Songwriting Tips, News & More

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

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

From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

by Melissa Axel

Songwriting & Editing by Melissa Axel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songwriting Tip: 6 Traits of A Badly Written Song

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

6 Traits of A Badly Written Song

(source: Music Connection magazine)

By Bobby Owsinski

songwriting

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 Christmas Songs of All Time

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Dec 26, 2011 @11:46 AM

Top 10 Christmas Songs of All Time

 

By Jessica Brandon

 

Are you enjoying the holiday season so far? Here are the list of the top 10 Best Christmas songs of all time:

Bing Crosby

1. White Christmas - Bing Crosby

Written by Irving Berlin. This ultimate festive song that remains one of the world's biggest selling singles of all time. Bing first sang this classic in the movie “Holiday Inn”. This song has been covered by countless of music artists worldwide.

 

2. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) - Mel Torme

This annual Christmas crowd pleaser has been recorded over and over but Nat King Cole's 1946 original recording of Mel Torme's tune is still the ultimate version of this old favourite with his hot chocolate voice. You just want to wrap up warm, hold your loved ones in your arms and sip eggnog and gobble chestnuts. The tune is already the most-recorded holiday tune of the 21st century.

 

3. Do They Know It's Christmas Time - Band Aid

Phil Collins, Sting, George Michael, Boy George, Bono, the all-star list goes on and on. This charity classic has become a festive anthem and yet still serves up poignant lyrics about a world many of us know little about, and people we should champion and consider every year at this time.

 

4. Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley

The King crooned this Billy Hayes tune up a storm for his Christmas With Elvis EP in 1958 and it has been a chilly reminder of lonely yules ever since. The track has been recorded by 150 different artists but Elvis gives it an achingly cool twist.

 

5. All I Want Is Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey

It was released by Columbia Records onNovember 1, 1994as the lead single from her fourth studio album, Merry Christmas. The song was written by Carey and Walter Afanasieff, both of whom were also the producers. This song peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart

 

 6. Winter Wonderland - Doris Day

This holiday classic has been recorded by over 1,000 different artists but only Doris Day takes you off to the imaginary lanes and meadows in this festive favourite, where young lovers build snowmen, fall in love and warm their frozen bits by the fire.

 

7. Last Christmas - Wham!

George Michael's smooth tones and those Christmas bells offer us another festive heartbreaker as the British pop star recalls a romance gone bad.

 

8. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow - Dean Martin

There's something about Dean Martin that just says Christmas to me - whether it's those lovely sweaters he used to wear, his love for a festive brew or the fact he's the eternal merry maker, I'm not sure but this jolly tune about keeping your loved one loved up as the storm bears down is a lovely romantic pop ditty.

 

9. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Various Artists

Another Christmas favourite that joins the one thousand club - for the amount of times it has been performed by different artists, this dreamy ballad conjures up all that is good and right about Christmas time. Tony Bennett, Toni Braxton and The Carpenters have all recorded terrific versions of this winter warmer but the late Rosemary Clooney nailed it.

 

10.  Peace On Earth - Bing Crosby + David Bowie

This makes the list just because it was such an odd but wonderful pairing - spacemanBowieand old timer Bing, the voice of Christmas. The odd couple teamed up to record this hit in the late 1970s for a TV Crosby Christmas Special and Bowie swears to this day he has no recollection of the performance.

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Best Christmas Songs of All Time, Bing Crosby, White Christmas, The Christmas Song, Mel Torme, Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire

Songwriter Joan Baez still loves the stage after 50 years

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Dec 12, 2011 @06:03 PM

 

Written by Bill Nutt

(Scource: NJ Press Media)

Joan Baez, Singer-Songwriter

This past January, Joan Baez turned 70. And like a number of her fellow septuagenarians (such as Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Paul Simon), she still tours and performs.

No one is more surprised by that fact than Baez herself.

“Sometimes, I’m up on the stage, and I think that it’s crazy that I’m still doing this,” she says.

With a laugh, she adds, “And it’s crazy that you’re still coming to see me.”

Crazy or not, Baez continues to make music and continues to promote political and social activism. Her current tour brings her to the Mayo Performing Arts Center on Wednesday (Nov. 16).

The combination of social causes and music has been part of Baez’s public image since she started performing in coffeehouses in Cambridge, MA in the late 1950s. Only 17 years, she had already developed a social consciousness, in part because of her parents.

Her musical career began almost by accident, according to Baez. Her first instrument was the ukulele, followed by the guitar.

“I didn’t take (music) seriously,” she says. “My idea of the future was the following Wednesday. Planning was not my strong point.”

Nonetheless, Baez’s undeniably powerful soprano voice soon became familiar to aficionados of folk music, and her first three albums went gold. She championed other performers, including a young Bob Dylan. Gradually, she went from recording traditional folk songs to more politically tinged material.

In the 50 years since her debut album, Baez has occasionally had significant commercial success, notably her cover of the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and the self-penned title track from her 1975 album “Diamonds and Rust.” But arguably her greatest strength has been covering material by singer-songwriters from Dylan to Mary-Chapin Carpenter and making it her own.

For example, her 2008 album “Day After Tomorrow” was produced by Steve Earle, who contributed three songs. She also covers songs by Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and T Bone Burnett.

“It sounds corny, but the song really finds me,” says Baez. “With the song ‘Day After Tomorrow’ (written by Waits), I really thought, ‘Oh, he wrote it for me.’ ”


With so much material from which to choose, planning her setlist is a challenge.

“It’s dicey business doing a concert,” she says. “If it’s a new song, it has to be one that catches the people’s attention right away.”

However, Baez also understands that some older songs can take on a deeper resonance. For example, inspired by Occupy Wall Street and related movements, she has resurrected her version of the Rolling Stones’ “Salt of the Earth” on her current tour.

“I think that Occupy Wall Street is one of the biggest surprises,” she says. “I don’t know if this would have happened without (uprisings) in Egypt and Tunisia, that showed how much power people can have.”

Still, Baez does not see herself as a starry-eyed optimist.

“I was always a realist,” she says. “Most things that are unpleasant don’t surprise. And I’m not discouraged, because I know newspapers and TV don’t always cover the good things that are happening.”

For her own part, Baez sees no reason to slow down either as an activist or as a performer.

“It’s true that I’ve lost some of my upper register,” she says. “But it’s made up by the fact that my voice contains 50 years of living.”

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Joan Baez, folk music

Songwriting Tip: How to Write a Song Using Other Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Nov 03, 2011 @04:53 PM

By Kari Kiddle, Yahoo! Contributor Network

(Source: Yahoo! Contributor Network)

Songwriting
I know what you're thinking: I can't write a song if my pen depended on it. (A little joke). But you can! I started writing a few years ago, and now I can't stop. It takes practice, thought, and most of all patience. By reading this, you'll learn how to write a song in 5 easy steps.

1.) Start by brainstorming what type of music you want to write. What's your favorite band? I find it easier to write music that I like to listen to.

2.) Next, grab a pen and paper. I like to pull my inspiration from songs that I've fallen in love with. Like a phrase that your favorite artist used? Find a way to re-write it. For example, in Sara Bareilles' "Love Song", she talks about going against what's decided for her. I used her angry inspiration to write my song Take You Down.

3.) If you can play an instrument fairly well, I suggest using chords from songs that you love to start. Go to a site like ultimate-guitar.com that provides tabs as well as chords.

4.) The hardest part is deciding whether to start with the music, or the melody. It varies for me. Sometimes I'll be playing around on my keyboard and start humming/babbling along to the chords. This eventually turns into a song. Other times I'm in the shower or car and a melody just randomly comes to my head.

For beginners, I suggest the first one. If you can't play an instrument, look online for backtracks that you could hum along to. You're not going to be able to freestyle words right away, so don't be afraid to sound like a three year old.

5.) Finally, it's time to put them all together. Take your clever words, melodies, and chords and sing/play your heart away.


Kari Kiddle is a singer-songwriter. Through the process of writing songs, playing gigs, and self-promotion, she has learned a lot of things that she would like to share with the world.

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting Tip, Write Song Using Other People's Songs

Every Place Is Home: A Magical Songwriting Co-write

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Oct 06, 2011 @01:22 PM

Every Place Is Home: A Magical Co-write by Melissa Axel

Songwriters Melissa Axel and Andy White, photo by James Jacoby

After my last blog article about the power of co-writing, I was asked to share an experience of how one successful co-write came together. This is the story of "Every Place Is Home," a song from my new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS …

A few years ago, my husband James Jacoby and I were awarded scholarships to participate in a songwriting workshop held in the United Kingdom by the WOMAD Foundation. Short for "World of Music, Arts and Dance," WOMAD was co-founded by Peter Gabriel in 1980 to create awareness of the potential of a multicultural society through festivals and educational projects. It was at one of these programs that we met Irish singer-songwriter Andy White, who was leading the songwriting workshop. A year later we attended again, and there Andy, James, and I co-wrote the song "Every Place Is Home" in a flurry of inspiration.

Each day of the workshop, the songwriters gathered in a small 14th century castle tower to share their original songs and team up to create new ones. Co-writing began with a lyric brainstorming session, a process we've affectionately nicknamed "songstorming." Andy placed huge sheets of paper on a big group of tables, and in the center of each sheet was an art image. Ten songwriters walked around the tables examining the artwork and doodling bits of lyrics near any image that sparked an idea, later copying down favorite phrases into the notebooks Andy had given us. The first image of a single chair by a table in an empty room immediately caught my eye.

Words came first, but almost immediately a melody started to form along with them: "if I play for one, I play for all / from this truth I cannot stray" and then, "fill this empty space with what my soul creates / let this mind just fall away." As James and I walked around the tables, each piece of art drew out more lyric ideas: "sweeping landscape, surreal sunscape, urban faire and country rain" and "in the shadow of our big dreams, we built a love that will sustain." We had driven through Iceland for several days before arriving in the UK, so the more scenic images on the table reminded us of the trip, as well as the English countryside on our train ride from London to Bath.

After the "songstorming" session, James and I compared notes in a practice room. We had both written about our journey: traveling the world, connecting through music and creativity, always feeling at home with each other and the friends we met along the way. We quickly worked out a chorus together: "we don't need to find one way to go / all we need is love, open sea and road / we don't need a place to call our own / when every place is home." By this point, I knew that this would not be one of my typical piano songs.

Even though I've never played guitar, in my head I was hearing a steady picking rhythm. Andy opened our door to check on us, 12-string guitar in tow, and we quickly brought him into the fold. I told him we needed a guitar pattern that would evoke the feeling of riding along on a train. Imagine my euphoria when he immediately played what I was hearing in my head! Forty minutes later, the three of us had fine-tuned the melody, written a bridge (or as they say across the pond, the "middle eight" bars), and were rehearsing away, ready to make a demo recording.

Sometimes a song just comes magically, without warning or even very much effort. Who knows how or why certain words, ideas, and notes come to us to put life's experiences together in a poetic and relatable way that will hopefully touch people for years to come. Yes, we spent a little time honing the lyrics and melody a bit, making adjustments to the chord progression as we went. But in this case, we can truly say that the muse spoke, and we all just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help capture her magic.

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, USA Songwriting Competition, WOMAD, Peter Gabriel, Melissa Axel, co-write, Andy White

Songwriters Burt Bacharach & Hal David Receive Gershwin Prize

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Oct 04, 2011 @06:11 PM

Songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David Receive 2012 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song

Burt Bacharach

The Librarian of Congress announced that Grammy and Academy-Award-winning songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David will join the ranks of Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and Paul McCartney as recipients of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Bacharach and David each will receive the Library’s Gershwin Medal next spring at an all-star tribute in Washington D.C. This will be the fourth time the honor has been awarded and the first time to a songwriting team.

The creators of dozens of hits including "I Say A Little Prayer," "Do You Know the Way To San Jose?," "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," "Walk On By," "What the World Needs Now" and "Alfie," for artists such as Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Jackie DeShannon and Herb Alpert, composer Bacharach and lyricist David are the first songwriting team to be honored with the Gershwin Prize.

"It's a great honor to receive this award and to follow the past recipients, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, it doesn't get any better than this," Bacharach, 83, said in a statement with Thursday's announcement.

In the same statement, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, "Their creative talents have inspired songwriters for more than five decades, and their legacy is much in the tradition of George and Ira Gershwin, for whom this award is named."

The first Bacharach-David song registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress, was "Peggy in the Pantry," dated May 9, 1956. Since their heyday in the 1960s and '70s, Bacharach has teamed for varied projects with other musical partners including Elvis Costello, Don Was and Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers.

(Source: Library of Congress, USA)
The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song:
http://www.loc.gov/about/awardshonors/gershwin/

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

 

Tags: songwriter, Burt Bacharach, Library of Congress, I Say A Little Prayer, David, 2012, Gershwin Prize, Popular Song, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick

Songwriting Tip: How To Write A Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Sep 23, 2011 @09:49 AM

How To Write A Song by Toby Gad

The songwriter behind hits by Fergie, Beyoncé, Colbie Caillat, and more, opens up his box of secrets...

 Toby Gad, professional songwriter

I’ve written songs for quite a while now, over two decades, and I still get a kick out of it. I used to write eighty to a hundred songs a year but it seems like success has only made me work harder—last year I wrote and recorded a hundred and eighty songs, and this year probably just as many.

I already wrote songs when I was seven years old, very basic but useful songs that I would chant on the bicycle on my way back from school in the brutal German winter, songs that would warm my freezing hands, songs about pretty much anything that came to mind. Over the years my songs got better, but even today before most writing sessions I have moments when I think, “I really don’t know how to write a song.”

Chemistry

I have long ago given up trying to write a song by myself. I tried a few times, but mostly got insecure about it halfway through the writing process and tossed it before long. For me it’s really the chemistry with an artist that provides the fertile ground for a seed to sprout. I also find that different collaborators inspire in different ways. Last year I wrote songs with over a hundred different collaborators, some of them superstars and some of then complete unknowns. Some of them were established writers or artists I had worked with before, and some of them were upcoming artists that seemed to have something intriguing about their talent that made me want to write a song with them.

I couldn’t say that superstars are more inspiring than some unknown artists, but I certainly put more pressure on myself in A-list sessions, since the labels and managements have high expectations, and stars can spare only a little of their valuable time. I’m not sure if the pressure makes the songs better. Some good songs just happen, and I couldn’t say why on this particular day this song came about. As random as all this now sounds, I do know a few things that I have learned over the years that I can share.

Let’s start with the most basic and yet most profound:

A song is a feeling

A good song makes you feel something, often so intensely that you keep thinking about it for days, so intensely that it makes you cry, or laugh, or it can make you want to dance, or it helps you vent your anger... A bad song is a song that doesn’t make you feel anything. Often it is that simple. If you have a hit, then it is usually a song that makes a lot of people feel a lot. That’s why many listeners want to hear such a song over and over and—you hope—they also want to buy it. So it helps to trust your feelings when you write a song.

When I first meet an artist or writer, we feel each other out, talk about life, and often that leads to interesting subjects to write about. On my first session with Colbie Caillat she said, ten minutes into our conversation, that she loves singing and making records, but really what means the most to her right now is the love she gets from her boyfriend. I loved that thought and we wrote our first song “What means the most.” The song wrote itself in two hours, and every word in the lyric reflects how she feels about him. On our second writing day she was still the hopeless romantic and said she could even imagine saying “I do” to him one day. So we wrote “I Do,” which became the hit single of her current album.

These songs have a genuine urgency and authenticity to me. They feel honest and spontaneous and they really make me feel something every time I listen to them. That is my personal reward for making music.

Lyrics matter

To me the lyric has become increasingly important. I used to run around with a dictaphone and record melodies all day long. Lately I just jot down words and lyrics. The music often comes naturally, later in the writing process. Sometimes I still jam in a session and let music and lyric flow together, from scratch, but that’s more the exception now.

Maybe it’s just me, and I don’t even consider myself a lyricist, but I do listen mainly to the words in a song, and if a lyric feels out of place then even the best beat and melody can’t save it... but a great lyric with a mediocre melody can still make a great song. By “great” I don’t mean academically legitimate. To me, “great” means believable, conversational, from the heart, conclusive, unique, urgent, creative, honest, and with a purpose.

Listen

I get my best inspiration by really listening to my artists and writers. The good ideas are often between the lines, and some of my questions can feel like I’m the shrink, but by getting into the mind of the artists I make sure the song is authentic and the artist will identify with it later on.

Even when I don’t write, one ear is always listening for words that could provide good starting points for a future writing session. I collect such fragments on long lists that I browse through before writing sessions. This way I have a Plan B in case the conversation with the artist doesn’t lead to anything song-worthy.

Songwriting is a ball game

We bounce ideas back and forth, kick them around, smack them on the ground, throw them high up in the air, and during the process we assemble the elements that feel good to everyone involved. If one player doesn’t feel like playing one game then we start another game. Some games are so much fun that no-one wants to stop playing. Those are the songs that write themselves.

By bouncing ideas back and forth the good ones come together, bad ones naturally get weeded out, one sentence leads to another, and suddenly there is an unexpected great line that may never have surfaced in a different context. That’s why I’m not a fan of “closet writers” who get a track and then write everything in their own headspace. Some writers function well that way, and it drives me crazy to sit in a room with someone who doesn’t share their thoughts. I like to be part of every lyric and I want to share my melodies and ideas as they come to light and evolve. I feel only then can I be great in my capacity as an “incubator”.

Make it memorable

Back in the days of the musicals, the writers had to make songs so memorable that the audience would walk out of the theatre and still sing the songs, after hearing them only once. The movie musical Mary Poppins has a good example of “memorable”... maybe annoyingly so, but so much fun that even the most serious audience member walks out singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. I adore how shamelessly creative this word is... creative license!

Let go

If something doesn’t feel right while you’re writing it, then maybe it’s time to try something else. In some sessions we write for three hours and suddenly one of us doesn’t feel good about the concept anymore. Then it is really important not to be afraid to toss everything and start over. Usually that leads to a better idea.

Last year I also had a few sessions that ended with no song. That can be very frustrating, especially if it is with an important artist. But I find it better not to record anything if it doesn’t feel right. Otherwise I record something I don’t like, only to find myself having to arrange that bad song, mix it, play it to my curious publishers and managers and the artist’s record label, and spread a meaningless idea that I’m not proud of.

The big question I ask myself is this: Can songwriting ever become boring? After several thousand songs, will I run out of song ideas one day, or just write bad songs after all the good ones have been written? But so far every writing day still feels like a safari. I get better at spotting the leopards, I’m less afraid of rhinos, and I still find new surprises all the time.

 

This article is reprinted by permission by Recording magazine. Toby Gad’s writing credits include Beyoncé’s “If I Were A Boy,” Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Colbie Caillat’s “I Do,” Nicole Scherzinger’s “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” The Veronicas’ “Untouched,” Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” and Selena Gomez’ “Year Without Rain”, to name a few. Photos courtesy Toby Gad. For more information on Recording Magazine, go to: http://www.recordingmag.com

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Toby Gad, Fergie, Beyonce, Colbie Cailat

Songwriting/Collaboration: The Power of Co-writing

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Aug 08, 2011 @05:21 PM

Creative Collaboration: The Power of Co-writing by Melissa Axel

 

Melissa Axel (Artist Relations, USA Songwriting Competition) & Andy White, photo by James E. Jacoby

Everybody knows the three keys to a successful business are "location, location, location!" For successful songwriters, there is another mantra: "co-write, co-write, co-write!"

Still, many of us have grown accustomed to making music alone in our creative caves and may be nervous about teaming up with other writers. Let's take a look at some of the benefits of creative collaboration, whether it takes place in the same room or online with a co-writer many miles away …

Different minds bring fresh perspectives. Unless you've been deliberately writing about a variety of subjects, it's likely (and natural) that your songs tend to focus on the same handful of topics you know best or care about most. Pairing with someone else brings a second lifetime of experiences to the writing table, challenging you to try on new shoes and see what another person's ideas might look like told through your eyes.

Variation opens up new melodic and harmonic possibilities. If you tend to favor the same keys and chord progressions, writing with someone whose first instrument is different from yours can lead you down fresh musical paths. Guitarists could try writing with a pianist, violinist, cellist, mandolin player, etc. (and vice versa). Also, look for people who share some of your influences and lyrical interests but are into other musical styles or approaches to songwriting as well. Always wanted to explore African grooves or incorporate bluegrass elements into a pop song? Find an artist/writer comfortable in territory that's new to you, and give it a try!

Two heads really are better than one. It's easy to beat our heads against the wall or even put a song aside for years when we get stuck on a section of lyrics or melody that just doesn't feel "right." Or perhaps you have some choruses that need verses or a song that's missing a bridge. Trusted writing partners not only bounce ideas off of each other but also can become a great for completing unfinished songs and making sure each word and note is the strongest possible choice.

So where do you find people to co-write with? They might be performing artists in your local music community, writers you know from songwriting websites and social network groups, composers who usually write instrumental music, or producers who create tracks for artists who only sing or rap. Be open to meeting songwriting partners if you travel to perform or attend songwriting conferences, too. It's easy to write across the miles with online audio/video chat programs or even by sending MP3s and lyrics back and forth via email.

If you're ready to broaden your songwriting horizons, take your time and get to know potential co-writers and their writing styles. As your songwriting becomes more plentiful, diverse, and enriching, you'll be glad you reached out and found creative collaborators who are a really great fit.

 

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album love . humanity . metamorphosis will be released September 20, 2011. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Berklee, writing songs, Co-writer, writing lyrics, Creating in a Group, collaboration, co-writing

One Thing a Day for My Songwriting Journey By Doak Turner

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jul 15, 2011 @03:26 PM

One Thing a Day for My Songwriting Journey

by Doak Turner

 

Doak Turner

If I told you that you could do 300+ things for your songwriting journey between today and this time next year – would you think that I am crazy or what?

As a songwriter who lived outside of Nashville until moving in October 2002, I would follow a plan that really helped me stay focused and stay on my songwriting journey. I made trips to Nashville for (6) years before moving to town. I called it simply, "Do One Thing a Day for my songwriting." Those "things" have enabled me to develop a great network in Nashville of friends and industry professionals, to be prepared when I moved to Nashville with the craft and business of songwriting, to write better songs on my songwriting journey, and to really keep my songwriting goals focused over the years prior to moving to Nashville.

One thing a day includes making a phone call or e-mail to a songwriter to set up a co-write session, or an industry professional to ask a songwriting business question, or someone in the local songwriting workshop to discuss an upcoming event. Or, I might make plans for my next trip to Nashville, plans for an upcoming workshop meeting and guest speakers for the local events. I would also contact the media for those local songwriting events. Sometimes I would talk to a couple of out-of-town or out-of-state friends who are on the songwriting journey to share ideas, goals, challenges and successes. Sometimes a call would be needed to say hello to someone whom I haven't spoken to for a while, who always encouraged me in life, and to share what was going on in my life, even thought that friend was not a songwriter. They are (and still continue to be) great, positive friends who believe in me.

Other kinds of one thing a day include opening my hook-book to write a hook that I had just found reading a book, a conversation overheard during the day. My hook-book contains “Hooks” – thoughts and ideas for songs that I use when writing and co-writing songs. Or, I might find a hook from watching a movie or TV, from the preacher's sermon, a newspaper, or magazine. Sometimes, the hook "came to me from the sky," or wherever those hooks come from, and seem to find our songwriter's antenna, move into our head, and then down our arm onto the paper. I also open the hook book to review ideas I've written in it, to see if I could write another verse or chorus to something I had started previously, and maybe even complete a song in my hook book. Looking at music sites on line can be very helpful by finding ideas from artists and songwriters, learning and networking on-line with myspacemusic and other sites from organizations and songwriters. 

I might play the guitar or keyboard - even for a couple minutes a day - which is another excellent thing to do that may inspire an idea. I would learn another melody that can lead to a song, learn a new chord or strumming pattern, or work to improve a song that I've written. If I have more than a couple minutes, then I play the instrument and visualize myself playing my songs to an audience, a concert hall, one of our local venues, or playing live in the venue if that is my ultimate goal. Keeping the guitar on a stand instead of in the guitar case makes it much easier to play! So have them in as many rooms of your house as possible – you may pick one up for a couple minutes and strum a melody that you haven’t thought of yet – starting another song!

One thing a day also includes reading just a chapter - or even one or two pages - of a songwriting book a day to increase my songwriting skills. Hey, folks - we all know what our favorite room to read is - so go ahead and have a songwriting book in there at all times! If I read a little before going to bed, I often make it a songwriting or industry publication for my bedtime stories. I read the "how to" songwriting books, biographies about people in the songwriting or music industry, or any book or industry magazine that enables me to learn one thing per day. American Songwriter Magazine, Music Row and Performing Songwriter are a couple magazines to have around the house. It's is a great investment for my songwriting journey. I highly recommend every songwriter reading “The Craft and Business of Songwriting – Third Edition” by John Braheny. If you read just (2) pages a day – you will learn something new every day about songwriting! The book by Douglas Waterman “Song – the world’s best songwriters on creating the music that moves us” is another great book to have at your desk or nightstand – somewhere easy to pick up and read – maybe just ONE interview a day with a great songwriter will make a difference on your journey!

Some other things that I did while still in Charlotte, NC and you can too is to attend and get involved in the local songwriting community. I was the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) coordinator in Charlotte from 1996 - 2002. I was fortunate to have two great co-coordinators for the last year in Charlotte, as I had my condo on the market and was making plans to move to Nashville. I know from personal experience that it's great when songwriters ask what they can do to get involved with the local songwriter workshop.

I highly recommend networking in your local community by attending the music events and singer/songwriter nights. This is an excellent place to meet new co-writers and friends that have the same interests as you and inspire new songs.

One thing a day should include time to review your goals. I wrote my goals down and placed them where I could see them every day. I still do this. That way, I can pause for a minute, look and make sure I have done one thing that day for my songwriting journey. Visualize your goals happening with your songwriting. But, the most important thing for you to do each day is - Have Fun on Your Songwriting Journey!

Doak Turner is a songwriter in Nashville, TN. He has songs on independent CD projects, former 6-year local coordinator in the NSAI Charlotte workshop, produced several successful songwriting events, a writer for www.musicdish.com in the “Song Works¨ section of the site, and editor and publisher of The Nashville Muse. 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, hit songs, doak turner, one thing a day