2.

 

Let’s get physical—advice for the vocalist

It can’t be overstated that singing and/or rapping is a mental, spiritual and physical endeavor. Just as an athlete needs to train, practice and rest for a big game, so too does a vocalist. Some folks seem to only sing at the gig or in the studio, even though their ‘instrument’ is always at hand!

My advice to them is always, “Sing!” Sing in the shower, sing in the car, spit rhymes while you’re walking or working alone. You need to have an intimate knowledge of your voice and everything it can do. Solo a cappella singing helps us to define our pitch relationships and at the same time, strengthens muscles and builds confidence. Practice supporting your breathing from your diaphragm. Try holding out notes at low volumes, focusing on keeping the pitch steady. Try them with vibrato and without. Try to explore horn-like sonorities and other timbres to find your own unique set of tones and textures. Most of all, sing the songs you’re going to record. The vocalists who come in and get those magic takes most quickly are rarely the most talented ones; they’re simply the most prepared.

Pre-session concerns extend to diet and other activities as well. Avoid greasy foods, sugars and especially dairy products prior to a session, as these all contribute to phlegm and mucous issues, as does smoking. Drinking alcohol may well make a vocalist less inhibited, but that usually comes at the price of fatigue and poor intonation. No one’s asking you to become an angel overnight, but when it’s time to sing in the studio, it’s time to set some vices aside.

Lots and lots of water should always be on hand, and don’t be shy about suggesting a sip between takes. This not only helps prevent fatigue, but keeps vocal chords clean and lubricated. It also improves one’s energy and mental acuity. Some vocalists prefer to have hot tea or coffee, but these can dehydrate as well. Hot water alone can really do the trick in some cases.

 

Can you hear me?

Once you’ve got everything in place, including a music stand for lyric sheets and the right amount of light, it’s time to don the headphones. If your vocalist is in the same room as you, you’ll both need to be wearing them in order to keep the backing tracks from bleeding into your vocal takes. Most mixers and recording interfaces have one or two headphone outputs, which (in addition to a headphone extension cable) may be all you need. Those needing a few more headphone outputs may need to turn to a headphone distribution amplifier, like the Aphex HeadPod, ART HeadAmp, or the PreSonus HP60.

The vocalist should be able to hear himself/herself clearly in relation to the track. Some even prefer to take off one earcup for monitoring. If they do this, be sure to have the singer close off the unused earcup against their skull or neck, so that the ‘phones don’t bleed or cause feedback. You can also pan all audio to the side in use, so the other earcup gets no audio. Also be aware of “crunchy” sounds coming from the headphones themselves, as all that plastic and faux-leather can be as noisy as your grandma’s vinyl-covered couch!

Adding some (non-recorded) reverb on the vocals can inspire confidence and make your vocalist less self-conscious, but try to use as little as possible; I personally find people sing much more in-tune without it.

Vibe is king

Let’s roll! The best advice to give your vocalists at the start of the session is... nothing. Let them settle in and get used to the situation. Even if they come in at the wrong place, or start with the wrong lyrics... whatever. Just let it slide for right now.

Why? Because instructions bring the thought process into what should ideally be a ‘feel’ process. As soon as someone begins to actually think about what they’re doing, it can come at the cost of some of the more creative and intuitive aspects, like emotion and improvisation. This is why some of the first takes are the ‘magic’ ones. Once singers begin to analyze their performance, they’ll keep score of all the negative things that happen as much as the positive.

Your job, aside from making sure to record even warm-ups and run-throughs, is to encourage them. Everything you tell your vocalists will take on added significance once they feel they are under the proverbial microscope. Choose your words carefully and render them with empathy. Let them feel that you are in this together, which in fact you are. As frustration levels climb, tempers can flare and sessions can end abruptly. It’s imperative that you keep things running as smoothly as possible. Be of service to them, so that they may be of service to the song.

Begin by running takes from beginning to end, so that you record full performances in each pass. For one, you’ll be able to see where the vocals are supposed to come in, where the verses and choruses are, etc. You will also be getting vocal takes that are emotionally in context. Just as a story develops as it unfolds, so does a song. As a result, your third chorus may differ significantly from the first one, as the tune progresses.

Once you’ve recorded two or three takes, you can then go through and address problem areas. Maybe you’ll go over the hook a couple more times, or punch in to fix that one line in the bridge, etc., until you’re sure that you’ve got all the material you’ll need to edit together a solid, cohesive performance.

 

Slicing & dicing

This process of stitching all the best bits from multiple takes into one master vocal track is often referred to as comping. “Wait, that’s cheating,” I occasionally hear people say. To them I say this: If my job is to capture you and your sound, I want to be sure I’m representing you on your very best day.

“But we only do one take when we play live,” is often the response. Yes, but your audience only hears it that one time at a show. Conversely, a recording is meant to be enjoyed over and over again, which can magnify even the smallest flaws and detract from the overall listening experience.

This first thing to do is listen through the takes and find the one that sounds best overall. This will be the foundation of your master take and you’ll be bringing in pieces from the other takes to replace sections, lines, words and even syllables. See Figure 4 for a sample section of a vocal comp in PreSonus Studio One. The process is actually simple, if not always easy, and it can be a bit time-consuming as well. Break it down into multiple passes, to remain focused and retain perspective.

During the first pass, listen to the overall performance and flow. You may hear a line and wonder if there’s a better version of it in another take. Audition them until you find one you’re satisfied with, cut and paste it into place. Go back a few measures before that section and play it so you can hear the edit in context. If it sounds good, continue on. Repeat this process until you’ve gone through the entire song, and then play the whole song back, making notes of edits that maybe don’t work as well and find suitable alternatives to put in their place.

On the next run-through, we focus on the details. Solo the vocal track and listen for clicks, bumps, crackles and less-than-perfect edits. Remove the audio gremlins. Delete or mute areas where there are no vocals, taking care to tame or even eliminate breaths. Great care should be taken not to suck the life out of the performance by editing things too tightly; ideally, you’ll take out what’s distracting while leaving the positive human elements in place. All edits should be as smooth and natural sounding as possible. If you run into one you just can’t get 100% right, take the track out of solo mode and listen to it in context. You may discover that it sounds just fine. If not, try a different take or have the vocalist re-sing it.

The final vocal editing pass concentrates on intonation—making sure the vocal is in tune. If there’s a note that’s a little off key, I prefer to open it in Celemony Melodyne, or tune the note “by hand” by slicing the clip at each end and transposing it up or down by a very small percentage until it sounds right. Melodyne, Antares Auto-Tune, or similar products can be used over the whole track if you want, but getting it close first minimizes the Cher or T-Pain effect (unless of course that’s what you want) that comes as a result of making the tuner work too hard. Online audio examples 1 and 2 illustrate what a vocal sounds like before and after this process, you’ll find them at: http://www.recordingmag.com/ resources/resourceDetail/396.html

 

The Sugar

Finally, we sweeten the vocal, polishing it with a little eq, maybe a touch more compression or limiting, some subtle de-essing and subsequently adding some reverb and/or delay to add a sense of space and dimension. We want the vocal to sit prominently in the mix, but we need it to blend with the other tracks as well. Too much vocal level can make it sound disconnected or even obscure other crucial elements in your arrangement. Too little can diminish its power or leave listeners scrambling to find a lyric sheet.

When mixing, it’s always important to remember that the elements within your mix are not merely placed between the left and right of your stereo field, but front to back as well. Reverb can help us to further establish this sense of depth.

Faster tempos and dense arrangements will generally require smaller spaces and shorter decay times, while ballads and lower track counts can afford us a little more sonic “elbow room”. This is where presets can come in handy, as there are invariably several that carry names like “Vocal Room”, “Vocal Plate”, “Lead Vocal Hall” and so on. This gives you a good place to start from, and many times, the only other consideration is how much reverb to use.

You can add the reverb directly to the track’s insert and bring its Mix setting down to around 30% to start with, or you can set up an effects bus to which you can send more than one track, i.e. lead and backing vocals and a little of the snare drum. This helps to give your instruments a common space to exist in, helping to glue things together more in the process.

Predelay is another parameter to explore, as it gives you several milliseconds before the onset of the reverb. This can be used to help clear up some of the cloudiness that reverb can cause, enabling your vocals to be significantly more intelligible. A slapback delay, a single echo of the vocal, can be a good choice for similar reasons, especially if synced to your groove’s tempo. Longer delay or echo settings can be used subtly in conjunction with reverb for a more modern and polished sound. With every song, it’s best to explore the gamut between Tom Petty (dry) and Fleet Foxes (wet) with the effect’s balance, as each song has its own character and therefore it own set of needs.

 

Take ’em for a ride!

Once you’ve got your vocal sounding great, it’s time to listen to it in the context of the song one last time. Listen for sections where the vocal may be sticking out a little or denser passages that may be drowning the vocals a bit. Lowering or raising the voice to offset this is commonly referred to as “riding the vocal”, and can go a long way toward making things sound more professional overall.

If all of these tools and concepts seem a bit daunting (not to mention expensive), take heart. Several software manufacturers have developed all-in-one solutions that include some or all of the previously mentioned effects. Again, starting with the supplied presets will familiarize you with the program more quickly, saving you several wasted hours of head scratching. iZotope, The Plugin Alliance, Waves and Antares all present great choices in this regard.

Whether your tuneful adventures involve crooning love songs or spitting fiery rhymes, the connection that is made between your music and your listeners hinges on how engaging your vocals are. Keeping these concepts in mind throughout the vocal recording process will help ensure that bond is a strong and lasting one.

 

(This article is reprinted  with permission from Recording Magazine) 

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer and songwriter. His latest release is Seaholm Mackintosh’s Monarchs. Check out his website at www.kaspro.com.

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

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Recording, record vocals, Sven-Erik Seaholm